What it's all about?
Thanks to the image of the ‘Sloane Ranger’ the Premier League football team and its Russian oligarch owner, Chelsea is considered one of the capital’s most exclusive areas and a playground for the super-rich. Its history is also rich in other ways, too, as its main haunt, King’s Road, played a central role in the cultural history of London. It was the epicentre of the Swinging Sixties, where ‘Twiggy types’ hung out in shops called Gandalf’s Garden and Granny Takes A Trip. The following decade saw the opening of Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood’s punk fashion emporium, SEX. The end of the 1980s, however, saw the demise of Chelsea’s more bohemian and counter-cultural aspects, as its prime period homes and attractive squares became some of the country’s most sought-after real estate. What were once boho markets and streetwear outlets on the King’s Road have been replaced by high-end stores, with an emphasis on expensive clothes, beauty and homeware brands.
- The Chelsea boot, a smart ankle-high boot with elasticated side panels, got its moniker through the ‘Chelsea set’. These were musicians, artists and fashionistas who first started hanging out on the King’s Road in the mid-1950s.
- The Chelsea bun, a rich spiced currant bun now made and sold throughout the UK, was created in the 18th century by a local establishment called the Chelsea Bun House, which was frequented by royalty.
- The distinctive scarlet uniform of the Chelsea Pensioner can often be seen at ceremonial and national events. Chelsea Pensioners are residents of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, a retirement and nursing home for ex-service personnel of the British Army. Tours are led daily by Chelsea Pensioners of the stunning Christopher Wren-designed site overlooking the Thames.
Architecture and property
With its pretty gated garden squares, white stucco crescents, red-brick mansion houses, and streets of pristine Georgian terraces and colourful Victorian cottages, Chelsea boasts an array of period property gems. Prices inevitably reflect the quality of what is available and you’re unlikely to turn up a bargain. The seven brick towers of World’s End Estate, built on the site of a Victorian slum in the 1960s, represent an abrupt border to the area and are one of the city’s best examples of brutalist architecture. Contemporary development in the area tends to be architect-designed and firmly aimed at the luxury bracket.
For house price information please visit our resource centre.
Eating: Among many brasseries and fancy restaurants, Bluebird remains a fixture for all-day dining. The airy restaurant opens onto a large courtyard that comes into its own in the summer months. Another established Michelin-starred option is Restaurant Gordon Ramsay. Since opening in 1998, the flagship Ramsay restaurant remains popular for its intimate surroundings and classy, if pricey, French menu.
Drinking: Chelsea’s oldest pub, Cross Keys, lays claim to being the one-time haunt of artists JMW Turner and Rex Whistler, reggae legend Bob Marley and veteran rockers the Rolling Stones. It was saved from redevelopment in 2013 and given the full gastropub treatment. Barts is a lovingly recreated Prohibition-era speakeasy, complete with secret door, live performances, dressing-up boxes and a boozy afternoon tea called ‘Criminali-tea’.
Nightlife: An area known for its party scene, Chelsea’s best known club haunts include Juju, a King’s Road DJ bar serving champagne and cocktails, and the Cuban-themed Embargo Republica, which has a rum room and a roof terrace.
Culture: Known for its promotion of cutting-edge artists, The Saatchi Gallery moved into a huge 15-room exhibition space at Duke of York Square in 2008, becoming one of the largest free-entry contemporary art museums in the world. Chelsea is also an area with a proud military tradition, so it’s no surprise to find the National Army Museum is housed here. With permanent and changing exhibitions, the museum explores the role of the army in British life from the civil war to modern times. The Royal Court Theatre on Sloane Square is a long-standing theatrical institution known for its innovative and ground-breaking plays. Hosting more than 300 events a year, Cadogan Hall is one of the country’s best venues for classical, jazz and world music.
Events: The annual RHS Chelsea Flower Show is an unparalleled celebration of all things horticultural. It showcases the best in garden design with innovative displays that attract visitors by the bucketload.
- Peter Jones, now owned by the John Lewis Partnership, occupies a full block on the western side of Sloane Square. Its Grade-II-listed 1930s frontage is considered a prime example of modern-movement architecture, while its service and ethos hark back to the heyday of 19th-century department stores.
- One of London’s best-loved independent book stores, John Sandoe Books, occupies three floors behind the 18th-century shopfronts on Blacklands Terrace. Many a bookworm has lost hours exploring the thousands of books that spill out of shelves and into every nook and cranny.
The Thames borders Chelsea and there are pretty green stretches between Chelsea and Albert Bridges at Chelsea Embankment Gardens and Albert Bridge Gardens. Close by is the tranquil walled Chelsea Physic Garden, a botanical haven dedicated to cultivating medicinal, herbal, edible and useful plant life since 1673.
The extensive site of Chelsea Barracks, which was sold off by the Ministry of Defence in 2007, is in the process of being developed into apartment blocks arranged around new garden squares.
Rail: Victoria mainline station is around 15 minutes’ walk or a few minutes by tube.
Tube: Sloane Square has a tube station on the District and Circle lines, nearby Knightsbridge is on the Piccadilly line, and South Kensington is on the District, Circle and Piccadilly lines.
Bus: Numerous buses run through Chelsea, including 11 to Liverpool Street, 19 and N19 to Finsbury Park, 22 to Oxford Circus, 49 to Clapham Junction and 211 to Waterloo.
Road: The A3 provides a link to the M25 and the A40 Westway is also easily reached. Although very central, the area falls outside the Congestion Charge zone.
Cycle: Two ‘Quietways’ cycling routes pass through the area - Albert Bridge to Harrington Road and Oakley Street to Holbein Place - with more in the pipeline.
Getting away: Victoria mainline station, with trains to Brighton and across the south-east, is a four-minute tube ride or 15-minute walk. Victoria Coach Station, offering coaches to destinations all over the country, is also nearby. The Gatwick Express from Victoria gets to the airport in around 30 minutes.
The area may be more associated with private education, but there is a decent range of state options. Ashburnham Community School, Christ Church Primary School, Oratory Roman Catholic Primary School, Bousfield Primary School and St Joseph's Catholic Primary School are all well-regarded. Nearby secondaries include the sought-after Catholic boys’ school The London Oratory School, which has a mixed sixth form. On the independent side, Lycée Français Charles de Gaulle offers a French curriculum for a mixed selected intake, and Queen’s Gate for girls from four to 18 has educated the likes of Nigella Lawson and Vanessa Redgrave.
Please see our education resource for more information on schools in this area.
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