South Kensington overview
What's it all about?
South Kensington has held its place on the map as an area of cultural and scientific importance since the Great Exhibition of 1851, and some of the world's most prestigious museums and universities grandly line up along Exhibition Road, showcasing West London’s distinctive stucco style. With the Natural History Museum, Royal Albert Hall and V&A attracting such a vibrant mix of people, it's easy to forget that this is a residential area as well. Yet just by the Tube station is a continental style square often filled with locals breakfasting in the sun. Tucked behind the museums lie rows of mansion blocks, terraced houses clustering round pretty garden squares and fine examples of villa style housing. It’s said that the majority of London's French community live here – it's been nicknamed Paris’s ‘21st arrondissement’. There’s a Lycée as well as the French cultural institute nearby, and residents will tell you that South Ken is the only place in London you can buy a proper croissant. Residents tend to be professionals and the area is an unbeatable location for shopping, with two of London’s most iconic department stores nearby. The jewel in South Kensington’s dazzling crown is surely its proximity to the historic and beautiful Hyde Park.
- Queen Victoria wanted to call the iconic Victoria and Albert Museum simply ‘The Albert Museum’ in honour of her much mourned husband.
- According to some estimates, nearby Kensington Palace Gardens is the most expensive street in Britain.
Architecture and property
After the 1851 Great Exhibition, huge Italianate stucco mansions popped up all over South Kensington, providing homes for wealthy Londoners keen to be close to this important cultural and scientific centre. Several of these have now been converted into flats, but these elegant and regal buildings continue to dominate the property market.
Moving away from this high Victorian style, there are many iconic red brick houses here, the most beautiful of which are around Cadogan Square in nearby Chelsea. These were built by Richard Norman Shaw and feature beautiful garden squares. Several architects and builders followed his lead and designed houses that rivalled, but never quite matched Shaw’s original style. These are still some of the area’s most desirable properties, and they too have often been divided into flats. You'll also find purpose built mansion blocks here, as well as lovely mews houses on Elvaston Mews and Queen’s Gate Place Mews, and some of the largest and most expensive homes in London on Queensberry Place and Montpelier Square. There is terraced housing around the station.
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Eating: It’s impossible to list all of the fantastic dining options open to South Kensington locals, from tiny independent eateries to award winning chains. Obica mozzarella bar is an unusual restaurant, but one that is growing in popularity and renown year on year. Locals gather here for a quick bite with friends, enjoying small tastings of the finest mozzarella. Other great options include Bumpkin, popular for breakfast and its refined British classics, and a branch of upmarket steak joint Hawksmoor.
Culture: The area is famously home to London’s most iconic museums. Try the Victoria and Albert Museum for its world class collections of art and design, or while away an afternoon at the Natural History Museum or the Science Museum. Fans of French cinema will want to keep an eye on what’s showing at Ciné Lumière at the Institut Français. South Kensington’s own fringe theatre, The Drayton Arms, might only have 50 seats but its productions often rival those of London’s largest venues.
Shopping: South Kensington locals want for very little when it comes to retail therapy with the legendary Harrods and Harvey Nichols on the doorstep. Those looking for a more intimate shopping experience may prefer the boutiques along Brompton Road, Fulham Road and Bute Street, where you can find The French Bookshop, Moxon’s Fishmongers and toy shop Snap Dragon. Kensington High Street, and Chelsea's Sloane Square and King's Road are all nearby.
- South Kensington has branches of almost every supermarket chain, and locals enjoy an unprecedented range of independent organic shops and a several weekly farmers’ markets. On Saturdays the market takes place in Bute Street and on Tuesdays it’s on the Queens Lawn at Imperial College. The Whole Foods Market on Kensington High Street offers free parking for shoppers and also provides a delivery service.
- Fitness fanatics couldn’t be more at home in South Kensington, with its array of gyms, leisure centres and yoga and Pilates studios. There’s even a 24hour gym called Anytime Fitness on Kensington High Street if you can’t make it to a scheduled daytime class.
- After all this exercising South Kensington locals need to look after their aching muscles and can take their pick from a collection of excellent high end spas such as Le Kalon Spa at The Bentley Hotel or Urban Retreat at Harrods.
- The borough of Kensington and Chelsea has six libraries spread throughout the area, all of which have extensive facilities and offer various courses or reading groups.
- Cafe culture thrives in South Kensington, with countless coffee shops and bakeries including cupcake emporium Hummingbird Bakery and the authentically Gallic patisserie Aux Merveilleux, both on Old Brompton Road.
The southern edges of Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park buffer Kensington Road and, although there are plenty of pretty garden squares in South Kensington, the Royal Parks are the star attraction. As well as the Serpentine Lido and Serpentine Gallery, Kensington Gardens is also home to a beautiful memorial fountain to Diana, Princess of Wales and a playground that also bears her name.
There seems to be no end to the number of high end apartments appearing in South Kensington. Recent developments include the Berkeley Group’s 375 Kensington High Street, a collection of apartments with a private cinema and 24hour concierge.
Tube: South Kensington Tube station boasts a desirable Zone 1 location, and is on the District, Circle and Piccadilly Lines. This makes travel to East and West London particularly easy, and residents will usually only have to change trains once to reach the far end of North or South London. Journeys to Monument take 18 minutes, and it’s 16 minutes to King’s Cross or 20 minutes to Highbury & Islington.
Overground: The nearest Overground station is West Brompton. From here trains connect across London, to Clapham Junction in one direction (11 minutes) and Willesden Junction in the other (12 minutes).
Bus: Buses from South Kensington include the 14 (to Warren Street), 74 (to Baker Street) and C1 (to Victoria). There are also two night buses, N74 and N97 (to Trafalgar Square).
Road: South Kensington’s handy location on the A4 means it’s only a short 20 minute drive to the M4, allowing access to the west of England. From there it’s a further 15 minutes to the M25.
Getting away: The Piccadilly Line service to Heathrow means residents can reach the airport in less than an hour.
South Kensington has a wide array of primary and secondary schools, including state schools, academies, voluntary aided schools and independent schools. Lycée Français Charles de Gaulle is a French language school and takes pupils at both primary and secondary level. South Kensington is an ideal location if you’re looking for private schools. There are several options within walking distance, including Glendower Preparatory School and Queen’s Gate School. Garden House School is a leading London day school offering kindergarden through to prep schooling.
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