What To See At Open House London 2019 (That You Don’t Need To Book)
21 – 22 September 2019 is the annual snooping around London buildings weekend, more commonly referred to as Open House London.
As with previous years, over 800 buildings will be open over the weekend (for free!) but this means there’s a long list of potential attractions and it’s easy to get bogged down in the admin.
Another factor of Open House London is that often most highlights have to be pre booked and sell out almost instantly (this year it was even before the official website launched)…
But never fear!
Here’s my round up of the best buildings to see this year. I’ve collected them under separate categories and all are just turn up and queue. Some of the buildings I’ve chosen below can be visited at other times of the year. However, I’ve included them because they’re only usually open during the week or because usually you have to pay.
QUIRKY AND HISTORIC
If you’re familiar with my blog, you’ll know I love a bit of quirky history and so these are the buildings that have piqued my interest. A few because I visited them last year (and know they’re great) and a few I’ve been dying to visit for a while!
Masonic Temple, Liverpool Street
The former Great Eastern hotel on Bishopsgate was designed by Charles Barry Junior. During refurbishment works in 2000 a blocked wall was removed to reveal a hidden Greek Masonic Temple inside, dating from 1912 and grade I listed!
Close to Liverpool Street Station, you can have a look around the temple in groups of 20 on Saturday and Sunday, 10am-5pm. See the open house listing here.
Freemason’s Hall, Holborn
Another Masonic temple to make this list, the Freemason’s Hall just off Long Acre is a huge Art Deco monument, designed by Henry Victor Ashley and F. Winton Newman as a memorial to the 3,225 freemason’s who died in WWI.
Set on an irregular ground plan this is the third United Grand Lodge on this site, the first one completed in 1775.
Apothecaries’ Hall, Blackfriars
One of the best preserved livery halls in London, the 17th Century hall was rebuilt after the Great Fire and boasts some lovely-looking interiors. It’s only open on Sunday, 10am-3pm and you can view the listing here.
Billingsgate Bathhouse, City of London
Some of the most comprehensive and impressive Roman remains in London, the Billingsgate site is a real treat to visit. It was discovered in the 1840s, a 3rd century Roman bath house built within a 2nd century Roman home.
Bevis Marks Synagogue, Aldgate
The oldest surviving synagogue in Britain, Bevis Marks also has a lovely collection 17th century furniture. The only downside is there’s no photography inside.
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Bevis Marks is open on Sunday 10am-2pm. Full listing information is here.
King’s College London, Maughan Library
London’s first fire-proof building, the Maughan Library used to be a public records office.
The 19th century campus building is gorgeous from the outside, but it’s nice to get a peek inside too! It’s open Saturday and Sunday 1.30pm-5pm and the listing is here.
St Bartholomew the Great, Smithfield
This stunning church (consecrated 1123!) is open for visitors all year round but usually charges £5.
For Open House the church is open for free on Saturday, 10am-5pm. View the listing here.
Soho Art Loo
Thought I’d throw this very strange one into the mix, even though it’s tiny and can be seen all year round.
Image from SohoGreen.org
It’s open Saturday, 1-5pm and the architect will be there to explain the thinking behind it! Find out more here.
While you’re in the vicinity you might want to explore the new plans for the Museum of London, scheduled for completion in 2024.
Image from Museum of London
They’re remodelling West Smithfield Market, originally designed by Horace Jones in 1883 and are running tours both days. You can sign up on the day for tours and the full information on how to do so is here. Expect queues!
There’s more to Greenwich than the famous royal stuff y’know.
For instance, Charlton House was built 1607 for Prince Henry (eldest son of King James I of England who died aged 16). Today it’s owned by a Charitable Trust and run by Greenwich Council, but it has some spectacular original rooms and details.
It’s open on Saturday, 10am-4pm. Find out more here.
It might sound petty, but personally if a building doesn’t allow photography for open house I will think twice about visiting. Part of the joy of visiting these places is having wonderful pictures to look back on. So if you’re like me, these are some wonderful spaces to explore!
The most lavish of all the City’s livery halls, the Drapers’ Hall has impressive Victorian interiors.
This year it’s open on Saturday, 10am-4pm see the listing here.
