London properties open to the public just once a year
London is full of iconic buildings, many of which you can visit, but what about the ones you walk past that have their doors firmly shut? For one weekend in September, Open House London lets you peek inside a huge variety of buildings that are not usually open to the public.
Often having played a fascinating role in the history of the city, these properties open up another side of London, making it an event not to be missed. Make sure you take up this rare opportunity and see what lies behind those doors.
Open House London runs from 16 to 17 September and includes more than 800 buildings across 30 boroughs. While you can just turn up to many of the properties, it’s a good idea to pre-book a slot for the most popular venues.
Construction started on Lancaster House for the Duke of York in 1825, but was not completed until after his death in 1827. As well as having interesting historical links to the royal family, Lancaster House is also an architectural marvel. It was the last of the great mansions in London to be built in the Georgian style and has an impressive central staircase.
Access all areas tours are available for half-an-hour slots across the weekend, so be sure to book yourself in to see opulence at its best at this private palace.
St Mary Axe
The Gherkin may be one of the most instantly recognised buildings on the London skyline, but far fewer know what it looks like from the inside. Despite its distinctive shape and comical nickname, St Mary Axe is actually a fully-functioning office building that is not usually open to walk-ins.
See what life is like for the city workers who do their daily grind inside The Gherkin and go to the 40th floor for incredible views from the glass dome.
A trip back to school at the weekend may not seem like the most inviting of offers, but for fans of modern architecture, a chance to explore Burntwood School must not be passed up. The campus won the Stirling Prize in 2015 and the chic white façade is instantly recognisable. It’s hard to believe that pupils get to have lessons and assemblies in such a place, but also quite wonderful to know that they do.
You can stop by between 11am and 5pm on the Saturday, but if you’d like to be shown around by an architect, be sure to turn up for 11am, 1pm or 3pm.
St Paul’s Cathedral
While Sir Christopher Wren’s most iconic church is open to the public throughout the year, there are areas that are usually closed off. For example, it’s not normally possible to access the library, which is chocked full with leather-bound volumes dating back to the 18th century. This is the beauty of the Open House weekend and why it has become so popular over the last 25 years – experiences like this.
Book-lovers should secure themselves a spot, as the hidden corners of St Paul’s will only be welcoming guests between 11am and 6pm on the Saturday.
For a taste of the exotic right here in London, look no further than the Buddhapadipa Temple. Created in a traditional Thai style, with peaked roofs and intricate gilding, it is one of just two of its type outside of Asia. A true oasis of calm, you can meander through the four acres of gardens, grove and orchard, as well as taking in the views of the lake. Spend some time marvelling at the golden Buddha inside and find your own inner peace.
You can visit the temple between 10am and 5.30pm across the weekend.
Pear Tree House
Some private residences are also included in the Open House weekend and Pear Tree House is one of the loveliest. A wonderful dedication to nature has been shown by the architect who designed the property around a 100-year-old pear tree that sits at its centre. It’s the last remnant of a Victorian orchard that once occupied the site and still proudly spreads its branches wide.
Architect tours will be conducted hourly between 10am and 5pm on the Saturday.
Fans of Around the World in Eighty Days will know the unique significance of the Reform Club, which was where Jules Verne’s hero Phileas Fogg set off from after a wager by fellow members. Michael Palin followed in the fictional character’s footsteps and made it the beginning and end points of his circumnavigation of the globe. It is also a beautifully designed building, complete with tunnelled steps and a roof made from a glass mosaic.
Pre-book a slot between 11am and 6pm on the Saturday or from 11am to 4pm on the Sunday.
Image credit: TomasSereda via iStock