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More dash – and as much cash as you want in Kensington.
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One of the curious things about London is that some of our most expensive districts are also packed with free things to see and do. Step forward Kensington – part of London where you can visit some of the top museums in the world, dally a while in Princess Diana’s favourite park and, during the summer, catch an outdoors opera (under canvas to cope with the British summer) that is supported by the local council! It may be one of the most expensive places to buy property in London, but it’s also packed with things to do that won’t cost you a fortune.
Staying in Kensington is quite a special experience and you don’t actually need to go into the West End to keep very busy indeed. We think it’s highly likely anyone staying at one of the hotels in Kensington will find enough to do without travelling far.
For a start, you’ll find a cluster of world-famous museums – the Science Museum, the Natural History Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum at the top of Exhibition Row, just a few minutes from South Kensington Tube Station. All these museums have free entrance – though you’ll sometimes find special exhibitions are charged.
The Science Museum is full of interactive exhibits and focusses on scientific achievements of the past 300 years together with projections of life in the future. There’s an IMAX 3D cinema where you can learn more about space exploration. Just down the road is the Natural History Museum with amazing dinosaurs gallery that contains part of the first Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton ever discovered, one of the largest carnivores ever to have walked the Earth along with other Dinosaurs! There’s more though, from a huge blue whale to exhibitions of fossils, volcanoes and earthquakes. And, across the road, the Victoria and Albert Museum is a treasure trove of fashion, art and design.
Then, there are plenty more quirky museums and galleries in Kensington – Leighton House lets you step back in time into the world of Victorian collector and painter, Frederick Lord Leighton, the Serpentine Galleries in Hyde Park are stunning historic buildings that house two free to enter contemporary art galleries, one in a gunpowder store dating back to 1805 complete with contemporary extension by extension designed by Zaha Hadid Architects and the other in a Grade II listed Tea Pavillion dating back to 1933. There’s always a special summer Pavillion too – a different one is commissioned and built each year to showcase contemporary architecture.
If you want to learn more about the Royal Family, Kensington Palace, where Queen Victoria grew up and where Diana, Princess of Wales lived, is open to the public too – and during the summer there’s an open-air cinema in the gardens.
In fact, if the weather is nice, Kensington is a great place to be based. There are several stunning parks. My own personal favourite is Holland Park, which hosts the opera each summer but also has a tranquil Japanese Garden, an Orangery and a plethora of animals, fish and birds including rabbits, carp and peacocks. Kensington Palace Gardens is beautiful too – and backs on to the vast expanse of green space that is Hyde Park. Each one of the parks has cafes and restaurants where you can dine al-fresco and each one offers some kind of evening entertainment in the summer – concerts in Hyde Park, cinema in Kensington Palace Gardens and Opera in Holland Park. Hyde Park is also home to Winter Wonderland in the lead up to Christmas!
For a quirkier part of Kensington, head north to Notting Hill – famous for the Carnival, for the film and today, perhaps most of all for its popularity with influencers. It’s obvious why when you get there – pretty pastel-coloured houses, vintage shops and in spring, plenty of cherry blossom! Notting Hill is full of boutique shops and, if you love vintage markets, home to the famous Portobello Market (open every day except Sunday).
The whole area is full of great places to eat and drink too – there’s everything from Pinoy food at Romulo Cafe on Kensington High Street to Nordic cuisine at Skal and Pan-Asian cooking at Uli. If you are looking for something more straightforward, try Chucs in South Kensington where you can dine in the cosy bistro or on the pretty al-fresco terrace.
Whatever you are looking for, you won’t have to travel far if you base yourself in Kensington!