Possibly one of the prettiest rooms in the whole of London, the Victorian former hospital chapel is a favourite of Open House. The first time I visited was last year and loved it so much it got its own blog post!
Although the have regular exhibitions and events open to the public, their free open days are only on Wednesday during regular work hours. For the weekend they’re open on Sunday, 10-5pm. See more here.
Spencer House, St James’s
One of the finest surviving 18th century homes in London, Spencer House is owned by the Rothschild family today and you can book regular guided tours each Sunday. However, one huge plus (as well as being free) for Open House weekend is that you can also take photos. Usually they’re not permitted.
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Spencer House is open Sunday, 10am-5pm. See the listing here.
This is another building that you can visit at other times of the year, but if you’ve marked off the day to visit some special places, it’s worth popping into this Art Deco beauty.
RIBA is open on Saturday, 11am-4pm. Read more here.
Lloyd’s Register of Shipping, City of London
An Italian Palazzo in the City of London, Lloyd’s Register sprang from the same birthplace as Lloyd’s of London. Now a separate entity, their 1901 HQ by Thomas Collcutt has one of the most surprisingly ornate rooms in the City.
Lloyd’s Register is open on Saturday, 10am-5pm. Read more here.
AMAZING LONDON VIEWS
Most of the City’s taller skyscrapers have to be pre-booked, but there’s some other buildings where you can get some great skyline action…
Aga Khan Centre, Kings Cross
A centre for the study of Muslim civilisations, the Aga Khan Centre is one of London’s most beautiful new buildings.
Hourly guided tours take place on Saturday, 11am-4pm. Find out more here.
White Collar Factory
This Old Street office building made headlines when it opened for having a running track along the roof!
Thankfully the terrace will be open for visitors during open house, they’re offering Saturday 10am-5pm and Sunday 1-5pm. Find out more here.
Methodist Central Hall, Westminster
It’s got tough competition from nearby Parliament Square, but this huge hall – Designed by Edwin Alfred Rickards and completed in 1911 – has a secret weapon; it’s incredible panoramic views.
It will only be open on Sunday, 1.30pm- 5pm for Open House and at 1.30pm there’s a chance to climb right to the top of the dome! See more info here.
ONLY OPEN FOR OPEN HOUSE
Of course, one of the massive draws of Open House London is to visit famous buildings that you can never otherwise access. Below are a list of the top ones only open for the weekend.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Known for its elaborate and eccentric interiors, this Whitehall gem is also steeped in diplomatic history. It was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott & Matthew Digby Wyatt in 1861.
It always attracts big crowds but because of the size, the queue moves quickly. It’s open both Saturday and Sunday, 10am-5pm.
HM Treasury, Westminster
Just next door to the FCO, you can visit the Treasury. As well as a self-guided exhibition, another highlight is standing inside the rotunda!
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For Open House it’s open on Saturday, 10-5pm. See the full listing here.
Portcullis House, Westminster
How on earth to you complement one of the most iconic sights in London; Houses of Parliament? Portcullis House was built to as MP offices, with floors generally segregated by political parties. Incorporating Westminster Tube Station below, it’s a love-it-or-hate-it take on industrial Gothic, the rows of chimneys putting in mind a ship.
But it’s what’s on the inside that counts…
Open on Saturday, 10am – 5pm, it’s sure to attract large crowds. There will also be talks about the Elizabeth Tower restoration.
City Hall, Southwark
Another favourite of Open House is City Hall, home of the Mayor of London and London Assembly designed by Foster + Partners.
Although you can visit City Hall for free any time of the year, you can only access the main room, referred to as ‘London’s Living Room’ during open house weekend.
It’s only open on Saturday this year, from 10.30am – 4.30pm. The full listing is here.
The Royal Society, St James’s
The oldest surviving scientific academy in the world, set in a superb townhouse designed by John Nash. Highlights include the marble staircase with its ornate ceiling and there will be booklets for your self-guided tour.
It’s open both days 10am – 5pm and there are tours running every 90 minutes. Find out more here.
Hopefully that’s given you lots of ideas and inspiration for the 22nd and 23rd September. If you want even more options, you can browse through all the listings of Open House London on their official website here.
Any other gems I’ve missed? What are you planning on queuing for/visiting this year?
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