South Kensington, London Travel Guide
South Kensington Summary
- Home of London’s prestigious Museum Mile, a trio of wildly popular institutions
- Classic concerts at the Royal Albert Hall
- Serious curb-appeal, with regal Victorian buildings that front pretty garden squares
- Chic independent cafes and restaurants that spill out onto the streets
- Some of the capital’s most expensive homes
- Easy to navigate on foot, with great signposting
- Beautiful Hyde Park and Kensington Palace are within walking distance
- Close to upmarket Harrods and Harvey Nichols department stores
- Can be crowded with tourists and school groups
- One of the most expensive parts of central London
What It's Like
This wealthy West London neighborhood is home to some of the capital’s biggest venues in art and culture and -- as such -- has a vibrant, yet refined vibe. A trio of London’s most iconic museums lives in South Kensington: the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum, and the Victoria & Albert Museum (also known as the V&A). The museums are clustered along Exhibition Road, named after Prince Albert’s Great Exhibition, which was held in Kensington Gardens in 1851. They’re easily reached from South Kensington Tube station, as quaint old exit tunnels direct visitors straight to each one via well-signposted exits.
The Natural History Museum is one of the capital’s most beautiful landmark buildings. It’s best known for its grand lobby, which for 35 years housed Dippy the diplodocus before it made way for a blue whale skeleton. Though all of the museums attract many groups of school children, they certainly aren’t just for kids. On the last Friday of each month (except December), each has after-hours openings exclusively for adults, where guests can peruse the exhibitions in a more civilized manner -- with a glass of wine. For those who prefer their cultural visits child-free, it’s worth timing a visit accordingly. South Kensington is also the home of the Royal Albert Hall, which holds the classical music concerts as well as ballet and opera performances.
Around the tube station at South Ken -- as the locals call it -- chic cafes, independent restaurants, and gastro-pubs spill out onto the streets, with a diverse crowd including businesspeople, ladies who lunch, and foreign tourists. There’s a sizable student population here, too, courtesy of the Royal College of Music and Imperial College -- one of the world’s top universities. Some of England’s most exclusive addresses can be found in South Kensington, and its residential roads make for a fascinating stroll, scoping out the outrageously expensive regal Victorian homes. For subtle people watching, take a picnic lunch to one of the small grassy squares. There’s also plenty more to do within easy walking distance, including beautiful 350-acre Hyde Park -- one of the capital's eight Royal Parks -- and the royal residence of Kensington Palace to the north. Kensington High Street and Earls Court are to the west, and swanky Knightsbridge is to the east. That neighborhood is home to legendary British department stores Harrods and Harvey Nichols.
Where to Stay
South Kensington doesn’t offer a huge choice of hotels, but there are some top properties -- with prices to match. However, rates here can be but a mere snip when compared to hotels in nearby Knightsbridge. Most of the places to stay here are independent hotels that occupy townhouses, but there are also a few artsy boutique properties, chain hotels, and even a couple of hostels. Check out The Ampersand or Blakes Hotel for fine boutique stays with luxury perks. Travelers on a budget might opt for the neighborhood's DoubleTree by Hilton London - Kensington.