London Ramblings #4: The surprising Barbican Conservatory

Dear Reader(s),

I hope this new blog post finds you well? We’ve made it to the end of yet another month and I can’t wait to turn the page on this one. February has never really been a particular favourite of mine and there have been a few bumps along the road this year. I shall spare you the (not-so) gory details as I feel that I have already exceeded my quota of rants for the month …

I’m happy to report I passed my guiding exam at the National Portrait Gallery at the beginning of the month, thanks to the support of my classmates and Lady Emma Hamilton. In a cheeky nod to Helen of Troy, I called Lord Nelson’s rather (in)famous mistress ‘the face that launched a thousand scandals’ and this comparison didn’t go down too well with the examiners, but I have a feeling Emma was smiling down on me that day and would have approved! πŸ™‚

While I truly hate breaking promises, I can’t deliver a blog post about Luxembourg today and I must admit defeat yet again. (Shame on me & mea culpa in one!) Instead I have decided to focus on one of the more pleasant days of February, which included a visit to one of London’s most secret green spaces: [cue for suspenseful music] the Barbican Conservatory.

The Barbican Conservatory: where urban and concrete jungle collide.

The rather unusual Barbican Conservatory: where urban and concrete jungle collide.

2014-02-02 14.49.16

The logo of the Barbican Centre.

While the Barbican Centre is no secret to Londoners and tourists alike, the tropical oasis hiding inside one of London’s most controversial Brutalist structures certainly is. Only open to the public on selected days*, the sprawling conservatory makes for an usual green space and, as such, it had already been gathering dust on my (rather endless) list of places to visit for a very long time. Well, it was most definitely worth the wait … Love it or hate it (there is no Swiss option available here), I have a feeling the Barbican has never done things half-way and the Conservatory must be testimony to that enduring trait of character. But enough talking for now (I’m allowed to say this to myself, right?) and let’s have a look at what the fuzz is all about!

2014-02-02 14.29.34

Who knew such fauna and flora was hiding inside the City of London’s concrete behemoth?

2014-02-02 14.30.07

My favourite photograph from this visit as I love glass ceilings. Playful shadows!

Wrapped around the theater’s flytower, the Barbican Conservatory can be accessed via the third floor of the main building. For novices, it’s on the same level as the art gallery and most of the elevators in the foyer go straight up there. Before we go on with this post, I’m afraid we have to be real here for a second though! Hands up, who has never managed to get lost at the Barbican? I’ll be the first to admit to it and plead guilty, your honour(ific readers). Yes, even tour guides get lost from time to time – it happens … occasionally! I believe @MrTimDunn of Twitter fame must be one of the few people able to navigate the building blind-folded. Have I digressed yet again? …

2014-02-02 14.25.35

A broad variety of cacti are housed at the top of the Barbican Conservatory.

2014-02-02 14.26.06

Some of these fellas really must like it hot! (My cacti jokes are limited!)

Celebrated as London’s second biggest conservatory after Kew Gardens (another interesting bit of trivia there, the Barbican Conservatory, according to official sources, is home to birds, exotic fish and over 2,000 species of tropical plants and trees. I’m by no means a botanist or gardener (I can dream!), but wow, that’s incredible and seems like an impressive number to me. Speaking of botanically-inclined people, the Sunday @GWinLondon and I visited the conservatory, our friend @LondonSE4, blogger extraordinaire and Napoleon-enthusiast, as well as some other very talented visitors were sketching away the flowers and trees.


The wonderful and very talented @LondonSE4 showing us her artwork.

2014-02-02 14.15.31

@LondonSE4‘s drawing of a Cymbidium Orchid. (Photo: @GWinLondon.)

For some strange reason I can’t quite recall, I ended up having an impromptu ‘photo-shooting’ with @LondonSE4. Oh yes, the fog is lifting, and it’s all coming back to me now, I had just delivered a Highlights Tour at the British Museum earlier on and, giving a tour, can sometimes be a bit like getting an adrenalin kick. (Don’t judge me! Whatever floats your boat …) As I was snapping away, one fellow visitor gave us a few strange looks, as we were being silly I must confess and later on, when I rejoined @GWinLondon, who had gone off to take some pictures too, he quipped to her: ‘Oh, watch out, your friend the paparazzi [sic] is approaching!’. Suffice to say this incident gave birth to a new nickname of mine. #ohdear #puccipaparazzo

2014-02-02 14.30.12

Can you spot some of the fish in the pond? Have a closer look!

2014-02-02 14.33.12

A palm tree in London? We are certainly not in Kansas anymore …

From an architectural point of view, the Barbican Conservatory makes for an interesting clash between the natural and the artificial world. The lavishness of the tropical fauna and flora sticks out almost like a sore thumb and softens the harshness of the stark exterior. With its airy glass ceiling, this unbelievably charming space actually manages to humanize the whole Barbican complex, which can be a bit bewildering for outsiders at the best of times.

2014-02-02 14.28.08

Quite the juxtaposition: where the wild flowers grow … (No roses though!)

2014-02-02 14.45.28

Indulging the relatives with a a picture of me. (Hi Mom and Dad!)

As we were leaving the Barbican Centre, we couldn’t help but notice the beautiful and iconic City of London skyline, which you can see below, in a slightly doctored version. (It always amazes me how easy it is to get rid of window stains on photographs!)

2014-02-02 14.54.24Just as a little recap, the *Barbican Conservatory is free to visit on selected Sundays, from 11am to 5pm. Please make sure to check the website for upcoming dates in order to avoid any disappointments. (You will still be able to see parts of the conservatory from the outside on other day, but won’t be allowed to enter.) The space can also be booked for private events, so if you think of throwing a party or a wedding, the conservatory would certainly make for a very special venue. You can also find the Barbican Centre on Twitter: @BarbicanCentre.

On a personal note, I’ve also recently put my Guiding CV online, and if you know someone who is looking for a freelance tour guide in the London area, please free to point them in the right direction! πŸ˜‰

Take care and see you soon,



15 thoughts on “London Ramblings #4: The surprising Barbican Conservatory

    • Hi Laura,

      Thank you very much for your very kind comment.

      I’m glad to hear it has inspired you to visit the Conservatory again – those words are music to my heart! πŸ™‚

      Take care and see you soon,


  1. Woohoo! Big high five, Yannick! Bet it feels good to have that over and done with!

    Your pictures inside the conservatory are beautiful! I love seeing all the green. Sigh…I’m so ready for spring!

    {And I’m super jealous of your friend’s artistic talent…}

    • Hi Sarah,

      Thank you for you comment and the well wishes re: the exam. (I’m glad that one is over, but there will be another one in May. Oh dear …)

      It seems like in the time it took me to reply to your message, spring has arrived here in London, so I think we can now officially call you a visionary person! πŸ™‚

      Yes, my friend is very good at drawing – she just likes to keep her talent hidden away from all of us. Not anymore! πŸ™‚

      Take care and see you soon, I’m sure!


  2. Congratulations on passing your exam! I visited the Conservatory a long time ago; it used to be free & open most hours, but cutbacks intervened..Sad.. Residents (lucky souls) have open access πŸ™‚

    • Hi Zena,

      Thanks a lot for leaving a comment on the blog and the well wishes!

      The Conservatory is a marvelous space, isn’t it? I agree, it’s a bit of a shame one can’t just pop in and have a wander. Lucky residents, indeeed!

      Take care,


  3. Pingback: CΓ΄te Restaurant Barbican | bestoflondonlife

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s