Synonymous with class, affluence and luxury, Kensington is a prosperous hub of all things chic and stylish. But how has Kensington established this prominent status? Has it always been a place of such unparalleled grandeur? Here, we’ve taken a look at Kensington’s roots and discovered some amazing facts about the area, with the help of some top London bloggers. We’ve also provided some top tips on where to eat, drink and stay! We give you, Kensington’s Luxury Culture.
The Emergence of Kensington
You’d have to go back a long way to find a time when Kensington wasn’t a luxurious hub of wealth and prominence. Even in the early 1600s, Kensington was well-known as the home of ‘persons of quality and note’. It is believed that it had a good reputation for air quality, while wealthy individuals also valued its exclusive location in west London.
In 1689, King William III bought Nottingham House – the regal mansion that is now known as Kensington Palace – and modern Kensington was born. The manor was originally just purchased as a country retreat, away from the smog of central London, but it quickly became a home for reigning monarchs and the Royal family.
As London began to expand westward in the 18th and 19th centuries, Kensington was joined by a number of other areas such as Knightsbridge and the Cadogan Estate. By the end of the 1800s, Kensington’s royal status was complemented by the accompanying landmarks of Harrods, the Natural History Museum and the Royal Albert Hall.
In 1965, the areas of Kensington and Chelsea were merged together – they became the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. In the 1801 census, it was revealed that the area was home to a population of over 22,000. That figure increased to over 158,000 in the 2011 census. The borough includes a number of highly-sought after areas including, Notting Hill, Holland Park, Knightsbridge and Sloane Square.
It often doesn’t feel like Kensington has changed much as an area. A strong regal presence is still coupled with a popular high-end shopping scene. However, there are a number of things that have enriched Kensington’s luxury culture.
Over the 19th and 20th centuries, South Kensington became a hub for French migrants, tourists and visitors. The whole area has even been affectionately dubbed Little Paris! South Kensington is home to a number of French cultural and political institutions such as the French Consulate and L’Institute Francais. There’s also a number of prestigious French schools in the area, a host of local patisseries and restaurants and even a French cinema called Cine Lumiere.
Another welcome addition to Kensington’s diverse culture is the annual Notting Hill Carnival. Hosted every year since 1966, it has become the second largest carnival in the world and a staple part of London culture.
As the city continues to evolve and become more of a multicultural, international capital, Kensington has also become home to a number of global cultural institutions. Japan House, for instance, is one of the newest additions to Kensington High Street. This organisation styles itself as “the new cultural home of Japan in London” and offers exhibitions, talks and displays in Japanese art, design, gastronomy, innovation, and technology.
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Check out our Diversity Guide to London for more information about the city’s multicultural makeup.
Did You Know?
Things to do in Kensington
Home to a varied array of landmarks, sights and attractions, Kensington’s major tourist draw is the city’s Museum District. Here, visitors are able to explore the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum. Each one offers an entirely unique experience, but most visitors always make sure to fit in a trip to the Natural History Museum.
Kensington Gardens is well worth visiting and Kensington Palace is always humming with throngs of captivated tourists. Another London park which often slips under the radar is Holland Park. This leafy green space covers 54 acres and includes a number of enchanting spots such as the Kyoto Garden.
High-end shoppers who prefer antiquity over opulence should head over to the Portobello Road Market. With an enormous amount of antiques and vintage items on offer, the market has almost become something of a relic in itself. The Kings Road, Knightsbridge and Kensington High Street are also great for a spot of shopping.
Places to Eat
When it comes to eating out, visitors have a vast sea of options to choose from. The Ivy Brasserie perfectly captures the class and elegance of the surrounding area. This luxurious eatery covers all bases. Customers can go for breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner and afternoon tea. The brasserie also offers a popular vegetarian and vegan menu.
In a land of plush eateries and lavish restaurants, Maggie Jones’s offers something a little bit different. This rustic haunt is both cosy and quirky. The wine list is extensive and the menu offers speciality dishes such as wild boar sausages and grilled calf liver.
Kensington is the ideal spot for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But there’s one thing it does particularly well – brunch. Check out Kensington’s best brunch spots here!
Kensington’s Best Bars
Have you got an important case that you need one of Kensington’s finest detectives to solve? Well, the Evans and Peel Detective Agency may not be able to unearth the truth, but they can definitely help you drink your sorrows away! One of London’s famed speakeasy bars; this furtive ‘agency’ takes you all the way back to the 1920s. If you like your cocktail with a dramatic touch, this kooky boozer is the perfect stop!
If you don’t fancy the strange theatrics of the Evans and Peel Detective Agency, the Piano Group might be more your speed. Based on Kensington High Street, this place offers a huge array of cocktails with the added luxury of a live pianist.
Where to Stay
Like everywhere in London, Kensington offers accommodation in all shapes and sizes. Our portfolio of luxury serviced accommodation offers guests the most for their money. From stately residences to charming urban mews-houses, our Kensington apartments provide space, privacy and flexibility.
Check out our top eight luxury serviced apartments in Kensington for more tips and suggestions on where to stay!
What Does Kensington Mean to You?
Kensington is a special place for a lot of people, for a lot of different reasons! We contacted some of London’s biggest lifestyle bloggers to find out what Kensington meant to them. Some spoke of the area’s history and heritage and others had a special spot in mind!
“To me, Kensington means heritage. It’s one of London’s most consistent, luxurious and unique areas. Almost every corner has a story that spans hundreds of years. The tourism is rife, but infinitely more pleasant and relaxed than other London postcodes. As a Londoner born and part-raised, Kensington simply feels like home.”
“The ‘Tale as Old as Time’ afternoon tea at the Kensington Hotel is inspired by Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and it’s the perfect choice for young and old alike. You’ll be joined by ceramic characters from the film and will try delicacies inspired by well-loved songs and moments.”
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“I’m a bit of a museum geek, so Kensington to me is somewhere I love to get lost in and soak up all the knowledge. My favourite museum is the V&A and its amazing fashion exhibitions. The Alexander McQueen exhibition will always be one of my favourites and I’m so excited for the Dior exhibition opening early next year!”
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Juicy pulled pork topped burgers. Messy buffalo chicken wings. And a rock'n'roll soundtrack. If you're looking for somewhere to eat in Kensington, I'd definitely recommend @stickyfingersuk – owned by none other than Bill Wyman of Rolling Stones fame! 🍔🎸🍺 (full review on the blog!)
“One of my fave hidden foodie gems in Kensington is Bill Wyman’s Sticky Fingers restaurant. Yep, THE Bill Wyman. From the Rolling Stones. His American diner has a Hard Rock Cafe vibe, but with a much more intimate and individual feel. The walls are adorned with rock’n’roll memorabilia, and their Piggy Back Burger, oozing with messy BBQ pulled pork, is to die for. Oh, and make sure you order a side of Sticky’s Chicken Wings too, for that full-on namesake experience!”