The Elephant consists of major traffic junctions connected by a short road called Elephant and Castle, part of the A3. Between these junctions, on the eastern side, is the Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre, with Hannibal House office block on top. To the north of this, bounded by Newington Causeway and New Kent Road is the large Metro Central Heights residential block. The 43-storey Strata residential block lies just south of the shopping centre on Walworth Road.
Traffic runs to and from the south-east of England along the A2 (New Kent Road and Old Kent Road), the south of England on the A3, to the West End via St George's Road, and to the City of London via London Road and Newington Causeway at the northern junction. Newington Butts and Walworth Road adjoin the southern junction. The whole junction forms part of the London Inner Ring Road and part of the boundary of the London congestion charge zone.
In the middle of the northern junction island is the Michael Faraday Memorial, a large stainless steel box built in honour of Michael Faraday, who was born nearby. It contains an electrical substation for the Northern Line of the London Underground.
The Elephant has two linked London Underground stations, on the Northern and Bakerloo lines, and a National Rail station served by Southeastern (Kentish Town to Sevenoaks via Catford) and First Capital Connect (Thameslink suburban loop to Sutton and Wimbledon). Local buildings include Skipton House Department of Health); Perronet House, an award-winning residential block owned by Southwark Council; a large part of the London South Bank University campus; the London College of Communication; the Ministry of Sound nightclub; and the Metropolitan Tabernacle. The Cuming Museum is nearby.
Known previously as Newington (Newington Butts and Newington Causeway are two of the principal roads of the area), in the medieval period it was part of rural Surrey, in the manor of Walworth. This is listed in the Domesday Book as belonging to the Archbishop of Canterbury; the income from its rents and tithes supplied the monks at Christ Church Canterbury with their clothing, and a 'church' is mentioned. The parish was called St Mary, Newington, which church occupied the southwest side of today's southern roundabout, near the Tabernacle, and was first recorded by name in 1222.
In May 1557, William Morant, Stephen Gratwick and a man named King, known as the Southwark Martyrs, were burnt at the stake in St George's Field on the site of the present Tabernacle during the Marian Persecutions.
St Mary's Church was rebuilt in 1720 and completely replaced in 1790, to a design of Francis Hurlbatt. Within another hundred years this too was to be demolished, with its replacement on Kennington Park Road ready in 1876. It was destroyed in 1940 by enemy action. The remains of the tower and an arch were incorporated into its replacement of 1958. The open space is still known as St Mary's Churchyard, and the narrow pedestrian walk at its south end is Churchyard Row.
There is record of a 'hospital' before the Reformation. In 1601 the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers erected St Peter's Hospital, i.e. almshouses, on the site of the present London College of Communication. This expanded and survived until 1850, when it was removed to Wandsworth. The Drapers' livery company created Walters' Almshouses on a site now at the southern junction island in 1640, giving the tower block opposite the name Draper House. The almshouses were relocated to Brandon Street in the 1960s as part of the major redevelopment.
In the 19th century the nationally famed Baptist preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon built his Metropolitan Tabernacle here. It was bombed in the blitz but rebuilt and is still flourishing today.
During the late 19th century there was a cemetery in the vicinity, but it was built over during London's rapid expansion. A few gravestones remain in St. Mary's Churchyard.
The Elephant was the centre of the target zone for the German air raids on London on 10 May 1941 and suffered "raging fires".
The Elephant is featured on the cover of The High Llamas' "Beet Maize & Corn" album (2003) in a painting by Jeremy Glogan.
The Elephant is the location of the London College of Communication, formerly the London College of Printing, an internationally renowned dedicated college, part of University of the Arts London. The present structure was constructed during the redevelopment of the area in the early 1960s.