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Photo: Emma Holmqvist Deacon

Places

Historic London houses of the creative and famous

From relatively anonymous looking townhouses to grand palaces, these top picks will take you off the beaten track for a more artsy and cerebral take on the UK capital, and the prominent people who lived there. (Travelers to Manchester – don’t miss the last tip!)

Photo: Emma Holmqvist Deacon

Knock for the doc

Stepping into Dr Johnson’s House, hidden in the midst of a maze of historic lanes in the city of London, is like being transported to a different era. The 300-year townhouse was the home of writer and wit Samuel Johnson, who coined the famous saying: “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” Within these walls, the literary figure compiled and wrote the major work A Dictionary of the English Language. A couple of centuries on, the public is invited to explore Johnson’s multi-floor abode from top to bottom, taking in its original features and modest collections of art, objects, furniture and, of course, books – including a number of first editions written by the famous man himself.

Dr Johnson's House

17 Gough Square, London

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Opening hours: October to April – Mon- Sat, 11am-5pm /May to September – Mon-Sat, 11am-5.30pm

Photo: Dorich House Museum

Dora’s day

The former studio home of the Russian sculptor Dora Gordine and her husband Richard Hare, Dorich House is a Grade II listed building designed in the 1930s by Gordine herself (and it is something of a sculpture indeed). Owned and managed by Kingston University since 1991, this inspiring museum stretches over three floors. Wandering around, you’ll get to explore domestic rooms and creative studio spaces, as well as the world’s largest collection of Dorich’s sculptures, paintings and drawings. There’s also a permanent display of significant Russian art collected by the married couple. On a clear day, make sure to climb up to the roof terrace to take in the sweeping views across Richmond Park.

Dorich House Museum

67 Kingston Vale, London

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Opening hours: Thurs-Sat, 11am-5pm

Photo: Emma Holmqvist Deacon

A very private palace

Tucked away in a tranquil residential spot a stone’s throw from Holland Park, Leighton House Museum is one of London’s most spectacular art havens, but still feels like something of an undiscovered secret. The former home and studio of Victorian artist Frederic Lord Leighton (1830-1896), this unique building houses a significant collection of paintings and sculpture by Leighton and his contemporaries, but the interiors, designed by Leighton himself, are equally awe-inspiring. Stepping into the ground floor’s Arab Hall, you’ll find yourself immersed in an orientalist dreamscape, and the “east meets west” theme continues throughout the rest of the house. There’s also a decorative garden to explore, where all manner of events are held in summer.

Leighton House

12 Holland Park Road, London

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Opening hours: 10am-5:30pm, daily except Tuesdays

Photo: Turner's House

Turner’s turf

It’s a little known fact that England’s greatest landscape painter also had a knack for designing houses. Sandycombe Lodge was completed in 1813 to the exact specifications of J.M.W. Turner (with a helping hand from his architect friend Sir John Soanes). Located in Twickenham, away from the hustle and bustle of inner city London, this small villa served as a tranquil retreat for the artist and his ageing father William (back then, the area was countryside). Extensive but careful conservation work was completed in the summer of 2017 to save this historic gem from near dilapidation. It’s now back to its former glory, as close to Turner’s aesthetic and structural intentions as possible.

Turner's House

40 Sandycoombe Road, London

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Weds-Sun, 10am-1pm for self-guided visits, and 1-4pm for guided tours

Photo: Emma Holmqvist Deacon

Sheer poetry

Located in north London’s leafy Hampstead, which is worth a trip in its own right, Keats House Museum was the idyllic home of John Keats between 1818 and 1820. This is where the Romantic poet wrote many of his famous poems, including Ode to a Nightingale. In its homely incarnation as a museum, this Grade I listed building houses authentically reimagined living spaces – including Keats’ bedroom – as well as a collection of paintings and artifacts belonging to the poet and his co-lodging friends. Keep an eye out for chairs and sofas with signs encouraging you to sit down, as these will guide you to Keats’ favorite resting places, many of which overlook the peaceful garden. It’s exhilarating to think that some of the world’s most cherished poems came into bloom at these exact spots.

Keats House

Keats Grove, London

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Opening hours: Wed-Sun, 11am-5pm

Photo: Hampstead Lane

Poser in the park

First-time visitors to Hampstead Heath are sure to be wowed by the immersive countryside-feel of a park that’s not too far from Camden, and so the sight of the highly manicured and majestic Kenwood House strikes a nice contrast if you approach from below. Make sure to allow enough time to explore this former stately home – its fine interiors were created by Robert Adam, one of the greatest neoclassical architects of all time. On the walls, you’ll discover paintings by the likes of Rembrandt, Turner and Vermeer. The paintings were collected by one-time owner of the house Edward Cecil Guiness, 1st Earl of Iveagh, who donated the house and his cherished art collection to the nation upon his death in 1927.

Kenwood House

Hampstead Lane

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Opening hours: Daily, 10am-17pm

Photo: Chatsworth

And for travelers nearer Manchester…

Do the ChatsworthHome to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, Chatsworth is without doubt one of grandest of all the stately homes in England. And the grandeur does not end with the design and size of the house – arguably more effort was spent creating the beautiful grounds surrounding it. Fans of period costume dramas may get a sense of déjà vu – the house played a starring role in both Pride and Prejudice and The Duchess. Recently reopened following an extensive restoration project, the revived 300-room building is open for exploration, also playing host to exhibitions and events. And, since following in the footsteps of English aristocracy may not be at the top of your children’s to-do list, there’s a working farmyard and woodland playground.

Chatsworth

Bakewell, Derbyshire DE45 1PP

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Opening times for the house during peak season (25 May 2018-2 September 2018): Daily, 10:30am-5pm

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