Mar 01, 2022
A Guide on things to do in Kensington, London
Once considered to be a countryside retreat away from the city, Kensington is now a wonderfully central cultural destination. It's an upmarket neighbourhood in the same royal borough as Chelsea, so the choices for eating out are great. Local residents include the most loved young royals who live at Kensington Palace and the Beckhams who have a palatial home in Holland Park.
South Kensington has a large French community which means the croissants at Aux Merveilleux de Fred are superb. And the national museums here are world-class. The white stucco townhouses are as elegant as the peaceful cobbled mews. Kynance Mews is beautiful all year round, as are the colourful houses in Atherstone Mews.
Various attractions in Kensington, London
The childhood home of Queen Victoria, Kensington Palace is open to visitors all year round. It is still an official royal residence although you don't get to see the apartments where Diana lived or the young royals now live. But you do see grand royal rooms and sumptuous surroundings.
South Kensington's Exhibition Road has three national museums; all with free entry. The Natural History Museum is so much more than "the dinosaur museum" as you can learn about space, ecology and see scientists at work in this 'cathedral to nature'. Do take time to admire the building as well as the exhibits.
Across the road is the Science Museum where you'll want to get off the ground floor to explore without the crowds. Wonderlab is the popular children's indoor play area where you learn through hands-on experiments and science shows.
And the V&A (Victoria and Albert Museum) is the world's leading museum of art and design. Covering design from a variety of cultures, periods of history and subjects, you can find displays dedicated to fashion, furniture, sculpture, ceramics, jewellery, performance and more. The ticketed special exhibitions are worth knowing about too as you often need to book in advance.
Over on Kensington High Street is the Design Museum. Housed in the Grade II* listed former Commonwealth Institute building, it covers product, industrial, graphic, fashion and architectural design. Again, the ticketed exhibitions are what will ensure you visit.
Close by is Leighton House Museum which is so much more wonderful inside than the unassuming exterior suggests. This was the home and art studio of artist Frederic Leighton and he made it into his 'private palace of art. The Arab Hall has more than 1,000 Middle Eastern tiles and is truly stunning.
Also off Kensington High Street, 18 Stafford Terrace is a former Punch cartoonist's home chock-full of Victorian paraphernalia. If you want an idea of how the middle-class Victorians lived, it's well worth taking a costumed tour to hear Mrs Sambourne or her parlour maid recount 'first hand' tales of life in the Sambourne family home.
My Old Dutch on Kensington Church Street is great for all the family. And for the first and only choux pastry specialist patisserie in the world with edible works of art you need to go to Maitre Choux in South Kensington. Also on Harrington Road, Iddu is ideal for a Mediterranean lunch with outdoor seating.
Just off Exhibition Road, Ognisko is the ground floor restaurant of an upmarket Polish club. Or if you are craving quality curry, Bombay Brasserie offers romantic Indian dining. And Maggie Jones's is a cosy British restaurant loved by locals where the Sunday roast is particularly good.
The Ivy Kensington Brasserie is a relaxed but sophisticated all-day eatery with a lovely garden terrace. Even more sophisticated are Kitchen W8 ("Kensington's Michelin starred neighbourhood restaurant") and the elegant Launceston Place with its seasonally-inspired modern European menu.
When only true Italian pizza will do you need to go to Obica Mozzarella Bar and for steak head to PJ's Bar and Grill. And there's authentic Vietnamese cuisine at Go-Viet on Old Brompton Road.
For decent pub grub, you can choose between Bumpkin, the Anglesea Arms, The Scarsdale Tavern on the Blue Plaque-laden Edwardes Square, the Queen's Arms and The Builder's Arms with its classic British dining. The flower-covered Churchill Arms is not only popular for Instagrammers as the homemade Thai dishes are also recommended.
While nearby Knightsbridge has Harrods and Harvey Nichols, Kensington still has plenty of retail therapy opportunities.
The Conran Shop on Fulham Road is worth seeing as it is housed within the stunning Art Deco Michelin House – the former headquarters of the Michelin Tyre Company. The furniture and homewares are gorgeous but there are also plenty of gift ideas too. The Bibendum restaurant next door is the perfect stop to rest the shopping bags.
Those looking for a more intimate shopping experience may prefer the boutiques along Brompton Road, Fulham Road and Bute Street, where you can find The French Bookshop. And Mint is the place to come for quirky and rare one-off pieces of design that are that bit special.
Foodies will appreciate Moxon’s Fishmongers on Bute Street and La Cave a Fromage on Cromwell Place has been voted the world's 3rd most amazing cheese shop.
Kensington has lots of garden squares but for larger parks, there is Kensington Gardens – the former private gardens of Kensington Palace – and Holland Park with its hidden Japanese garden.
Kensington Gardens is next to Hyde Park and is a lovely area for a walk or run. As well as ducks on the Round Pond in front of the Palace, you are likely to see bright green wild parakeets flying overhead. Look out for the Peter Pan Statue and the Serpentine Galleries are free to visit.
Holland Park has woodland paths, children's play areas and the unexpected Kyoto Gardens. This serene Japanese garden was donated to the park in 1991. There’s a waterfall going into a pond that is full of huge fish. If lucky, you will see the resident peacocks who keep a check on visitors every day.
Fans of French cinema will want to keep an eye on what’s showing at Ciné Lumière at the Institut Français. And Piano on Kensington High Street is a great live music cocktail bar.
But the granddaddy of them is the glorious Grade I listed Royal Albert Hall. Concerts range from classical to big name rock acts, as well as the live orchestral screenings of popular films. Cirque du Soleil returns each year and there is live tennis and ballet too.
Written by Laura Porter - Travel Writer for Frasers Hospitality