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Go west! Exploring Kensington’s hidden gems and local hangouts

Kensington Palace © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

Kensington is world renowned for its royal palace

The London district of Kensington is world renowned for its palace, famous museums and having some of the most expensive property in the UK. From the grand museums of South Kensington to the greenery of Kensington Gardens, each district has its own different character. With its location and tube stations providing easy access to the capital’s attractions, Kensington is a popular base for many visitors.

With the borough boasting an array of museums, it’s no surprise that three of its attractions appear in the top 10 list of most visited free attractions in London. The Natural History Museum had over 4 million visitors in 2017, while its neighbours the Science Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum had over 3 million. Meanwhile, Kensington Palace is No.11 on the list of paid London attractions, with over 645,000 visitors in 2017.

While all three of the big museums are brilliant places to go, there’s a lot more to visit in Kensington. I’ve worked a large chunk of my career in Kensington and have stumbled upon the lesser-known attractions of the area when I’ve not been working. For this blog post, I spent the day exploring some of Kensington’s hidden gems. One particular destination off the beaten path is the stunning Leighton House Museum. Located near Holland Park and Kensington High Street, it was built in stages from 1866 to 1895 as a home and studio for painter Frederic, Lord Leighton (1830-1896). From the outside, it looks like a classical, red Victorian home. However, upon stepping inside, it’s like entering a Moorish palace. The main attraction is the beautiful Arab Hall, with its mosaics, Islamic tiles and golden dome. As well as its stunning interiors and expansive garden (by London standards at least!), there is also an extensive art collection, featuring paintings and sculptures by Leighton and his Victorian contemporaries. If you’re a fan of architecture and/or art – particularly pre-Raphaelite paintings – I recommend checking it out. You’re not allowed photos inside, although you can get some good shots in the lovely garden.

© Leighton House Museum, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea

The stunning Arab Hall in the Leighton House Museum
© Leighton House Museum, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea

Azzedine Alaïa Design Museum © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

Designer dreaming at the Azzedine Alaïa exhibition at the Design Museum

A short walk away is the Design Museum on Kensington High Street. It was previously located in Bermondsey, but moved to the former Commonwealth Institute in Kensington in 2016. The spacious 1960s building is worth a visit in itself for architecture fans. It is home to a permanent free exhibition; ‘Designer, Maker, User’, as well as various changing exhibitions and events throughout the year. On my particular visit, I bought tickets for the Azzedine Alaïa: The Couturier exhibition, which is on until 7 October 2018. Curated with the designer shortly before his death last year, the exhibition features a collection of his fashions from the early 1980s to his last collection in 2017. The museum is an interesting space and the way the team have presented Alaia’s creations on transparent models on mirrored platforms was brilliant and really showcased the layers and angles of each design.

Kensington Phillies eggs royale © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

Eggs royale @ Cafe Phillies

When you’re in this end of High Street Kensington, there’s a great little café down a quiet side street if you’re feeling peckish. Located on Phillimore Gardens with a small outdoor terrace is Café Phillies. It’s an independent café and wine bar, popular with locals and serves an all-day breakfast. It’s a cosy venue with contemporary art on the walls and friendly staff. I took advantage of the unlimited brunch hours and ordered an Eggs Benedict Royale for a late lunch. Served on toasted English muffins, there was a very generous serving of smoked salmon and the poached eggs were perfectly runny. A great spot for lunch or breakfast.

If you’re looking for some fresh air, consider walking down to Kensington Gardens. The large park covers 207 acres, with Kensington Palace located in the western end of the Gardens. Known for being the London home of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, parts of the palace are open to the public, including the King’s and Queen’s State Apartments. On this particular visit, I remained outside the palace walls and enjoyed the many free attractions of the gardens. As the palace was the last home to the late Diana, Princess of Wales, there are several memorials to the royal, including a children’s playground and a memorial walk. Throughout the Gardens are many buildings and sculptures to check out, including the 18th century Queen Caroline’s Temple, Henry Moore’s arch and the ornate Albert Memorial. The north side of the park features the 150-year-old Italian ornamental garden, built as a gift to Queen Victoria from her husband Prince Albert. Nearby is Queen Anne’s Alcove, a small structure built in 1705 by Sir Christopher Wren. Meanwhile, deeper in the Gardens is Queen Caroline’s Temple, a quaint 18th century summer house with views towards the Long Water.  Read the rest of this entry

Ideas for Valentine’s Day… or just a romantic date in London

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Cheers to us! Celebrate Valentine’s Day with a loved one

February 14th is fast approaching and we all know what that means… the sudden urge [or pressure ;-)] to put some romance into your relationship and make a song and dance about the fact you’re in love. Now, here at MOAMG, we believe romance should be a regular occurrence in a relationship, not just for one commercialised day a year. Nevertheless, there should never be an excuse to not be romantic on the 14th as millions of couples across the world will be doing just so.

