When The Flatmate and I first moved to London, we tried to do something cultural each weekend, whether it would be checking out a museum or a market. After a while, however, that slowed down. Instead of exploring we’d catch up with friends, eat as much food as we could get our hands on or just stay in and watch Netflix for two days. Since it had been a while, we figured that this weekend we’d try to resurrect our cultural days.
As I made my regular Facebook check, I saw that Time Out had posted about Open House London, something I had never heard about before. Apparently, once a year, London’s architectural gems (of which there are many) open their doors to the public for free for a whole weekend. Some of these buildings are both open to the public and free anyway but you don’t always have licence to act like a snap happy tourist when you’re visiting them. Other buildings aren’t generally open for public access so this is a once in a year chance to see them.
This seemed like the perfect thing to do on our cultural day and it turned out to be an excellent choice. London really does have some beautiful architecture.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office
There are so many buildings open that choosing ones to go to is not as easy as it sounds. The Time Out article listed their best picks but the best looking one was actually the place used in the article’s featured image. The only problem was that the article didn’t actually say where that place was. Helpfully, however, reverse searching an image on Google isn’t exactly hard so we quickly found that it was the atrium of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The picture was so blue that it looked as though there was a pool in the centre of it.
We decided the FCO would be our first stop. Several of the buildings taking part in Open House London were in Westminster so we’d be able to find stop number two easily from there.
Even though we did know where we were going, it was still easy enough to spot the FCO due to the queue outside. It looked long but seemed to be moving quickly so we didn’t have to wait for too long and it was worth the queue. The building was beautiful and lavishly painted. The atrium didn’t quite live up to the photo we’d seen but it still made for a pretty picture.
The Supreme Court
After the FCO, we decided to visit the Supreme Court on Parliament Square in Middlesex Guildhall. As a former law student, it seemed like the kind of place I should actually visit at some point. The building was constructed in the 1900s and renovated when the Supreme Court was established in 2009, so I knew it wouldn’t look as Hogwarts-esque as the Royal Courts of Justice but it still wasn’t what I expected. Some of the rooms looked more modern, others looked modern but with lots of dark wood which gave the impression of being older. I didn’t love the place as much as the RCJ but it was certainly worth a look. I even spotted some of my old law textbooks in the library.
There was also an exhibition on the Magna Carta, where a version of the manuscript from 1300 is on display. I must admit, I didn’t stop to read all the information on offer but the manuscript was pretty impressive.
The Banqueting House
Our final stop was the Banqueting House in Whitehall – the last remaining piece of the Palace of Whitehall. It was probably my favourite bit of the day. Although the building dates back to the 1600s and displays an incredible painted ceiling by Peter Paul Rubens and a replica throne, the exhibition is quite modern, with information projected onto the walls, a video and, to our very great delight, bean bags. I do have a thing for painted ceilings (if and when I am actually able to buy a house, I will almost certainly be getting some put in) and I do love Peter Paul Rubens, however the highlight was probably the bean bags. As far as I was concerned, that was genius. You could just lie back on them and observe the ceiling. Having said that, it was all I could do not to fall asleep – I can’t even explain how comfortable I was. Somebody really should tell the Vatican to get them for people to use in the Sistine Chapel.