The Barbican Centre, a vast concrete estate of 2,000 flats and a leading arts complex, is a prime example of brutalist architecture, softened a little by time and rectangular ponds of friendly resident ducks. The lakeside terrace and adjoining café are good spots to take a rest from visiting the art gallery, cinema, theatre, concert hall or library within the complex. The art gallery on the third floor stages exhibitions on design, architecture and pop culture, while on the ground floor, the Curve is a free exhibition space for specially commissioned works and contemporary art. At the core of the music roster, performing 90 concerts a year, is the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO). The annual BITE season (Barbican International Theatre Events) continues to cherry-pick exciting and eclectic theatre companies from around the globe. The Barbican regularly attracts and nurtures experimental dance, and the Pit Theatre is a perfectly intimate space. Find out more about the past, present and future of the Barbican with our complete guide to the Barbican Centre.
After a top-to-toe refurb, the Barbican Centre cinemas are back and better than ever. Screen One, inside the main Barbican complex, is a 280-seat auditorium screening the best new blockbusters and high-end arthouse films, while the two smaller screens around the corner on Beech Street have been kitted out with plush, comfy chairs and a friendly, welcoming café-bar serving coffee, cakes, beer, wine and pizza. The programme also includes plenty of festival screenings and classics, many of which are chosen specifically to tie in with art and music events happening elsewhere in the Barbican complex.
The Ciné Lumière in South Kensington is the cinema of L’Institut Français du Royaume-Uni – or the French Cultural Institute, for English speakers. The venue offers a good mix of new releases (focusing on foreign, independent and, of course, French films) and retrospective seasons. Given its close association with the French government and cultural establishment, the Ciné Lumière regularly plays host to French filmmakers, in town to discuss their work. It’s an attractive venue more generally too. The cinema is welcoming and well equipped, while downstairs there’s a grand lobby area with a marble staircase and a café-restaurant that’s good for hanging out before or after a movie.
The Curzon Mayfair is the only cinema where Time Out has ever been told off by a fellow moviegoer for eating popcorn too loudly. Which just goes to show what a classy venue this grade II listed cinema is. The bigger of its two screens is a beauty – a 311-seater still in possession of its two original Royal Boxes. The smaller screen is a snug 83-seater. The programme is as brilliant as you'd expect from the Curzon group, a mix of arthouse films, live events and docs, while the bar is suitably stocked with fancy snacks and wines.
With countless racks of outdoor clothing upstairs and climbing, hiking, skiing and snowboarding equipment downstairs in the basement, this is the largest of the mountain sports shops on Southampton Street. It also houses London’s only ice-climbing wall, 8m (26ft) high. The wall is in a refrigerator, starting in the basement and rising through the ground floor, where there are viewing windows. Two people can climb at any one time (£50 per person per hour, £25-£35 if you have your own kit and don’t need instruction). Book at least a day ahead for weekdays, and around six weeks in advance for weekends.
One of London’s oldest cinemas (it opened as a theatre in 1884, and as a cinema following World War II) the Empire in Leicester Square was until recently home to London’s biggest non-Imax cinema screen. It’s now been refurbished, with its massive main auditorium separated into one full Imax screen and one smaller, 400-seat Impact (ie, big but not quite Imax) theatre. There are also a number of smaller screens tucked away throughout the building, making a total of nine. Don’t come here to watch an award-winning three-hour Turkish drama. The programme is as mainstream as you’d expect from a central London multiplex, with all the big Hollywood hitters. The prices, too, reflect the cinema’s tourist-friendly location. Snacks are the usual hot dogs, nachos and popcorn.