If Westminster is regal, than Kensington is just posh. In my mind, Kensington is synonymous with Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens and Knightsbridge, although only a portion of the last two actually reside in Kensington, the rest officially spilling over into neighbouring Westminster.
Although officially two seperate entities, it is almost impossible to distinguish between Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park. Hyde is the bigger of the two and more functional with walking and riding paths. Prominent features include “The Serpentine”, a long, narrow lake offering rowboats for rent. On this particular trip, my friend and I enjoyed soaked up the early spring sun lounging in easy chairs along the edge of the Serpentine. Another feature in this part of the park is the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain, a marble tribute to the “People’s Princess”.
To the north-east of Hyde lies the famous Speakers Corner, a venue were people can get on their proverbial soapbox and voice their opinion on any topic (so long as it is considered lawful). This corner of the park also offers a huge lawn frequently used for mega concerts such as Live 8. I was lucky enough to attend the BBC “Proms in the Park” concert several years ago with about half a million in attendance. This serves as Britian’s de facto flag-waving event in the absence of a national holiday.
To the west of Hyde lies Kensington Gardens, anchored by Kensington Palace, former home of Princess Diana and the official royal residence of Will and Kate. The shadow of the palace is reflected in the aptly-described “Round Pond”. Other water features include “The Long Water”, the tail of “The Serpentine” which changes names when it crosses the boundary between the two parks. To the south lies gothic Albert Memorial, built by Queen Victoria to commemorate the death of Prince Albert in 1861.
The memorial faces the magnificent Royal Albert Hall across Kensington Road (although technically the hall is in Westminster). Opened in 1871, the hall is a multipurpose venue used for concerts, sporting events as well as live theatre. I was once lucky enough to attend a BBC Proms concert here, which is particularly beautiful inside.
In keeping with the Albert theme, the area’s primary museum is the Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum, a world-class museum of decorative arts and design. Indeed, the entire area is often referred to as “Albertopolis” because of its cultural, scientific and educational importance.
The V&A is one of my favourite London museums, although with a permanent collection of 4.5 million exhibits, it is overwhelming. One of the greatest aspects of the museum is the central gardens which are an oasis of calm in the midst of a heavily congested metropolis. One sobering observation is the damage on the western side of the museum caused by Nazi bombing during WWII. It has been left as a reminder of these difficult times.
At the heart of “Albertopolis” lie several other museums including the Natural History Museum and Science Museum. As London has so many things to offer, I have yet to visit either but suspect they are also world-class. In keeping with the academic nature of these museums, the area is also home to Imperial College London, one of the leading scientific universities worldwide.
While there are countless opportunities to shop in Kensington and Knightsbridge, for many people, all roads lead to Harrods. With over 330 departments and 1 million square feet (90,000 sq meters), it is the largest department store in Europe. In short, Harrods has it all. And if they don’t have it, they will get it for you (for a price, of course). The most expensive dining table I have ever seen was in Harrod’s, coming in at a whopping $100,000.
A trip (or two) to Harrods is obligatory whenever I visit London. Although well above my budget, I particularly enjoy visiting the food hall with its vast selection of high end foods. I also enjoy eating lunch there on occassion which can done without breaking the budget. Thankfully, I live far enough away so that it can’t become a habit!
The area around Harrods is one of the poshest in central London. For car lovers, a walk down side streets in the area will put you up close and personal with some of the most expensive luxury cars you can imagine, many of which you’ve probably heard of but never seen…