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Are you tired of the overwhelming London crowds? The Barbican Centre is a hidden gem and a splendid non-touristy thing to do in London. This guide will show you exactly how to plan your great escape from the usual tourist traps.
This beautiful venue in the heart of the British capital is a complex neighbourhood with a complicated history. Nonetheless, it seeks to move on and focus on the beauties of life. That is why the Barbican Centre was born and why it aims to showcase London’s emerging artists.
Whether you’re a die-hard art lover or an art novice, this centre has everything you need for a wonderful day and night. Read below to find out why you should add it to your itinerary.
The Barbican Centre is Europe’s biggest multi-arts venue. It showcases both local and international performances and exhibitions from established and emerging artists.
These artists’ works include performing arts, cinema, visual arts, musical performances, and more.
The centre is all about community and has regular programmes called Open Labs. These programmes help cultivate new ideas, voices, and perspectives from minority groups. These often-overlooked groups include ethnic minorities, the disabled, and LGBTQ+ artists.
The Barbican Centre is in the Barbican neighbourhood of London. It takes its name from the Latin word ‘Barbican’, which translates to the ‘outer defence of a castle’ or ‘fortified gateway’.
A Roman fortified wall and gateway once stood in this area. The rubble still stands near the Barbican Centre as a reminder of the devastation that caused its fall.
During World War II, the area was struck with the devastation of The Blitz. After eight months of continuous bombing from Germany in the 1940s, the area was almost completely destroyed.
Three architects, Chamberlin, Powell, and Bon, saw the area’s potential, and thus the inception of The Barbican Centre began. Although the idea for the centre started in the 1950s, The Queen first opened it to the public in March 1982.
Today, the area has risen from the ashes and is a booming neighbourhood full of residential towers, theatres, exhibition galleries, restaurants, and more.
You can find this centre in the City of London Borough, in Silk Street. The building is not too far from many of London’s notable landmarks, so it is pretty accessible.
Tube: The closest tube station is, of course, the Barbican station, which is about a four-minute walk away. It is on the Hammersmith & City, Metropolitan, Circle lines. Other close-by tube stations include Moorgate, which is a seven-minute walk, and St Paul’s, about an 11-minute walk away.
Bus: A few bus routes pass the centre, so it’s easy to find buses nearby. Route l153 is the only one that runs directly past it. Routes 56 and 4 have stops near the Barbican tube station, so it’s just a short walk away.
Walk: If you enjoy London walking tours, you can take your own leisurely stroll on Silk Street. The centre is in a great location about 30 minutes away from central London. On your way, you’ll pass another beautiful architectural wonder — St Pauls’ Cathedral. The cathedral was Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s wedding chapel and offers tours.
Many spaces in the centre are free to enter, like The Curve Gallery, The Conservatory, and their bars and restaurants. The only time you’ll be expected to pay is when you drop by to watch a show, movie or exhibition. Of course, ticket prices will depend on the event organisers.
The Barbican Centre is open every day from 09:00 – 23:00, except for Sundays when open times are 11:00 – 23:00. That said, each venue has its own operational hours, and it’s best to check beforehand to avoid arriving at a closed door.
The Barbican in London has lots to see and do. Enjoy everything here, from the beautiful sights and sounds of their concert halls and galleries to exquisite tastes from their restaurants and bars.
The Barbican Hall has two theatres within the venue. Both of these, The Barbican Theatre and The Pit, are in the centre’s main building. These venues showcase some of the best international performances from established and up-and-coming artists.
The Barbican Theatre is the bigger venue of the two and seats 1,156 theatregoers. The elegant theatre may be big, but it allows a clear view of the spectacular performances. Seats are no more than 20 metres away from the stage and feature a stunning line of vision from the tiered seating.
The theatre has played host to critically acclaimed shows like Les Miserables, The Tempest, Jesus Christ Superstar, and more.
The Pit Theatre is an intimate showroom with up to 150 seats. It aims to showcase works by groups not represented enough in the artistic community.
One way the theatre champions these creative voices is through their Pit Parties. Here, new artists often breathe new life into the traditional scope of theatre with innovative new works and art forms.
Another place to check out in the arts centre is the Barbican Hall. The Barbican concert hall is the biggest venue at the centre with almost 2,000 seats. You can hear every orchestra or symphony played here, from Beethoven and Bach to contemporary guitarist Miloš’ take on the Beatles.
The Barbican has two art galleries: The Barbican Art Gallery and The Curve. The Barbican Art Gallery is on the third level of the centre and has a small entrance fee. However, children under 12 can enter for free.
The Barbican Art Gallery exhibits artworks of different forms and media, showcasing sculptures, photographs, film, fashion, architecture, and more. Exhibitions change regularly, but all focus on modern culture, digital expression, and emerging technology.
