Open House Festival 2022: 10 of the best free-to-attend events

Step inside: Union Chapel is one of the incredible buildings welcoming visitors as part of the festival  (Union Chapel)
Step inside: Union Chapel is one of the incredible buildings welcoming visitors as part of the festival (Union Chapel)

Each year, some of London’s most fascinating buildings, many of which are usually off limits to the public, welcome some 250,000 visitors to have a peak inside.

It’s all part of Open House Festival, which in 2022 will comprise almost 800 events spread across two weeks from September 8-21. The broad focus is on housing, architecture and neighbourhoods, but the programme brings together all sorts of intriguing opportunities, from art trails and gallery lates to the chance to step inside a virtual reality record shop.

Many of the events have already sold out, but here we’ve rounded up the ones that still have space. Some of them require advance booking, while others don’t, but all of them are free. If you can, consider making a donation to the festival, to keep it running for years to come.

Thursday Late in the City - Guildhall Art Gallery

Head into the Guildhall Art Gallery for this special late opening. Check out its fantastic collection of paintings charting the history of London in all its grit and glory, or head down to the capital’s only Roman amphitheatre, dating back two millennia.

Free to drop in, 6pm-9pm, September 8, 15, Guildhall Yard, EC2V 7HH

The Social Spaces of Old Bethnal Green - Self-Guided Walking Tour

Take in the social and community spaces of the Old Bethnal Green Road conservation area — from houses and cafes to places of worship and allotments — on this self-guided walking tour. Covering just under two miles, the tour can be walked at any time, but on Saturday September 10, there will be a range of activities, from kid-friendly games to a guided journey around a WWII bomb site turned nature reserve.

Free (September 10 activities free to book), tour starts at Oxford House, Derbyshire Street, E2 6HG

Crate Digging: The Influence of De Underground Records

Last year, a blue heritage plaque appeared in Newham commemorating De Underground Records — a seminal spot at the heart of the explosion in UK hardcore, jungle and drum’n’bass in the Nineties. Here, the stories of those involved will be woven into a 360-degree virtual reality recreation of the shop as it was back in 1991.

Free to drop in, midday to 6pm, September 10, Theatre Square, E15 1BX

The Fight for Women’s Rights in Summerstown: Guided Walk

Delve into a pivotal moment in the struggle for women’s rights in the workplace — when 44 young women went on strike from a cardboard box factory in south west London to protest pay cuts in 1908 — at this guided walk. It covers the site of the factory in Earlsfield, covers some important industrial locations and even passes some of the homes in which the so-called Corruganza Boxmakers lived.

Free to book, 6pm-8pm, September 16, Burmester House, SW17 0JL

Union Chapel

 (Union Chapel)
(Union Chapel)

If you haven’t had the pleasure of taking in a gig or a stand-up show at Union Chapel in Islington, now’s your chance to visit one of north London’s most beautiful venues. It’ll be running free workshops for young people featuring its famous organ, as well as free guided tours of the Grade-I listed building for all ages.

Free to book, organ workshops from 1.30pm-4.30pm on September 18, guided tours from 11am-4pm on September 21, Compton Terrace, N1 2UN

London’s Birth/Rebirth

This pair of 30-minute events at the Museum of London take a whistle-stop tour through the history of London, split into two broad periods: from London’s foundation until its destruction in the Great Fire, and then from that point up until the Olympics of 2012.

Free to book, September 10-11, 150 London Wall, EC2Y 5HN

Haggerston Wharf live-aboard boats

Ever been walking along London’s canals and wondered what it’s like inside one of the many houseboats that line the waterways? Here’s your chance to find out, as the residents of two traditional narrowboats and a widebeam boat in Haggerston Wharf welcome visitors aboard. It’s just one of the many incredible homes that will open up their doors as part of the festival — head here for a round-up of the rest.

Free to drop in, 10.30am-4pm, September 17, Haggerston Wharf, Kenning Terrace, N1 5FA

Tomorrow is Built Today

This oral exhibition tells the story of Lewisham’s Black-led self-build movement, which battled through institutional barriers and racist arson attacks to pioneer a groundbreaking new method of living in south-east London. One of the timber-frame homes, 13 Nubia Way, will be opened up to the public as part of the exhibition.

Free to drop in, 10.30am-2.30pm, September 18, 13 Nubia Way, BR1 5HY

Lexi Cinema

The Lexi in Kensal Rise is one of London’s finest indie cinemas, but it’s had to overcome a few bumps in recent years — not only that pesky global pandemic, but also a fire in 2021. It’s back doing what it does best now, though, and this architect-led tour and presentation will explore the cinema’s newly built second screening room, and the existing venue’s vast renovations.

Free to book, September 10, 13, 14, 194b Chamberlayne Road, NW10 3JU

Acton Mural Trail

Wander your way through 23 artworks by artists young and old, local and international, on the Acton Mural Trail. Street artists Findac and Remi Rough are among those featured, as well as a collection of pieces created by children. The metal sculpture of the late Jamal Edwards, which has now become a memorial, is also included.

Free, throughout the festival, starting at Acton Central Overground station, W3 6BS