Where else in the world can you catch a movie, see a dance production, sip on a cocktail by a lake, be inspired at an art exhibition, and see the London Symphony Orchestra, all under the same roof? The Barbican is the UK’s leading international arts centre and home to one of the five City of London libraries holding some of the city’s oldest books. With a calendar bursting at the seams with things to do, see and feel inspired by, there’s something for everyone and anyone.
Before it was the most popular arts centre that we know today, what stood there was a vast concrete estate of over 2,000 residential flats. Originally built to replace the void of space after the London Blitz, it’s one of the largest examples of Brutalist design ever built and a style that was incredibly popular from the 1950s to the 1970s. In 1982, the Queen once called the Barbican “one of the modern wonders of the world” but whether this is the same thought for everyone who sees it is up for debate!
It was years later that the architects who designed the flats, Chamberlain, Powell and Bon, decided to extend and add to the Barbican, creating the multi-level venue and arts complex it is today. Nowadays, it’s home to a concert hall, three cinemas, two theatres, (one of which was designed for and home to the Royal Shakespeare Company) two art galleries and two exhibition halls as well as a stunning garden conservatory where you can officially tie the knot!
Enjoy a relaxing Sunday at The Garden Room with a relaxing drink at the cafe, lots of people watching and taking in views of the tranquil lake - it’s like a free for all oasis in the middle of the city.
It’s hard to know where to start when it comes to things to see and do at the Barbican - the list really is endless.
As the Barbican Hall is home to the London Symphony Orchestra and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, finding a ticket for that would be golden - they do 90 concerts a year so get looking at the programme. For film buffs, there’s not one but three cinemas showing all the latest blockbusters, independent and arthouse films while the two theatres stage dance performances and classics from Shakespeare and the like. The art galleries are famous for some of the most cutting edge exhibitions and events shown at The Curve and foyer floors plus there’s talks and workshops galore on the events calendar too.
The Barbican are proud of their iconic and unique architecture so what better way to show it off and tell its history than on a tour? During a 90-minute walking tour, learn all about the concrete, the design and construction and why it all came about.
From the main entrance on Silk Street, there is ramped access to the Ground Floor foyer and from here, lifts are available to all floors. Regarding accessible toilets, you’ll find this across most levels including the Conference, Gallery, Library, Ground, Balcony, Stalls, Pit floor and Exhibition Hall floors with changing places in the Beech Street Cinema complex. Attending a performance and don’t want you coat hanging around? Hand it in at the free cloakroom on the Stalls level which is open 90 minutes before the start of a show. It’s worth noting also that bags might be searched and only one bag per person is permitted.
There are so many places to eat and drink at the Barbican, (most of which are reasonably priced) so whether you’re hungry after seeing an exhibition, want to grab a bite before the cinema or just looking for a coffee and some time out, you’ll find something to satisfy.
If you fancy going fancy, there’s only one place to head - Osteria. Headed up by chef Patrick Leano, previously of Michelin-starred restaurant Arbutus, he has created an Italian menu of tasty pastas, succulent antipasti and the roasted cod with mussels is to die for. Accompanied by a menu of stunning Italian wines and cocktails like their famous Negronis, you can dine with views over the lakeside and fountains. Plus, a pre-theatre meal is just £18. For something a little more informal, Bonfire on Level 1 covers all the burgers, milkshakes and pie bases while family friendly Barbican Kitchen serves handmade pizzas and boasts a hearty salad bar - just head to the ground floor.
Meeting a friend for a drink? Head to the James Bond-inspired Martini Bar for a mixture of drinks both shaken and also stirred. Take advantage of the happy hour 5-6pm for £5 cocktails, too. On Level 1 and Ground Level, the foyer bars will have a range of beers, wines and spirits on offer to for before, after or during the interval of the shows and events so enjoy a glass of something bubbly.
If you’re just after a cup of tea and a pastry, you can find just that at the Benugo cafe located at the Cinema 2 & 3. Grab a toasted sandwich or Benugo coffee to takeaway or relax in one of their comfy sofas and have some chill time. Alternatively, grab a hot drink, cake or sandwich at one of the foyer cafes on either Level or the Ground Level.
It's relatively easy to get to The Barbican whichever form of transport you choose to take.
With four car parks surrounding the Barbican, driving to the centre won’t be an issue. All can be accessed via Silk Street or Beech Street but spots will need to be paid for on the day or prepaid online.
Buses 4, 56 and 153 will stop outside of Barbican station at stops BA and BB. From here, it’s just a five minute stroll to the centre.
Luckily, Barbican station is just a five minute walk away from the venue itself and can be picked up on the Circle, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines. Alternatively, Moorgate station is on the Northern line and only a six minute walk from the Barbican centre.
While it’s a 15 minute walk away, Farringdon rail station is still close by. Alternatively, Moorgate rail station is a six minute stroll, however, there are more routes coming into Farringdon.
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