I’ve been to Paris, Venice, Santorini and many other supposed ‘cities of romance’, but I have to say, London is incredibly romantic. It can be difficult to find yourself in an amorous mood in a city you may associate with going to work, but believe me, there are so many great places to visit with your loved one. So if you’re stuck for some ideas on what to do on Valentine’s Day, here’s a few ideas both for on the day… or if you’re organising a date at any time of year. (NB. If any require booking, obviously I would recommend booking asap due to the Valentine’s Day surge in bookings).

For a guide to what’s on in London this Valentine’s Day 2016, click here.

  • Dinner cruise on the Thames

As I have blogged about previously, cruising down the Thames is a great way to see the city from a different perspective. However, at night, the city takes on a whole different look with the millions of twinkling lights and lit-up landmarks. Several companies offer dinner cruises down the Thames so you can eat, drink and be entertained while checking out the beautiful sights of London. are offering different Valentine’s Day packages depending on what you want, ranging from £37.50 to £170. Bateaux London includes food, drink and entertainment, with their Valentine’s Day packages ranging from £125-£160. For something a little different the PS Dixie Queen is a paddle steamer offering a three-hour cruise including dinner, drinks and live band, with prices ranging from £78 to £125. City Cruises, one of the most popular Thames tour companies, are offering a Valentine’s Cruise with three-course meal and live music (£100-£110) or a Valentine’s Party for those who feel like shaking their tail feather (£30 per couple).

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Tower Bridge opening to let the PS Dixie Queen through

  • Walk along the Southbank

During the day, the Southbank can be a bit overwhelmed with tourists. However in the evening, the pace really changes and with the city lit up and many options to stop off for a drink or something to eat, it’s a nice place to stroll along. You could even do a pub crawl. Either start at Westminster or London Bridge – or if you have more time on your hands start or end at Tower Bridge, where there are lots of riverside restaurants and bars. Many of them include a great view and are listed on MOAMG’s Guide to London Restaurants with a View on Urbanspoon.

  • Talk to the animals at London Zoo

In recent years, London Zoo has become a popular hotspot with couples for dates. In the summer, London Zoo Lates is a great date because it’s adults-only. However if you have the day off on Valentine’s Day or are celebrating it at the weekend, the zoo is open from 10am-4pm. On the 14th, tickets are £20pp, going up to £22.50pp on 16th February onwards. For more information, visit the London Zoo website.

  • Hold hands for some ice skating

    © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

    Mingle with giraffes at London Zoo

Although the open air ice rinks of Christmas are mostly closed, there’s still plenty of rinks in the capital in operation throughout the year. Alexandra Palace in North London is open all year round and costs between £7.50-£9. Queensway rink in West London also has a bowling alley in the same building and is open daily all year round. Price: £10.50. Planet Ice in Brixton includes themed parties in the evening, with prices starting from £5-£9. Broadgate ice rink near Liverpool Street is one of the few open-air ice rinks open past New Year’s and closes 24th February 2013.

  • Fun, frolics and flirting at the Trocadero

Yes, going to the Trocadero in Piccadilly Circus may sound insane to some of you, but many couples enjoy gaming together. The entertainment complex features 5D World virtual reality experience, Star Command Laser Tag, Golden Nugget Casino, a Cineworld cinema, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not museum or the opportunity to dress up in historical clothing for a goofy photoshoot. When you get hungry or thirsty, there’s Yo! Sushi, Ed’s Easy Diner, Rainforest Cafe and Piccadilly Institute. For more information, visit the Trocadero website.

