The Barbican Centre: everything you need to know

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The Barbican Centre

There is a reason why the Barbican Centre attracts so many people every year: not only is it a fantastic performing arts centre in the capital but it is the largest of its kind in the whole of Europe. So what is it and what can it offer you on your trip to London?

A brief history

In an area that was badly bombed during World War II, the Barbican Centre rose out of the ashes; it was built after the surrounding Barbican Estate complex was constructed. Designed by Chamberlin, Powell and Bon in Brutalist style, the centre has a multi-level layout while the concrete ziggurat has always divided opinion, especially when considering that it was once voted the ugliest building in London. It was eventually opened to the public by Queen Elizabeth II in March 1982.

Over the years, various additions were made to the Grade II listed building, such as a Pentagram design studio, bold signage, a new entrance on Silk Street, and a refurbishment of the main hall. The theatre was also built to be the London home of the Royal Shakespeare Company, but it wasn’t too long before the firm left – in 2013, the company returned to the centre for a three-year season of Shakespeare plays.

Barbican Centre

What is there?

The Centre regularly hosts classical and contemporary music concerts, film screenings, art exhibitions and theatre performances. The Centre’s Concert Hall is the home of the BBC Symphony and London Symphony orchestras, and with it being owned by the City of London Corporation, a lot of money is thrown into it, making it the third biggest arts funder in the UK.

In total there is the

  • Barbican Theatre that holds over 1,100
  • The Pit, which is a flexible 200-seat theatre venue
  • Barbican Art Gallery
  • Barbican three cinema screens
  • Three restaurants
  • Seven Conference Halls
  • Two Trade Exhibition Halls

There is also a library on the second floor, which is not only one of five City of London Libraries, but it is one of the largest public libraries in the city. Be sure to have a look at the London Collection, which boasts a wealth of historical books and resources, some of which date back 300 years. The library also hosts regular literary events.

Enjoy in London

What’s on this year?

Here are some of the major highlights that will be taking place at the Centre in 2015, but do note that there are also many temporary exhibitions and daily workshops,s so keep an eagle eye on the official website for more details of what may be on during your visit.

Running from August 5th to October 31st will be a production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, directed by Lyndsey Turner. The reason why this show will be a must-see is because the title role will be carried out by no other than Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch. Telling the tale of a son seeking revenge for his father’s death, all while his country is getting ready for war and his family is falling apart, sanity and hysteria are put on the line.

On July 6th and 7th, meanwhile, award-winning jazz performers Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock will be reuniting once again to give a once in a lifetime performance. They are set to take the Barbican Hall by storm, but note that tickets are set to be in hot demand.

Other musical performances this year include Swedish hip-hop troupe Yung Lean And Sad Boys on February 23rd and Mozambique star Mariza performing Portuguese fado music on March 16th.

You may, alternatively, want to partake on one of the many specialised tours that are available. One of them is the Architecture Tour (tickets cost £10.50 for adults and £8.40 for others) where you can learn further about the external high walks, original designs for the site and the values involved in shaping this building. Or go on the Hidden Barbican Tour, which allows you to explore the unseen backstage spaces of the theatre, as you peruse the stage doors, dressing room corridors, art fly tower, Barbican conservatory and even get to go on stage yourself. Both tours also offer you discounts at the Foyer Shop.

How to Get There

From The Montcalm hotel, just walk to Marble Arch around the corner and hop onto the Central line to St Pauls. Walk up St Martin’s Le Grand until you reach the roundabout and then turn right onto London Wall. Take the next left onto Wood Street, and after 200 metres, you should see the Centre on your left. The entire journey should take you around 25 minutes.

When you are done there, don’t call it a day, as there is a wide variety of attractions nearby. Fort example, right round the corner is the great Museum of London – while it may not reach the heights of the British Museum we don’t think, it is still a brilliant way to spend an afternoon and learn more about this city’s interesting an eclectic past. Or just walk back to the St Paul’s tube stop, which is right opposite – you’ve guessed it – the iconic St Paul’s Cathedral. This is one attraction you cannot really miss on your itinerary. Who said that a trip to London didn’t have to be culturally focussed?