What to see in Kensington and Chelsea

The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea is one of the smallest in the UK but it is also the most densely populated. Not only that but it contains many of London’s finest museums in a short stretch plus a myriad of other attractions to visit.

South Kensington and Chelsea so much to see and do

Kensington and Chelsea are home to some of the “poshest” and richest individuals in England. But the Borough is a lesson in contrasts. From the mega-rich shopping of the Kensington and Chelsea set with Harrods and other upmarket shops to Kensington Palace (Diana’s home and memorial) the Chelsea Flower Show to the Nottinghill Carnival. It all takes place here in Kensington and Chelsea.

Glouscester Tube station in south Kensington
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Things to do in Kensington and Chelsea

“There is no other city in the world where you will find such first-class museums all within walking distance of each other.  “The Great Exhibition in Hyde Park in 1851 created the foundations for these grand institutions dedicated to the arts and sciences. It was this investment in the area that set in motion a building spurt with large terraced houses which gives the district its current appearance as a high-class residential area; streets like the Boltons are among west London’s smartest addresses. Catering for this type of resident are the designer shops around Brompton Cross. There’s also a distinctly European flavour to modern-day South Ken with a French emphasis making it all the more chic.”  quoted from London Town.

The Museums of London in Kensington and Chelsea

The Victoria & Albert Museum

a VW bus from the 60's on display at the V&A in South Kensington

We had a plan for ensuring that we got the most out of the area and so we headed towards the V & A Museum a place we had wanted to see for years.  

South Kensington and Chelsea so much to see and do

Now the V & A is free but the special exhibitions do have a cost associated with them from around £8-20.  We stood outside the Museum just marvelling at the size of the building and the fact that we were finally here.  Throngs of kids with teachers were going up the steps their bright glow vests in yellow giving the teachers a way to keep an eye on them.  Screaming and laughing the crowds of kids were from around 5 years old right up to teenagers carrying portfolios.

South Kensington and Chelsea so much to see and do

We wandered up the stairs and entered the Museum – it was just incredible, vaulted high ceilings with a gorgeous Chihuly chandelier, marble everywhere just mind-boggling.  We decided to forgo the special exhibits as they unfortunately just were not in our budget and began with the fashion exhibit rooms. 

South Kensington and Chelsea so much to see and do

From Chanel to Alexander McQueen and everything that came before and after these exhibits are absolutely a must see for the fashionphile.  Room 40 contains the Fashion exhibits and they run chronologically around the room starting in 1750. From bustles to punk, the exhibit was outstanding and it was such a joy to stare at pannier dresses from the 1700s and wonder how they manoeuvred doorways to Malcolm McLaren’s punk look from the ’70s.

South Kensington and Chelsea so much to see and do

Go for a ride on the London Eye

You can wander the museum for hours and take in exhibits from the Islamic Middle East, sculpture from 1300 to 1600.  In the centre of the Museum buildings is a Garden with a cafe, where you can sit and admire the architecture and enjoy a good cup of coffee before you head back into the galleries.

South Kensington and Chelsea so much to see and do

We pretty much just stumbled around in complete awe admiring jewellery from every century to Tapestries, Theatrical exhibits, paintings and artwork from every era.  It definitely takes more than a day to see everything you should. Don’t forget, if you get a chance to check out The National Gallery in Trafalgar Square as well.

Malcolm McDowells Punk outfit in the V&A museum

South Kensington is home to some of the finest museums in the world and the majority are FREE, imagine it free access to some of the worlds greatest treasure.

a gorgeous velvet embroidered dress in greens and corals at the V&YA

If you want some other cool ideas for things to do in London check out Sanne’s article Things to do in London from Spend Life Traveling.

Science Museum

On the tube the day before we went to South Kensington, we saw around 50 young kids with their teachers.  One of the mum’s told us they were on their way to the Museum to visit with a real astronaut. We noticed loads of groups of school kids at all the Museums and we were really impressed with the kids, the teachers and the experience the kids had in those museums. It’s often assumed that the Science Museum is just for kids. It’s certainly very family-oriented, but there are many galleries aimed at a more adult audience. The Making the Modern World gallery contains a staggering collection of artefacts, including the Apollo 10 capsule. On the last Wednesday of every month, there is an adults-only late opening with music, talks, wine … and no children.

