Royal Kensington, renowned for its outstanding museums, parks, gardens and mansion houses, began life as a small rural village during the early 1800s. Today it forms a smart residential suburb, filled with grand white-stuccoed houses that overlook immaculate squares and gardens. The area is also noted for its large elegant department stores, luxury restaurants, fashionable clothing outlets and smart antique shops.
The grandest building in Kensington by far is the Royal Kensington Palace and Gardens, the birthplace of Queen Victoria, located on the western edge of the broad green fields of Hyde Park. The palace is still a royal residence today and is the official London residence of Prince William and Catherine Middleton (the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge).
Kensington's other famous buildings include the Royal Albert Hall, which overlooks the southern side of Hyde Park, famous worldwide for its annual hosting of 'The BBC Proms' and other distinguished concerts and festivals.
Any excursion to Kensington would not be complete without a trip along Exhibition Road, to visit one or more of its three magnificent museums - all with free entry. The museums are so large and packed with so many marvelous exhibits that it will require a day (or more), in each one, to see all there is to see.
This contemporary brick and glass building, designed by Ralph Tubbs in 1961, commemorates the Scout Movement's founder, Lord Baden-Powell. A statue of the late Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell, whose goal was 'to promote good citizenship in the rising generation', stands outside the entrance.
A number of exhibits and displays, which illustrate his life from an officer in the Boer War to chief of the Boy Scout organisation (including his hat and uniform) are now on display in Gilwell Park (Chingford, London E4 7QW).
Location: Corner of Queens Gate and Cromwell Road
The palace was purchased as a royal residence by William III in 1689, who then engaged Wren and Hawksmoor to enlarge it. Queen Victoria who was born there, and lives on in a bedroom filled with her favourite paintings and souvenirs. An illusionist gallery painted by William Kent on the walls of the King's Staircase, is decorated with realistic figures, who lean over the balustrades and peer at you.
Grinling Gibbons carvings adorn the restored Orangery by Nicholas Hawksmoor, dating from 1704. Said to be where Queen Anne hosted summer parties amongst the orange and myrtle trees.
The Kensington Gardens were once part of the Palace, with its magical glades laid out in their present form by George II. The Peter Pan's statue (designed by Sir George Frampton in 1912) was erected overnight to surprise local children; the pipes are said to disappear regularly.http://www.hrp.org.uk/kensingtonpalace/
Grand house built 1866 for the celebrated Victorian artist, Lord Leighton. Oriental tiles and elaborate stained-glass windows decorate an exotic Arab Hall, with a mosaic floor and fountain. It contains a collection of Pre-Raphaelite and High Victorian paintings, plus works by Leighton and Burne-Jones.http://www.rbkc.gov.uk/subsites/museums.aspx
Renowned Punch cartoonist and illustrator Edward Linley Sarnbourne lived in this Victorian house, completed in 1874. Many William Morris furnishings still remain. Drawings by Sambourne and fellow artists line the walls.http://www.rbkc.gov.uk/subsites/museums.aspx
The great halls of this impressive neo-Gothic building provide nearly 4 acres of gallery space, with over 50 million exhibits. It tells the story of natural history from prehistory to present day. The collections are divided into five main categories covering botany, entomology, mineralogy, paleontology and zoology. Among the exhibits are a wide array of fossils and stuffed animals, including a 91 ft long model of a blue whale in the Whale Gallery and hundreds of preserved spiders in the Creepy Crawlies Gallery.
A key exhibition in the museum is the Dinosaur Gallery, complete with a life sized, roaring, animated Tyrannosaurus Rex (see image right), plus an extensive a collection of dinosaur bones and fully assembled skeletons of dinosaurs.
Located within the same building complex is the Geological Museum, which tells the story of the Earth with minerals, rocks and crystals, including a magnificent collection of gem stones. The collection illustrates the principles of geology, earth history and world wide mineralogy. You can also see a piece of the Moon, collected by the Apollo astronauts in 1972.
Opened in 1857, the museum covers an all-embracing panorama of science and technology throughout the ages. Interactive displays recount discoveries and inventions, from the Industrial Revolution to the Space Age. The museum is absolutely packed to the rafters with facinating exhibits from human biology and nutrition to industrial technology and space exploration.
Of all the museums in London, the Science Museum is the one most loved by children and their parents. There are thousands of interactive exhibits, buttons to press, handles to turn and all sorts of displays that light up, move and make noises. You can measure your heartbeat, shake hands with yourself and even star in your own special effects video. You will also discover a range of industrial wonders such as a Vickers Vimy aircraft (that made the first transatlantic flight in 1919) plus full sized working steam engines and steam locomotives including Stephenson's Rocket.
