London: The top things to do near Waterloo station

An image of Westminster Bridge  near Waterloo station and the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben

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Located in the heart of London, Waterloo station is one of the busiest transport hubs in the capital. It is also the terminus for trains coming in from the south west of the country.

With trains, buses and taxis all coming and going, it can be easy to overlook the many things you can do in the area and assume you have to move on elsewhere for some sightseeing.

However, there are a number of great attractions nearby, from world-famous landmarks to cultural venues to fascinating museums and galleries. There are also plenty of places to head to if you want to spend your time relaxing outside.

So, whether you’re waiting for a train or arriving as part of a London trip, here are some of the best things to do around Waterloo station.

Some of these can be accessed with the London Pass. The London Pass gives you entry to over 80 sights and attractions in the city, plus a hop-on/hop-off tour

Top things to do near Waterloo station

Ride on the London Eye

The London Eye – or Millennium Wheel – is one of the most recognisable landmarks in central London. It’s one of the top things to consider when you’re thinking of things to do near Waterloo station.

The London Eye on the side of the River Thames
The London Eye

The giant ferris wheel offers stunning views of the city, and has become a symbol of the capital. It opened on New Year’s Eve in 1999 and, since 2000, has carried millions of passengers in its 32 capsules.

The experience of riding the London Eye is unique, as you slowly rotate high above the city.

You can see all the major sights from 135 metres up, and get a birds-eye view of the River Thames as it winds its way through the heart of London. On a clear day, you can apparently see up to 25 miles away.

Even if you aren’t a fan of heights (that’s me), it’s worth a ride. The pods are pretty spacious (they can hold up to 25 passengers) with a bench in the middle if you find it’s easier to sit while you look out the windows (that was also me!).

The London Eye is just a few minutes’ walk from Waterloo station (exit towards the river).

Because it is such a popular tourist attraction, it can get very busy. If you’re short on time, you can purchase this ticket which will mean you can skip the line.

Admire the Houses of Parliament

The Houses of Parliament, otherwise known as the Palace of Westminster, is one of the most iconic buildings in London. Situated on the banks of the River Thames, it has been the home of the British government for centuries.

An image of Westminster Bridge  near Waterloo station and the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben
Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament

You can get to the iconic building by walking out of Waterloo station, under the London Eye, and across Westminster Bridge. Alternatively, you can hop on a tube train to Westminster underground station on the Jubilee line.

The Houses of Parliament is a popular tourist destination, with large numbers of visitors each year. You can book guided tours that allow you to explore the historic chambers where laws are made and see the magnificent gothic architecture.

Even if you don’t have time to go in and explore, it’s worth seeing this stunning building. 

You’ll also get to see the Elizabeth Tower, which contains Big Ben, one of the world’s most famous bells. This is apparently one of the most photographed landmarks in the world.

Step inside Westminster Abbey

Another famous tourist site is Westminster Abbey, which is opposite the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. I’d recommend visiting them both on the same day.

Westminster Abbey with a London bus riding past it
Westminster Abbey, London

The gothic abbey was founded in the 11th century and, since then, has been the site of many important events in British history. These include the wedding of the Queen to Prince Philip and the Queen’s Coronation in 1953. More recently, it hosted the wedding of Prince William to Kate Middleton.

In addition, the abbey is home to the tombs of many famous British figures, including Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots, and Isaac Newton.

It is still an active church, and visitors can explore the abbey’s beautiful gothic architecture. You can look at the medieval Lady Chapel with stained glass windows and vaulted ceiling, the cloisters, and the Chapter House, where the monks once met.

Whether you’re interested in history or simply looking for a beautiful place to visit, Westminster Abbey is well worth a stop on your trip to London.

You can book tickets for Westminster Abbey here.

See the marine life in the Sea Life Centre

The Sea Life Centre (formerly the London Aquarium) is one of the largest in the world with over 500 species of marine life. It is located on the South Bank of the River Thames, on the same riverside walk as the London Eye.

