Last Updated on November 15, 2022 by JaimeSays
I’m not an adventure traveler, although I did spend time traveling to surf spots in my twenties. I’m not currently a wine traveler either, as none of my traveling companions are wine drinkers. I am, however, into architecture travel. I’ve even heard it call architravel. Is this a thing? Truly, I’m not sure. I don’t really know how other people pick their destinations for vacations. I choose them based on the majesty of God’s creations, and availability of an architecture tour.
This type of planning serves me well, particularly locally, as I’ve been able to discover some really beautiful private and public buildings. Cantigny Park, comprised of the home and grounds of former Chicago Tribune publisher Robert McCormick, is one of my local favorites. You can see my other favorite sites in DuPage County here.
Something I’ve discovered in the last decade is that many metropolitan areas host a weekend, week, or monthlong celebration of architecturally significant buildings in their region. Often times these events are free or very affordably priced, and can even give access to private buildings that aren’t normally accessible. If this type of architecture travel sounds up your alley, then this post is for you. Keep reading to find out where in the world you can plan a trip to coincide with one of these architecture celebrations. Disclosure: two of these locales are not free, but they are very localized to their destinations and worthy of being on this list because they may not be known about by anyone who is not local to the areas.
Chicago, Illinois: Open House Chicago
Where: Within the Boundaries of Chicago, Illinois, USA
When: Yearly, over a weekend in October.
Cost: Free, however members of the Chicago Architecture Foundation can get access to certain tours that may not be available to the public.
What: There are frequently over 100 sites available to tour in upwards of 10 different neighborhoods of Chicago. Some are corporate headquarters that are typically only open for employees, some are private museums, and many are architecture or design studios. There are places featured for their views of the city, and some for the historical significance of the architecture. Truly, it is my favorite weekend to be in Chicago, and I’ve dedicated an entire post to it. Click on the ad below to book a VRBO for OHC 2023.
Norfolk, England: Heritage Open Days
Where: Norfolk County, England, UK
When: 10 Days in September
Cost: Free! Some sites require a reservation in advance.
What: Norfolk Heritage Open Days is part of a national festival of history and culture. For 10 days in September, there are more than 300 free experiences, tours, and events where you can visit heritage sites, discover hidden gems not normally open to the public, and learn more about the culture and history in our communities. It is the ultimate architecture travel.
Some events need to be booked in advance while others allow you to drop by. Most of the events take place in the Norwich city centre, but there are some throughout the county.
You will be surprised by some of the places you can go including the exclusive Strangers Club on Elm Hill, the Octagon Chapel, and the iconic Guildhall in Norwich to name a few. During our tour of the Assembly Room, we were able to go into their medieval undercroft and enjoy tea and coffee. You can read more about Norfolk Heritage Open Days here.
Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Doors Open Days
Where: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
When: The last weekend of May in 2023, but has been another May weekend in the past.
How Much: Free
What: Buildings of architectural, historical & cultural significance open their doors to the public. Enjoy the Hockey Hall of Fame, sites of significance for indigenous peoples, churches, libraries and the like. Check out the official link for the event for more details.
Edinburgh, Scotland (and the Entire Country of Scotland): Doors Open Days
Where: This event highlights Edinburgh, but in fact, the entire country of Scotland participates in Doors Open Days. Check out Perth and Kinross as well.
When: Typically yearly, all month long in September. Some sites are only open one or two weekends, some are open every weekend of the month.
Cost: Free! Some sites do require advance reservations.
What: Hundreds of architecturally and culturally significant sites are open across Scotland, including Edinburgh. With a diverse smattering of ecological, historical, artistic, and cultural participants, Doors Open Days in Scotland is the barometer with which all other cities try to aspire. This year, the event is even running in conjunction with Scottish Archaeology Month, further enriching the country’s participation.
Carmel-by-the-Sea, California: Carmel Homes and Garden Tour | Inns of Distinction Tour | Carmel-by-the-Sea Wine Walk
Where: Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, USA
When: The Home and Garden Tour is typically in June and includes approximately 10 private homes of historical distinction, while the Inns of Distinction Tour would be in December. Both offer significant architecture travel opportunities for enthusiasts at different points of the year. The Carmel Wine Walk is an on-demand tour that one can participate in at any point by signing up for the route to be texted or emailed to you. No apps to download.
Cost: The Home and Garden Tour is $45 for tickets in advance, and $55 for tickets bought the day of the event. Tickets typically sell out prior to the day of the event, so I recommend buying your ticket in advance. The Carmel Wine Walk is free to participate as you will presumably purchase wine throughout the event.
What: These walking tours offer up a glimpse of the private homes in the area that represent progressive and boundary pushing architecture at the time of construction. Homes by Frank Lloyd Wright, Big Sur architect Mickey Muenning, and inns of both historical and modern significance like the Inns by the Sea and Hofsas House rotate in on this tour from year to year. While not a traditional architecture travel tour, the Carmel Wine Walk is certainly something fun to do while in the area.
Cordoba, Spain: Fiesta de los Patios
Where: Cordoba, Spain
When: Yearly, for approximately 10 days every May. Check with the official website to find out exact dates.