Natural History Museum

This is the Museum kids love the most, famous for its dinosaur displays (plaster casts of the originals); the NHM holds much wider treasures, including a full-scale model of a blue whale.

South Kensington and Chelsea so much to see and do

The building itself is a masterpiece with intricate animal carvings peering out from every corner. If the lineups are long, try the side entrance on Exhibition Road much smaller lines if any.

the Natural History Museum entrance in Kensington

Saatchi Gallery, Chelsea

Charles Saatchi, one of the world’s foremost art collectors, opened his own gallery in 1985. It specializes in cutting-edge contemporary art that most of us just don’t get. Even if the art is not for you, the gorgeous, sparse interiors are worth a look. Although the entrance is free, you might want to buy a guide, as the labels on the work really don’t tell you very much.

This A – Z Directory is maintained by the Royal Borough’s Libraries. More information.

South Kensington and Chelsea so much to see and do18 Stafford Terrace
 18 Stafford Terrace  
Description: The home of Edward Linley Sambourne, the Punch cartoonist and his family. Now a unique museum offering a chance to see a fully preserved Victorian family dwelling.

South Kensington and Chelsea so much to see and do1st Kensington Scout Group
 Baden-Powell House 65-67 Queen’s Gate 
Description: Exhibition of Robert Baden-Powell founder of Scout and Guide movements. Also contains a hostel.

South Kensington and Chelsea so much to see and doBritish Postal Museum & Archive
 Freeling House Phoenix Place 
Description: The BPMA is the leading resource for all aspects of British postal history, preserving and celebrating four centuries of the Royal Mail.

South Kensington and Chelsea so much to see and doFlorence Nightingale Museum
 St Thomas’ Hospital 2 Lambeth Palace Road 
Description: Museum celebrating the life of Florence Nightingale the founder of modern nursing.  Adult: £7.50 Concessions £3.80 Small groups £13.00 Large groups £18.00

South Kensington and Chelsea so much to see and doHandel & Hendrix in London
 25 Brook Street Mayfair 
Description: Historic site of two residences: Handel’s house at 25 Brook Street and Jimi Hendrix’s flat on the top floor. Handel & Hendrix: Adult £10: Child £5, Handel House: Adult £7.50: Child £3 Hendrix Flat: Adult £7.50: Child £3 

South Kensington and Chelsea so much to see and doKensington Palace State Apartments
 The Broad Walk Kensington Gardens 
Description: Historic royal palace within Kensington Gardens.

South Kensington and Chelsea so much to see and doLeighton House Museum
 12 Holland Park Road 
Description: Museum

South Kensington and Chelsea so much to see and doMuseum and Library of the Order of St John
 St John’s Gate St John’s Lane 
Description: Museum and library of the Order of St John. Discover the medical, religious and military roles of th..

South Kensington and Chelsea so much to see and doMuseum of Fulham Palace
 Bishops Avenue 
Description: Tudor, Georgian and Victorian building with a 13 acre restored walled garden telling the story of Ful..

South Kensington and Chelsea so much to see and doNational Army Museum
 Royal Hospital Road  
Description: Discover the impact the British Army has had on the story of Britain, Europe and the world.

South Kensington and Chelsea so much to see and doNatural History Museum
 Cromwell Road 
Description: Museum of the natural world; there are a huge range of exhibits from animated dinosaurs to an earthquake.

South Kensington and Chelsea so much to see and doRoyal Hospital Chelsea
 Royal Hospital Road 
Description: The world famous home of the Chelsea Pensioners – also housing a museum, landscaped gardens, and more.

South Kensington and Chelsea so much to see and doRoyal Hospital Chelsea Museum
 Royal Hospital Road 
Description: Museum of the famous Royal Hospital, Chelsea and its Chelsea Pensioners.

South Kensington and Chelsea so much to see and doScience Museum
 Exhibition Road 
Description: National Museum of man’s greatest inventions and achievements.

South Kensington and Chelsea so much to see and doThe British Library Sound Archive
 96 Euston Road 
Description: One of the largest sound archives in the world with over 1 million discs of music, oral history, drama and sound.

