On the surface, it maybe wouldn’t occur to many that London’s financial district (‘The City’ or the ‘Square Mile’, as it’s variously referred to) might make for the ideal area in which to stay for a short-break spent in the UK capital. Yet, in and around the small district there focused around the Barbican Centre, for instance, there’s a plethora of not just accommodation options but things to see and do in the immediate vicinity…
(Silk Street EC2Y 8DS)
Once claimed by HM The Queen to be ‘one of the wonders of the modern world’; whether the Barbican Centre truly deserves to be described thusly may be a slight exaggeration, there’s no question that, culturally speaking, what’s possible to experience all under its one roof is quite extraordinary when you stop and think about it. Sure, mid-20th-Century concrete nirvana it may be (and ‘rightly’ was once voted as London’s ugliest building), it nonetheless is a venue to make a beeline for should you be up for experiencing one or many things from its diverse programme (which is on 363 days a year).
Here then you can choose from experiencing classical, jazz, rock, world music greats, as well as works from the London Symphony Orchestra (which just happens to call it home) to some of the world’s finest stage shows, dramas and comedies at its two theatres and from art house, cult classic and major mainstream movies at its three cinemas to viewing great exhibits at its awesome art gallery to intriguing pieces at its smaller but well-worth-checking-out exhibition spaces. Moreover, the Barbican Centre’s also home to restaurants, bars, cafés and shops and plays host to talks, signings and a multitude of events for children are also on offer. Indeed, as you might have imagined by now, there’s an innate joy in just coming across an exhibition, live music or a talk from a major arts celebrity in some nook or cranny you chance upon in this utterly unique venue.
Museum of London
(150 London Wall EC2Y 5HN)
Fancy the chance to not just find about but also experience the genuine flavour of what London was like in times past – all the way from the prehistoric age right up to present day? If so, the Museum of London’s the destination for a day out for you and yours during your short-break staying in around the Square Mile, all right (perhaps while staying at the likes of London City Suites By Montcalm). Despite its centuries-spanning scope, this is an innovative, state-of-the-art, modern museum that’s brimming with in excess of 1.1 million objects (yes, really). And no surprise, frankly, because its five lower Galleries of Modern London guide visitors the city’s oh-so eventful history from the Great Fire of 1666 up to the 21st Century. Unmissable pieces on show number precious books, mock-up city streets and vintage cars, as well as the ridiculously ornate Lord Mayor London’s State Coach, and displays that range from a reconstructed Georgian pleasure garden to a World City space.
Elsewhere, there are four permanent galleries that focus on (what was) London in prehistoric times up and then the capital’s formative years, taking visitors up to until the 17th Century AD; this part of the museum then takes in what the place was like way back in 450,000 BC, through the founding of the Roman Londinium in 50AD – and includes an extraordinary collection of pieces, such as a skeleton that’s between 5,100 and 5,460 years-old, and a total 47,000 objects drawn from the city’s Roman era, among them stunning marble sculptures from a one-time temple of the ancient god Mithras.
Plate at M By Montcalm
(151-157 City Road EC1V 1JH)
Finally, no time spent in the Barbican area of the city is surely complete without time spent dining in the excellent restaurant that’s Plate at M By Montcalm. Here, you’ll discover the very best British ingredients are infused with a soupcon of French finesse and drop of Shoreditch swagger and style, all in all making this lunch and dinner venue not just a favourite of short-breakers in the capital but also the nearby Tech City’s trendy start-up set. With a menu put together under the guidance of acclaimed chef Arnaud Stevens (Sixty One, The Gherkin) – thereby applying all his classical French training and experience – this is a venue where you’ll find the atmos refreshingly non-stuffy, the service restfully informal yet the staff and cooking reassuringly informed.
A perfect place then to spend a long, lazy afternoon – and where you simply must try either the sublime sweet plates or one of the more substantial mains or, even better, mix and match between them both (our tip’s the sticky BBQ ribs, for sure). With its lively open kitchen a long mezzanine (buzzing with jovial conversation driven by great coffees and cocktails) and Plate Bake and Bar section downstairs that focuses on homemade breads, cakes, pastries and serving up breakfasts, this is a dining destination that’s simply second to none.