Jun 022019
 
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Leake Street Tunnel (aka Graffiti Tunnel) in London
Leake Street Tunnel in London, England is filled with graffiti art

The walls and ceiling of Leake Street Tunnel (aka Graffiti Tunnel or Banksy Tunnel), a pedestrian tunnel running underneath London’s Waterloo Station, are covered with an ever-changing collection of graffiti art.

Wall of graffiti art in Leake Street Tunnel

Before 2008, the tunnel was abandoned and somewhat derelict. In 2008, Banksy, the mysterious world-renowned street artist, organized a group of graffiti artists to transform the tunnel into an art gallery for an exhibition he called “The Cans Festival.” The tunnel quickly became a tourist attraction.

Bold painting on the wall of London Graffiti Tunnel

Today, the tunnel is a haven for street artists from around the world. Its walls are one of the only legal graffiti walks in the United Kingdom. No Banksy works remain, but the graffiti and murals change daily. Each piece may last only a few days before being painted over.

Artist spray painting in London Graffiti Tunnel

On a visit to London in 1992, I walked through this tunnel. At that time, it was seedy and smelled of urine. Homeless people lying on mattresses and surrounded by their few belongings squatted along the sides. My ten-year-old stepdaughter was deeply distressed about the situation of these people “sleeping rough” for days. The tunnel I walked through in 2019 could have been a different place. Paintings covered the walls and ceilings. Tourists snapping photographs had replaced squatters. The scent of spray paint dominated.

(Note: The transformation of the tunnel into a creative space has not eliminated the homeless problem. Those sleeping rough no longer seek refuge in the tunnel, but you can find them scattered here and there in surrounding streets.)

Doors from London Leake Street Tunnel through an archway reveal an entertainment venue
Entertainment venue inside railway arch adjacent to tunnel

Once used for storage, eight former railway arches adjacent to the graffiti tunnel now house restaurants and entertainment venues. Collectively these venues are known as the Leake Street Arches.

The Vaults entertainment venue behind murals in London Graffiti Tunnel
Set in a maze of disused arches, The Vaults is a home for immersive theatre and alternative arts.

I visited the tunnel midday enroute to other destinations in London. My primary purpose was to see the graffiti art. I did not have the time to visit any of the archway venues. Some open at midday, but others are open only in the evenings.

Graffiti art in a picture frame in Leake Street Tunnel
Picture frames around a couple pieces high up the wall
Detailed graffiti art on the ceiling on London Leake Street Tunnel

You need to look up as well as to the side. Some very intricate work was there.
Graffiti girl painted on ceiling of London Leake Street Tunnel
Another piece on the ceiling
Painting in London Leake Street Tunnel
Geometric graffiti on wall of London Leake Street Tunnel
Paintings on wall of London Leake Street Tunnel
Lego Superman painted on wall of London Leake Street Tunnel
Graffiti painting in London Leake Street Tunnel

The tunnel is not particularly long to walk through. However, it is covered by so much graffiti it takes time to look through it. Much of it is quite graffiti-like with coded tags and squiggly lines, although you may find a few more art-like paintings, which are the ones I prefer. For a larger collection of street art in London, visit Shoreditch or Brick Lane.

The Leake Street Tunnel is about a five-minute walk from the entrance to Waterloo Station. Head southwest on York Road. Leake Street runs off York Road.

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London Graffiti Tunnel. Leake Street Tunnel near Waterloo Station in London, England is filled with graffiti art. #London #England #graffiti #graffitiart


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  4 Responses to “London Graffiti Tunnel”

  1. I loved exploring this tunnel when I visited London a couple of months ago. You’re right, it’s not a big place but there is so much to see. It’s definitely worth a visit.

    • Deb, I think it would also be interesting to visit this tunnel a few days in a row and see how it changes from day to day.

  2. This stuff looks very cool. For me it raises the question of at what point is graffiti art. I’ve seen some not totally dissimilar stuff in New York subway stations that was considered vandalism not art.

    • Ken, it is legal to paint on the wall of this tunnel (there are a few rules). Painting on someone else’s property without their permission would be considered vandalism I think. I’ve also read a few articles about the distinction between graffiti, graffiti art and street art, which opens up a whole other discussion around the nature and intention of the painting.

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