14 Top-Rated Attractions in London's Hyde Park, Kensington and Chelsea
Some of London's ritzier real estate, the posh residential areas around Kensington and Chelsea have long been popular amongst England's elite. To this day, the area's street names - Pimlico, Fulham, Kensington Church and King's - rank amongst the most prestigious addresses in the world.
One of the most famous names in English history, the Duke of Wellington (victor of the Battle of Waterloo), lived here, as did literary greats Bram Stoker and Mark Twain. In addition to many historic sites and attractions, superb shopping at classy antique shops, art galleries and unique markets also draws tourists to this area.
1 Hyde Park and Speakers' Corner
Hyde Park, covering some 350 acres, is London's largest open space. Originally a deer park, it was opened to the public in 1635. Highlights include the Serpentine, a lake built in 1730 that's now popular for boating and swimming. It's also where you'll find Speakers' Corner, a traditional forum for free speech that's always busy on weekends. The other famous corner here is Hyde Park Corner, the busiest junction in London and leading to Marble Arch and Oxford Street, Buckingham Palace, the Albert Hall and the Victoria and Albert Museum. The park is also home to Hyde Park Riding Stables, for over 300 years England's most famous equestrian center.
2 Apsley House: Home of the Duke of Wellington Museum
Fondly referred to as 'Number One London' in deference to the fame of its owner, Apsley House was the home of the first Duke of Wellington (1769-1852) and was purchased after his famous victory at Waterloo. The Duke made many changes to the house, most notably his addition of the Waterloo Gallery where he held his famous banquets. It opened as the Wellington Museum (a branch of the Victoria and Albert Museum) in 1952 and houses Wellington's magnificent collections of paintings, including Velázquez's Waterseller of Seville, along with gifts presented by grateful European kings and emperors.
Hours: Vary depending upon the season
Admission: Adults, £6.70; Children (5-15), £4 (Overseas Visitors Pass to historic to English Heritage sites are available.)
Address: 149 Piccadilly, Hyde Park Corner, London
3 Wellington Arch
The Wellington Arch commemorating Wellington's victory at Waterloo includes a bronze chariot with a figure of Peace and is just steps away from the Duke's former residence at Apsley House. Also nearby is a bronze statue of Wellington on horseback, at its corners figures of a Grenadier Guard, a Scottish Highlander, a Welsh Fusilier and an Inniskilling Dragoon. In addition to an exhibition about the history of the structure, the arch has a gallery with rotating exhibits exploring the history and heritage of England.
Hours: Wed-Sun, 10am-4pm
Admission: Adults, £4; Children (5-15), £2.40 (Overseas Visitors Pass to historic to English Heritage sites are available.)
Location: Apsley Way, Hyde Park Corner, London
4 Kensington Palace and Gardens
The private residence of England's monarchs from 1689 to 1760, Kensington Palace is still used by members of the royal family. The last king to reside here was George II, and it was where Queen Victoria was born and later received news of her accession. The State Apartments are open to the public and include an exhibition of coronation robes, and the Queen's Gallery decorated with numerous royal portraits. Other highlights include the quarters of Queens Victoria, Mary and Anne, along with their personal possessions.
Afterwards, take a stroll in lovely Kensington Gardens. Once the palace's private gardens, they were laid out in 1728 by Queen Caroline and include a superb Sunken Garden, Flower Walk and Fountains. Be sure to visit the Albert Memorial and Serpentine Gallery (a collection of contemporary art) on the south side of the gardens, as well as nearby Holland Park, particularly attractive in spring when the tulips bloom.
Hours: Daily, 10am-5pm
Admission: Adults, £16.50; Children (under 16), free; Online discounts available
Location: Kensington Gardens, London
5 The V&A: Victoria and Albert Museum
The Victoria and Albert Museum (aka the V&A) is part of a complex of museums in South Kensington that includes the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum. Founded in 1852, it moved to its present location in 1909 bringing with it its extensive collections. Today, the V&A covers nearly 13 acres and contains 145 galleries spanning some 5,000 years of art. Exhibits include ceramics and glass, textiles and costumes, silver and jewelry, ironwork, sculpture, prints and photos. The best plan to tackle this vast museum - it's impossible to get round in a single visit - is to decide in advance which sections you most want to see.
Hours: Sat-Thurs, 10am-5:45pm; Fri, 10am-10pm
Admission: Various, discounts available
Location: Cromwell Rd, London
6 Royal Albert Hall
England's most famous concert hall was built in 1871 as a memorial to Queen Victoria's Prince Consort. This spectacular oval venue (circumference 650 ft) was hailed by contemporaries as being worthy of Rome in its golden age and is one of London's most popular concert halls. The famous Proms take place here from July to September with a program covering everything from Baroque to modern pop. Tickets are reasonably priced, and if you can swing it, try to get a ticket for the always-awesome Last night of the Proms.
Location: Kensington Gore, London
7 Natural History Museum
London's Natural History Museum dates back to 1754 and includes its original collections of 50,000 books, 10,000 preserved animals and 334 volumes of pressed plant species. Today, the collection has grown to include more than 70 million items covering zoology, paleontology, mineralogy, entomology and botany. The museum is also a center for scientific research specializing in conservation and, given its age, has many collections of historical value, including specimens collected by Charles Darwin.
