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The Banksy (Leake St) Tunnel – a hidden graffiti art location in London

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Start of Banksy tunnel London

Street art or graffiti?

Street Art.  It’s not to everyone’s taste nor does it align with everyone’s value system.  Indeed, to many people it is not seen as art at all, but rather an activity that seeks to deface public property. It’s a well-worn argument between taxpayers, lovers of art, politicians and legal personnel, to name a few.

Different opinions aside, the concept of street art is growing at an exponential rate, in cities all across the world.  Tours are being designed around the best street art locations in each city.  Artists are being touted as inspirational, cutting edge and creative. Instagrammers use it as colourful backdrops for their galleries.  On the day we were here, a modelling shoot was underway.

Many local councils are actually using the popularity of street art in a fight against unwanted vandalism and graffiti of public property.  They are also helping to revive areas that have seen better days and bring a new group of visitors to explore new parts of cities they might otherwise have not known about.  Dedicated street art programmes set aside specific locations where artists can display their creativity for the viewing pleasure of those who come to watch and see.

Banksy locations London

London – one of the best places to see street art

There are so many things to do in London, but its popularity as a great city for street art was assisted by artists like Banksy.   Banksy became famous as a graffiti artist come political activist, drawing his slogans all around London to increase awareness of his causes.  He’s an anonymous identity most likely because despite the insurgence of street art culture, graffiti is still a crime.

There are many locations in London where street art can be seen.  It can be seen in all forms, from the more structured and commissioned street art pieces to the rough and ready graffiti style murals emblazoning walls.  Street art and graffiti art tours are also conducted regularly.  You can read all about one of these tours here.

Whilst many of the best places in London to see street art are out in the open, some require a little more research.Banksy locations London

Banksy locations London

The Banksy Tunnel, or Leake St Tunnel as it is officially known, lies hidden underneath the Waterloo train station. In 2015-2016, 99.2 million passengers entered and exited from Waterloo.  Another 6.1 million people interchanged through the busiest train station in Great Britain.  As each passenger moves through in their usual hurried fashion, I wonder how many are aware of what lies below.

In 2008, Banksy held the “Cans Festival” here, as a means of celebrating graffiti as art.  Since then, the city has allowed it to become a legal place for graffiti artists.

Whilst there is no longer any remnant remaining of the artwork of Banksy himself, bright murals now dominate the otherwise dark walls of this tunnel.  There are the usual political messages, sometimes the odd swear word but there’s also a lot of fun.

On the occasion we were here, there was plenty of reference to the 80s and of times spent doing things outdoors, and not glued to the indoor devices of the modern world.

Explore the lost tunnels of London

along the Leake St tunnel best street art in london

The end of the Banksy Tunnel

The art evolves

Murals here might last a day or two, maybe a week.  The layer upon layer of brightly coloured paint that adorn these brick walls do not become legacy items.  Such is the competition for legal space, the murals are painted over and over again on a regular basis.

Mural Banksy Tunnel

Banksy locations London - murals

Street art London - Leake St Tunnel

Art in progress

On any given day, you may come across people actively painting a new mural.  If you don’t you’ll most certainly see the evidence of their work, both on the walls and in the ‘work in progress’ spray cans.

Painters cans in the Banksy tunnel

Painters cans in the Banksy tunnel

Doing a London graffiti tour?  Here’s how to find the Banksy Tunnel

Access into the tunnel is via York Street or Lower Marsh Road.  Both are easily accessible from Waterloo Station.  York St is the entrance we took, having walked along the river past Westminster. Many people come to visit the iconic sights of Westminster and the London Eye, having no idea that this is within easy walking distance.  The tunnel is always open but I wouldn’t recommend coming here at night.

If arriving from Waterloo, exit the station onto the corner of York Street and Mepham Street.  It is a large intersection with a construction site on one corner, a restaurant called Black and Blue, and a decorative rail bridge on the other side. Turn left into York Street and walk for approximately 3-4 minutes, depending on your walking speed.

If you are a first time visitor to London, keep your eyes on the right-hand side as the London Eye comes into view.

The Banksy (Leake St) Tunnel will be on your left.  It’s a nondescript entry point so keep your eyes peeled.  Better still, if you have a mapping app, put the Leake St address into it and it will take you straight there.

 

Banksy locations London

Pacman in Banksy Tunnel London

Tips for visiting the Banksy Tunnel

  • As I mentioned earlier, I wouldn’t recommend going in here at night.  It is, after all, a dimly lit tunnel and probably not the nicest place to hang out.  It’s just as easy to visit here during the day, without any concerns for your safety.
  • Wear good shoes.  This might sound a bit silly but this is an area of painting, litter is left everywhere and people also make this tunnel their home at night time.  It’s not the cleanest place around so wearing shoes should also keep you safe.
  • If you are near the London Eye or Southbank, be sure to add it to your list of places to see.

Looking for street art in Bristol? Click here

Red chill street art Banksy Tunnel

 

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40 thoughts on “The Banksy (Leake St) Tunnel – a hidden graffiti art location in London”

  1. I love street art. I think it adds something extra to a lot of old buildings and old warehouses. I don’t like when people deface historic buildings or anything, but I think it adds something extra to places like this. I’ve never seen a Banksy in person, but I’m heading to London in May, so I’ll have to check this out!

