I have a huge love affair with London. It has always help a magical attraction for me. My family are from London, so I have always been brought up to the City from a young age, and Nik and I have always done so with our own sons. I am lucky to live just 20 minutes by train from the centre of it, and no matter how often I go into Town, I always find something new. Nik and I took a day up there last week to explore and discover all that the beautiful area of Kensington has to offer. This post is in collaboration with Hotels.com, who challenged me to find some hidden gems in the borough. We are not one’s to turn down a challenge, so off we set! Although my spending money was gifted to me by Hotels.com, all decisions, all places we chose to visit, views, recommendations etc are my own. Join us on our walking tour of Kensington, and discover the huge amount that this rich and vibrant part of the City has to offer.
Of course, I appreciate that not all my readers live near to London, so I have also found some fabulous hotels that would be ideal for exploring Kensington. These hotels near Kensington would make an ideal base to sample the delights that we found for you. I have tried to show you that you can have a less expensive stay in the are too, by visiting one of the many, many free things to do locally. Kensington is the borough of museums, many of them free to enter. I have also then included some things that have an entrance fee. Its a fantastic part of town to people watch as, being one of the wealthiest parts of the capital, it has an eclectic mix of eccentric, arty, old money posh, plus the odd celeb or two!
A Walking Tour Of Kensington
We decided to get off the tube at Holland Park, and walk along to Kensington. They are all so close together. To give you some idea of location, if you imagine a line, you have Notting Hill, Holland Park and Kensington leading into each other. Holland Park was a good starting point as on the walk down to Kensington, we could stop off at a few fabulous spots along the way. Surprisingly, most areas of London are pretty compact, so you can walk around town relatively easily. To walk from Holland Park to Kensington high street would take you around 7-10 minutes, so you have some idea of distance. About halfway between the two, you have the actual Holland Park (a beautiful park), so we will start our tour there. Enjoy!
This park is just gorgeous, and probably takes the top spot for me for City parks. I just love it. Its not a huge park, so you can get round it pretty quickly. The first thing I would visit in the park is the Kyoto Gardens. Its a small area that has been inspired by a Japanese garden, and was gifted by the city of Kyoto to commemorate the long friendship between Japan and Great Britain. The minute you walk through the gate, you see the pond, the waterfalls, and you feel a sense of zen and calmness. Its gorgeous.
Holland Park is divided up into little sections, and all have something different to offer. As well as the themed gardens, you have the gorgeous murals, giving you a taste of how the elaborate garden parties of the Grand house may have looked, that have been painted along the wall of the Orangery in the park. Also, the wonderful building of Holland House itself, once a grand manor house but destroyed in the blitz, now a hostel for students and young professionals just finding their feet in London. The park really does have so much to offer and come rain or shine, you would enjoy time spent there.
This was a little known hidden gem, but I am so thrilled we discovered it. Kensington has a huge history and relationship with artistic types. Many authors, painters, poets and artists lived, or live, in Kensington. As you wander around the streets, you will see many blue plaques on houses, telling you about someone of note that had lived or even died there. This museum, the only one of its kind in the UK, if full of beautiful paintings and sculptures of the late artist Lord Frederick Leighton, and other artists of the time. The house was lived and worked in by Leighton for over 30 years, and the rooms were made to his exact specification. His desire was to create a “palace of art”. The rooms were also filled with treasures from Leighton’s travels, and the Arab Room literally took my breath away. It was spectacular. It really is a little hidden gem, and, with an entrance fee of maximum £12 (without any concessions) its worth a visit, even if you are not really into art. The collection of Eastern Inspired travel treasures really are something else. Sadly, you are not allowed to take photos in the museum, but I did sneak one before I realised this, so I do have this one of the Egyptian inspired balcony. Ssshhhhhhh
Another of the lesser known attractions of Kensington, is the fabulous home of the Sambourne family, 18 Stafford Terrace. The house is a complete, typical of the era home of the 1880’s, with all of the furniture and decoration in tact and as it was. It is a fantastic stop to put on your list of must see’s in the area. In my opinion, booking a costume tour is the best way to see this house, as the house is filled with costumed actors, all playing a part from the Lord and Lady of the house, through to the maids and servants of the house. It is like literally stepping back in time. Unfortunately, the day we were in town, (a Friday), the house was closed so we didn’t get inside on this occasion. It is only open limited days, Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays, (and pre-arranged tour times) so if you decide to visit, check the opening hours first.
