Battersea Power Station could have been many things. Since the southwest London landmark was decommissioned in the 1980s, there have been seven failed visions for its regeneration, including a theme park, a shopping mall, a super-hotel and even a new home ground for Chelsea FC. But nearly a decade after development began, the capital’s most-anticipated regeneration is finally taking shape.
The transformation of a Grade II*-listed icon into a vibrant new neighbourhood beside the Thames has been a long ride, and there’s even been two, shiny new Tube stations (at Nine Elms and Battersea Power Station) to link the area up to central London. Big-name architects, such as Frank Gehry and Norman Foster, have also been tasked with designing swathes of the development. Much of the area is already open, with riverside bistros and slick wine bars set beneath the railway arches, but the crowning glory is the next phase, and the opening of Power Station itself this autumn. It’s poised to be a new destination for food-lovers, with a 20,000sq ft food hall, as well as a hundred shops, cafes and restaurants, all housed within in the soaring Turbine Halls and Boiler House, where exposed brick and metal framework stand as a reminder of the site’s past. Visitors can get a bird’s-eye view of it all with the Chimney Lift Experience, offering panoramic views from the top of the building’s northwest chimney.
In a nod to its past life, the building will also house its own sustainable power station, set beneath the riverside park. There’ve also been careful efforts to preserve and boost the site’s biodiversity, including resident pairs of peregrine falcons and black redstarts. The creation of ‘brown roofs’, insect-friendly gardens planted on rooftops, is also designed to boost local birdlife.
A new high street is in the works, too: Electric Boulevard is the area’s buzzy new promenade, flanked with dining spots, shops and offices, as well as playgrounds and ribbons of green space. The main attraction on the high street, however, is the first UK outpost of art’otel — the eclectic, colourful chain whose 164-room hotel will be topped with an outdoor pool.
Neighbourhood digs: what to do in Battersea
Lively SW11 has become one of London’s most happening corners, with plenty for those looking to escape the capital’s frenetic heart, from leafy parks to eclectic art centres.
With a boating lake, children’s zoo, Go Ape, art gallery and various manicured gardens, Battersea Park is a day out in its own right. Even if you pass through for a stroll, it makes a worthwhile detour from Battersea’s busy town centre and the stretch beside the Thames — where you’ll find London’s Buddhist Peace Pagoda — is especially lovely, with views across the river to Chelsea, linked by the ornate Albert Bridge. Stick around for the evening, when a sourdough pizza and live music at the park’s Pear Tree Cafe are in order.
Check out the listings at Battersea Arts Centre, housed within the grand Victorian former town hall. Its busy programme runs the full gamut of performing arts, from spoken-word events and contemporary dance to indie gigs and Proms concerts. You might find well-known comedians and playwrights trying out new material here, too. It’s excellent value for money, with many events priced as ‘pay what you can’ — try and catch a performance in the Grand Hall, a vast, atmospheric space with barrel-vaulted ceiling, restored in 2018.
Set amidst the glassy new high-rise of Nine Elms, Oxeye is the delicious brainchild of Masterchef: The Professionals finalist Sven-Hanson Britt. The ever-changing tasting menu takes its cue from the restaurant’s partner farm in Derbyshire, and highlights the very best of pickled, foraged and reared produce, with dishes that might include chargrilled swede consommé or Portland sheep with seaweed and turnip. Alternatively, call into Bar Rex, the adjacent wine bar, for British wines and small plates.
If you fancy a trip to the arcade with your pint, head to The Four Thieves — a rambling pub-cum-games room just a short stroll from Clapham Junction station. Take your pick of the cocktails or craft beers, before trying your hand at some of the retro-themed games on offer, from dance mats and gopher racing golf to table hockey and even virtual reality gaming. Karaoke, pub quizzes and bottomless brunches are all firm fixtures on the calendar, too.
Design gurus, take note — the UK’s first branch of art’otel is opening on Battersea Power Station’s Electric Boulevard from December, bringing its bold colour palettes and quirky design to the capital. Spanish designer Jaime Hayon is behind the design of the 164-room hotel, which will also host an art gallery, four restaurants and bars, and a rooftop pool, all just moments from the site’s shops, bars and restaurants. From £400.
Tired of the tube? Hop on a River Bus from Battersea Power Station to go in and out of central London — and see the sights along the way. Services downstream run as far as Greenwich, stopping at the London Eye, Westminster and the Tower of London en route. tfl.gov.uk
Published in the September 2022 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)
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