Location: Cromwell Rd, London
8 Kensal Green Cemetery
With its many unique buildings and memorials to the dead, Kensal Green Cemetery is a surprisingly fun way to spend a few hours. Amongst the rich and famous found here are authors, painters and royalty, including Augustus Frederick, son of King George III. Most of the buildings are in the Greek revival style and include the lovely Anglican Chapel and Catacombs, Dissenters Chapel and Catacombs, Colonnade and Catacombs, and the Main Entrance Gateway. Set amidst 72 acres of beautiful grounds, the cemetery is also home to 33 species of birds and other wildlife.
Location: The West London Crematorium at Kensal Green, Harrow Rd, London
9 Portobello Road Market
On Saturdays, Portobello Road Market transforms from its weekday fruit and veg stalls to the world's largest - and certainly busiest - antiques market. With over 1,000 dealers, visitors from far and wide flock here to enjoy one of the most popular landmarks of the multicultural Notting Hill area. Another great place to find superb antiquities is the Chelsea Antiques Fair held in Chelsea Old Town Hall each spring.
Hours: Fruit and Veg/New Goods Markets - Mon-Wed, 9am-6pm; Thurs, 9am-1pm; Fri, 9am-7pm; Antiques Market, Sat, 9am-7pm
10 Leighton House Museum and 18 Stafford Terrace
Leighton House was home to Victorian artist Frederic, Lord Leighton (1830-1896) and is the only purpose-built studio-house in England open to the public. Highlights include the fantastic Arab Hall with its golden dome, intricate mosaics and walls lined with beautiful Islamic tiles, plus Leighton's vast painting studio where he entertained many of society's elite, including Queen Victoria.
Also of interest is 18 Stafford Terrace, home of Punch cartoonist Edward Linley Sambourne. The house provides a rare example of an 'Aesthetic interior' with many Japanese, Middle-Eastern and Chinese objects (tours fill quickly, so book ahead). Another notable Kensington home is 17th century Lindsey House boasting one of the finest exterior constructions of its day.
Hours: Daily (except Tues), 10am-5:30pm
Admission: Adults, £5; Children (under 16), £3
Address: 12 Holland Park Rd, London
11 The Roof Gardens
Set 100 ft above Kensington High Street, the Roof Gardens covers 1.5 acres of the 6th floor roof of a former department store. Established in 1938, this spectacular garden -the second largest roof garden in Europe - boasts many exotic plants, three pet flamingoes, a Spanish garden with fountains and palm trees, and an Elizabethan herb garden. The gardens and the Babylon Restaurant are accessible from Derry Street. A little further away on the Thames is the Chelsea Physic Garden, renowned for its links with botanical teaching.
Address: 99 Kensington High St, London
12 Chelsea Old Church
Chelsea Old Church was founded in the 13th century and is worth visiting for the More Chapel, restored by Sir Thomas More in 1528. Two Renaissance capitals on the arch leading into the chancel were designed by Holbein, a close friend of More's, and it was here that Henry VIII was secretly married to Jane Seymour a few days before their official marriage ceremony. There are numerous 17th and 18th century monuments, including that of Lady Jane Cheyne by Paolo Bernini, and the tomb of celebrated scientist Sir Hans Sloane (d 1753).
Address: Petyt Hall, 64 Cheyne Walk, London
13 The Royal Hospital and the Chelsea Pensioners
Built as a home for veteran soldiers over 300 years ago, the Royal Hospital is famous as the home of the Chelsea Pensioners, often seen wearing their colorful traditional uniforms dating from Marlborough's time. Founded by Charles II in 1682, the entrance is by London Gate. In the Figure Court is a bronze statue of Charles II, and on Founder's Day (May 29th) it's decked with oak boughs commemorating the king's escape after the Battle of Worcester (he hid in an oak tree). In the main building is the finely paneled Great Hall with royal portraits and flags captured from military campaigns in America and France.
The Chapel has been preserved in its original state, as have the gardens, which stretch down to the Thames and each year host the famous Chelsea Flower Show. This attraction is best seen as part of a 90-minute tour led by one of the Chelsea Pensioners (minimum four persons, must be booked in advance). Round-off your day with a visit to the National Army Museum which presents the history of the British Army from the 16th century to the present day.
Hours: Tours begin at 10am and 1:30pm, Mon-Fri
Admission: Tours - Adults, £8; Children, £5
Address: 66 Royal Hospital Rd, Chelsea, London
14 A World of Writers: Carlyle's House
Carlyle's House in old Chelsea is a National Trust property occupied by writer Thomas Carlyle from 1834-1881. Along with its interesting interior, the museum has many manuscripts and personal mementos and was often visited by other great writers such as Dickens and Tennyson. The area around Cheyne Walk has been favored by figures from the arts and entertainment world since 1720, including Bram Stoker who moved here after the success of Dracula, and Mark Twain, who took refuge here from his debtors. Irish dramatist Oscar Wilde also lived here for a decade, as did actor Sir Laurence Olivier.
Admission: Adults, £5.10; Children, £2.60; Families, £12.80
Address: 24 Cheyne Row, Chelsea, London