If you have been with me a while on here, you know I have a thing for architecture and churches. Well if you share my love, you must pop along to see St Mary Abbots church. Located on the corner of Kensington High Street and Kensington Church Street, the 1800’s church is a stunning example of the gothic style. This church is the latest re-build of the churches that have stood on the site since the 1100’s, and is reported to have the tallest church spire in London.
I must also tell you here about the road, Kensington Church Street, as the road itself is worth a stroll down. It has boutique, independent shops, a beautiful classic car showroom, and street art on the side of the buildings that is worth a look. Its almost like a little hidden road, so blink and you will miss it!
Of course, most people know of Kensington Palace. Home to no less than 15 high ranking royals, (including Kate and Will) the palace is an incredibly popular tourist hot spot. There are often exhibitions going on in the Palace, so it is worth keeping an eye out for one that interests you. There are many highlights inside the palace, including preserved apartment of Queen Mary, Queen Caroline’s cabinet of curiosities and of course, the gorgeous gardens of the palace. Allow yourself plenty of time if you decide to do a tour of the palace, there is a lot to cover.
Kensington Gardens holds one of my favourite monuments, The Albert Memorial. It stands proud at the edge of the park, looking towards the Royal Albert Hall. The detail in this memorial, commissioned by Queen Victoria after her beloved husband died, is stunning and if you are lucky enough to see it in the sunlight, it glows golden. Stunning. Also within the park, you have the Serpentine Galleries, (an artist is commissioned each year to build a pavilion at the front of the gallery) The Diana Playground and the play sculptures inspired by Peter Pan. A stroll all the way through the gardens can take you straight over to The Royal Albert Hall, which is another well known landmark in this area of London.
Kensington has many, many restaurants, bars and cafe’s to choose from, but Scoff & Banter, on Cromwell Road, just a short distance from The Natural History Museum, is known for its simple, comforting, good food. It has a real relaxed atmosphere, and I can tell you with all authority, that the fish and chips are amazing! Other restaurants that are recommended by the locals are Muriel’s Kitchen, Dirty Bones and of course, The Ivy. Nik and I had a main course, a bottle of water and a wine each and it cost £40, to give you an idea of cost.
Museums in Kensington – Entrance free
Kensington is the home of the three big museums in London. The Natural History, The Science and the Victoria and Albert. All of these are worth a day’s visit, as all are spectacular. The Natural History Museum building, (pictured in the first photo above), is actually one of my favourite buildings in London. Its breathtaking in its design and detail. The ice rink is also open there from October to January. On this occasion, we spent some time in the Victoria and Albert as there was a Fashioned from Nature exhibition going on that I knew would be amazing. The V&A is home to some of the most special collections of historical sculptures, furniture, ceramics, artefacts from around the world. Its fascinating to stroll around.
The fashioned from Nature exhibition is on until January 2019, and is a must for anyone that loves the detail and design of clothes from the past. You can also pay £12 to go into the part of the exhibition that explores the origins of where your clothes come from, how new fabrics are being designed with environmental protection in mind, and the new processes in dying etc coming out. An incredibly interesting and thought provoking exhibition, given the current efforts to reduce the impact fast fashion is having on the environment. On a Friday, the V&A is open until 10pm, so its a fabulous place to finish your day exploring Kensington. There is often live music, an “arty” crowd and you can enjoy a glass of wine in the beautiful courtyard if the weather is kind to you.
The Cafe in The V&A –
I know this is a strange one to include, but trust me, you will not be disappointed if you visit for a cuppa, and perhaps a scone. It. Is. Stunning! Adorned with ceramic tiles and lead glazes, the cafe is strikingly beautiful. Light floods in through the many glass windows and doors around the cafe, and the luxurious decorations just sparkle. You must visit the cafe if you get to the V&A.
So there we have it! A whistle stop tour of the beautiful area of Kensington. In truth, I could have doubled the length of this post with all we done, but I am sure I have gushed on enough. Its one of my favourite areas of London, as there is just an abundance of things to do and see. I hope I have shown you that it dosent have to cost you a fortune too!
Is there any areas of London that hold a little of your heart? Do any of these things I have shown you appeal to you? What one would be top of your list? Id love to hear any experience that you have had with attractions in your nearest city etc. As always, let me know!