Exploring the Barbican Estate and Conservatory

First look at the Barbican Estate over a wall

The Barbican Estate is, in my opinion, one of London’s more overlooked architectural masterpieces. It might not look like much at first, but even the Queen once declared it as “one of the modern wonders of the world”.

Where is the Barbican Estate?

The Barbican Estate can be found right in the heart of London. The chances are, you’ve probably seen it before and not even realised!

If you look towards St Paul’s Cathedral from the Southbank, you can usually see some towers poking out from behind it. These three 43+ floor towers (Cromwell, Shakespeare and Lauderdale) make up the iconic silhouette of the Barbican Estate.

The estate is much closer to St Paul’s than I ever really realised, just a 10-15 minute walk away. However, if you’d rather travel by tube Liverpool Street, Moorgate and Barbican stations are within 5-10 minutes walk.

What to expect from the Barbican Estate

The Conservatory

My main reason for visiting the Barbican was to head to the Conservatory. I’ve written about a few London indoor gardens before so thought I’d tick this one off too! The conservatory is the second biggest in London and home to over 2,000 species of tropical plants and trees. Basically, it looked just like the kind of place I fancied spending my Sunday.

Unfortunately, the conservatory is only open on certain Sundays from 12 noon – 5pm, so you will need to plan your visit a little in advance. However, entry is free and all information is pretty easy to find on the Conservatory website.

The conservatory itself was lovely to visit and only took around an hour to have a good look around. My top tip would definitely be to get there early if you want to beat the crowds. We got there at around 11:30 and once open, it did start to fill up quite quickly!

Cacti in the Barbican Conservatory

Tropical plants inside the Barbican Conservatory under the glass roof and imposing concrete balconies

The Estate

In my opinion, the estate itself is much more of an ‘attraction’ than the Conservatory and also much quieter. We arrived at around 11 am so we could wander about and we hardly saw another person!

The estate comprises of 3 towers and 13 terrace blocks as well as two mews and various other buildings. All of these blocks are arranged around a lake and several green courtyards which create quite a lovely contrast. The complex also houses cafés, bars, the Barbican Centre, a public library, a cinema, a church and the Museum of London – it’s basically a little city on its own!

The estate itself is open for visitors to wander about via the many walkways. Some areas are resident access only, but everything is clearly signposted.

One of the main blocks at the Barbican, a long stretch of apartments with balconies overlooking a central courtyard

City of London School for Girls at the Barbican

The sheer size of the Barbican complex, and the careful consideration that had obviously gone into the construction completely amazed me, it was far beyond anything that I had expected.

At first, the estate did seem somewhat intimidating due to the brutalist architecture and imposing stature of the buildings, but this feeling quickly faded away.

After walking around for a while it dawned on me how unusually calm and peaceful the area is as a whole, especially given that it is an estate in the centre of an exceptionally busy city! Of course, this may have been due to the fact that most people don’t tend to wander around at 10:30am on a freezing cold Sunday morning…

The Barbican is a great alternative destination in London, especially if you’re into photography. It’s also a place with many hidden spots and things to try and find, there’s even a section of the old Roman City Wall in there somewhere!

Have you visited the Barbican before? What did you think of it? Let me know if you’ve got a favourite alternative place to explore in London too!