Start planning for Open House London weekend

I know it’s a Bank Holiday weekend this weekend, but the programme for this year’s Open House London has just gone live, so you need to set aside some time to decide which of London’s many fantastic buildings you want to explore when it comes around.

Open House London takes place on the third weekend of September each year (double check before you go in future years), so in 2019 it is on 21st and 22nd Sept.

It is absolutely one of the best weekends of the year, when hundreds of buildings that are normally closed to the public fling wide their doors and welcome us in. Many buildings that are usually open to the public also take part, and often have special displays or events, or waive their entry fees for the weekend. Some require pre-booking or entering a ballot, but there are many you can just show up to.

Last year I gave you ideas of buildings to check out in Rotherhithe and Kensington. This year, here are a few to try in the City of London:

  1. Custom House, 20 Lower Thames Street, EC3R 6EE – this was my surprise hit of last year. I popped in having pootled my way around a couple of the city churches (neither of which seem to be open this year), and wished I’d given myself more time. Architecturally it wasn’t amazing – though the ceiling in the main Customs room upstairs (main picture) was pretty impressive – but they had lots of displays and activities, including sniffer dog demonstrations and customs officers telling fascinating stories of big hauls of smuggled cigarettes they had intercepted. Open Sat and Sun, 9.30-4.00
  2. Guildhall, Gresham Street, EC2V 7HH – the City’s seat of municipal government since the 12th century. Grade I listed, rare example of medieval civic architecture (the present building was begun in 1411), with post-war extensions and rebuilding. Open Sat and Sun, 10.00-5.00The Guildhall Library (Sat only) and Art Gallery, on the same square, are also open during the weekend, but are free to visit the rest of the year, too, so save yourself some time by skipping them this weekend.
  3. Stationers’ Hall, Ave Maria Lane, EC4M 7DD – One of the city’s many livery halls (many of which are open on either the Saturday or the Sunday). I’ve got a particular affinity for this one, being a writer. It’s got lovely architecture and beautiful paintings and stained glass windows, and a plaque on the outside commemorating the ‘Father of Fleet Street’, the fantastically named Wynkyn de Worde, who “first set up his press by Shoe Lane near this Hall circa 1500”. They’ve got a bookbinding demonstration, tours and items from their archives on display.Open Sunday only, 10.00-5.00 – but be warned, I showed up at 4.45 last year, having dashed there from Custom House, and found it well and truly closed. I suggest arriving by 4 at the latest.

And if those don’t tickle your fancy, check out this post by Look Up London, which includes some of her favourites, including some of the Government buildings (like the Treasury and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), which are also wonderful to visit.

Or have a browse yourself. Let me know what treasures you find that I should check out next year.

Top tip: If you want to be sure of getting into somewhere that says it will have long queues, consider volunteering. Volunteer slots are normally for half a day and you can often volunteer in the building you desperately want to explore (and as a bonus you normally get to see a little more than the public, as you’re often allowed into a private area to leave your bag and coat). If your building isn’t taking volunteers, though, your volunteer badge lets you jump the queues at other buildings before and after your shift. Just click the ‘Volunteering?’ link at the top of any page to learn more. (Or click here.) You’ll also receive a free copy of the printed programme, and an invitation to the after party, held in one of the buildings. I’ve done it a few times now, and it is lots of fun.


What: Open House London – the world’s biggest architecture festival

When: 21-22 September 2019 (then the same weekend every year)

Where: Right across London

How much: Free

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