The last decade has seen Waterloo transform from a slightly non-descript conduit of people in and out of its famous train station to a vibrant cultural hotspot. Trendy coffee shops, quirky independent retailers and a resurgent food market are fast becoming Waterloo staples.
The nearby Southbank has long been a must-visit on any London tourist’s itinerary. But Waterloo spots like The Cut and Lower Marsh are now giving visitors and locals alike more of a reason to travel south of the river. Some have attributed the recent flush of gentrification in the area to the continued success of the Old Vic and Young Vic theatres and the emergence of the cultural scattergun that is the Waterloo Vaults. But whatever the stimulus, it’s clear that this is a strip of Zone 1 that’s very much in transition.
Waterloo is easily accessed from any corner of London. The tube station is on four different tube lines: the Bakerloo, Jubilee, Northern and the Waterloo and City line. The rail station brings train passengers into the capital from across the south of England and is a major hub for London buses too.
Meson Don Felipe offers perhaps the most authentically Spanish dining in London, with tapas that will transport your taste buds from Waterloo to the streets of Madrid or Seville. As with many of Waterloo’s eateries, it’s bustling, relatively informal, and has endless international flair.
Meanwhile, Baltic specialises in the cuisines of Eastern and Central Europe. Housed in an eighteenth-century former coach builder’s works, it’s a bright airy space, but one that still feels energetic and continental. As with many restaurants in the area, Baltic offers a popular pre-theatre menu, which takes in everything from the spiced stews of Hungary through to the aromatic grills of Georgia. The 70 varieties of vodka on offer add to the European authenticity.
The buzzy Cubana lays on excellent Cuban street food, and again makes a point of catering to theatre-goers. The formula for success in Waterloo is deceptively simple: worldly flavours, lively atmospheres, and an eye on the theatre crowd
Waterloo has long been an ‘accidental’ haunt for visitors to London, as tourists from all over the globe stumble out of the ‘wrong side’ of the station. But the area is now somewhere that tourists who want to get under the skin of London are making a very deliberate effort to explore.
Although Waterloo isn’t known as a residential area, footfall to the area’s restaurants and bars is significantly boosted with activity at the Old Vic and Young Vic theatres and the Waterloo Vaults, which attract culture vultures from all over London.