Queen Victoria laid the foundation stone for this national museum of fine and applied art museum in 1899. The exhibits and displays cover virtually all countries, periods and styles. The maze-like interior contains over seven miles of galleries, so it is wise to purchase a guide book from the forum and work-out route, so that you can visit all the galleries you wish to see before you start exploring.
There are basically two types of galleries: those that display a wide selection of exhibits covering a particular period or civilisation; and smaller subject based galleries that contain more specialised collections. All-in-all the Victoria & Albert Museum is like an enormous box of delights, with exhibits ranging from water colours to wallpaper. Fashions come and go in the Dress Collection, while lasting treasures include Medieval and Byzantine art, plus an array of oriental carpets, Chinese thrones and samurai swords.
Tier upon tier of boxes and galleries line this magnificent oval concert hall, planned by Prince Albert and built as his memorial, and completed in 1871. Guided tours include a view of the Royal Box and perhaps a rehearsal.
Opened in 1888, the theatre became focus for new drama in the early 20th century. Once a venue for George Bernard Shaw premieres, under his direction. Rebuilt in 1952, the theatre continues to encourage experimental plays.
Temporary exhibitions of modem art are held in this former tea-house designed by Sir Henry Tanner. Galleries look out onto the beautiful surroundings of Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park.
Well preserved brick terraces line this popular street, developed in late 18th century. Immaculate shop fronts display designer clothes, shoes, silver and antiques.
Fine art auctioneers, founded in 1793. Valuations can be requested of anything from teddy bears and cameras to oriental pots and old masters.
Vibrant and cosmopolitan area that originated in 1155 when Lord de Vere of the Manor of Kensington became Earl of Oxford. His manor court house once stood near site of the underground station. Home of a vast exhibition hall that covers over 18 acres. Lively shops and restaurants in Earl's Court Road.
This grand red brick building with towers and cupolas, houses the one of the largest and most famous department stores in the world, employing around 5000 staff. Originally it was a small grocery bought by wholesale tea merchant Henry Charles Harrod in 1849, the store now has over 60 fashion departments. Opulent displays of fruit, flowers, meat and confectionery are displayed in its renowned food hall. Other departments specialise in anything from silverware to cosmetics and furniture.
Home to Europe's biggest street Party every August. Notting Hill Carnival was founded as a Local fair in 1966. One of London's Best street markets can be found in Portobello Road. Cosmopolitan shops and restaurants around Ladbroke Grove. Its stylish residential areas were laid out during the 19th century.
The streets surrounding Portobello Road are alive with the hubbub of London's most diverse Saturday market. Stalls focus on antique china, clocks, silverware, furniture, jewellery, clothing and bric-a-brac.
Formal parkland, opened in 1952, where peacocks cry out amongst wild flowers and grasses in shaded woodland areas. Holland House, built 1606, was a fashionable meeting place in the 18th century. Heavily bombed in World War II, its surviving wing is now part of Youth Hostel.
Once the haunt of deer, boar and wild cattle and former hunting ground of Henry VIII, it was acquired from Westminster Abbey in 1536. Elizabeth I hunted in Hyde Park and inaugurated military reviews there for centuries. Opened to public in 1637, it was the site of the Great Exhibition in 1851. The park merges to the west with Kensington Gardens, together covering 630 acres and forming the largest open space in inner London. There is boating on the Serpentine, horse-riding along Rotten Row (former haunt of highwaymen and duelers) and art appreciation in the Serpentine Gallery.
Handsome 18th century houses surround square, laid out by Thomas Young, where several distinguished writers and artists once lived. Philosopher John Stuart Mill resided at No. 18, and Edward Burne-Jones at No. 41. Thackeray wrote Vanity Fair in 'Young Street', adjacent to the square.
Magnificent white stucco villas overlook colourful narrow boats in the western end of Regent's Canal (now part of the Grand Union Canal). Walkers can stroll along towpath and watch boats moor at the Pool. Artists inspired by this area include Lucien Freud and Feliks Topolski.
An elaborate monument surrounds this bronze figure of the Prince Consort. Constructed in the early 1870s by Sir George Gilbert Scott, the memorial has a marble frieze depicting poets, architects, artists and composers.
Once the original gateway to Buckingham Palace, Marble Arch was moved to Hyde Park Corner in 1851, and is now purely ornamental. It is interesting to note that this 19th century monument, is located adjacent to the site where highwaymen were once hanged. A nearby plaque marks the spot where the Tyburn gallows once stood.
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