From afar, the Barbican Estate looks like a concrete jungle: a bleak mass of grey blocks, columns and towers. Cast aside your opinion of brutalist architecture for a moment, and venture inside. Greenery spills over the balconies; water features create an oasis of calm. But the best is yet to come.
High in the sky: a tropical oasis. The Barbican Conservatory is home to two thousand-odd species of plant from around the world, including date palms, orchids and cacti, alongside terrapins and colourful fishy friends. Originally designed to mask the Barbican Theatre’s (rather ugly) fly tower, it’s grown to become London’s second-largest conservatory (the largest in the land being Kew Gardens’ Princess of Wales Conservatory). I finally got round to visiting a couple of months back, and my only regret is not going sooner. It’s a gem – and a free one at that!
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- The Barbican Conservatory is open from 12:00 to 17:00 on Bank Holidays and selected Sundays; check their website before you go. Entry is free.
- If you’re travelling by Tube, the nearest station is (surprise, surprise) Barbican. Follow signs to ‘Barbican Centre’ and take the stairs or lift to Level 3.