Every September, Open House London lets the public see inside the capital’s most impressive buildings -- from skyscrapers to government buildings, from churches and private homes. It’s a chance to wander round places that are normally off limits, or to revisit a favourite building and discover it in a new light. It’s also a fantastic way to explore the city with the family, walking the streets, and then popping into unusual buildings for a look around.
Normally, you can choose from many hundreds of locations, all over town. This year is understandably a bit different, but there’s still plenty to see.
Note: The following places are advertised as going ahead at the time of writing. Last-minute cancellations are always possible at the moment, so do check the Open House London website on the day, to avoid disappointment.
Buildings You Can Snoop Around
The selection of buildings is much more limited this year, and many of the venues that are open require pre-booking. However, some places are able to operate a safe ‘turn-up-and-snoop’ service. Here are a few examples:
Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich: Sir Christopher’s Wren’s famous riverside complex will have children’s activities dotted throughout its ornate rooms during Open House. The Admiral’s House can also be visited by pre-booking. The kids may recognise the College as the location of the climactic battle in the second Thor movie.
Freemasons Hall, Covent Garden: A monumental art deco building, which often crops up on TV (e.g. it’s MI5’s headquarters in Spooks). The halls and corridors inside are similarly imposing. This year, the hall is putting on a series of children’s trails, making it a surprising family-friendly option.
Shoreditch Town Hall: Another sprawling building, at the top end of Old Street. Shoreditch Town Hall has been many things in its 150 year history -- from the local town hall, to a boxing venue, to an immersive arts space.
St Giles, Cripplegate: A medieval church, lurking incongruously among the brutalist towers and walkways of the Barbican. It’s open all year, but this is a good chance to discover the history of this building, which has connections with Shakespeare.
St Pancras Church & Crypt: You’ve probably seen this grand, classical-style church towering up near Euston station, but have you ever been inside. Now’s your chance, along with a look down in the crypt, which doubles as an art gallery.
St Bartholomew the Great: Yet another church, but this one is truly special. One of the oldest surviving buildings in central London, St Bartholomew’s contains rare Norman arches and a unique atmosphere. (You may also recognise it from its cameo in Four Weddings and a Funeral.)
Special Family Activities
Museum of London, City: The museum on London Wall needs a (free) prebook ticket, but once you’re inside it’s offering loads of kid-friendly architectural activities, including family trails, activity packs and workshops.
Brunel Museum: This small museum sits atop the Brunels’ famous Thames Tunnel (now part of the Overground network) in Rotherhithe. It’s a fascinating glimpse into Victorian engineering, and will be offering drawing workshops, inspired by the engineering blueprints of Marc Brunel, for Open House on the Saturday (12-5pm).
Self-guided walks: With groups of six now the limit, the safest way to explore the city is with a self-guided tour. Open House London has dozens of options. Most of the London boroughs have bespoke tours, along with smaller areas like Blackheath and Clapham.
The safest way to take part in Open House London is to watch or participate in one of the online activities. The programme contains too many options to list -- from architect-led virtual tours of buildings, to online talks, to inspiration for craft projects. Learn how to build a city from junk, or take a virtual tour of Westminster from a black community perspective. The programme is so broad, you’re encouraged to have a search on the Open House London website to find an activity suited to your family. Happy snooping!
Although originally from the Midlands, and trained as a biochemist, Matt has somehow found himself writing about London for a living. He's a former editor and long-time contributor to Londonist.com and has written several books about the capital. He's also the father of two preschoolers.