South Kensington – or South Ken, as it’s affectionately referred to by locals – truly is one of London’s must-stop -and-look-around areas, should you be spending any time in the UK capital. One of the city’s most affluent and celebrated neighbourhoods, it boasts everything you’d associate with style, elegance, sophistication and pure class.
That’s because, lying in the prestigious Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, it’s full of fine restaurants, beautiful boutiques and world-renowned museums. Moreover, it also has multi-million-pound residences owned by some of the world’s richest people, as well as its fair share of private gardens-cum-squares – don’t doubt it then, exclusivity definitely plays a role in this district’s appeal.
As mentioned, South Ken’s dedication to culture is something to behold, all right. Primarily, this is down to the three great museums located on the wide thoroughfare that’s Exhibition Road. Opened in 1857, the Victoria and Albert museum (V&A) is the world-leading venue for the decorative arts, with a permanent collection of more than 4.5 million objects drawn from across three millennia. Also founded way back in 1857, the Science Museum boasts more than 300,000 items; its biggest draw being the interactive exhibits in its children’s gallery. Finally, the Natural History Museum, which dates from 1880, is an architectural delight – to stand outside and marvel at its exterior is almost as much a pleasure as to enter inside and be wowed by its contents; 80 million specimens of animals both extant and extinct.
In terms of eating out, South Ken offers several sleek and sumptuous options. Margaux (152 Old Brompton Road) is all about modern European dining but blends this with Old World wines, while the Italian-based menu at Daphne’s (112 Draycott Avenue) is best enjoyed in the summer at a table outside for that unrivalled al fresco experience. Alternatively, if Thai dining’s your thing then you must try local favourite Patara (181 Fulham Road), whose dishes are full of invention and innovation. But these are just the tip of the iceberg; South Ken’s brimming with Michelin-starred restaurants – all of them just a short Tube ride away from wherever you might be staying in Central London (such as, perhaps, the Park Grand hotel Lancaster Gate) serving food from all over the globe – from good old British to Greek and Chinese to French.
Speaking of French culture, the area’s also famed for its Gallic ex-pat community. If you enjoy all things French, then you must visit South Kensington as this district feels like a mini Paris; you’ll often hear le Français on the air and catch sight of ladies who lunch. Indeed, while Bute Street’s renowned as the centre of French London, it’s complemented by the French Consulate and the French Institute (where you’ll find the Ciné Lumière attraction), an abundance of cafés, bistros and patisseries and a fine French bookshop that Francophiles flock to from far and wide.
All in all then, if you fancy a day of London finesse – it simply has to be South Kensington.