I have taken a neighborhood by neighborhood approach to exploring London, and I was particularly excited to explore Chelsea and Kensington. These are two of the prettiest parts of London, and there is no shortage of things to see and do.
What to Do in Chelsea and Kensington
Part of Kensington Palace is open to the public for tours and special exhibitions. Unlike Buckingham Palace which is only open for tours on certain days and certain months and which requires purchasing a ticket far in advance, Kensington Place is open year-round and it is possible to get same day tickets.
Currently the main attraction is an exhibition of Princess Diana’s dresses. The exhibit was very well done, each dress had a photo of Diana wearing the dress and a description of the event displayed beside it. You got a sense of how Princess Diana’s personal style evolved along with her role in the royal family and her place in the public eye. This is a limited engagement that is running through January 6, 2019.
You can also view the King and Queen’s Apartments from the time that William and Mary reigned.
The world “physic” was historically used to refer to medicine and healing practices, so this of this garden as featuring plants with medicinal uses. The Chelsea Physic Garden is small, but truly beautiful, it is a little slice of heaven tucked away into the city.
A series of glasshouses (in the U.S. we say greenhouse instead) line one side of the garden and feature plants from hotter and more tropical climates.
The garden is a lovely place to spend time. You might want to bring a book, grab a spot on one of the benches, and relax.
Saatchi Gallery is the place to see cutting edge contemporary art – for free! The exhibitions are changing frequently, so there is usually something new to see.
The Design Museum hosts special exhibitions dedicated to all types of design. When I visited they were simultaneously hosting two incredibly different exhibitions, one exploring graphic design and politics and a retrospective of the fashion designer Alaïa. You can pay to see just one exhibition or you can pay to see everything – I recommend seeing it all. Since this museum has rotating exhibitions you may want to check to see what’s on before you go.
This Victorian home belonged to the famed painter Sir Frederic Leighton and it is an architectural and design wonder filled with his art, his friends’ art, and his personal collection of items from all over the world. The home served as both his home and studio, and he had it built so that it could suit his needs as an artist and display items he collected. One of the most spectacular rooms is the Arab Hall, a room which cost more to construct than the rest of the entire home, and which houses a stunning collection of Damascus tiles.
You can easily see his home in an hour and a half or two hours and any art or design lover would appreciate the chance to see it. (Unfortunately the museum has a strict no photography policy).
Admire the Colorful Homes
The Notting Hill neighborhood tends to get all the credit for having rows of colorful homes, but Chelsea has several streets with pastel colored and brightly colored homes.
The spots that I recommend checking out are Smith Terrace and Godfrey Street.
Godfrey Street is just off of King’s Road. It is a short little street that stretches just about two blocks from King’s Road to Cale Street. This is where you can find the more brightly colored homes.
Shop on King’s Road
King’s Road is a great place for shopping. Apparently upper floors of the department store Peter Jones offer great views of the city.
Holland Park is a medium sized park with multiple gardens and an opera series in the summertime.
The area beside Holland Park is one of the most desirable places to live, so you might want to walk around and admire the real estate.
The Chelsea Flower Show
This is an annual event takes place for 5 days in May, and is one of the best flower shows in the world. The Royal Hospital Gardens are transformed into a series of professionally designed gardens and displays. And retailers and restaurants all over the city get in on the fun and put together elaborate floral displays sometimes completely covering entire buildings with flowers.
Natural History Museum
In the winter there is an ice skating rink beside this museum and it is known for being one of the prettiest places in London at Christmastime. The museum itself is home to a massive collection of specimens including casts of extinct animals and dinosaur skeletons. The museum is free, so it is worth stopping in.
This market is a place to find food, antiques, and vintage clothing. The market is open everyday except for Sunday, and the busiest day with the most stalls is Saturday.
This park is home to the Serpentine Galleries, the Albert Memorial, and the Diana Playground. It is one of London’s eight Royal Parks, and it is beside Kensington Palace. It is a popular place for joggers and picnickers.
When I researched what to do in Chelsea, this was a popular recommendation, but I didn’t like it. The Pheasantry is considered one of the best places in London to see live jazz shows, but the atmosphere was stuffy and the crowd was filled with grouchy elderly people – I got elbowed and told off for glancing at my phone! It was like someone took a music venue and sucked all the fun out of it. When I chatted with the waitstaff they did say that sometimes there are more fun shows geared towards younger people, but that generally this music venue features the vanity projects of wealthy Londoners who get their friends to come see them.
The Pheasantry promises live music seven nights a week, and the shows are popular enough to sell out so book in advance. I just wouldn’t recommend spending a precious night in London at this venue, I have a feeling that the other Pizza Express music venues are much more fun.
A Notting Hill and Kensington Pub Tour
This pub tour is a great way to learn more about the neighborhood while visiting some of the best pubs. We made several stops at pub while strolling through the neighborhoods and learning about their history and architecture.
Where to Eat in Chelsea and Kensington
A hotel with a charming little courtyard restaurant that they describe as a bohemian oasis. The courtyard is open for breakfast, lunch, and evening cocktails.
I stopped in for a light lunch and loved the atmosphere.
The Scarsdale Tavern
This pub is known for being the place where Piers Morgan and Megan Markle met up for drinks just before she had her first day with Prince Harry. It’s a charming local pub with good food. Piers lives down the street and is often spotted there.
This is the spot for traditional British food in an unpretentious setting that seems to transport you to a countryside cottage. Maggie Jones’s has been serving up roasts, pies, and puddings for 40 years. The menu includes roast chicken with bread sauce, lamb with mint sauce, and steak and kidney pie.
A trendy spot with a bar downstairs and dining rooms upstairs, the menu is modern and has a mix of pizzas and British classics. We had a fun dinner with my cousins here.
This is a typical English pub, but the food is slightly more sophisticated than what you might find at most pubs. I had a delicious risotto with parmesan and watercress. I think this would be an excellent place to try a Sunday Roast.
This speakeasy is just so much fun. You can book a spot via Open Table, and arrive prepared with a case to describe to the detective – Charles made up a ridiculous story about a kidnapped sloth.
Find the door marked with a single lamp and a sign advertising for the detective agency, and ring the buzzer. The detective will come up and meet you and bring you to his office where he will consult on the case you present. Then he will open up the bookcase to reveal a lively dimly lit bar. It’s a really fun place for a drink or two – I recommend the Al Capone.
I know this list doesn’t include everything to do in Chelsea and Kensington – let me know if I missed any of your favorite spots in the comments.
Read More About London:
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150+ Things to Do in London
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24 British Foods to Try in London
What to Know about Visiting London
What to Do in Notting Hill
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What to Do in Camden
What to Do in St. Johns Wood
What to Do in London at Christmastime