Ten grand London houses

  • 18 March 2015

As the country's great mansions get set to open for the summer season, we find ten of our favourite historic houses in London.

1. Ham House and Garden, free entry with National Art Pass

Standing on the banks of the River Thames, Ham House was given to William Murray by his childhood friend Charles I in 1629. It remains a fabulous reminder and example of 17th-century luxury and style. Stroll in the beautiful formal gardens, take in the lavish textiles, opulent paintings and sculpture and even spot a ghost. Open daily.

2. Strawberry Hill House, 50% off with National Art Pass

A truly unique and eccentric proposition, Strawberry Hill is the fantasy creation of Horace Walpole; a leading author, art historian and Whig politician in the 18th century. The house has recently been renovated and boasts truly distinctive Gothic architecture, theatrical interiors and Renaissance glass panels. One of our favourite rooms is the library; the arched book cases and starry ceiling create a truly fairytale ambience. House open Saturday to Wednesday.

3. Eltham Palace, free entry with National Art Pass

Although the building dates back to 1305 when it was given to Edward II by the Bishop of Durham, it now stands as a masterclass in Art Deco design and architecture. Built by textile magnates Stephen and Virginia Courtauld, the interiors overflow with glamour and opulence; a stunning gold-plated bathroom, Virginia’s walk-in wardrobe and the bedroom of the couple’s pet lemur really set the scene. Open daily from 3 April.

4. Apsley House, free entry with National Art Pass

This grand Hyde Park mansion has been the home of the Dukes of Wellington since the 1st Duke bought it after his victory over Napoleon. It's the bicentenary of the infamous battle at Waterloo this year and a visit will be rewarded with a host of events and a refreshed interpretation. The Iron Duke filled his home with glittering objects, lavish furnishings, military memorabilia and of course, a few portraits of the victor. Open from 18 April.

5. Kensington Palace, free entry with National Art Pass

Birthplace and home of Queen Victoria, this elegant 17th-century palace tells the story of one of Britain’s most memorable monarchs through journals, personal objects and even the dolls' clothes the young princess made herself. Further highlights include; a fashion display of pieces owned by HM The Queen and Diana, Princess of Wales, the exquisite King’s Staircase painted by William Kent and the sunken garden. Open daily.

6. Osterley Park and House, free entry with National Art Pass

One of the last surviving country estates in London, Osterley is another grand Robert Adam creation. The recently re-established garden borders and expansive park grounds are the highlights; but the house presents some treasures worth seeing also. A theatrical domed State Bed, ornate Robert Adam commode and a very fabulous Chinese ‘model junk’ originally made for the Emperor are some of the pieces to enjoy. House open Wednesday to Sunday.

7. Ranger’s House, free entry with National Art Pass

This Georgian villa’s star attraction is The Wernher Collection, a magnificent holding of art collected by the diamond magnate of the same name. The mansion has almost 700 works of art on display including Renaissance bronzes, Dutch Old Masters, maiolica pottery and miniature ivory carvings. Entry by guided tour only, open from 28 March. 

Johannes Vermeer, The Guitar Player, c.1872 Iveagh Bequest, Kenwood House, London © English Heritage

Johannes Vermeer, The Guitar Player, c.1872

8. Marble Hill House, free entry with National Art Pass

Only available to visit by guided tour, Marble Hill is an elegant 18th-century gem sat on the banks of the River Thames. Built for King George II’s mistress Henrietta Howard it is the ideal place to experience fashionable Georgian life and style, and see some of the objects and wallpapers inspired by the era’s fascination with all things Oriental. Open from 28 March.

9. Chiswick House and Gardens, free entry with National Art Pass

This Roman-style Palladian villa has stunning grounds and garden buildings, elegant interiors complete with velvet wallpaper and William Kent furniture. Don’t miss the Green Man carvings in the fireplaces in the Green Velvet room – personally chosen by the house’s original owner Lord Burlington to complement the colour of the room with the theme of water and nature. House open Sunday to Wednesday from 30 March.

10. Kenwood House, free entry to all

Recently re-opened after a £5.95m restoration, Kenwood House is set in Hampstead’s lush rolling hills and has an impressive collection of Old Master and British paintings ranging from works by Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough. Don’t miss Johannes Vermeer’s classic work The Guitar Player, now back at Kenwood after a stint at the National Gallery during the house’s renovation. A real treat. Open daily.

To get 50% off major exhibitions and free entry to over 220 museums, galleries and historic places, buy a National Art Pass.

Tags: Great days outMuseums and galleriesWhat to see