South Kensington and Chelsea so much to see and doThe Royal College of Music Museum of Instruments
 Prince Consort Road 
Description: an Internationally renowned collection of musical instruments.

South Kensington and Chelsea so much to see and doWilliam Morris Society
 Kelmscott House 26 Upper Mall Hammersmith
Description: Aims to promote interest in the life and work of Willaim Morris through lectures and visits to schools.

If you love a street market check out London’s Leather Lane the place for street food

Interesting places to visit in Kensington and Chelsea

Come to Kensington Roof Gardens and enjoy the view! Located on top of the former Derry and Toms department store and covering 1.5 acres, this is the largest roof garden in Europe. You can lose yourself in the Spanish, Tudor and English woodland style gardens and make the most of the panoramic views over West London. You can even dine in the exclusive Babylon Restaurant. You should check that there are no private parties taking place before you go to avoid disappointment!

Best oddity in Kensington

Kensington Gardens Elfin Oak is over 900 years old and originally grew in Richmond Park. It is covered with tiny magical figures carved between 1928-30 by Ivor Innes. This most unusual tree owes its preservation to Spike Milligan.

Royal Albert Hall

Classical music, rock, pop and jazz, sporting events, galas, banquets and balls and the world-famous Proms series all take place within the Royal Albert Hall’s iconic oval walls. The brainchild of Prince Albert, inspired by the success of the Great Exhibition, the hall first opened in 1871, ten years after the Prince’s death. Heavily influenced by ancient amphitheatres and the theme of the ‘Empire and the arts, the oval structure’s terracotta walls are decorated on the outside with a frieze dedicated to “The Triumph of Arts and Sciences”. Gaslighting, poor acoustics and old pipe organs have been replaced over the years and the awe-inspiring venue now exists as a testimony to both the architectural and aesthetic achievements of the past – it now features the largest pipe organ in the British Isles.

South Kensington and Chelsea so much to see and do

Kensington Gardens

Kensington Gardens used to be a private park which is now public. Home to Kensington Palace and the Diana Princess of Wales Playground and memorial and many other attractions.

signpost to Peter Pan, the Serpentine Gallery and the Princess of Wales Fountain in Kensington Gardens

The beautiful grounds include a formal Italian Garden, the Peter Pan Statue and covers over 260 acres. Kensington Gardens is one of 8 royal parks and it used to belong to Hyde Park and you can walk from Kensington to Hyde Park.

South Kensington and Chelsea so much to see and do

Things to do in Chelsea

Chelsea Physic Garden

This garden is the oldest botanical garden in London, founded in 1673 for the purpose of training specialists for plant identification. Nowadays, it is one of the most important centres of botany in the world. Come to this enchanted garden to read a bit about the history of plant exchange in the British Empire and be sure to stop by the Tangerine Café for a delicious lunch overlooking this beautiful collection of greenery. The price may seem costly, however, the experience is totally worth it.

Chelsea Farmers Market

The misnomer is confusing, being more a collection of shops and restaurants than an actual farmers market; yet it proves to be one of the more peaceful locations along the otherwise bustling Kings Road. A sunny day is really the only time to go, with the restaurants being exclusively outdoors. While the prices of the gardening, organic and second-hand bookshops hardly represent a bargain they nevertheless undeniably add to the market’s aesthetic charm.

Sloane Square

Home to the historic Peter Jones department store and the Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square is situated at the top of Chelsea’s famous King’s Road. Check out the Grade II listed war memorial and the Venus Fountain, the basin of which depicts King Charles II by the River Thames with Nell Gwynn, the prominent restoration actress and one of his most notable mistresses.

South Kensington and Chelsea so much to see and do

Shopping On The King’s Road

If you’re looking for a stroll around shops in an outdoor area with a great variety of merchandise, the King’s Road is the place to go. Though many shops are pricey, this retail destination is still worth exploring for unique finds like the outlet shop of Zadig & Voltaire and Tabio (a luxury Japanese sock shop). A long road running parallel to Victorian houses with an air of ease and quiet, strolling along the King’s Road starting from Sloan Square is a lovely way to spend your afternoon.

You could spend several days exploring the area of Kensington and Chelsea, one tip though avoid the school holidays at all cost as the area will be packed with children and parents attempting to get into the Natural History Museum.

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