What to See at Open House London

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

The Royal Opera House main stage (c) ROH 2016. Photograph by Sim Canetty-Clarke
Royal Opera House main stage © ROH 2016

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.

Crinoline Staircase Royal Overseas League
Crinoline Staircase, Royal Overseas League

Turner’s House

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.

Turners House

What to see at London Open House without booking

Not everywhere needs pre-booking but do be prepared for queues.

Fitzrovia Chapel

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

Billingsgate Roman Villa remains
Billingsgate Roman Villa

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

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?



  1. Julie Cordiner
    August 21, 2019 / 10:38 pm

    Wow, thank you for this, Catherine – it’s a complete revelation! Too late for this year as we have a holiday around then, but will definitely explore it for next year and book some cheap advance train tickets.

    • Catherine
      August 21, 2019 / 10:52 pm

      There is a similar thing nationwide called Heritage Open Days which runs September 13-22

  2. September 6, 2019 / 10:54 am

    I’ve never heard of Open House London – what a great idea. I’d also love to get inside Number 10 (to visit, not the job!!). The Foreign and Commonwealth Office would also be very interesting. #culturalwednesdays

  3. September 6, 2019 / 11:13 am

    I fancy City Hall and the Argentinian Ambassador’s Residence. I am pleased to say I have been to most of the others on your list and they are all fantastic! #CULTUREDKIDS

  4. September 6, 2019 / 6:26 pm

    We love the Open House Weekend and thrilled to be around this year! Last year we loved tge Argentine Embassy and Royal Court of Justice playing judges, this year still debating 🙂 such a brilliant weekend for London based & visiting #culturedkids!

  5. September 7, 2019 / 4:18 pm

    I love Open House London. I am a bit nosey! But it’s also a great way to see some real hidden gems of London.

  6. September 9, 2019 / 11:55 am

    Open House is such a brilliant scheme and I’ve visited Tooting Bingo hall as a result! I now really fancy Johnson’s house. As ever, a really informative post #culturedkids

    • Catherine
      September 9, 2019 / 12:15 pm

      Those 1930s Bingo Halls are amazing

  7. September 10, 2019 / 11:56 am

    I love open days, the chance to see behind the scenes is perfect for someone as nosy as me. Sad I won’t be in London for it because all of those look epic. #culturedkids

    • Catherine
      September 10, 2019 / 4:48 pm

      I think the Norwich one is a week earlier

  8. September 10, 2019 / 6:27 pm

    I’m also crossing everything for the ballots, although BT Tower is top of my wishlist (I’ll take No 10 if they offer it to me, of course!) The Museum of London is offering hard hat tours around its future site, in West Smithfield. It’s a derelict Victorian market building, and it’s expected to be a popular event (I work there so no busman’s holiday for me!). I think the National Army Museum has a family friendly event for that weekend, build your own museum from planks of wood, and make things to display in it! #CulturedKids

  9. Clare Thomson
    September 12, 2019 / 3:01 pm

    I’ve been meaning to go for ages so this is very timely, apart from for the ballots which have unfortunately all already closed. Do you know when the ballots open? I’d love to see Downing Street and The Shard one day – although preferably not when the current incumbent is still there (!) Thanks for sharing on #farawayfiles

    • Catherine
      September 12, 2019 / 7:35 pm

      They usually open a month before the Open House weekend and are open for about three weeks

  10. September 12, 2019 / 4:52 pm

    I love a good nosy and there sounds like so much good stuff to see! I’ve always fancied visiting Strawberry Hill House. #farawayfiles

    • Catherine
      September 12, 2019 / 7:35 pm

      Strawberry Hill Housd is awesome

  11. September 12, 2019 / 8:39 pm

    I love the open house, usually I am volunteering on those days. I had no idea about 10 Downing Street being on the list, I am going to join in the ballot from next year. Thanks Catherine for this lovely list. #culturedkids.

  12. September 13, 2019 / 1:45 pm

    I’m quite ashamed to say I hadn’t heard of ‘Open House London’ it’s a fantastic way to encourage people to discover more of their local area. Thanks very much for sharing this, I’m going to take a look at the places available. #farawayfiles

  13. September 13, 2019 / 11:11 pm

    This is a great guide Catherine. We definitely have it in the diary for next weekend and think we might just choose and area and see where it takes us. #farawayfiles

    • Catherine
      September 13, 2019 / 11:16 pm

      Give me a shout if you are around St James on Sunday

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