London/South Kensington-Chelsea

"Chelsea" redirects here. For other uses, see Chelsea (disambiguation).
Royal Albert Hall, Kensington

South Kensington-Chelsea is a district of central London. It is one most densely populated places in London and most affluent areas in the world. For travellers, the main points of interest are Albertopolis, containing several of the UK's major museums, and the shopping around Knightsbridge and Sloane Square.

Understand

This district is defined as the southern part of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBK & C); from the Thames in the south to Kensington High Street in the north, also taking in Hyde Park in the east and the area around Kensington Olympia in the west. It includes the area south of the Royal Parks commonly known as High Street Kensington and South Kensington west to Earl's Court and Olympia and south to West Brompton, Sloane Square and Chelsea. Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens combine to form the largest green space in metropolitan London and provide a real oasis in the heart of this vast city.

South Kensington hosts four of London's largest and finest museums, as well as its oldest and arguably most famous concert hall, and is also home to the venerable Imperial College. High Street Kensington leads to a long line of shops and department stores, offering a less hectic version of Oxford Street as well very upmarket stores in Knightsbridge. Sloane Street connects Knightsbridge to Chelsea via Sloane Square and is lined with luxury brand boutiques.

Chelsea is an extensive riverside area of London that extends broadly from Sloane Square in the east to the World's End pub in the west and down to the River Thames. The King's Road marks the main thoroughfare of Chelsea.

The district contains the second largest number of American immigrants in the United Kingdom, many of whom work in the financial sector in The City, while others are connected to institutions such as the American International University, which has a campus just off High Street Kensington. Many local shops, from convenience stores to supermarkets, stock American products in their ethnic food sections. South Kensington is sometimes called the "21st arrondissement" due to the number of French expatriates living there; enough to technically make London the sixth largest French city. The community results in many French cafés, delicatessens and other businesses in the area. Knightsbridge is known for both its Russian and Arab populations, with the accompanying restaurants and institutions they bring.

The whole of the district contains some of the most expensive residential property in the world but is a little more downmarket towards its western edges.

Albertopolis

Aerial photograph of the Albertopolis area, taking in the museums, Exhibition Road and part of Hyde Park.
Albertopolis

Following the success of the Great Exhibition of 1851, of which he was a key figure, Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, proposed a cultural hub to continue the Exhibition's work and to promote both arts and sciences together in one area. Profits from the Exhibition were used to purchase land, which was then in the countryside, and begin an ambitious plan for the area. The prince was so influential that the project became known as "Albertopolis", first in mockery and later with affection. The first building, the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria and Albert Museum), opening in 1857. Today Albertopolis, loosely the area around Exhibition Road, contains a collection of world-class museums, universities, conservatories, and other cultural institutions. Its tradition for innovation continues: in 2012 Exhibition Road was redeveloped and converted into a shared space for both pedestrians and motorists, with no kerb to separate the two.

History of Chelsea

Chelsea's modern reputation as a centre of innovation and influence originated in a period during the 19th century when the area became a veritable Victorian artists' colony: artists such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti, J.M.W. Turner, James McNeill Whistler, William Holman Hunt and John Singer Sargent, as well as writers such as George Meredith, Algernon Swinburne, Leigh Hunt and Thomas Carlyle all lived and worked here. A particularly large concentration of artists existed in the area around Cheyne Walk (pronounced Chey-nee) and Cheyne Row, where the pre-Raphaelite movement had its heart.

Following the Second World War, Chelsea, like many other formerly prosperous areas became rather run down and poor. It became prominent once again as an artistic centre, Bohemian district and hot spots for young professionals in the 1960s. The Americans called this period "Swinging London" and the King's Road became the definition of style and fashion and both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones lived in the neighbourhood.

In the 1970s, the "World's End" area of the King's Road was home to Vivienne Westwood's shop ("Sex"), and witnessed the genesis of punk music and style with many Mohawks to be seen on the road against the background of the closed down shops. Thereafter, working class youth culture was priced out of the area nd gravitated to Camden, Islington, Ladbroke Grove, Brixton and Brick Lane.

The 1980s saw the rise of the Sloane (archetypally Princess Diana) and the Mohawks gave way to twin set pearls, pink Polo shirts and what an American would call a "preppy". Chelsea seems to have settled into stylish affluence and aspiration.

Get in

By tube

This is a large district and it is served by a similarly large number of tube stations:

By bus

Like most parts of Zone 1 (Central London), this area is well connected by a variety of bus services. Here is a general list of the bus routes serving each major destination in this area:

The most useful buses for visitors to this area are:

Note that all of these routes use iconic London red double-deck buses except C1, typically operate at least every 10 minutes, and that any travelcard pass is valid for all buses (otherwise, buses are £1.40 per boarding using Oyster pay-as-you-go; capped at £4.40 in total per day).

See

Museums

Natural History Museum

Exhibition Road and Cromwell Road in South Kensington are home to several world class museums and all have free entry, only charging for special temporary exhibitions. They do accept (and encourage) donations if you feel you have enjoyed your visit.

Each of them more than justifies a full day's visit. It's probably more rewarding to spend your time on a relaxed visit to one or perhaps two of the South Kensington museums, giving yourself a chance to breathe in the atmosphere of the institutions and wander through some of the less obvious galleries, than it is to attempt to fit all of them into one day.

