London unlocked: Open House Festival 2023

September 11, 2023Alex Hartley0

For two weeks this September a diverse array of London’s private buildings have opened their doors as Open City presents the Open House Festival 2023.


Open City is a charity focusing on unlocking coveted urban areas, with the Open House 2023 Festival presenting the perfect opportunity to experience more than 800 properties across all 33 boroughs. So why not join the architectural celebration and accept the invitation to the city’s iconic landmarks and concealed treasures?

Delve a little deeper into the history of London’s architecture, neighbourhoods and homes through first-hand exploration. From spaces of historical significance to modern innovation, the festival provides a unique insight into the role that architecture has played in shaping London’s landscape.

With a range of guided and self-guided walking tours covering whole neighbourhoods to intimate sessions in small but significant spaces, there’s something for anyone interested in the history of London’s spaces.


Balloted buildings

With the iconic BT Tower on offer, take in the landscape from 158 metres high with vistas overlooking the nearby Senate House to the distant Canary Wharf. Or perhaps you’d like to cross the threshold that’s been the site of British decision-making since 1735 and snoop around Number 10 Downing Street? Chance your luck and enter the ballot to step into some of London’s traditionally secret spaces.

Neasden Temple © Open City

But you don’t need to rely on luck as many resplendent buildings are open to the public without the need for a ballot. The Royal Opera House opens its doors and celebrates the seamless connection been the historic and the contemporary. Tours include access to the Royal Retiring Room which is normally closed to the public.

Marvel at Fitzrovia Chapel, where the humble facade conceals spectacular golden mosaics within. Saunter around Guildhall, a magnificent building at the centre of the City of London municipal government for thousands of years. Nowadays it’s hired out for exclusive and grandiose events, but for a few hours, Guildhall can be yours to explore. Perhaps you’d like to amble the corridors of one of the oldest social organisations of the world and uncover some of the secrets of the Freemasons’ Hall? With guided tours and drop-in sessions, now is the chance to walk right into some of the mystique of the city.


Reputable residences
Explore the recently reopened National Portrait Gallery © NPG

Celebrate the long-awaited reopening of the National Portrait Gallery and delve behind the scenes with a guided tour of the architectural changes that have enhanced this space. If you find yourself inspired by the art within, why not tread carefully through Van Gogh’s London home. This year marks 150 years since the first letter was sent by the acclaimed artist from this address.

At Benjamin Franklin’s only surviving residence, take a journey 100 years further back in history. Nestled in a stretch of 18th-century housing, 36 Craven Street contains the rooms where 24-hour navigation clocks and various ship equipment were conceived, electrical charges discovered and bifocal glasses improved. Perhaps you will walk back into the 21st century with your own invention?

If you’d like to navigate deeper waters of maritime history, four areas of the Old Royal Naval College are open for tours, including Queen Mary Court, Queen Anne Court and King William Court. We always love a journey south to Greenwich.


Old Royal Naval College © Shutterstock


Underground unlocked

Not restricted to the surface, Open House offers exclusive insight into the subterranean world of the underbelly of the capital. Marvel at the restoration of the intricate tile work, colourful patterns and grand arches of the Crystal Palace Subway; walk through the story of the Northern Line Extension, or step down into the history of Bank and Monument to get a different perspective of London’s iconic transport network. If you’d rather stay on the surface, trace the route of London’s largest underground River Fleet, plotting a course to understand how water has shaped the overlying neighbourhoods.


Contemporary celebration

If you’re looking to traverse London with a more recent perspective, take advantage of the open doors and pry guilt-free into serene homes in Primrose Hill, elegant renovations in southwest London, or sustainable modernisation in Highgate.

Primrose Hill homes © Shutterstock

Peek into some of Walter Segal’s Self-Build houses and take a tour to understand how this innovative housing scheme allowed homeowners with no experience to construct their own abodes. If you’re fascinated by what lies behind the frontage of the classic London townhouse, check out Maxwell House to see a beautiful four-storey open-plan home. 1 Halliwick Road is a sleek and sustainable conversion of a classic structure and the Two-Up Two-Down house pushes the boundaries in a stunning rework. Not to be missed by anyone looking for inspiration for their own home!


Good to know      

The Open House festival takes between the 6-17 September all over London, illustrated by this interactive map. With bookings now open, be sure to secure your spot.


Please like, share and comment below and see if we have anything else to inspire your next visit to London.


Alex Hartley

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