London espresso: Kensington

Part of a series highlighting one area of London.

Kensington is part of the Royal Burough of Kensington & Chelsea. Despite being absurdly affluent, this district of West London actually offers a bit of something for everyone. If travelling in a group, I recommend starting at South Kensington Station (30 minutes from Liverpool Street by tube) and then everyone can fan out to their areas of interest accordingly.

Kensington is notably home to “Albertopolis,” an area centred on Exhibition Road and named after Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria.  Here you can find cultural sites including the Natural History Museum, the Royal College of Art, the Royal Geographical Society, the Science Museum, and the Victoria & Albert Museum.

Whilst you’re out and about in this area, in addition to the museums and shops, be sure to take note of the architecture. The average house price in Kensington & Chelsea is about 40 times greater than average annual earnings, at a cool £1.4m. How many Chelsea Tractors (Land Rovers) can you spot parked on the street?!

Day Planner
Distance: for a sense of scale, the walk from Diana Memorial Playground (top left corner of the map below) to Sloane Square (bottom right corner) is a little over two miles.
Stops: Sloane Square, Harrods, V&A, Natural History Museum, Science Museum, Albert Memorial, Kensington Palace.

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Sloane Square is home of the “Sloane Ranger,” a rather fashionable (albeit typically unemployed and snobbish) upper-middle class woman in the 1980s and 1990s. Today, the area has high-end fashion brands lined up door to door, so strolling between stores is a convenient and swift endeavor.

Knightsbridge is home of Harrods, the luxury department owned by the state of Qatar. It is the biggest department store in Europe with Selfridges, the second largest in the UK, is only half the size. I personally prefer Fortnum & Masons to Harrods, but if you’ve never been before it might be interesting to go if you can brave the crowds.

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“The Renaissance” – Room 50 of the V&A, which includes pieces from the Santa Chiara chapel in Florence 

The Victoria & Albert Museum, known as the V&A, is the world’s largest museum of decorative arts and design, housing a permanent collection of over 4.5 million objects. It was founded in 1852 and named after Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Its collection spans 5,000 years of art, from ancient times to the present day, from the cultures of Europe, North America, Asia and North Africa. It’s free to the public and simply stunning – some of the best exhibits I’ve ever seen have been at the V&A.

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Science Museum

The Science Museum. This museum was founded in 1857 and was originally part of the South Kensington Museum, together with what is now the V&A. The Science Museum holds over 300,000 items, including such famous items as the oldest surviving steam locomotive, the first jet engine, a reconstruction of Francis Crick and James Watson’s model of DNA, and plenty of interactive exhibits. There is a dedicated gallery to networks of the modern age, being The Cable, The Telephone Exchange, Broadcast, The Constellation, The Cell and The Web.

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the central hall of the Natural History Museum

The Natural History Museum. Despite having lived in London for nearly six years, I’ve never been to the Natural History Museum but it’s certainly on my to-do list! The five main collections are botany, entomology, mineralogy, paleontology and zoology. In addition to viewing the impressive collections, this museum is famous for its architecture in its own right.

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The Natural History Museum looks like a storybook palace!
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Kensington Palace

Kensington Palace. this palace, which dates to 1605, is the official London residence of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and Prince Harry. Visitors can explore an exhibition exploring the life and reign of one of the palace’s most famous residents Queen Victoria, the Hanoverian court, William and Mary through to George I, and fashion from the collections of HM The Queen and Diana, Princess of Wales.

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Princess Di Memorial Fountain

Diana Memorial. This is probably my favourite memorial in London. Designed by an American landscape artist, this fountain is actually a large oval stream bed (50m x 80m or 165ft x 260 ft) in a lush grassy field in Hyde Park. It was designed to be an inclusive and open memorial, to reflect Diana as “the People’s Princess.” It is neither unusual nor disrespectful in my opinion to sit on the memorial or even dip your toes into the water.

The stream is on a gently sloping portion of the park, so that water pumped to the top of the oval flows down either side. One side flows smoothly downhill end of the oval with gentle ripples, while the other side contains steps, curves, and other shapes causing the water to act in interesting ways as it makes way to the tranquil pool at the bottom of the hill. The two sides were intended to show two sides of Diana’s life: happiness and turmoil.

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