The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea is London's smallest and one of the most exclusive. Informally known as the 21st arrondissement of Paris due to its high French population, the area has many great cafes, bistros and boutiques. Kensington and Chelsea’s iconic white terrace houses appear in many films as the quintessential London street and whilst this may be a bit of a stretch (London is much more varied and exciting than that!), to have a day out in this elegant neighbourhood is a real pleasure. It is full of history and has many important museums, galleries and significant buildings, which are (mostly) free to enter and enjoy. Along with its many high-quality establishments, this borough also has quite a few hidden eccentricities, so here is a day tailored to sophistication, charm, fun and surprises.
The Chelsea Bun
Breakfast at the Chelsea Bun is almost a rite of passage if you are in West London. They serve a good selection of different breakfast options, from the traditional full English, to a New York pancake brunch and the prices are very reasonable. The atmosphere is calm and informal so take your time and enjoy the complimentary tea or coffee that accompanies your breakfast. This is also a great spot for a little bit of people watching, and with the chic residents of Kensington and Chelsea it will certainly give you serious clothing envy!
The street appeared in the 17th century with a sole purpose of providing king Charles II with a nice passageway to the Kew Gardens. It remained closed for public until 1830, and in the 1960s it was occupied by hippies and artistic folks. This atmosphere still persists: there are some 17th century houses still remaining, some of them bear plaques explaining why they are famous (e.g., “Actor and playwright Peter Ustinov lived here” – house 215). Now King’s Road is one of the trendiest and most expensive streets in London. It has boutiques of most upscale brands as well as shops by independent designers. But shopping is not what makes it special (pricetags in most places are rocket-high) – King’s Road is an extremely nice for a simple walk.
Tiffany & Co
Established in New York this luxury brand has been selling high quality jewellery since 1837. The Sloane Square store is lovely and large, the window displays are always simple yet spectacular, much like the famous jewellery brand itself, and inside are some great pieces designed by the likes of Paloma Picasso and Elsa Peretti. Fantasy shopping and daydreaming in here are just as respected as actually purchasing something in one of those delicate blue boxes. Yes, it is a big brand name rather than a quirky boutique but it still has the cool factor thanks to its co-star role alongside Audrey Hepburn in ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’, so if you really want to have a laugh, grab yourself a croissant from a nearby café and have your very own Holly Golightly experience.
In 2006 the famous chef Tom Aiken opened Tom’s Kitchen as an informal equivalent to his Michelin starred Tom Aiken Restaurant. The menu is full of British classic dishes with a twist of the modern about them, and it is worth noting that all ingredients are responsibly and locally sourced. This relaxed brasserie often works in collaboration with the V&A museum, creating set menus to accompany a ticket to the latest special exhibition on show for a really good value deal.
Exhibition Road received its name after the Great Exhibition of 1851, which was organised by Prince Albert as a celebration of modern industrial technologies and design that was held in Hyde Park at the Northern end of the street. The exhibition was a platform for all the nations of the world to come together and show off their greatest achievements in art, design, science and innovation. This passion for industry and advancement is still very much at the heart of Exhibition Road today with the small area in which it is at the heart of is often referred to as Albertopolis after the Prince.
This is an important cultural part of London and there will be something for each person’s taste and interests in one of the museums. It is art and design that reigns at the V&A Museum, with their extensive collections and well-curated shows. At the Natural History Museum there is a world-class compilation of dinosaur bones and it is full of clever ways to help us retrace the history of our planet and imagine what our future here might look like. The Science Museum is all about interactivity, combining technologies and games for an experiential display of the wonder of science and the knowledge that its discoveries have brought us. All of these museums are free to enter although they do have a few special exhibitions within them that you have to pay to enter. Each institution is suitable for all ages as they have such a wide range of items and information on offer, you are sure to find something to entertain every member of your party.
The Royal Albert Hall
Since 1871 the Royal Albert Hall has been entertaining its visitors with musical concerts, exhibitions, awards ceremonies and dance performances, all held inside this unconventional round piece of architecture. The space is renowned for its high caliber of artists, brilliant acoustics and small audiences. You can go in and have a tour or a look around but if you have the opportunity then definitely watch a concert or performance here, as it is an experience that you will not forget. It is also worth going across the road to take in the huge statue built of Prince Albert that presides over the cultural area, it is pretty magnificent.
Kensington Roof Gardens
One of the biggest rooftop gardens in Europe, this incredible space is approx 6000 meters-squared and contains 3 themed gardens that include full grown oak and fruit trees, a working steam filled with fish and perhaps most spectacularly of all, 4 flamingos! Bill, Ben, Splosh and Pecks reside in the English Woodland Garden and are there all year round, happily enjoying their sky-high paradise, although it is worth noting that the English Garden itself is at its most beautiful in the Spring. All of the gardens are open to the public for free but it is always worth calling the friendly staff beforehand as it is a popular site for events and so is sometimes occupied with those. There is an exclusive restaurant, bar and club there too if you want to dine amongst the foliage.
The Babylon restaurant overlooks the Kensington Rood Gardens and offers wonderful views across London’s skyline. The menu style is fine dining, using fresh, seasonal ingredients and the food has won awards for its quality. Babylon is very exclusive and the prices reflect this, however the setting in gorgeous and the food is memorable. On a Friday and Saturday you can also beat the queues and receive a discounted entrance fee for the club on the 6th floor. The party gets started at 10pm and stays open until 3am, drinks aren’t cheap but the surroundings are pretty amazing and the tunes are sure to see you through until the early hours of the morning.