London’s Beautiful Indoor Rainforest Is A Verdant Paradise • Barbican Conservatory
Let’s face it, the Barbican Estate is not a pretty place. Unless you’re a big fan of Brutalist architecture (or a Guildhall student), this concrete grey, weirdly shaped estate is difficult to love at first sight. However, there is one spot that is both beautiful and beloved by many: the verdant Barbican Conservatory, a glass-bound rainforest in the heart of the City. (It’s also one of many brilliant free things to do in London.) This verdant paradise began opening seven days a week from last summer for the first time ever, and has just reopened to guests once more – so there’s no excuse not to visit!
Barbican Conservatory is the second biggest conservatory in London, after Kew Gardens’ Princess of Wales Conservatory. Originally designed to hide the building’s massive flytower, someone decided to stick a couple of pot plants in there. Things have got a little out of hand since then, as the collection houses over two thousand species of plants. They’re a pretty-looking lot, too.
They look even prettier with a colourful light show. The Barbican Conservatory only does this for corporate events and weddings, so you’ll have to know the right people to see it this way.
Everything from palm trees to banana plants can be found within these glass walls. Budding horticulturists can take a guided tour of the conservatory, to learn more about the different species. Meanwhile, colourful koi carp fill the fishponds, which makes a stroll over the wooden bridges a peaceful jaunt for the more casual explorer.
Less peaceful are the terrapins, who were relocated to Barbican Conservatory after terrorising wildlife on Hampstead Heath. They may look sweet, but they’ve got a mean streak a mile long, which is how they came to be known as ‘the terrorpins’.
Up in the rafters of the conservatory sits a cactus house, filled with equally spiky customers. Everything from cute little cacti to sprawling monsters resides here, and it’s great inspiration for your next desk plant. Outside, the Barbican Conservatory keeps bees, though the beehives are unsurprisingly off-limits to visitors.
Admission is completely free, but you’ll need to book online in advance and pick a timed entry slot. Bookings are released one week in advance, and you can make yours on the website.
Free, but you’ll need to reserve a timed entry slot online.
Also published on Medium.