The centre first opened its doors in 1997, and millions of people have visited since. If you go, you can see everything from sharks and rays, to seahorses and octopuses, penguins, crocodiles, and tropical fish.

There are also specific sections dedicated to certain species. For example, the ‘Ocean Invaders’ section looks into the world of jellyfish, and ‘Coral Kingdom, has a living coral reef.

For something extra special, consider booking one of the ‘experiences’ in the centre. You can snorkel with sharks, learn about sea turtles, or get to know the penguins.

Book tickets for the Sea Life Centre here.

Learn about wartime history in the Churchill War Rooms

The Churchill War Rooms is a must-see for any history lover. Located in the basement of the former Treasury building, they consist of the Cabinet War Rooms and the Churchill Museum.

The Cabinet War Rooms are underground war rooms that were the centre of British operations during World War II. They were where the then Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, based himself.

You can go into the Cabinet Room and walk through the secret underground passages and rooms (including the Transatlantic Telephone Room, which was designed to resemble a toilet).

On your visit, you will also learn about Churchill himself. (If this interests you, you may also enjoy a visit to Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, where he was born and where there is another exhibition on him).

For me, this is one of the top things to do near Waterloo station. The Cabinet War Rooms are a fascinating glimpse into one of the most turbulent periods in British history and are really not to be missed.

You can book tickets for a tour which includes a visit to the Churchill War Rooms here.

Explore more wartime history in the Imperial War Museum

If you enjoy the Churchill War Rooms, you’ll love the Imperial War Museum London. 

The outside of the Imperial War Museum - a visit here is one of the things to do near Waterloo station
The Imperial War Museum, London

Located around a fifteen-minute walk from Waterloo station, the museum chronicles the country’s involvement in conflicts from the First World War up to current times. It features an excellent array of exhibits and displays. 

The permanent exhibitions here include sections that cover the First World War, the Second World War, and the Holocaust. As well as its exhibits, the museum also has an extensive collection of photos and film footage, providing a unique visual record of Britain’s wartime experience.

The museum is fascinating and very big – so try to spend as much time as you can here. It is also free, although advance booking is recommended.

If you’re getting to the museum by public transport, the nearest underground station in Lambeth North. London buses also run past the museum.

Book to see a show at The Old Vic theatre

The Old Vic is a historic theatre in London Waterloo. The original building was constructed in 1818 (and called the Royal Coburg Theatre). Over its lifetime some of the most celebrated actors and actresses in the world have stood on its stage.

Today, the theatre bills itself as an “independent creative powerhouse for entertainment and education”. It produces various shows throughout the year and at Christmas, puts on performances of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol – a sure-fire way to get you into the Christmas spirit.

The theatre is situated on The Cut, a five-minute walk from the back of Waterloo Station.

Take a boat ride from Westminster Millennium Pier

A boat on the River Thames in front of the Houses of Parliament
Boat trips on the River Thames – one of the things to do near Waterloo station

Westminster Millennium Pier is located on the Victoria Embankment by the River Thames, opposite the London Eye and a stone’s throw from the Houses of Parliament.

If you’ve done enough sightseeing on foot or want to explore a different part of the city, you can take a boat ride from the pier to other sights along the river. Along the way, you can see several prominent landmarks, including St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Globe Theatre, the Shard, Tower Bridge and HMS Belfast. You can also catch boats to Greenwich.

It’s an enjoyable way to relax and tick off some of London’s most famous sights.

You can book boat trips along the River Thames here.

See the wildlife in St. James’ Park

St. James’ Park is one of London’s eight Royal Parks and one of its most attractive ones. It’s well worth a visit if you’re in the Waterloo area. If you’ve crossed the bridge to see the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Cathedral, you’re only a few minutes’ walk away.

