The other week I finally got to visit the “concrete jungle where dreams are made of…” – no not NYC, but a real concrete jungle hidden within the walls of the Barbican.
Ok, ok the Barbican Estate itself isn’t a secret or hidden spot: the brutalist gem is home to an art gallery, theatre, cinemas aaaaaaaaand the botanical conservatory. It’s actually one of my favourite bits of London and whenever I’ve visited I’ve had sneak peaks of the greenhouse, but it’s taken me far too long to properly visit it. Main reason being is that it used only open on selected Sundays and you had to prebook – but recently they’ve flung open the doors to all each Sunday and on some Bank Holidays, with no booking required (plus it’s free!)
So what does London’s second biggest conservatory have to offer? Though its smaller than the expensive and rather remote Kew Gardens, you’ll find over 2000 different species of trees and plants as well as a special cacti and succulents corner. I’ve been to a number of botanical gardens and what makes this one stand out is the concrete backdrop which gives it a feel of a derelict place or setting for a dystopian world. It’s a great way to spend an unhurried hour being closer to nature without having to take the trek. If you’re a big fan and want an excuse to stay longer, they also offer Afternoon Tea amid the greenery.
Big shoutouts to the two little turtles that were chilling in their own private pool and the many colourful fish jostling with each other to get a massage from a water pipe. Plus the many, many photographers you’ll get to spot in their natural habitat. And who can blame them really? I mean look at it…
Overall, the Barbican Conservatory is small, cute and a lovely little reminder that even the greyest concrete can be beautified by nature.
From Notting Hill in London and Rue Cremieux in Paris to Rainbow Row in Savannah, residents everywhere are complaining about people disturbing their day-to-day lives while holding photoshoots outside their front door. We’ve all been guilty of a snap or two in front of a colourful house, street art or cute doors. But who’s actually crossed the line and walked into someone’s porch, done a yoga pose leaning against a front door or even filmed a dance routine? And while it’s not exactly someone’s house, is trampling through flower fields for that perfect pixie photoshoot really worth it?
Is this an increasing phenomenon? We can all agree that articles like 12 Instagram Photo Spots in Paris That You Have To Visit, 15 Best Places to Take Pictures in London and 7 Pretty Cafes in New York are more and more ever-present, whether on blogs, or even bigger sites like CN Traveller and Visit London. I even recently read that 37% of Dutch people look for Instagrammable places to visit during a city trip – that’s quite a lot!
Now, of course this isn’t a new thing, remember picture postcards, seaside photo boards, and of course photographs in general (we’ve all got our horror stories of Auntie and Uncle bringing their holiday snaps to share), plus famous pop culture photo spots like the Beatles on Abbey Road and any movie set in Paris, New York or London. Today, the latest flavour is Instagram or your favourite social media platform of the month.
So why do we all want to snap ourself while on our travels? Is it for the memory, immortalising that moment, or for the likes? Either way, layouts, arranging people and composition can be a tough cookie to crack, especially if you’re in a bit of a rush, meaning it’s often so much easier to replicate something than to think of one yourself. Have you ever found a nice photo spot and suddenly found quite a few other people want to join and see what the fuss is all about?
This is definitely something Kodak must have realised when they introduced Kodak Picture Spots in the 1920s. Interestingly, the Kodak signs started as roadside markers across the US highlighting general points of interest to photograph, which helped popularise picture-taking behaviour. Then they found their way into Disney theme parks, national parks and historic landmarks. But now we’ve gone from helpful signs saying ‘Why not take a photo here?’ on landmarks and tourist sites to ‘No photos allowed’ to protect against people’s houses getting a tad overrun by influencers. So what’s the answer? Shooting-guilt free I reckon.
Want to keep your shoot guilt-free?
How about keeping these in mind?
Covent Garden is frontrunner when it comes to curated photo opps that don’t invade people’s porches. It recently started off with flower-decorated swinging benches, but now includes seasonal curated corners as well as the Covent Garden Infinity Chamber, as well as sponsored sections which pop up from time to time. If you want all of these to yourself go out and explore it on Christmas Day, when it’s all empty.
The red phone boxes are the ultimate London landmark and as no one uses phones anymore, you’ll free as guilt-free as a zero-calorie ice-cream (but beware their aroma if you step inside!). You can find the famous red ones in Covent Garden (the market, and nearby Broad Court), Bloomsbury (Byng Place), Parliament Square and Smithfield Meat Market. There’s also a sponsored phone booth in Spitalfields Market that’s designed and placed with the aim for everyone to take a photo and display the big DW in the background.
Street art murals are perfect backdrops if you’re looking for something colourful. Some of the best examples include the Redemption Bar angel wings near Old Steet, the colourful Lakwena mural right behind Liberty in Carnaby Street, or pretty much all of Brick Lane. Don’t forget to credit the creator when posting these, it’s the least you can do.
For an overdose of photo-spot cuteness head to cafes like created-for-the-Gram Peggy Porchen, flowery heaven Dalloway Terrace or the pink perfection that is Sketch. They’ve built their identity around creating the perfect photo setting. So get yourself those overpriced scones or eclairs and take as many shots as you like.
Shall we make make an unwritten pact to not disturb, distress or bother people (or nature) in their natural habitats, even if it means missing out on that perfect snap?
When I first went to the British Museum I was surprised because instead of learning about the history of Great Britain it was more like learning about the things the British had nicked during their travel expeditions…however, it did grow on me and now I think it’s actually one of my favourite ones in London.
And I’m not the only one who rates it highly – it’s even the number one thing to do in London on Tripadvisor. But do not fear, I went in with a critical eye and put it to the Museum Musing test. Here we go.
