Famous actors may tread the boards below, but Barbican Conservatory is the real star of the show.
Let’s face it, the Barbican Estate is not a pretty place. Unless you’re a big fan of Brutalist architecture (or a Guildhall student), this concrete grey, weirdly shaped estate is difficult to love. However, there is one spot that is both beautiful and beloved by many: the verdant Barbican Conservatory, a glass-bound rainforest in the heart of the City. (It’s also one of many brilliant free things to do in London.)
Barbican Conservatory is the second biggest conservatory in London, after Kew Gardens’ Princess of Wales Conservatory. Originally designed to hide the building’s massive flytower, someone decided to stick a couple of pot plants in there. Things have got a little out of hand since then, as the collection houses over two thousand species of plants. They’re a pretty-looking lot, too.
They look even prettier with a colourful light show. The Barbican Conservatory only does this for corporate events and weddings, so you’ll have to know the right people to see it this way.
Everything from palm trees to banana plants can be found within these glass walls. Budding horticulturists can take a guided tour of the conservatory, to learn more about the different species. Meanwhile, colourful koi carp fill the fishponds, which makes a stroll over the wooden bridges a peaceful jaunt for the more casual explorer.
Less peaceful are the terrapins, who were relocated to Barbican Conservatory after terrorising wildlife on Hampstead Heath. They may look sweet, but they’ve got a mean streak a mile long, which is how they came to be known as ‘the terrorpins’.
Up in the rafters of the conservatory sits a cactus house, filled with equally spiky customers. Everything from cute little cacti to sprawling monsters resides here, and it’s great inspiration for your next desk plant. Outside, the Barbican Conservatory keeps bees, though the beehives are unsurprisingly off-limits to visitors.
Lots of reasons to visit this tropical oasis, but we’ve saved the best one ’til last. Barbican Conservatory serve afternoon tea on Sundays, and, knowing the fastest way to our hearts, they offer bottomless booze. The tea incorporates ingredients grown in the conservatory, creating delights such as baked ham with spiced pear and ginger chutney, passionfruit macaroons, and coffee and mascarpone eclairs. Add unlimited prosecco for a tenner, and your Sunday will be extra fancy.
The real drama happens downstairs at the Barbican Theatre, but for a peaceful Sunday, a wander round the Barbican Conservatory can’t be beaten. Just don’t get too close to those terrapins…
Location: Level 3, Barbican Centre, Silk Street, EC2Y 8DS. Nearest station is Barbican. See it on Google Maps.
Opening hours: it’s open from 12-5pm on selected Sundays and Bank Holidays. Last entry is at 4:30pm.
Entry: free, free, gloriously free!
More information: head to the Barbican Centre’s website.
Featured image: @jayyyr