How Much: Free
What: Tracing back to 1918, La Fiesta de Los Patios opens private home patios up to the public for a truly spectacular display of home gardens and God’s artistry in plant life. While a few homes will open the patios up to display their Christmas decor, this is the best time to see these stunning gardens for free. As one can imagine, it can get pretty crowded, so check out these tips to avoid crowds during the event. And don’t forget, if you happen to be in Cordoba at a different time of year, you can see some of the participating patios for a fee with a licensed guide. Below are just a few options for you to peruse.
Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Doors Open
Where: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
When: Yearly, one weekend in Autumn, typically September
How Much: Free, but some sites require advance reservation.
What: For one weekend each fall, the city of Milwaukee opens hundreds of public and private buildings to the public for free. Typical architecture travel locations like green certified urban farms and gardens are included, are open as well as typically private clubs. Also available to tour are performing arts pavilions that offer live performances at for an added bonus. Many of the private clubs and buildings are not available for viewing by tour or ticket any other time of year. Check out the official website with a full list of buildings and experiences to explore.
Check out a Free, On-Demand Chicago Walking Tour in the South Loop
Savannah, Georgia: The Holiday Tour of Homes
Where: Savannah, Georgia
When: Yearly, typically the second weekend of December but mark your calendar for early September as that is when tickets are on sale–it sells out quickly!
How Much: Tickets for Savannah’s Holiday Tour of Homes are around $75, with proceeds intended to benefit local youth development organizations and help fund beautification projects throughout the downtown area.
What: The Holiday Tour of Homes allows visitors to peek inside some of the most beautiful private mansions in the Historic District to see them dressed in their holiday best.
On the day of the event, guests are invited inside local inns, B&Bs, museums, and anywhere from 7 – 10 historic homes. Volunteers lead guests through each home while pointing out the home’s architectural features and explaining the history of the residence. Homes that have recently undergone an extensive restoration often participate in the tour so residents can see the grand reveal culminating the process. Most of the homes on the tour were built in the mid-1800s.
Guests can walk from home to home or pay a nominal fee to ride a trolley around the Historic District. One of the perks of walking is that you’ll be able to admire the holiday décor of other homes along the route. If you’re planning to celebrate Christmas in Savannah, this is a can’t miss.
Wales, UK : Open Doors Wales
Where: Countrywide in Wales, UK
When: Yearly, throughout the month of September.
How Much: Free
What: More than 200 historical buildings are free to visit throughout September in Wales. In particular, one of the best places to explore is Conwy with more than 20 locations across the county. During Open Doors, you can visit Grade II listed buildings such as the Guildhall, which is just a stone’s throw away from the impressive medieval Conwy Castle.
Opposite the river, there is a vast wildlife paradise – RSPB Conwy Nature Reserve that you can also visit for free. Whether you want to spend time with nature, explore churches or museums, there is something for everyone.
Conwy County offers incredible views of Snowdonia National Park and exploring historic sites in such scenery will be an unforgettable experience. Don’t miss out on the Bodnant Garden – a world-known garden with exotic plants and Italian-style terraces in cold North Wales.
Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Open Monument Day
Where: Amsterdam, The Netherlands
When: The second weekend of every September.
How Much: Free although some sites require advance reservation.
What: Similar to the other open door/open house locations, what makes Amsterdam’s Open Monument Day different is that the sites are all centered around a common theme. In 2022, that theme was sustainability. While this limits the number of destinations—last year featured just 53 sites—it also provides a commonality that can provide a roadmap to the history of the city. If you happen to miss it, remember there are plenty of great sites to see with the IAmsterdam card. Plus, solo dining in Amsterdam is super easy!
If you happen to be visiting Europe in the winter, consider a Three Country Christmas Market Tour!
Nuremberg, Germany : Tag des offenen Denkmals
Where: Nuremberg, Bavaria, Germany
When: Typically the second Sunday in September.
How Much: Free
What: Nuremberg in Bavaria hosts an annual Door’s Open Weekend known as the Tag des offenen Denkmals in Germany. Visitors can join a tour and explore approximately 15 of the city’s sites, and many are otherwise not at all accessible. This includes the opera house, clergy house of Saint Sebald, the late gothic style pilate’s house, the medieval city walls, a Renaissance byre-dwelling building known as a Schwedenhaus and a former Jewish home with a ritual bath. September is also a great month to visit the city to avoid large tourist crowds and there are plenty of other things to do in Nuremberg for visitors.
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: Doors Open Ottawa
Where: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
When: The first weekend in June
How Much: Free!
What: If you have been around this blog for a while, you’ll know I adored visiting Ottawa’s Winterlude Canada. I have been interested in visiting again in the summer, not least because it’s so close to Quebec. While adults can admire the history, architecture, and cultural sites, there is fun for kids as well with the addition of an Open Doors Scavenger hunt. First Nation sites are also included in the capital city’s offerings.
London, England: Open House Festival
Where: London, England
When: Two weeks in September.
How Much: Free
What: While you’ll never see everything there is to see in London in a weekend, the Open House Festival offers a very authentic look into life in London. London housing, architecture, and neighborhoods are the focus rather than traditionally visited monuments. This is an architecture travel event that is true the common person.
While I’m sure there are other Open House/Open Doors cities out there–I’ve heard Australia has their own festivals–these are the ones that I’ve researched. Architecture travel is such a fun way to plan a trip. If you have attended one that I’ve missed, please leave a comment below!
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