Culture, koi and iconic concrete: welcome to the less suity bit of the City.
Why go there?
For half-timbered charm and cobbled-street quaintness. Just kidding! Everyone’s favourite brutalist landmark is a high-end housing estate and Europe’s largest cultural complex – where you can lose blissful days seeing all the arts you can stomach.
What if I just want to stare at turtles?
You’re in luck. The Barbican Centre houses London’s second largest conservatory. This lofty temple of glass and steel is home to thousands of exotic plants as well as terrapins and huge koi carp swimming in clear pools. Very Zen.
And if I fancy some fresh air?
Alas, you’ll need a resident’s key to get into the prestigious estate’s sunken gardens. But it’s nice down by the Barbican Centre’s lake; and a five-minute stroll will bring you to Bunhill Fields Burial Ground. This historic cemetery is as leafy as it gets round these parts. Nice.
So, where shall we go for a drink?
Flashy bars outnumber quiet pubs, with City slickers catered for at the likes 1 Lombard Street. But if you’re looking for a ‘proper pub’, try The Sutton Arms (Carthusian Street), The Old Red Cow (Long Lane) or The Artillery Arms (Bunhill Row). Caffeine hounds will find what they crave at Pitch 42 in Whitecross Street Market, Look Mum No Hands! up the road on Old Street or Ozone on Leonard Street.
But not on an empty stomach…
You could join the workaholics who flock to Whitecross Street Food Market for weekday lunches at the likes of Luardo’s, purveyor of Latin-American deliciousness. Or, if you prefer a chair with your chow, The Jugged Hare on Chiswell Street does great, if pricey, gastropub fare. There’s a Hawksmoor at Guildhall and a Hix in Cowcross Street. But you can’t beat the mothership of meat consumption, St John, a gizzard’s breadth from Smithfield Market down the road. Here, you’re almost certain to see an art star winkling out Bovrilly snot from a plate of bone marrow. But don’t let that put you off: you can dine handsomely (and affordably) on Welsh rarebit, Eccles cake and Lancashire cheese.
And if I only do one thing?
Apart from the endless supply of culture, you mean? Just admire the uncompromising urban beauty of the place. It’s one of the wonders of the modern world. The Queen said so when she opened the Barbican Centre in 1982. And she’s not allowed to lie.
By Martin Coomer, who didn’t used to think Ben Jonson House was named after a discredited Canadian sprinter.
Want a change of scene? Check out the best bits of Muswell Hill.