With the British Pound at a record low, more tourists have visited London this year than ever before. This influx means great shopping deals and cheap meals, but also endless lines at the city’s most famous attractions. Bypass the crowds at The National Gallery and the Tate Modern and instead visit any of these beautiful and fascinating house museums.
Many grand mansions and quaint private homes that were once the residences of some of the most renowned figures in British history have been opened as museums and now welcome visitors — unbeknownst to many of the tourists who visit the capital.
These homes were built over the course of the past centuries by England’s most renowned artists, royals, and writers, and today they remain some of the chicest residences in the city.
Housing collections of everything from Victoria furniture and Georgian memorabilia to ancient sarcophagi step inside for a glimpse into the private lives of some of the most famous icons in British history. Not only will the beautifully appointed rooms of these homes provide inspiration for your own, but we can also guarantee that they will get you the best Instagrams of your trip.
This sprawling mansion formerly belonged to the Seymour family and is filled with the collections of art and antiques that belonged to Richard Seymour-Conway (4th Marquess of Hertford and a descendant of the family of Jane Seymour, third wife of King Henry VIII) and his son Sir Richard Wallace. While the ground floor contains largely decorative arts and a massive collection of arms and armor, the top floor is truly enthralling and is filled room after gilded room of decorative arts, enormous chandeliers, and famous paintings.
Though no longer a residence per se, this opulent hall gives a glimpse at what the largest palace in Europe once looked like. The Banqueting House is the only remaining structure from the Palace of Whitehall, which served as the London residence of the English monarchs from the reign of King Henry VIII until it was destroyed in a fire in 1698. This grand hall was designed by the famed architect and was used by the Stuart kings to host balls, receptions, and banquets. The gilded ceiling was painted by the artist Peter Paul Rubens and is hung with massive crystal chandeliers.
The author lived in this Victorian London home during the mid-19th century. While Dickens and his family only lived in the building for a few years, it was one of the most productive periods of the author’s life — he wrote both Oliver Twist and The Pickwick Papers in his study here. The residence was bought and renovated by the Dickens Fellowship in 1923, and today it displays portrait of the author, original manuscripts, and even the Court Suit that Dickens wore when he was presented to the Prince of Wales in 1870.
This magical Spitalfields row house was painstakingly refurbished in the 1970’s to recreate what the interiors of the building would have looked like during the 18th and 19th centuries. The five-story building is a time capsule filled with carefully constructed scenes made with original furniture and objects that tell the stories of the family that once resided in the perfectly preserved rooms. The house includes everything from a parlor decorated with newspaper clippings from the era to a Georgian bedroom whose inhabitants have just departed, leaving behind a porcelain cup of tea, a petticoat, and a whiff of intoxicating perfume.
While not as grand as many of the other homes open for visitors in London, this 17th-century residence is a charming example of English country architecture. The interiors contain quirky collections of harpsichords, Jacobean embroidery, and French porcelain, and the balcony on the top floor of the house provides both views of the stately homes in the neighborhood and a vista of the towering buildings in central London. The large walled garden is especially worth a visit and contains a beautiful formal lawn and rose garden, and a centuries-old orchard.
Sigmund Freud moved into this house after escaping Austria in 1938 when it was annexed by the Nazis. The house is small and decorated sparsely, but his office was kept intact. His study remains exactly as he left it, down to the books on the shelves, the antiquities meticulously arranged on his desk, and the couch that his patients sat on. The residence also houses many of the analyst’s most prized possessions.
Most famous for being the primary residence of King Henry VIII, this residence still retains much of its original Tudor architecture (including a vast wood-beamed hall and a medieval garden). The palace was expanded in the late 17th century by King William III, and his Baroque extension contain lavish frescoes, sweeping staircases, and even the monarch’s personal toilet. No longer used as a residence by the royal family, this palace is open to the public full-time.
The Romantic poet John Keats lived in this charming, secluded home from 1818 until 1820. Located just across the street from Hampstead Heath, it is where Keats was inspired to write some of his most famous poems and where he fell in love with his neighbor Fanny Brawne. He left his bethrothed to travel to Italy, where he tragically died at from tuberculosis in 1821 at the age of 25. His London has since been turned into a museum dedicated to the author’s short but prolific life and work.
This Georgian mansion is located on Hampstead Heath and it is surrounded by sprawling fields, small ponds, and lush gardens. The residence is filled with antique furniture and an impressive collection of paintings, including works by Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Turner. The library, which boasts a pastel ceiling covered with frescoes and decorative carvings, is especially grand. Try to time your visit with one of the classical concerts in the Music Room, where violinists play under paintings by Gainsborough.
Tucked inside the Royal Botanic Gardens, this former palace, which dates to 1631, served as the home of many members of the English royal family — most notably King George III, who was sequestered in the palace at the end of his reign when he suffered from mental illness. The palace is striking in its simplicity, and is a fascinating foil to the lavishthat the country is known for. The building was abandoned during the 19th century and while most of the building was recently restored the top floor was left in disrepair and showcases the decaying original rooms of the palace.
This enchanting building is the former home of the Neoclassical painter Lord Frederic Leighton. The artist adored the arts of the Middle East, and he decorated his house with furniture and objects found on his travels around the world. Stepping into the residence is akin to walking into a vivid 19th century Orientalist painting- complete with fountains, intricate carvings, and brightly colored tiles. The second floor of the building, which contained Leighton’s studio, also displays a selection of his works of art.
Another of Inigo Jones’s masterpieces, this residence was built in the early 17th century for Queen Anne, the wife of King James I. Located in Greenwich, which is just down the Thames River from London, the home is currently a museum that displays a collection of portraits and Greenwich-centric paintings (like J.M.W. Turner’s canvas entitled London from Greenwich Park). The building’s Tulip Staircase, which was the first centrally unsupported staircase to be built in England, is an icon of 17th-century architecture.
The eccentric architect Sir John Soane (whose most famous projects included London’s Bank of England and the Dulwich Picture Gallery) built this home in the early 19th century and filled it with his beguiling collections of ancient artifacts and neoclassical paintings. Soane connected three townhouses to build the lopsided edifice and constructed a labyrinth of basement rooms to hold his prized antiquities, including the sarcophagus of the Egyptian Pharaoh Seti I.
This house was commissioned by the 1st Earl Spencer in 1756. While it is no longer the London residence of the Spencer family (as in Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales), it was recently restored to near-perfect condition and is open for guided tours. The mansion is filled with gilded moldings, crystal chandeliers, museum-worthy paintings, and striking examples of 18th-century furniture. The Palm Room, which is decorated with enormous carved and gilded palm trees, is worth the visit alone.
This Neoclassical mansion is one of the last mansions left standing in the capital. It served as the London home of the Dukes of Wellington and is filled with mementos and works of art that attest to the family’s storied place in British history (the first Duke of Wellington defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo, forcing the emperor’s abdication). Among the treasures contained within the grand façade are paintings by Goya and Titian and a colossal statue of Napoleon by Canova. If you arrive early enough, you may be able to watch the royal horse ride through Hyde Park from the windows of the grand gallery.