Brilliant Barbican: what to get up to in The City’s arts district


Understandably, London’s ‘Square Mile’ has something of a, well, square reputation; famed throughout the world as the capital’s large financial district that’s teeming with workaholic banker-types who wear suits and have no time to spare. Yet, scratch beneath the surface and no area in London is quite what that stereotypical patter would have believe, for ‘The City’ is also home to the unusual, intriguing and really rather wonderful arts area that’s collectively known as the Barbican – and should you be staying in The City (for whatever reason; perhaps at The Montcalm at The Brewery London City), it’s absolutely somewhere you must try and pay a visit…

Barbican Centre

Barbican Centre

(Silk Street EC2Y 8DS)

Appearances can be deceptive; the large, imposing concrete estate at the centre of the Barbican district doesn’t just house up to 2,000 flats but also London’s outstanding and – undeniably – leading multi-arts venue; the Barbican Centre itself (which has become so ubiquitous it’s usually just referred to as ‘The Barbican’). Boasting an art gallery that hosts excellent exhibitions on design, architecture and pop culture (as well as, The Curve, an entirely free-to-stroll-around exhibiting space), a first-rate cinema that screens the latest mainstream releases, art-house gems and movie classics, a concert hall that’s home to the revered London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) and even a library, it’s a rare, unique venue that’s over-spilling with awesome things, all right. Indeed, its performance space, the Pit Theatre, is the site of many an eclectic experimental dance performance and, during the BIIE (Barbican International Theatre Events) season, it hosts productions by some of the most exciting and adventurous theatre companies in the world.

Barbican Conservatory

(Level 3, Barbican Centre, Silk Street EC2Y 8DS)

The second largest of London’s conservatories (after only Kew Gardens’ Princess of Wales Conservatory), this venue to be found in the Barbican Centre complex was originally established in order to hide its building’s huge and obtrusive flytower. Expansion of the site was rapid; nowadays it’s wonderfully home to at least two thousand different plant species. You’ll comes across everything from palm trees to banana plants here, not least as guided tours take place regularly to educate attendees on the wonderfully varied world of plants. You must check out too the place’s cactus house, the boldly colourful koi carp in the fishponds and the terrapins that were relocated from Hampstead Heath after terrorising too much of that locale’s fellow wildlife. Best of all, though, has to be the fact this venue likes to serve afternoon tea on Sundays, ensuring you can tuck into the likes of baked ham with spiced pear and ginger chutney. Honestly, is there a better way to round out a weekend afternoon during a short-break at accommodation London City?

Museum of London

(150 London Wall EC2Y 5HN)

Finally, another must-visit attraction in the Barbican area has to be the excellent Museum of London. Charging itself with the ambitious task of telling the tale of the UK capital’s entire history – right from prehistoric times up to the present day – it’s something this venue does with bells on. Featuring reconstructed interiors and street scenes, as well as exhibitions and displays of many and various original artefacts unearthed on any number of archaeological digs from down through the decades, it’s a thoroughly engaging and visitor-friendly place – indeed, you’re well advised to take a look at its website ahead of a visit, just to see exactly what temporary exhibits, talks, walks and family-focused events are going on.