So, chances are that, during your fast-moving, probably rather hectic few days spent in the UK capital, you might want to pause and take a breather for a few hours. Where’s best to head to then – perhaps before a slap-up feast at, say, one of the restaurants near Paddington Station…?
(Gallery Floor (Level 3), Silk Street EC2Y 8DS)
Home to over 2,000 species of tropical plants and trees, the Barbican’s Conservatory is a hidden tropical oasis in the heart of the city. So, it may look like a giant green house to the casual observer but finches, quails and exotic fish all live here. Opened in 1984, the glass structure is yet another part of the Barbican’s famously strange and controversial architectural make-up. Being enclosed by the glass roof means you can visit in any weather (though it is only open on Sundays – 12noon-4pm – and Bank Holidays). A popular choice for private functions, conferences and film premieres, the Conservatory can comfortably hold up to 150 guests for drinks, but it’s just as ideal for getting away from the London hustle-bustle for a few contemplative, restful yet rather reinvigorating hours of a quiet Sunday afternoon, all right.
St Dunstan in the East
(St Dunstan’s Hill EC3R 5DD)
This secluded garden nestles in the ruins of St Dunstan in the East, the building was rebuilt after the Great Fire of London only to be demolished again during the Blitz. The only part which remains is the Christopher Wren tower in which gloriously green plants climb throughout the ruins, creepers and vines cling to the windows and beautifully bright exotic species make this the perfect place to take a break from the City. It’s open seven days a week; from 8am to 7pm (or dusk, whichever’s the earlier).
Leighton House Museum
(12 Holland Park Road W14 8LZ)
Leighton House is one of the most opulent museums in London, and its small scale makes it easy enough to explore thoroughly in an afternoon. Located on the edge of Holland Park (so not far at all from several Hyde Park Paddington hotels), this opulent 19th-century home of Lord Leighton is decorated with domed ceilings, fountains, and plenty of marble. Golden mosaics, gilded walls, elaborate paintwork, domed ceilings, trickling fountains, cool marble and peacock blue tiles make Leighton House worth a visit. Built between 1864 and 1879 on the edge of Holland Park, the home of classical artist Lord Leighton also became home to his extensive collection of Victorian paintings, including works by his contemporaries John Everett Millais, Edward Burne-Jones and George Frederick Watts. On the first floor is Leighton’s studio with its great north window, dome and apse. One of the most stunning features of the house is the Arab Hall which forms the centrepiece to the house. Tiled with over 1,000 vibrant, peacock blue tiles from Iran and Syria by the ceramic artist William De Morgan, these provide an opulent theme that is carried out throughout the house.
BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir Temple
(105-115 Brentfield Road NW10 8LD)
Finally, a stunning Hindu temple that’s as much an architectural gem as a spiritual site of reflection, peace and mindfulness, it was the first traditional Hindu Mandir built in Europe; every one of the 26,300 individual pieces that make up its construction were entirety were carved in India before being shipped over to London – and they were then, remarkably, fitted together in just three years (1992-’95). Both the interior and exterior of this venue, also known as the Neasden Temple, are absolutely supreme, visually speaking; yes, the stark white exterior, riddled with intricate detail and carvings, belies the opulent, colourful interior. Highly-fashioned pillars, domes, columns, carpets and ceilings are the order of the day, providing the setting for some spectacular murtis, rich with lavish thrones and royal attire.