The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea
London is a sprawling city, to put it lightly. As a taxi driver told us, one could easily spend two hours driving across the city, whether North to South or West to East—and that’s not even at rush hour! Each piece of the capital is densely packed with history and experiences, making it impossible to “do London” in a single trip.
I would argue that the best way to approach a trip to London, especially if you have already been and checked off the major landmarks, is to select a neighborhood to stay in and to become very well-acquainted with that area. Following this tack will keep you from spending hours in transit and will prevent you from feeling overwhelmed by choices for how to spend your limited time, thereby allowing you to take your holiday at an enjoyable, leisurely pace.
On our mother-daughter trip to London this April, our choice of neighborhood to call home was an easy one. Our friends’ recommendations and our own London bucket list centered heavily on the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. As the name would suggest, the neighborhood is both an affluent and historic one. Small, but densely packed, it offers regal architecture, best-in-class museums, fragrant gardens, high-end shopping, and a wide variety of culinary experiences.
Where to Stay in Kensington
The Kensington Hotel
For this London excursion, we reached out to The Kensington Hotel, a boutique property in a Regency townhouse mansion, and we were very pleased with our choice. This five-star hotel is located on Queen’s Gate, an aptly named regal thoroughfare lined with elegant tiered buildings and populated by posh pedestrians on their way to nearby embassies, shops, and cafés. Nightly prices at The Kensington tend towards the lavish for suites, but start at around $200 for a basic room—an incredible value given the hotel’s location, refinement, and excellent service.
The Kensington draws a smart, friendly, global crowd, and they tailor their service to each guest to make sure everyone feels at home, no matter how far from home they might be. For my mother and me, that meant being welcomed with flowers and fresh fruit, receiving evening tea service (chamomile and rose, by turns), and being able to enjoy flawless green juice, açai bowls, and avocado toast for breakfast in a country where bangers and beans had begun to take their toll.
Our suite itself was beyond glamorous, with green mohair chairs, a four poster bed, and floor-to-ceiling bay windows opening onto a wraparound Juliet balcony.
The bathroom was a delightfully opulent affair. One of the first things I did upon arrival was draw up a bubble bath in its claw-footed tub and deliberate on whether now was the time for a cocktail, a book, or some bath-side television. (I ultimately chose a little of each.)
Moreover, the room offered everything one could desire in comfort, with plush linens, a fluffy bed, and heavy room-darkening drapes. We slept and arose wonderfully.
With so much to enjoy in our suite and in The Kensington’s stylish common spaces, we found ourselves spending more time at the hotel than we had even intended. When we did venture outside, we were so impressed by all that was mere steps away.
What to Do in Kensington
(I will preface this list by noting that everything I recommend was fewer than 20 minutes’ walk from our hotel, and we did not even begin to scratch the surface of all our neighborhood had to offer. Hence my suggestion to stay in one neighborhood and get to know it as well as you can!)
The Victoria and Albert Museum
The world’s largest museum of art and design, the V&A, founded in 1852, houses more than 2.3 million objects from the former British Empire and beyond. Entry is free, and the setup is very family-friendly. The assorted dining areas are gorgeous and offer a wide selection of delicious food to eat indoors or al fresco.
The Albert Memorial
Victoria and Albert are a recurring motif in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, and this instance is an especially poignant one. At the age of 42, Queen Victoria’s dearly beloved husband Albert passed away, leaving her devastated. She commissioned the Albert Memorial in his honor. Watching the TV series Victoria in recent months, I have found myself emotionally invested in Victoria and Albert’s relationship, and I admit I teared up a little when I saw this intimate memorial.
Continuing onward from The Albert Memorial, Kensington Gardens are yours to enjoy. Containing Kensington Palace, a tea room, galleries, and wide expanses of grass, Kensington Gardens are a delightful place for a picnic, a stroll, or simply a good sit in the grass.
A mews is a row of houses converted from former stables, and a charming feature of London. You’ve seen them on Instagram a lot, I’m sure, especially this pink home fitted with matching flowers and bicycle. I’m here to tell you that you do not need to make a pilgrimage to St. Luke Mews or Cranley Mews or any other particular mews, for that matter. Just keep your eyes peeled as you go about your normal explorations. Cranley Mews is one that we simply happened upon, and isn’t it sweet?
Evans & Peel Detective Agency
By far the most captivating speakeasy I have every experienced, we were inducted into the Evans & Peel Detective Agency by my local friend, Steve. We entered via a nondescript door on a residential street, only after announcing our appointment via intercom. Without giving too much away, we were whisked into the narrative of an underground private detective agency, taken on a journey that required a little improv and concluded with excellent Prohibition-era cocktails.
All in all, we packed many memorable experiences into our few days in London, without exhausting ourselves, by settling into a single neighborhood. We still have much to see in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, and we look forward to returning one day to continue exploring, at a leisurely pace.
Thank you to The Kensington Hotel for sponsoring this post.