Location – 15/20
The museum is located in Bloomsbury and nearby underground stations are,Tottenham Court Road, Holborn, Russell Square and Goodge Street. As it’s near Covent Garden, Leicester Square and Holborn you can easy combine it with other galleries, museums, food or shopping.
Exhibits – 15/20
It’s go everything from pottery to coins and mummies. And from stones to watches and more stones. Even if you hate museums you’ll find something to enjoy. Yes, the lay-out of some of the rooms is outdated and some are cluttered, but overall it has its charm.
Value For Money 20/20
Well … it’s free! And there is a lot of it.
Wow Factor – 15/20
What isn’t wow-ing about British Museum?! From the entrance with its high pillars to the grand Great Court with the glass ceiling and everything in-between.
Layout – 10/20
It’s basically a maze, a fun maze that is, unless you’re in a hurry and want to go to a specific section. Best is to just go with the flow, follow or walk away from the crowds and see where you end up, you won’t be disappointed.
Minus Credit – 2
Usually this is where a museum can get extra credits but the British Museum is getting some points deducted for its vague second entrance. I get they need to spread things out for safety reasons, but they need to put up clear signs if they direct you away from the main entrance due to it being too crowded.
Total: all in 73/100 points. The British Museum should be on top of your list if you’re into seeing the rest of the world’s history without having to leave London.
March has come and gone and I’ve been trying to make the most of my weekends and evenings. Here is what I have been up to.
BRIXTON VINTAGE KILO SALE Brixton
Every second weekend of the month in Brixton and third weekend in Brick Lane are filled with shirts, blazers and dresses. If you are looking for on trend items like slip dresses, animal print or neon this isn’t the place, but as it’s fairly priced for £15 for 1kg of clothes you don’t have too much to lose.
CHRISTIAN DIOR: DESIGNER OF DREAMS @ V&A Kensington
Despite the hassle to get hold of the tickets I loved it! It’s sold out, but here is how you can still get tickets and enjoy all the dresses you’ll never be able to own.
HALL’S PLACE Bexley
You’ve guessed that I can’t get enough of historic manors, houses and mansions. Hall’s Place proved to be another good pick where I learned about the people who lived in the house from the 16th century onwards and all the changes they made to the place, including the US soldiers who rocked up during the Second World War and stole more than a few hearts. The gardens and greenhouse were a great escape too and I loved the topiary in the shape of animals too.
RED HOUSE Bexleyheath
Another thing you can visit in Bexleyheath is the former house of William Morris (you’ll know his textile prints even if the name doesn’t ring a bell) where you’ll find a selection of wall paintings, stained glass and tapestries that were created by Morris and his art friends all hidden across a lovely period house.
TWO TEMPLE PLACE
I have shared my thoughts on this Gothic revival heaven here. You can visit the place and see the John Ruskin exhibition until 22nd April for FREE.
I had a tour through the Charterhouse building complex that has been around since the 14th century and served as burial ground, monastery, school and housing charity. It’s so interesting to see that these are still around in London after so long.
MUSEUM OF ORDER OF ST JOHN Clerkenwell/Farringdon
Despite being fascinated by the gates for years I only popped into the Museum of Order of St John a few weeks ago. They did a great job showing in an interactive way how the order started and what they do now. I’m annoyed that I missed the tour, so I definitely want to go back to see the historic rooms at St John’s Gate and the Priory Church & Crypt.
SIR JOHN SOANE MUSEUM Holborn
One of those places that I’ve walked past a dozen of times when I worked in Holborn. One of those houses is the former home and office of John Soane, an architect and art collector. He designed it to display the art works and artefacts that he collected during his lifetime. It comes with the boujiest breakfast room, cellar to third floor ceiling statues and a sarcophagus carved from the inside and outside!
Wasn’t for me
I gave up on Leon a long time ago, as everything tastes the same, just a lingering Leon aftertaste after every bite. Still I wanted to try the new meat free love burger and just like with everything at Leon, it was … just ok. The patty itself wasn’t too bad, but all the extras were too much all together and the bun was a bit inspirationless and not worth going back for seconds.
2 for £12 cocktails that have names like Wonky Donky, Malibu Stacey and Ram Berry Jam. But sadly the cocktails were more like mocktails and should have been priced like that. The jalapeño poppers were actually ok, but not good enough to make me want to return.
Now spring has arrived and that means burning all your 200 denier tights, making the most of that extra daylight in the morning and getting your life back from the SAD monsters. I’m looking forward to what Q2 will bring. What are your April plans?
I do love a good historic house and thought I’d seen all the best ones in London already, but how wrong I was! I went in for the Ruskin exhibition and walked out as a Gothic revival fan. Two Temple Place has it all! Mahogany carvings: check. Grand staircase: check. Stained glass windows and ceiling: check. A giant fireplace: check! Marbled floors: check! I mean look at it!
Just when you think the stained-glass ceiling is as impressive as it gets, you’ll walk into the Great Hall to spot not one but two glass stained windows: one designed for sunset and the other for sunrise. You might also recognise The Great Hall from The BBC’s The Bodyguard where it stood in for House of Commons reading room. The Mahogany carvings and golden details also continue in this space.
So who can we thank for this beautiful place? William Waldorf Astor, an American attorney, politician, businessman, and newspaper publisher (also the same guy who restored Hever Castle) who bought and renovated the place and used it as his office space. I can think of worse places to work from.
The place is only open to the public during Open House and their annual exhibition, which is happening now until 22nd April. So you have little less than a month to make it down to Thames Embankment and see for yourself. And don’t forget to go to the Ladies toilets on the first floor … you’ll be in for a treat.
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