  • Museum Lates

Many people can find large school groups of children or buses full of tourists a tad overwhelming during the day, so lots of the capital’s museum host special late nights, usually monthly, for adults-only activities. As well as a chance to see the museum exhibits when it’s less busy, there is usually music, food and drink, as well as other fun activities. Sometimes there are themed evenings where guests are invited to dress up. Victoria & Albert Museum and Natural History Museum host their late nights on the last Friday of every month, Science Museum not so often so check their website for details, National Portrait Gallery is open until 9pm on Valentine’s Day (and every Thursday and Friday) and  the Wellcome Collection gallery in Euston Road is open until 10pm on Valentine’s Day (and every Thursday), with current exhibition Death: A Self-Portrait proving popular. The Design Museum hosts occasional ‘Design Overtime’ nights every few months. The Museum of London and Museum Of London Docklands host regular late-night events, and for this Valentine’s Day will be hosting a 1920s-themed evening at the City museum, with absinthe, cabaret and Charleston lessons on offer. Lates at Tate Britain take place on Fridays every few months including talks, drinks and performances, while the British Museum is open until 8.30pm every Friday.

  • Cocktails in a unique or lavish setting
Cocktails © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Cocktails with a view at the Oxo Tower

There are tons of bars serving cocktails around the capital, but some are more special than others. If you want a good view, I recommend booking a table (or you can just walk in if you’re willing to take a risk there will be availability) at Oxo Tower on the Southbank, Galvin at Windows bar at the top of the Park Lane Hilton, Vertigo champagne bar at Tower 42 in the City, Vista rooftop bar overlooking Trafalgar Square (only open from April to September for the summer season) at the Trafalgar Hotel or the Rooftop bar at the Sanctum Soho Hotel. Other great bars without the views, but with stunning interiors include the Long Bar at the Sanderson Hotel in Fitzrovia, the Booking Office restaurant and bar at the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, the Art Deco Beaufort Bar at The Savoy off The Strand, or the Cocktail Lounge at the Zetter Townhouse in Clerkenwell. If you don’t mind swapping cocktails for wine, then check out the unique, old ‘cave’ at Gordon’s Wine Bar near Embankment and Charing Cross tube, the oldest wine bar in London. The Queen Of Hoxton in Shoreditch is hosting their pop-up winter venue WigWamBam on their rooftop from end of October 2012 until end of March 2013, which features a wigwam with roasting fires, the chance to toast marshmallows and drink alcoholic hot chocolates. However, one of the capital’s most unusual bars has to be Cellar Door – a converted Victorian underground public toilet at Aldwych, which feature live acts from 9pm each evening. Click here for Metro Girl’s review of Cellar Door.

  • Climb over the roof of the O2

For those couples who want a bit of adventure in their life, climbing up and over the roof of the O2 in Greenwich is perfect. Open all year round, Up At The O2 offers 360 degree views of the city. Tickets start from £22, but O2 Priority customers can get discounts. Metro Girl went in the summer and absolutely loved it. Here’s our review.

  • Take a boat trip through Little Venice

The Thames isn’t the only waterway in London – the canals of the North side of the centre are particularly lovely. Departing from Little Venice or Camden Lock, you can ride along checking out the stunning regency architecture of the area’s townhouses, go through the dark Maida Vale tunnel and either start or end your journey at the Camden markets. In the winter (November to March), the trips only run on weekends, but are daily through the summer season (April to September). Tickets are £7.20 one way or £10.30 return. For more information, visit the Waterbus website. After your trip, stop by The Bridge House for a pint or some food.

  • Or here’s some old favourites if you’re not feeling too imaginative…

Visit the official TKTS booth in Leicester Square to get up to half-price tickets for West End shows for that day. Book a romantic meal for two through TopTable. If you’re planning on going to the cinema, I highly recommend staying local to wherever you live in the capital as the venues in the West End are highly overpriced (e.g. Vue West End £13.90, Empire Leicester Square £12.95-£15.95, Odeon Leicester Square £13-£22).

For listings of what’s else is going on in London over Valentine’s Day, read MOAMG’s Guide to what’s on in London in February 2013

Shoes glorious shoes! Christian Louboutin at the Design Museum

Christian Louboutin © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Christian Louboutin at the Design Museum

Louboutin entrance © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

The starry entrance to the exhibition

ballet © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

The ultimate heel – the ballerina slipper with 8in heel

Like most women, I love shoes and have a range of heels, many impractical, which sadly spend more time in their shoe boxs than on my feet.

