As I poked between the iron gate, I heard a voice warn, “No photos.” I looked up from the estate to see a gentleman emerge from the buildings to kindly deliver his message. I was just there for the architecture.
Beautiful details called to me, begging for my admiration. And although I was no threat, apparently, gawky tourists are forbidden to take pictures of Kensington Palace Gardens properties, many of which belong to international ambassadors. Watchful eyes ensured their security.
“There are cameras everywhere. You should go. The police could be on their way now.” He threw on his helmet and sped away on his motorcycle.
Was he serious? It sounded a bit extreme. Still, uncertain of the severity of my crime, I decided to heed his warning, slipping away to join my family who was near the Palace Green.
Just up the street we had passed a crowd of men and women in business attire. They gathered to enter through a gate into a motor court facing an ivory estate. The French flag hung above the front portico of what we learned was the residence of the French ambassador. He was holding an event for le quatorze juillet, or Bastille Day, as English-speakers call French National Day.
As we continued, I couldn’t help but to admire each stately embassy and residence lining the street next to the grounds of Kensington Palace. Each were well-considered and well-built with impeccable details. Some echoed the Jacobean and Queen Anne period brick between stone corner quoins, window casements, and carved embellishments with leaded glass windows; others represented the classical style with creamy stone and columns with triangular pediments above the windows and dentals under the eaves.
Beyond Kensington Palace’s 17th-century Jacobean architecture, evidence of historic architecture was around every corner. We came upon charming Gothic Revival churches, Georgian Neoclassical estates, and brick Victorian row houses. The area was saturated with buildings constructed in enduring ways generally unfamiliar to us in California where construction is rarely given this level of quality. Although London also embraces progress and innovation, the city also preserves its history.
Get to know the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.
The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, part of the historically affluent West End, is a section of neighborhoods that extend along the west side of Kensington Gardens from Notting Hill and Kensington, through Holland Park and Earl’s Court, to South Kensington, Chelsea, and Knightsbridge.
Notting Hill is a trendy area known for antique and vintage shops at Portobello Market, restaurants, and a farmers’ market. The residential area of Holland Park is home to Japanese Kyoto Garden within its namesake park and the Design Museum.
Kensington Palace, bordered by Kensington Gardens to its east, sits among estates of international ambassadors. Prince Albert Hall, Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum, Science Museum, and Natural History Museum are found in South Kensington on the south side of Kensington Garden. Chelsea is an affluent residential area along the Thames River at the south end.
The Main Attractions
Kensington Palace, Holland Park, Victoria and Albert Museum, and Portobello Road Market
FREE: Parks, Museums, Portobello Road Market, Farmers’ Markets, neighborhood walks
Know Before You Go
The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea houses Kensington Palace (the former home of Princess Diana), foreign embassies (Ambassador residences and offices), along with trendy restaurants and shopping. Museums cluster in South Kensington, while visitors can take a stroll through Holland Park or the adjacent Kensington Gardens. Shop, people watch, listen to music, and grab a bite to eat at the Portobello Road Market.
Currency: Pound £
When to go: Ideal March-May when parks and gardens are green and blooming, but crowded in late Spring;
Summer – usually comfortable temps (can get hot), but crowded;
Autumn – pretty Fall colors, but the wettest;
Winter – chilly, cozy, Christmasy
Airport: London Heathrow LHR (Heathrow Express airport transfer to Paddington Station); London Gatwick LGW
Train station: Paddington Station (Heathrow Express service), Victoria Station (service to Gatwick), St Pancras International (service to France, Belgium, The Netherlands)
Tube (London Underground: Notting Hill Gate on Central, District, or Circle lines; South Kensington Gate on District, Circle, or Piccadilly lines (Tube guide & map)
Bus: Buses run throughout London (bus guide & map)
SEE + DO:
Kensington Palace: Royal palace and gardens, Princess Diana Memorial Garden, Queen Victoria Statue, the Orangerie Restaurant
Museums: Natural History Museum, Science Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum (decorative arts), Design Museum
Parks: Holland Park and Japanese garden, Kensington Gardens (adjacent), Ladbroke Square Garden, Kensington Square Garden
Portobello Road Market: street market, antiques, vintage collectables
Farmers’ Markets: South Kensington (Tuesday), Notting Hill (Saturday)
Embassies from around the world
Leighton House (Victorian residence of Lord Leighton)
Neighborhood Walks: Notting Hill, Holland Park, Kensington, South Kensington, Chelsea
Nearby: Hyde Park, Bayswater and Paddington neighborhoods
EAT + DRINK:
£: Pret a Manger (café)
££: Granger and Co., Prince Albert (pub), Candella Tea Room, Khan’s (Indian), Honest Burgers
£££: Kitchen W8, Ottolenghi Notting Hill, Hawksmoor Knightsbridge (steak), Il Trillo (Italian), Daylesford Organic, The Orangerie (tea)
££££: Elystan Street
South Kensington neighborhood
Notting Hill neighborhood
Bayswater or Paddington neighborhood (nearby)
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