  2. I love street art, and I can’t believe it when I hear about councils actively spending tax payer money to remove it from buildings – I’m one of those who believes it’s art, and can revitalize a city. Thanks for the heads up on how to find the Banksy / Leake St Tunnel – I had no idea there was such a cool site hidden underneath the Waterloo train station.

    It’s great that the city has now allowed it to become a legal place for graffiti artists. And pretty cool that the murals change every couple of days / weeks – means something different to see everytime you head back!

  3. Wow, this is so cool! I agree with those who consider street art legitimate form of art and I love to see it when I visit new cities. This tunnel makes is easy to see a wide variety of pieces and it is cool that it is still evolving.

  4. I’m totally going to visit the Banksy Tunnel the next time I’m in London. Street art has really evolved over the years. What a neat way to combat vandalism. So smart of the cities to schedule times for the artists to “work.”

  5. Um, adding this to our future London itinerary/bucketlist. We have spots like this in Richmond, VA (one of the most painted/muraled cities on the East Coast, I think), and we visited the Petite Ceinture railway in Paris, which has a similar vibe. But this is super unique among them! Looks stunning – thank you for sharing!

  6. As many times as I’ve been to London I didn’t know this all existed. Or at least didn’t pay attention. Nice post!

  7. I love this tunnel! Always something new being created and always people there admiring the work

  8. Super cool article. I’ve been obsessed with street art since visiting Bogota a few years ago. I took a tour of the art there on a whim and LOVED it. I’m saving this article so when I’m next in London I can find the best spots! Thanks for all the detailed descriptions and your photos really come alive.

  9. What an amazing discovery! I love street art too. I always make it a point to look for street art whenever I reach a new city. Would love to visit London again and look this tunnel up.

  10. I totally agree Sandy n Vyjay. I was never a “liker” as I saw it as breaking rules but I have come around and I too like the way that authorities are supporting local artists and harnessing their energy.

  11. Over the years there has been a thin line between graffiti and street art and yes there are many on either side of the fence. But I have noticed that in many countries the authorities themselves have channeled the energies and creativity of street art to spread social awareness on a host of topics ranging from environmental issues to safe sex. I must say the Banksy tunnel street art is unique in many ways, not the least because of its subterranean location. Street art around the world never ceases to fascinate.

  12. Street art comes in so many diverse forms! I think it’s truly hard to say a certain location is “one of the best” areas to find street art. The graffiti style is so pretty with it’s bright colors, but not my favorite since I can never read the words! haha. I do love the cartoons though, those are my favorite! 🙂

  13. For me Street Art is art but I don’t consider all mural paintings as street art . This looks like the kind of tour that I would like to do in a lazy Sunday morning and after reading this post now I want to explore more of our Street Art in Paris!

  14. I love to search for street art, but finding good guides that explain where to look and what you might find is difficult. We still haven’t seen many of these, so I’m saving this article for later use, thank you!!!

  15. We love street art, it makes exploring a new city that little bit more exciting! I guess that’s why we are currently loving Melbourne so much! I’ve never heard of this tunnel before but it does look amazing and an artists paradise! Would love to see it some day!

  16. Street art can be pretty interesting to look at. I think the Banksy tunnel looks like fun to explore!

  17. I LOVE street art. I definitely think it’s an art form. I just watched a documentary about political street art. Great photos! I hope to see many of these when I visit London.

  18. I’m such a big fan of street art, when it’s art and not just vandalism. Some people find it hard to tell the difference. Banksy really showed us the perfect example of that. I have a slight obsession with the mystery around him and his work and can’t believe I haven’t been to Leake St Tunnel yet to see it. I love that these canvases are ever-changing. That is so very London so very fitting too. Your photos really bring it to life.

  19. I do like seeing street art when I travel. Thanks for sharing this and the tips about when to go. It looks like it is definitely a daytime place.

  20. Eric || The Bucket List Project

    man that art looks amazing. I am always amazed at the beauty of the art but also the technique. I cant even spray paint a box with straight lines but looing at the roof of the tunnel. What an unbelievable skill that took to make such a beautiful mural. I missed out on seeing this tunnel in London but there is an amazing wall in Cardiff that we saw that also is dedicated to promoting street artists!

  21. I love street art Kerry. Stunned at the patience and skill these guys have. We are seeing more than a few cool street art works here in NYC on our current house sit in Manhattan.

  22. Alyson World Travel Family

    Loved this! We’re over in Dullwich right now and the street art is incredible. The famous Banksy Queen on skateboard pulled by corgis is here, it’s fantastic!

  23. Wow, Janis, that’s amazing! I would have loved to have seen the festival! Good luck finding your old photos. I love being able to compare. Thanks so much for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

  24. Wow, I didn’t realise the tunnel was still used for street art, I went to the ‘Cans Festival’ in May 2008 & even though I got there early on a Sunday morning I had to queue to wander through it.
     
    It looks a bit more colourful now, this post has now made me want to go and find my old photos.
     
    When I’m back in that part of London, I’ll have to go back and visit. But you’re right so many people are unaware that it is there.
     
    Happy Travels
    Janis

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