When London Open House weekend comes round, the biggest decision is to decide where to go. There are more than 800 properties to choose from altogether, but time is short, so which to visit? It can take a long time to plough through the printed guide, or search through the website, or scan through the app. So many locations, so many options,so many highlights, so many places you could leave until next year. But there is another big decision to be made once you've drawn up your shortlist. And that's which one of them to visit first.
Whether you want to visit a handful of Open House venues or a lot, it's important to have a rough idea of what order to visit them in. Nothing's more wasteful than going first to the one place you really wanted then walking out at the end and aimlessly wondering oh, so where next? There might be nowhere decent nearby at all, or your next target might be on the other side of town, or you might have enormous trouble working out where all the other sites are in relation to where you are now. Open House have solved the latter, on their app if not in their programme, with a geolocation map showing "Buildings near me". For the less technological they've even produced printable maps for certain key locations like the City, Bermondsey or Tower Hamlets, which'll be a boon for anyone who wants to spend their day exploring rather than travelling. But still, where to go first?
You might be tempted to begin somewhere nearyourhome. An easy start, then work your way around the rest of the capital later. But that might well be a mistake. Unless you live somewhere especially interesting, the Open House buildings near your home aren't likely to be particularly special. Still fascinating to visit, but no queues, so no need to rush. Indeed you might then be rather annoyed on reaching your next location, perhaps somewhere more central, to discover that lots of other people have got here already. Turn up at Lloyds of London or the Bank of England around lunchtime, for example, and you'll probably meet queues stretching round the block, and then some. Because those people did what you should have done. They went to the blockbuster first.
Most Open House venues open for the day at 10am. The hour before 10am is therefore wasted time, and the ideal time to queue. Indeed you can overtake all sorts of people if you're willing to wake up that bit earlier. They'll amble up at 9.55am which they thought was a decent time, then stare disheartened at the length of the queue and wish they'd stood around for longer. Come on, queueing used to be boring, but now you can fiddle with your smartphone while you wait and the time flies by. If you really want to go on the Crossrail tour of Liverpool Street station or look inside Admiralty House on Whitehall, don't arrive at 2pm because the queue'll be massive. Turn up at 9am and attempt to guarantee your place.
But you can overdo it. I turned up at one venue in Camden last year at stupid o'clock convinced there'd be a queue, and there was nobody. There was still nobody half an hour later, and barely a trickle come official opening time. I felt damned stupid, especially when I could have been somewhere else using my time more efficiently to queue for something more popular. And rarity value isn't always a guide. A couple of years back I was utterly certain that the Commonwealth Institute would be a crowd-puller so arrived at nine o'clock and, oh, I'm the first one here am I? It was interesting to chat to the volunteers, when they weren't rushing around tying banners and trying to organise who stood where, but I still felt wholly sub-optimal.
Another good start-of-the-day tip is to find a venue that opens before 10am. Head there first and you'll have extended the length of your Open House day by 10% or more, and ticked off another building in the process. Merton's Buddhapadipa Temple opens at 9, as do Chartered Accountants Hall and the Bank of England in the City. This year's earlybird prize goes to a very special building indeed, and that's the Gherkin. This opens at 9am on Sunday and 8am on Saturday, presumably in a valiant attempt to get as many visitors through the doors as possible. Even so, turn up at 8am and you'll probably still face the queue from hell. I was in the area one hour early last Open House weekend and the queue was already five streets long, such is people's desire to get to the top.
This year's other major blockbuster building is Battersea Power Station. Your last opportunity to see inside, positively the last chance, before the interior is turned into flats or an upmarket entertainment mall. Surely worth a visit, except for one awkward downside which is that it doesn't open until 11am. The queue will still be horrendous, but you'll need to arrive even earlier to have a hope of gaining entry. Try visiting Battersea Power Station and the hour between 10 and 11 will be dead time, time when other Open House patrons will already be inside other buildings visiting properly. Indeed by the time you finally get out you may have wasted most of the day, which is fine if this is the one place you really want to visit, but far less good if seeking diversity and breadth.
Other top tips. Do try not to waste your time going round buildings that are generally open to the public anyway, not unless there's an architect present with something to say. Watch out for buildings that are only open on Saturday and not Sunday, or vice versa, because it's awful dashing across town to somewhere that turns out to be closed. Try booking some visits in advance... which is really advice for next year, but certain buildings probably still have pre-book slots available. Blitz a smallarea of town rather than zigzagging wastefully across the capital, this can help to improve your day. Try to go upsomething, because going up something rocks. And plan ahead, know where you might like to go, else you'll miss somethinggreat you can't get inside again for another 52 weeks. So where are you going first?