You will arrive at the Southbank BFI via a walk down the banks of the River Thames through the happy crowds who head to the arts complex on a daily basis to soak up the atmosphere and culture of the area. Arrive in the early evening and you will be confronted with a busy outdoor bar area, scattered with deck-chairs and brimming with film fans grasping their cinema stubs. The Southbank BFI is much more than an average multiplex, it is a celebration of cinema - home to an exhibition space and a large programme of film-related events. It is officially known as a 'repertory' cinema, specialising in seasons of classic, independent or non-English language cinema. Step through the modern glass doors and you will find yourself flanked by a bar and a laid-back restaurant, both with lacquered wooden floors and colourful furniture.
This page will provide you with how to get to the Southbank BFI, contact details (address, telephone number and official website), photos of the Southbank BFI, what's there, ticketing and a link to details on the nearby Southbank BFI IMAX cinema.
The BFI Southbank was formerly known as the National Film Theatre (it changed its name in 2007). It is owned by the British Film Institute - a charitable organisation set up to encourage film-making in the UK. The National Film Theatre opened in 1951 as part of the Festival of Britain (see more descriptions on the Royal Festival Hall page). At first it was in a temporary location that made up part of the festival called Telekinema. In 1957 it moved to its current location.
The Southbank is a 'repertory' cinema. This term refers to a cinema that specialises in seasons of classic, independent or non-English language cinema. For example, you would not come here to see the latest Harry Potter movie, but you might come here to see a film that is part of a season of films directed by Ken Loach.
As the headquarters of the British Film Institute, it offers more than just the opportunity to see films. It also plays host to two bars that are popular amongst the Southbank crowds, a gallery space (for film-related exhibitions) and film-related events (for example, talks from experts on Loach films or screening of music videos with commentary). It is also home of Mediatheque - an archive that is like a library but for film footage - it is free to enter, you can arrive at the Mediatheque and ask to use a viewing stage where you can sit and go through the archives on a computer system.
The Southbank BFI is more than just a cinema; it is a celebration of film. It offers the opportunity to see both old and new films, go to film-related events and check out film exhibitions. Here you will find descriptions of the different things that you can get up to at the BFI:
Films: You will find a whole variety of cinematic options screened at the Southbank. As opposed to the film options that you find in your average cinema, here films screened tend to be art-house or old classics. The BFI often show seasons of film focusing on particular directors or actors.
Events: Throughout the year the BFI hold a whole range of film-related events. These include lectures by experts, music video screenings and live music played to films. See below to find out how you can learn more about what events are on during your visit.
Exhibitions: The exhibitions at the BFI tend to be free and they change on a regular basis. They tend to show images related to certain themes in cinema. They could be anything from film posters to film scripts.
Mediatheque: The BFI own a whole library of old films. It is possible to access this archive at the BFI Southbank. To find out more about using this service, see the BFI Southbank Official Website Mediatheque page.
If you want to see a film at the Southbank BFI, it is best to book in advance - the films shown will not be the same as in other cinemas around the city so tickets tend to be in high demand. To book tickets for the Southbank BFI, you have a number of options:
Box Office: You can buy tickets at the venue itself. The box office is open every day.
Opening hours: Monday - Sunday: 11:00 - 20:45
Website: Head to the events sections of the official website (see link below) and book online. You can click on the event of your choice which will take you through to a separate page for booking.
Telephone: You can call the Southbank BFI and book your tickets over the phone on the number below.
Opening times: Monday - Sunday: 11:30 - 20:30
Southbank BFI Booking Line
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7928 3232
The Operating hours of the Southbank BFI vary depending on what part of the BFI you are heading to. The building is open every day.
Southbank BFI building
Opening times: 09:45 - 23:00
However, here are the opening times for the individual sections:
Tuesday - Sunday: 11:00 - 21:00
Monday - Thursday: Closed
Friday - Sunday: 12:00 Noon - 18:00
Benugo Bar and Kitchen (see below for more information on the food options):
Monday - Friday: 15:00 - 22:00
Saturday - Sunday: 11:00 - 22:00
Riverfront Bar and Kitchen (see below for more information on the food options):
Monday - Saturday: 09:00 - 23:00
Sunday: 10:00 - 23:00
The BFI also owns an IMAX cinema that can be found less than ten minutes' walk from the BFI Southbank. This cinema will offer you the opportunity to watch films on one of the largest screens in Europe. They also show lots of children's' films and 3D films. To find out everything that you need to know about the BFI IMAX (opening times, how to get there, prices, what to expect and how to get in touch with the), see our Guide to the BFI IMAX cinema in Waterloo.
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7928 3232
Website: Official Southbank BFI Website
Tube: Waterloo (Black Line / Northern Line and Brown Line / Bakerloo Line and Grey Line / Jubilee Line and Pink Line / City Line)
On exiting Waterloo tube station you will find yourself in the main Waterloo train station building (to find out more about the train station, see our Guide to Waterloo Train Station in London). Once you are in the main station building, follow signs for the Southbank. Leave the building down a large flight of stairs. Once you have reached the bottom of the stairs, cross a large road called York Road and keep walking. The Royal Festival Hall will be in front of you. Walk up the steps that are at the left of the building. Once you reach the top of the steps you are at the centre of the Southbank area. Head right and walk down the river side for a couple of minutes. You will see the large Southbank BFI building on your right.
When you are at the Southbank BFI you can grab a quick bite or enjoy a long and leisurely meal, either before or after your visit. In the BFI building there are three options for getting something to eat: the Benugo bar and kitchen and the Riverfront bar and kitchen.
The Benugo bar offers an all-day dining menu and has a café atmosphere. They offer British food in a laid-back setting.
The Riverside bar and kitchen is slightly more formal than Benugo, whilst still maintaining a relaxed atmosphere. They offer dishes such as mussels, club sandwiches and burgers.
For details of the eateries inside the building, see the Official Food and Drink at the Southbank BFI page.
If you fancy heading further afield there are a great number of interesting restaurant options within easy walking distance of the BFI Southbank. There are the likes of Canteen Restaurant, Strada Restaurant Ping Pong and Giraffe Restaurant.
All of the above can be reached within less than five minutes' walk of the BFI Southbank.
Also, if you fancy exploring the area of Waterloo, you can head away from the Southbank area. Areas such as The Cut and Lower Marsh can be reached from the Southbank in about ten minutes if you are walking. These areas are worth making the effort to get to if you fancy trying somewhere a little bit different, with independent restaurant options. To find out more about Waterloo's dining options, see our Guide to Restaurants in Waterloo.
The closest car park to the BFI is at the neighbouring National Theatre. To find out more about the parking options, including opening times, location and prices, see the National Theatre Official Website Car Park page.
The BFI is an important national institution - a place where you can go to celebrate all that is good about both British and international cinema. If you are in the area, head to the BFI Southbank to look around - it is much more than a normal cinema and offers an apt setting to socialise with friends or take a look around.