French designer Christian Louboutin has been creating shoes for 20 years, but it is really in the past few years, that his brand has really come to the fore and has been attracting more column inches and A-list feet than rivals Manolo Blahnik and Jimmy Choo.

With his current collection retailing between £375 and £3,795 on Net-A-Porter, I admit I’m not a regular customer of Louboutin’s gems, but have come to be a fan of his sleek curved footwear and that famous red sole.

So when Louboutin decided to do an exhibition of his designs at London’s Design Museum (1 May – 9 July 2012), I knew I had to go. Turns out I wasn’t the only one. Unsurprisingly, the exhibition has proved a huge draw for the Museum, located a stone’s throw from Tower Bridge on Shad Thames. The two-month exhibition actually broke records for the compact museum’s attendance, attracting on average 910 visitors a day.

Louboutin hanging © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Shoes, shoes, shoes!
(Foreground: Bridget Strass pumps, designed for Marchesa’s S/S 2010 collection)

The display rooms for the exhibition have been transformed into a dark, neon-lit pleasure palace of footwear with lots of lights and colours to stimulate the mind. The glamorous setting perfectly complemented some of the more theatrical heels on show. Dotted around the rooms were 200 shoes – predominantly heels, but also boots, trainers and loafers – with the year and season of their debut. Any fashionistas or celeb-watchers will indeed recognise many of the shoes from red carpet photos of the stars.

One of my favourite shoes on show were the ballet point heels, which Louboutin has described as ‘the ultimate heel’. The simple nude ballerina pump was transformed with a red sole and eight-inch heel – only the most experienced ballerinas would dare wear these! He said: ‘The heel which makes dancers closer than any other women to the sky, closer to heaven.’

As well as being a retrospective of Louboutin’s two decades of shoe-making, the exhibition also gives us a look at Louboutin the man, where he came from and what inspired him. Having started out his career at the Folies Bergère nightclub in Paris in the early ’80s, he used to draw shoes for the dancers, before starting an apprenticeship with Parisien footwear brand Charles Jourdan, before going on to work for Roger Vivier, his mentor.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl

On my Christmas list… Veneneuse pumps with 5in heel

Let Me Tell You ankle boots 4.8in © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Flamboyant: Let Me Tell You Ankle boots with 4.8in heel

Claudia ankle strap © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Perfect for a Riviera holiday: Red and pink Claudia ankle strap heels

Interestingly, Louboutin always designs his Autumn/Winter collection in a cold climate – often retiring to his château in rural France – but then jetting south to hot Egypt to create his Spring/Summer collection. He says one of the most important things to him when designing shoes is that the lines and curves are correct. Louboutin has said of the exhibition: ‘It’s been a real pleasure to see a lot of my “babies” featured all together for the first time. It’s not only an entire collection of shoes that I saw there but for me a huge collection of souvenirs, precious moments, and very rarely sorrows.’

Although he admits his shoes aren’t always comfortable, many requiring a taxi or limousine ride directly to the door of wherever the wearer is going, his Fetish collection goes to extremes. It is more art than anything else. A separate dark room features Louboutin’s most eccentric creations yet – a small collection of heels which would require the wearer to be in a lot of discomfort to wear them or unable to stand. The shoes, protected under bell jars, are accompanied by striking photography of nude models wearing them, taken by acclaimed auteur David Lynch.

The centrepiece of the exhibition is the 3D hologram performance by burlesque artiste Dita Von Teese, in a pair of Louboutins of course. Visitors to the museum come to a standstill as ‘Dita’ showcases her moves in front of a centrepiece of the most glamorous showgirl heels from Louboutin’s archives.

Overall, the vivid and colourful exhibition is a feast for the eyes for any woman – or man- with a shoe fetish… or just a simple appreciation for beauty. Now I’m off to start up a Louboutin savings account so I can expand my footwear collection…

  • Design Museum, 28 Shad Thames, London SE1 2YD. Nearest tube: London Bridge, Tower Hill or Bermondsey.

N.B.: As photography wasn’t allowed in the actual exhibition (the photos in this blog were taken in the stairwell leading up to it), here’s a video of the exhibition by the Design Museum…

Louboutin Romaine © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Christian Louboutin Romaine platform sandals with 5.5in heel