The public has never really warmed to the Southbank Centre's hulking concrete buildings (beloved by architecture aficionados), products of the Brutalist style popular when the Centre was built in the 1950s and '60s, but all the same they flock to the concerts, recitals, festivals, and exhibitions held here at Europe's largest arts center. The Royal Festival Hall is truly a People's Palace, with seats for 2,900 and a schedule that ranges from major symphony orchestras to pop stars (catch the annual summer Meltdown Festival, where artists like Patti Smith or David Byrne put together a personal selection of concerts by favorite performers). The smaller Queen Elizabeth Hall is more strictly classically oriented. It contains the smaller Purcell Room, which hosts lectures and chamber performances. For art, head to the Hayward Gallery, which hosts shows on top contemporary artists such as Anthony Gormley and Cy Twombly. (The terrace here has some restaurants worth a visit.) Not officially
part of the Southbank Centre but moments away on the east side of Waterloo Bridge, the National Theatre is home to some of the best productions in London (several, such as War Horse, have become movies) at prices well below those in the West End. You can hear leading actors, directors, and writers discuss their work at the National Theatre's Platforms, a series of inexpensive early evening and afternoon talks. Meanwhile, film buffs will appreciate the BFI Southbank (formerly the National Film Theatre), which has a schedule that true cinema connoisseurs will relish. The Centre's riverside street level has a terrific assortment of restaurants and bars. The BFI's Benugo bar and the Wahaca restaurant at Queen Elizabeth Hall are particularly attractive. Note that the Hayward Gallery, Purcell Room, and Queen Elizabeth Hall have been closed for renovations but are due to open in late 2017.