Every year, Open House unlocks the doors to buildings across London, letting us explore unusual and historical sides of the city that we otherwise might not get the chance to see. Although tickets for the festival get snapped up in seconds, there are still plenty of architectural delights you can check out on a drop-in basis, all for free. There’s also walks, talks, tours and activities to help you dive even further into the hidden histories of the capital.
September 4, 10am-4pm. Pre-book here.
You might have missed out on having a snoop around 10 Downing Street, but to get a taste of what a hub of political power is like, head to City Hall instead. It’s home to the Mayor of London and the London Assembly, and its leaning, spiralling form were actually designed that way to save energy. Learn more about it on a walking tour that lets you roam the building.
The Queen’s Walk, SE21 2AA
The North Wing, St Barts’ Hospital
September 5, 11am-4pm. Pre-book here.
Art buffs will want to get down to Farringdon next month when St Barts’ opens up its Grade I listed North Wing. Inside its doors are stunning paintings by English artist William Hogarth, who decorated the grand staircase of the hospital’s North Wing. You’ll also find a museum and special touring exhibition from the Wellcome Collection to complete a historical day out.
West Smithfield, EC1A 7BE
September 11-12, 1pm-5pm. Pre-book here.
Windmills aren’t the first kind of structures you would readily associate with London, but back in the olden days there were a few of them dotted around. Brixton Windmill is the only surviving one in the inner city. Climb up inside the mill and learn all about how this Grade II listed building was used to make grain way back when Brixton Hill was made up of open fields.
Windmill Gardens, SW2 5DA
September 4-5, 10.30am-4pm. No pre-booking required.
In the grounds of the former Devonport Nurses Home lies the Devonport Mausoleum, the final resting place of some of England’s most famous naval figures. They include Sir Thomas Hardy, who was Nelson’s flag captain on Victory at Trafalgar and Admiral Lord Hood, an admiral of the War of American Independence. Learn about those seamen’s stories and see the restored mausoleum in all its solemn glory at a drop-in session across the weekend.
National Maritime Museum, Romney Road, SE10 9NF
September 4-5, 10am-5.30pm. No pre-booking required.
A staple of Open House, this is your annual chance to delve into the secretive world of the Freemasons. The hall is the HQ of the United Grand Lodge of England and has been the shadowy coven’s home since 1927. Designed by architects H V Ashley and F Winton Newman, it’s shaped like a pentagon and houses mosaics, stained glass wonders, and ornamental oddities to bring the Freemasons’ world to life.
60 Great Queen Street, WC2B 5AZ
September 5, 11am-4.30pm. No pre-booking required.
From December 1818 to September 1820, romantic poet John Keats lived in a beautiful Regency villa in Hampstead. Visit his old digs and the same inspiration that hit the wordsmith during his time there might have you scribbling verses on your way home. There’ll also be talks, tours and poetry readings to help get those creative juices flowing too.
10 Keats Grove, NW3 2RR
September 11, 10am-11am. Pre-book here.
The Rio in Dalston is one of London’s most iconic cinemas, a Grade II listed Art Deco marvel that makes whatever film you’re watching in it that little bit better. Opportunities to go deep into the building are limited – even at Open House – but book a spot on the hour-long tour and talk to go deep into the heart of the cinema.
107 Kingsland High Street, E8 2PB
Royal Opera House
September 4-5, 10.30am-4.30pm. Pre-book here.
You might have caught a performance at this opulent performance venue, which is home to both the Royal Opera and Royal Ballet, before, but during this edition of Open House you can tour the entire building. Take in the ballet studio, the grand staircase and the legendary Crush Room, and make sure you catch some of the performances held hourly in the Paul Hamlyn Hall.
Covent Garden, Bow Street, WC2E 9DD
September 5, 11am-3pm. Pre-book here.
It might not be as famous as Buckingham Palace or St James’ Palace, but Fulham’s official residence of the Bishop of London is just as worth a visit. The building spans whole periods of time, with a Tudor manor house, Georgian extensions and a Victorian chapel, taking you through a full gamut of architectural history. There’ll be free history tours throughout the day, plus hands-on archaeology, craft activities and a foreshore walk.
Bishop’s Avenue, SW6 6EA
Stuff to do in London this September
The best art shows coming up next month