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Practical bargain break: Citadines Barbican

Michael Edwards takes a short break at Citadines Barbican and discovers that London’s Culture Mile is blissfully quiet

barbican panorama - Citadines Barbican

Citadines Barbican is a collection of classic rooms, studios and one-bedroom apartments and is a short stroll from the Barbican Centre, steadily waking up after lockdown hibernation, at the heart of London’s Culture Mile.

With millions of employees still working from home and hardly any international tourists, London is wonderfully queue-free. Even with every other seat left vacant on tube trains, you are unlikely to have to strap-hang. Pavements are uncluttered and you will see few people on the two-minute walk from the Barbican station through to Citadines.

Citadines Barbican inner London convenience

This must be one of the best times ever to visit The Barbican Centre, Europe’s largest arts centre, as long as you book events online in advance. Self-catering at Citadines Barbican, for a few days, gives visitors the time and independence to explore London at their own pace and without the expense of eating out.

Barbican tour
The Barbican complex has an earned reputation as a Marmite development.

“The Barbican is a Marmite place,” the guide on our Barbican architecture tour tells us, sweeping his hand at the vast complex that riffs on so many architectural styles: Roman fort crenulations, Italian fountains and the sleek lines of Art Deco cruise ships. It is a city in the sky which required more concrete than the M25.

The Queen declared The Barbican to be one of the wonders of the world. Yet, Londoners were soon voting it the city’s ugliest building. So, is it a utopia or dystopia? That’s the question on our minds as we explore the once derelict Second World War bomb site. It was developed to contain more than 100 different types of housing on a council housing estate for the middle-class. They paid commercial rents until Maggie Thatcher gave tenants the right to buy. At purchase prices around 80% of market value, they snapped up the properties.

The idea was that the tenants, if they got past an interview with the formidable Miss Dix and their career progressed well, could move from starter-home apartment, through mews and townhouses, to the penthouse topping the 44 floor Shakespeare Tower. There would be evenings spent with the London Symphony Orchestra and drinks by the lake.

Architects – and wannabe social engineers – Chamberlin, Powell and Bon, designed a community where residents could enjoy art exhibitions, concerts, three cinemas and numerous cultural events. Kitchens were downgraded to “cooking rooms” as residents would be out socialising and networking.

Though the 120-foot fly tower, required for housing the theatre’s equipment, temporarily spoilt the grandeur of the Barbican’s skyline. A greenhouse, second in size in London only to Kew Gardens, was the architects’  solution. Today there are more than 1500 species of plants and trees available for visitors to view.

Citadines barbican apartment
Citadines Barbican apartments are compact and reasonably well-equipped to accommodate a longer stay

With so much to see, the Citadines Barbican apartments provide a relaxed base for dipping in and out of the Culture Mile. In the one-bedroom apartments, kitchens supply hob, microwave, kettle, toaster and a substantial Abel and Cole starter pack, so that guests can comfortably self-cater. Washing machines and a small dish-washer encourage longer stays. It is a popular formula. Citadines also have Apart’hotels in South Kensington, Holborn/Covent Garden, Trafalgar Square and newly-opened Islington.

Though the Barbican Centre – and events on Level G are always free – are just some of the attractions of the Culture Mile. At the Guildhall School of Music and Drama there are also many free performances.

An even shorter walk from the Citadines Barbican apartments takes visitors to The Museum of London. It has exhibitions chronicling the development of the city since 450,000 BC leading into more contemporary events, currently running a free Dub London: Bassline of a City exhibition until September 5th. Starting at The Museum of London you can also trace the route of the City Wall along a walk to Tower Bridge, recalling that the word Barbican derives from the Latin word for fortress.

St Paul's Cathedral
Sir Christopher Wren’s English baroque masterpiece, St Paul’s Cathedral

Walking south down Aldersgate, you can extend the Culture Mile to take in St Paul’s Cathedral. A walk across the Millennium Bridge leads to Tate Modern and The Globe Theatre. From there you can also board an Uber Boat by Thames Clippers to explore London from the Thames.

In 2022, the Barbican Centre will celebrate its 40th anniversary with a packed programme taking several days to savour, yet this summer, whilst the crowds are absent, may be a shrewd time to book into Citadines, Barbican.

Fact file

Citadines have Apart’Hotels throughout London at Barbican, South Kensington, Holborn/Covent Garden, Islington and Trafalgar Square. Learn more  at London (citadines.com)

Check out the Barbican Centre’s programme of events

Research The Museum of London at Museum of London.org.uk

Plan your explorations at Culturemile.london

If you like Michael’s Citadine, Barbican review, you’ll find more travel reviews and city break ideas on our Travel channel.

Last modified: June 14, 2021

Written by 4:43 pm Around The UK