In South Kensington you can admire beautiful and diverse architecture and stroll in peace and quietness among lovely cottages. You’ll also see a black elephant in a front garden, main office of the Royal British Society of Sculptors and enjoy some of the cutest mews in London.
When I lived in London I used to come to South Kensington at least once a week to church. Some weeks I would even be there twice or thrice – for mid-week Bible study and Alpha course. The mid-week group was always finishing late, so I would head home straight after the meeting. On Sundays the area is so busy that I never really wanted to stick around. Besides, I never knew where to start exploring. I thought that wherever I would’ve gone, I would only see pretty and very expensive houses, so I ended up leaving it ‘for the future’.
However, I always felt that there was something about the area – more than the famous sites and restaurants. I wanted to get under the surface, so I was very glad when recently I got an opportunity to do so. As I was volunteering at Leadership Conference I used nearly every break between sessions I was interpreting, to explore very slowly all that South Kensington has to offer. I discovered different interesting places within a few days of slow and prayerful walks around the area. I was so happy with the results that I’ve decided to share them with you in this post. I hope you get inspired.
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South Kensington: The Architecture
Kensington is and has always been wealthy. Architecture in the area reflects that well. Around Egerton Terrace and Egerton Gardens you’ll see 4-5 floors’ red brick mansions. Queen’s Gate, Onslow Square and surrounding streets’ can be easily identified by luxurious white terraced houses with black doors so heavy that you may need some help to open them.
You can find some of them also in Egerton Crescent and on other streets. My favourite is Queens Gate – a very wide street, as for London, leading all the way from Old Brompton Road to Kensington High Street. It has majestic white houses on each of its sides and even though they’re very similar, if not identical, it’s a pleasure to stroll on one side to get perspective on the other, and vice versa. Some of them house diplomatic missions and hotels (like The Kensington on the picture below).
Some others are residential houses. Benny Hill, the comedian, lived in one of them at no.2.
Another type of house is cute looking but extremely expensive small colourful cottage. There’re plenty of them in the mews and among the backstreets. As you may’ve guessed already, it’s not difficult to come across a beautiful house here, but it’s about finding the really interesting ones. Here are some examples.
South Kensington: The best bit
However, if I was to vote for the best part, I would vote for a quadrant of back streets on north side of Brompton Road. It’s marked by Lancelot Place in the east, Montpellier Square in the north and Cottage Place in the east. It’s full of small pretty cottages but I’m not yet talking about the mews which will have their own separate paragraph, as they well deserve it.
I’ve never thought that the façades of the shops on Brompton Road are hiding such quiet and beautiful area. You may possibly be as surprised as I was – just look at these beauties. They come in all shapes and colours. The further you go the more you want. Eventually, you turn right and left and left and right so many times that you no longer know where you are. I was saying to myself ‘one more turn’, ‘let’s see what’s behind that corner’ and I ended up not quite knowing where I was! I loved it.
You may also be surprised seeing another Harrods building in this area. It’s not a smaller version of the department store but what the store’s former depository building. It has stunning 19th-century façade that looks so much different than the surrounding buildings. It was re-developed in 2002 and now has 40 luxury apartments. Some of the flats cost nearly £3,000pw!
South Kensington: The Mews
As I said, beautiful mews of South Kensington deserve their very own paragraph. If I’m honest with you, I would recommend visiting them all. However, for the purpose of this post I’ll recommend you those that are my favourites.
Mews are narrow streets with houses or flats converted from stables or built to look like former stables. Originally, the name was referring to the royal stables on the site of the hawk mews at Charing Cross. In short, they’re pretty little streets.
I think the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea should be re-named into something like the Royal Borough of Mews. You can find so many of them here. I don’t know if they’re the prettiest in this part of London or if they’re in fact the most popular here but when you visit any part of the borough, you must see them. They’re all characterised by very pretty and very expensive houses which come in all sorts of colours and with different kind of decorations. They’re so quiet that every time I go in to one of them, I feel like an intruder. But they’re such a pleasure to the eyes that it’s hard to resist not to go an see one more.
Some of my favourites are on the pictures below.
I haven’t included all of my favourites as that would take a whole separate gallery. So add to your list Princes Gate Mews too. Very few of the mews are more than residential streets but I have found retail units and offices in some of them. In Reece Mews you’ll see Peter Bradfield car salon and Erma Low, tourist agent selling ski holidays. Hidden in Elvaston Mews is the shop of Noble Macmillan, producers of luxury stationery with very interesting story behind it.
South Kensington: Green spaces
As you may have already realised South Kensington is quite dense residential area, so the only green spaces that are fitted in are small gardens. They’re all so pretty and quiet but none of those I came across is open to the public.
I understand that wealthy residents appreciate having an oasis of peace but they could really be an oasis to some weary London wanderers. The most I could get for you out of it is the picture below which provides a sneak peak into one of them.
If you’re looking for a green space or a bench to rest on here, you may have a problem. There’re of course Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park at the north end of Exhibition Road but if you’re after something local and less popular, you won’t have much choice.
I recommend the Wildlife Garden by the Natural History Museum and Prince’s Garden on east side of the Exhibition Road. The latter is a good size garden where every Tuesday between 10am and 2pm you’ll find different food businesses coming for South Kensington Farmers’ Market. If you’re planning to visit, double check market’s location, because it sometimes moves to Queen’s Lawn, next to the Queen’s Tower, within the Imperial College campus.
Alternatively, you can seat in very peaceful church grounds belonging to Holy Trinity Brompton. They’re located on the site of former cemetery and at most times you’ll find them dead. Not on Sunday though. In between the church services the grounds become lively place where people hang out together. While you’re there, visit Brompton Café located in the church crypt to try their delicious coffee and some healthy snacks and small meals. You may also want to pop in to the church, even if you aren’t a church-goer. I’m sure you’ll be greeted by a warm smile and, who knows, maybe you’ll stick around.
South Kensington: Other bits & pieces
As I walked through all those places, I came across all sorts of curiosities that you may want to see too. Just look at this elephant on the picture below. I saw it in one of the front gardens at a house in Sumner Place, near Onslow Square.
Also, make sure you walk along a lovely Walton Street, parallel to Brompton Road. Somehow it feels different than the rest of the area.
If you want to be amazed, go and see the Michelin House on Fulham Road. It’s Michelin’s former tyre depot and company’s first permanent UK headquarters – who would have thought there was a factory on Fulham Road?! Building opened in 1911 and designed by one of Michelin’s employees. What makes it a pleasure to look at are the stained windows based on Michelin advertisements of the time. There’re also some painted tiles, if you step inside.
Nowadays, it houses sir Terence Conran’s shop and restaurant and offices of Octopus Publishing.
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