Underneath Waterloo Station lies a unique tunnel, one used by Banksy to host the ‘Cans Festival’ back in 2008. Today the tunnel is visited daily by artists and tourists, enjoying floor to ceiling graffiti that Leake Street Arches are now known for.
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It starts with a small gap in the fence. Above us is Waterloo Station, this tunnel was used by cars driving to the Eurostar terminal. Eurostar stopped using Waterloo and the road was no longer needed.
It is easy to miss Leake Street Arches when walking by. The tunnel doesn’t stand out from a distance, making it even more impressive upon entry. The darkness soon becomes a burst of colour and light, it would come as a big shock to those unaware of what awaits them.
The tunnel is around 300 meters long. Now I have to admit, there is a very large entrance on the other side of the tunnel leading out to the London Eye. This means that those with a disability can still gain access fairly easily, and entering isn’t as mischievous as I make it look here.
I couldn’t have started the post with that though, where would the fun be in that?!
The Banksy Tunnel
Street artist Banksy held the ‘Cans Festival‘ in this tunnel in May 2008. Inviting artists from around the world, they came and added their own creations. If you ever hear about the ‘Banksy Tunnel’ in London, this is it. The tunnel was used by cars until Eurostar moved to St Pancras International in 2007. Now, the disused tunnel has been revived and couldn’t look more alive.
Personally, I feel this is a great use of what would have been another bland, abandoned space.
Art is constantly being added, so expect a mix of old and new. It varies between styles and messages, some funny, some political. Some are drawings, some are simple messages. The Black Lives Matter movement has been very present in 2020, and the face of George Floyd was one of the first instalments I recognized upon entry.
It is hardly uncommon to see artworks being created, and the tunnel is often used as a shortcut for locals. Being in a busy area of London I saw families, people riding bikes and commuters in suits. With this in mind it feels very safe, I was in no rush to leave and I took my time looking at the countless pieces of art. Often artists leave their name alongside the art, helping them to be reached on Instagram and the like.
Some pieces are huge, such as this lady painted onto the tunnel ceiling. It is obvious that some take much longer to create than others, and need more than just a spray can to complete.
Venues operate in this tunnel, so don’t worry about getting hungry. Here you can find bars and restaurants, a gaming room and music venue. I also noticed another venue blocked off by a wall, can you see ‘The Vaults’ in the picture of me sitting on the kerb? I wonder if it will open up again…
A Vietnamese and Polish restaurant currently occupy the spaces.
Getting to Leake Street Arches
Waterloo Station and underground are the closest train stations. The large entrance below is at the north west exit of the tunnel, a five minutes walk from the London Eye. It is reachable by passenger boat, head to Waterloo Pier-London Eye dock.
As always, I highly recommend City Mapper to plan your trips around London. A real time saver!
What do you think? Let me know if you have ever been, or plan to when in London. Leake Street Arches are completely free to the public and always open, except for the possibility of events or maintenance. Venue opening times will differ, and I have linked the official Leake Street Arches website below.
For street art fans, it is a must visit. Despite it not being a top London destination, I would highly recommend a visit if you are around the Waterloo/Westminster area with an afternoon to spare. It is a great place to start before a stroll along Southbank, or a perfect place to finish with a cocktail.
Leake Street Arches- Main site
Leake Street Arches- Venues