"The Elephant", as locally abbreviated, 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 the Hannibal House office block above. To the north of this, bounded by Newington Causeway and New Kent Road is the Metro Central Heights. The 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.
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 Thameslink (suburban loop to Sutton and Wimbledon), and other Thameslink services to Kent.
Local buildings include Skipton House, part of the 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 on Walworth Road.
The name "Elephant and Castle" is derived from a coaching inn. The earliest surviving record of this name relating to the area appears in the Court Leet Book of the Manor of Walworth, which met at "Elephant and Castle, Newington" on 21 March 1765. Previously the site was occupied by a blacksmith and cutler – the coat of arms of the Worshipful Company of Cutlers features an elephant with a castle (representing a howdah) on its back, which in turn was used because of the use of elephant ivory in handles.