· Exploring London’s lesser known areas ·
There’s something truly magical about Kensington. With curved streets of white mansions, a multitude of embassies, a royal palace, and more museums than you can hope for, it really is a place that’s rich with culture. Okay, so Kensington is probably the antithesis of a lesser known area of London, but there are lesser known gems outside of the tourist-y bits.
To start off with the well-known areas be sure to hit what’s known as “Albertopolis:” an area that was built following Prince Albert’s 1851 Great Exhibition. This area is rife with references to Albert, the Exhibition and Queen Victoria. The area itself was purchased with revenue from the Exhibition and the main road from Hyde Park down towards South Kensington station, on which many of the museums front, is called Exhibition Road. There’s the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Royal Albert Hall, the Prince Albert Memorial, all which grew out of the Great Exhibition’s emphasis on the arts and sciences. This area of Kensington is definitely worth visiting, but it is frequented by tourists so be prepared for crowds and inflated prices.
Up the road from these cultural institutions is Kensington Gardens, Kensington Palace, and Kensington High Street. Again, these are fun places to visit, but are quite touristy. Instead, turn right up Kensington Church Street which heads towards Notting Hill. Winding uphill, this quaint street is chocked full of vintage, antique, and charity shops. The famous Churchill Arms is on this street; be sure to visit in the spring when the front is covered in its signature flowers!
Though technically now in Notting Hill (more on this area in a later post!), if you continue west – enjoying the white mansions – you’ll eventually hit Holland Park. This little park has a unique history and on the southwest side, some of the most picturesque – and expensive – houses in all of London. The park itself is named for a Jacobean mansion, Holland House. Built by diplomat Sir Walter Cope in 1605, it eventually made its way to Henry Rich, 1stBaron Kensington, 1stEarl of Holland, hence its current name.
Believe it or not, despite being surrounded by the city of London today, when it was built, Holland House was considered a country house. However, all that remains of this legacy is the park which consists of woodland, formal gardens, and sporting areas such as tennis courts. Once a grand mansion, Holland House was mostly bombed during the Blitz so all that remains are some ruins. It is somewhat eerie wandering around what is left of the house, imagining all who lived there. One of Holland Park’s claims to fame is its peacocks. Don’t miss these majestic birds in the Kyoto Gardens, but respect their habitat!
At the south end of Holland Park is the Design Museum. Yet another impressive cultural institution, it’s just far enough removed from the rest that it’s slightly quieter. Head east and you’ll run into Kensington High Street. But I prefer heading west where more of the unique Victorian townhouses.
Most tourists to London make it to South Kensington at some point during their stay. They visit the V&A and Natural History Museum, walk Kensington Gardens, and marvel at the Royal Albert Hall. Don’t get me wrong, these are all absolutely worth doing. But not many tourists just wander the streets of Kensington, which is a shame. Quaint pubs, charity shops with designer digs, and some of the most picturesque architecture you’ve ever seen.
Get lost among the winding roads imagining all who have lived in the affluent area over the years and picking out which house would be yours if you won the lottery. Kensington, you absolute gem.