Open House London very nearly got missed again this year. It had been on my radar for a whole month but one way or another I completely forgot about it until the Friday before. Luckily, with help from blogging friends on Twitter (thanks Lisa, Emma, Jessi and Carla!) and enough determination to see me through a karaoke hangover, I finally managed to squeeze the annual event into my weekend.
If you can’t resist visiting places not usually open to the public, want to find all the hidden gems and see as much of the capital as possible, or you love architecture or photography, you might have heard of this event. If you haven’t, it’s definitely one for you.
Every year as part of the festival hundreds of London’s doors open to the curious public. You can enter ballots for places like 10 Downing Street, book places for tours, or rock up and see what you have the patience to queue for. Some places are open across the whole weekend, some on either Saturday or Sunday. If you want to see the popular buildings you need to be ready to get up early and potentially queue for hours. I took the relatively relaxed approach and this is what I managed…
I had planned a Saturday afternoon with my sister, so I suggested trying to get into City Hall (the Mayor’s office) as I’d heard and seen some amazing pictures from inside. We arrived about 4.30pm to a queue wrapped around the building and told after half an hour that we would not be admitted. (Lesson one – check the opening times. Lesson two – Open House London really is popular!)
The failure spurred me on to spend the Sunday exploring so I started browsing the website. I really didn’t know where to start! (Lesson three – there’s A LOT to explore!)
I started scrolling through the hashtag #openhouselondon on Instagram to find some inspiration and then sought help on Twitter. (Lesson four – seek help from experts or friends who have been before and know what they’re doing.)
I chose about five places in one area and of course it was impossible to see them all in a day, especially if you leave the house after 9am. (Lesson five – be realistic!)
James and I arrived at my first choice, The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, at about 10am and I was amazed that we went straight through the airport style security and into the building’s splendour. Given the late planning I really didn’t have any expectations and I couldn’t have asked for much more.
The Grand Staircase made a bold first impression.
The FCO building which stands here today opened in 1868 and, like many buildings that are more than 100 years old, I was amazed by all the detail.
The huge murals and intricate gilded ceiling of the Grand Staircase led on to the beautiful regal gold and blue ceiling in the Grand Locarno.
The sumptuous decor and decorative pieces caught my eye as we wandered though.
The rich orange and the serious mahogany table of the Locano Conference Room made me think about the decisions that were made within its walls.
The Muses Stair was definitely a highlight.
But the Durbar Court definitely stole the limelight.
If you haven’t seen the FCO before, I would definitely add it to your list for next year, it’s perfect for anyone who loves politics, history, and photography.
We had a coffee stop and then moved on to explore Inner and Middle Temple. Whilst I wasn’t necessarily blown away by the buildings itself (although I am sure if you have any interest in legal history you would love it!), I did enjoy wandering around the peaceful area.
Rich red bricks.
Quaint window boxes.
And a lovely garden.
The smell of this lavender was incredible.
After absorbing so much history we took a break and enjoyed some street food underneath the canopy of trees and among the autumn leaves.
Once we’d demolished a couple of crepes we suddenly realised it was almost 3pm and we’d been out for five hours! The other places I’d chosen were likely to require long queues so we decided to make our way home.
Final lesson – Be more organised! 🙂 I’m definitely going to try to plan ahead next year.
Did you get involved in Open House London this year? Would you recommend any buildings to visit or any top tips?