Do you love peeking behind closed doors? Then Open House is for you. You just need to decide what to see at Open House London. There is a lot to choose from, more than 800 properties ranging from Waste Management to Number 10 Downing Street. For the past 20 years it has been one of my favourite London weekends of the year. 2020 is a bit different but you still have the chance to discover new places.
What is Open House London?
Open House London is the third weekend in September when buildings across London open their doors to the public for free. It is the biggest architectural festival in the world. Some of those buildings are open ordinarily but either you’ll get in free where you usually have to pay or you’ll parts of the building that are normally out of bounds. 19 – 20 September 2020 is the weekend to set aside.
How does Open House work?
2020 is different to every other year. Entry to every building remains free. What is different this year is that you need to book via the Open House London website. Some remain walk up and stroll in but check before you leave home. New for 2020 is a whole range of self guided walks and cycle routes to admire architecture from the outside. Some buildings are still taking part in 2020 but have moved to online only.
What to see at London Open House that needs booking
Every year a few places need booking, the difference in 2020 is that most places need to be booked.
Benjamin Franklin House
Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding father’s of the United States of America lived in a terraced house below Charing Cross station. Benjamin Franklin’s House is sparsely furnished but tells the story of his London years very well.
Royal Opera House
For the first time in six months the Royal Opera House is opening its door to the public for Open House London. You will get the chance to stand on the main stage … what will you imagine yourself to be an operatic diva or a graceful ballerina? Even better the cafe will be open.
Royal Overseas League
Whilst picnicing in Green Park I have often looked up and seen people sitting on a balcony over looking the park having a far more genteel lunch. They are members of the Royal Overseas League, a private members club. You not only get to explore the buildings, on the day I visited we were invited to take tea in the dining room and become of those people on the balcony. I loved the Crinoline Staircase, so called because its bannisters are bowed out to allow the wide skirts of a crinoline to pass by.
When the artist J M W Turner decided that he wanted country house, his gaze turned to Twickenham. He designed this dream house and moved in with his Dad. No longer a rural idyll Turner’s House is a tranquil delight.
What to see at London Open House without booking
Not everywhere needs pre-booking but do be prepared for queues.
The Fitzrovia Chapel is a tiny jewel box of building. It looks like nothing from the outside but inside it glows with with gold mosaics. Visit and gawp.
Romanian Cultural Institute
If you’ve ever wanted to see what one of the grand mansions in Belgrave Square look like inside then head for the Romanian Cultural Institute. They always have a fascinating display of Romanian art and craft as well.
Open House London Online Only Tours
Understandably 2020 sees quite a few places opting for online tours. In the past I have visited the following during Open House and found them fascinating.
Billingsgate Roman House and Baths
Hidden beneath a nondescript 1970s office block on Lower Thames Street is and 2nd century Roman Villa and spa complex. It is the only private Roman House that you can visit in London.
The Charterhouse is a slice of Tudor London hidden between the Barbican and Smithfield. It has grand rooms, a cloister, a chapel and is still a working alms house. The Charterhouse Open House online offer is a floral crown making workshop with the Charterhouse gardener.
Emery Walker’s House
Emery Walker was William Morris’s best friend. His house was reflects his position at the centre of the Arts and Crafts movement. It remains pretty much as he left it and is a fascinating insight into Victorian artistic life.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
In most years you queue round the block to visit the Foreign and Commonwealth Office during Open House weekend. In 2020 you settle down in front of your laptop and enjoy the online tour
Have you explored London Open House? Where did you go? And where will you go this year?