The park is home to a wide variety of wildlife, including pelicans, ducks, and swans. In addition to its animal residents, the park also features some lovely flowers and lush greenery.

It’s a beautiful place to wander around with its small bridge, fountain, and a view of part of Buckingham Palace at one end. At another end there is a view of Horseguards’ Parade and you get a glimpse of the London Eye.

Part of St. James' Park with the lake
St. James’ Park in London

There are benches dotted around and plenty of open areas if you fancy taking a picnic to the park and having your lunch there.

If not, there is the St. James’s Cafe which is open into the early evening during the spring and summer, and until late afternoon in autumn and winter. It serves a range of food, including breakfast and lunch.

Visit Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square and Nelson's Column - this is a place near to Waterloo station
Trafalgar Square and Nelson’s Column

Trafalgar Square is one of the most popular tourist destinations in London and is often on an itinerary of places to visit in the capital. Fortunately, it’s not too far from Waterloo station.

You can walk across Westminster Bridge and down Whitehall, walk across Hungerford Bridge to Embankment and walk up, or catch a train to nearby Charing Cross station.

The square is named after the Battle of Trafalgar which took place in 1805. Accordingly, Nelson’s Column, a monument to Lord Nelson who led the British fleet to victory at Trafalgar, is here.

It stands over 50 metres high, with four bronze lion statues at its base.

The square is also home to the National Gallery, one of the world’s leading art museums. The gallery houses work by many of the world’s most famous artists, including Leonardo da Vinci and Vincent van Gogh.

Trafalgar Square is also a great place to people-watch and soak up the atmosphere. It’s a popular spot that attracts a lot of people; on any given day, you’re likely to see a variety of street performers.

Eat, drink and be cultural on the South Bank

The South Bank runs along the south side of the River Thames. What you do here will depend on which section you visit (the section near Tower of Bridge is covered in my earlier post).

The area near Waterloo station offers the Southbank Centre, a cultural hub for shows, exhibitions, and music.

You will find the Royal Festival Hall, the Hayward Gallery, and the Queen Elizabeth Hall here. Besides these, there is also the BFI (British Film Institute) Southbank, a place for film buffs.

There is also a variety of cafes and restaurants where you can dine out. These cover a range of cuisines, including Mexican, French, Chinese, and Italian. The area behind the Royal Festival Hall also has a lively food market on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.

This part of the south bank is also a wonderful place to sit and have cocktails overlooking the river.

The Skylon restaurant inside the Royal Festival Hall has a fabulous cocktail bar. Go early to secure a seat right by the window with superb views.

Explore the market in Covent Garden

Inside of part of Covent Garden market
Inside of Covent Garden market

Only a short stroll from Trafalgar Square, Covent Garden is one of the most popular tourist destinations in London. 

The historic undercover venue was previously a fruit and veg market, but has now been renovated into a smart, trendy area. It is home to a variety of shops and stalls, offering handcrafted goods and boutique clothes.

Visitors can also enjoy a meal at one of the many restaurants or cafes or catch a show at the Royal Opera House.

The piazza next to the market is full of life and has a real buzz. There are street performers here, and there’s a great atmosphere. 

While you’re here, you could also pop into the London Transport Museum. Amongst other things, it has the first underground steam train in the world.

Watch a film on the UK’s biggest cinema screen

The IMAX cinema just outside Waterloo station is the perfect place to catch the latest blockbuster. It has the largest screen in the UK – a whopping 20 metres high and 26 metres wide.

This makes watching a film here a truly immersive cinematic experience. It also sometimes screens 3D shows.

To reach the IMAX, exit the back of Waterloo Station and head for the circular building that stands in the middle of the roundabout.

Other ideas for things to do in London and UK short breaks

There are plenty of things to do near Waterloo station, but also lots of things to do in other parts of London and as a day trip from the capital. Some of my other posts outlines there:

I also have a range of other posts on short breaks in Europe on my website – click here for more information.

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