Parks and gardens

Aerial photograph of Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park and the surrounding area.
Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park.

This area, while urban, is not lacking in green areas. Many residential squares have gated gardens in their centre, although only the residents will usually have keys to access them. Many other green areas will be open, however. The dominant green area is, of course, Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. These royal parks are contiguous and often mistaken for just one park, called Hyde Park, although they are officially separate and have different opening hours. Together they are one of the larger metropolitan parks on Earth and cover more land than some small countries. The parks are popular for urban bird-watching as they hold over a hundred different species, from common urban birds and waterfowl to kestrals, owls and parrots. Flocks of the latter, ring-necked parakeets, have established themselves throughout London, although no one knows from where they originally came (one theory is that they escaped from the filming of The African Queen in 1950, although there are records of urban parrots as far back as the Victorian period).

Blue plaques

Photograph of a blue plaque erected by English Heritage
T. S. Elliot's plaque

Blue plaques mark the buildings in which the notable people of the past lived and worked. The scheme started in London in 1866 and continues to this day. There are hundreds of houses and other buildings marked in this way in the area; the following are just a sample of those that can be viewed. This can be a pleasant way to look around the city, something to see on your journey, or the focus of a pilgrimage to see the historic sites related to a specific figure.

Churches and buildings

East window of the Holy Trinity Sloane Street Church

Other

Earls Court Police Box

Do

Royal Albert Hall at dusk

Buy

Harrods

Eat

Photograph of tables and chairs inside a restaurant looking out into a garden
Babylon
Photograph of tables and chairs inside a restaurant
Tom Aikens Restaurant

Budget

Despite being a very upmarket and affluent area, there are still many places to eat on a budget, especially on the high street areas by the stations, each of which has its share of chain restaurants and fast food outlets. Gastropubs are another eating options, which can be found in the Drink section.

Mid-range

Splurge

Drink

Photograph of a pub
Courtfield

Chelsea

The southern area by the river has had a bohemian reputation since the nineteenth century, when it was a famous artists colony. In the 1960s it was part of the Swinging London culture, in the 70's it was famous for punks, and in the 80's known for rich Sloane Rangers.

Earls Court–Brompton

The western side of this destination is, in relative terms, the cheaper end of the area. Major urbanisation, and drinking establishments, came with the underground stations in the 1860s.

Knightsbridge–Sloane Square

The eastern side of this destination is the most exclusive. Knightsbridge was constructed in the nineteenth century, at a time when pubs and beer shops were considered something only frequented by poor people. The owners and designers of Knightsbridge included pubs in the plans, for their servants, but made sure to place them down side streets where they wouldn't spoil the view.

Sleep

Photograph of a building with a separate glass facade
Marriott London Kensington Hotel
Photograph of a cylindrical tower in a Modernist style with bay-window-like extrusions
The Park Tower Knightsbridge Hotel

This destination has many hotels and accommodation across a range of price points. As with most things in London, cost is often relative to the distance from the centre. For this destination, the hotels around Knightsbridge in the east are more in the splurge range, while those around Earls Court in the west are mostly budget or mid-range. For more splurgey, upmarket hotels, you might want to look at Mayfair-Marylebone. For more budgety, affordable hotels, try either Hammersmith and Fulham or Paddington-Maida Vale.

Hostels

If privacy and luxury are not big concerns, or just not in your price range, these hostels will at least give you a place to sleep for the night.

Budget

Many of these listings are converted townhouses, often on streets full of other converted townhouses.

Mid-range

Splurge

This destination has some of the most luxurious hotels in the city, if you can afford them.

Connect

There are public phone booths on the main streets throughout this area.

Internet cafés

Libraries

There are three public libraries within this destination, all of which have wi-fi networks available to anyone. They all also have computers available for public use but a library membership card is required to book these machines.

Cope

Emergencies

For medical supplies, there are pharmacies throughout this area. The principal emergency medical facility in this destination is Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, with more facilities in neighbouring areas.

There is one police station in this area. The next closest are in Notting Hill (Notting Hill-North Kensington), Belgravia (Westminster) and Fulham (Hammersmith and Fulham).

General supplies

The two largest supermarkets within this area are in the western, slightly cheaper area. Most general supplies can be found at either.

Go next

Your interests may decide your onward journey:

Routes through South Kensington-Chelsea

Mayfair-Marylebone Notting Hill-North Kensington  N  E  Westminster The City
Wimbledon Hammersmith and Fulham ← Wimbledon-Edgware Road  S  N  Wimbledon-Edgware Road → Notting Hill-North Kensington Mayfair-Marylebone
Wimbledon Hammersmith and Fulham ← Wimbledon-Tower Hill  S  E  Wimbledon-Tower Hill → Westminster The City
West London Hammersmith and Fulham ← Richmond/Ealing-Upminster  W  E  Richmond/Ealing-Upminster → Westminster The City
West London Hammersmith and Fulham  W  E  Westminster-Mayfair-Marylebone Bloomsbury
North London Hammersmith  N  S  Fulham Wandsworth


This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Friday, December 18, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.