The Curve Gallery is a smaller space but is free of charge to view. Here, you can see new artists’ work that the centre commissions for display. The centre does this to inspire more emerging artists to create and express themselves through art.
You can find the Barbican Library on the second floor of the main building. It is a dynamic space, which, like the building it’s in, opts to be a place where people can relax and learn.
Inside, the library offers visitors books, DVDs, CDs, oral recordings, and scores. There is also a Children’s Library which hosts regular activities like story times and art sessions.
Students can also enjoy the library facilities like workstations, photocopying services, public computers, and free Wi-Fi.
The Library prides itself on all art forms and thus offers visitors access to their listening stations. Here, you can plop next to the station and enjoy the melodies from new and vintage vinyl records.
The library is open from Monday to Saturday with alternating time schedules. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, it is open from 09:30 – 17:00. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, it is open from 09:30 – 19:30, and on Saturdays, it operates between 09:30 -16:00.
While watching performers sing and dance can be thrilling, sometimes all you need is a quiet stroll among some greenery. The centre’s jungle-esque conservatory offers you just that without having to set foot outside the venue gates — which is especially great for London in winter.
The Barbican Conservatory is on the third level of the building and is the second biggest conservatory in London. It spans over 23 000 square feet with a high steel-constructed roof covered in glass, allowing sunlight to pour in effortlessly and warm the area up.
The conservatory has up to 1,500 species of plants and trees from all over the world, with a select few species of rare or endangered plants.
The area is split into two ‘houses’ with plants from both tropical and dry climates. You’ll find an assortment of flora ranging from cacti from desert areas to tropical Swiss cheese plants.
Downstairs, you’re in a tropical garden with all kinds of greenery surrounding you. Here you’ll find plants like palm trees, banana trees, and ferns reaching up to the roof. While upstairs, you’ll find the Arid House on the east side.
Here you’ll find succulents, cacti, and xerophytes from the deserts of Africa.
A few animals you can spot here and there. There are a few ponds with fish inside that offer a few splashes of glittering colour. Two of the ponds house international species like Japanese Koi fish and American ghost and grass carp. The third pond, which is outside, houses a few cute terrapins.
Besides the theatres, galleries, concert halls, and the massive indoor conservatory, the Barbican still has room for a few restaurants and bars. The three restaurants each serve different types of cuisine, so you always get what you crave.
Barbican Kitchen is a family-style restaurant that serves light meals and refreshments. It is on the ground floor and opens up to the Lakeside Terrace outside, which is next to the centre’s pond. Enjoy a wrap or sandwich with your morning coffee outside while you soak up the sun or enjoy the moonlight as you enjoy a hot meal before a late-night performance in the concert hall.
Tip: Kids under 12 get a free pizza with every adult meal on weekends and selected times on weekdays.
If you need something more substantial than a light wrap and a black coffee, then Bonfire is worth a visit. This burger joint is sure to fill your stomach. Fill up on beef, chicken, or veggie burgers with a hearty helping of fries and a sweet strawberry milkshake.
Osteria is an Italian restaurant overlooking Lakeside Terrace. It is the perfect place to stop by before a show or just for an impromptu date night. Their menu uses fresh seasonal ingredients and comes with a choice of one, two, or three-course meals.
Keeping with the theme, their wine lists consist of wines from Italian regions like Sicily, Franciacorta, and Valpolicella.
If the Lakeside Terrace doesn’t provide you with enough sunlight during your coffee break, you can also have a laid-back picnic in the garden. Bring your own snacks or buy some from the venue’s restaurants or cafes. While you’re there, why not order a lovely cocktail from one of the bars.
The venue also has a few bars on site, which would be great stops before a show or during theatre intermissions.
The Martini Bar overlooks the Lakeside Terrace and centre foyer on the first floor. Their mixologist, Harvey Macaraig, makes a mean cocktail or two. But, if you’re not a sweet drink lover, they also have a selection of wines, beers, and champagne.
Tip: Happy hour is every day from 17:00 – 18:00 and offers a two for one special.
Did you know the Barbican Centre also has three cinemas? Well, the Cinema Cafe Bar is just outside them and is the perfect place to pop by for a quick coffee, glass of wine, or a snack before screenings. They also serve pastries and cakes if you have a sweet tooth and popcorn isn’t cutting it.
One of the many things to do near Liverpool Street is to visit The Barbican Centre. The venue is a vibrant space that celebrates all art forms under one roof and has many items to tantalise your senses.
Here you can spend the whole day exploring the various activities, shows, and artworks exhibited by emerging artists from all over the world. Have breakfast at one of their restaurants or enjoy a picnic in the shade. Then, enjoy a pint or multi-coloured cocktail at one of their upscale bars.
The Barbican Centre is your oyster, and it’s waiting to be explored.