Blog Archives

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 and designed 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

Explore the light, reflections and space of Frida Escobedo’s Serpentine Pavilion

Serpentine Pavilion 2017: Seek shelter under a canopy of triangles

Serpentine summer houses: Explore four very different structures in Kensington Gardens

Serpentine Pavilion 2016: A pyramid of bulging bricks by Bjarke Ingels

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2015: A tunnel of colour by Selgascano

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2015

This year’s Serpentine Pavilion is designed by Selgascano, headed by José Selgas and Lucía Cano

It’s that time of year again – when an international architect is invited to design a temporary structure in the grounds of the Serpentine Gallery. Now in its 15th year, the opening of the Pavilion has become a big event on the London art scene. This year, the structure has been created by Spanish architects Selgascano – headed by José Selgas and Lucía Cano, who have been inspired by the London Underground. They follow in the footsteps of past architects who have created Pavilions for the Gallery, including Jean Nouvel, Frank Gehry, Oscar Niemeyer, Sou Fujimoto and Smiljan Radić. The Pavilion will stand on the lawn outside the Serpentine Gallery over the summer.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2015

The Selgascano Pavilion is the 15th to stand on the site

This year’s creation is a polygonal tunnel of colour, which can be entered from different points. It also includes a secret corridor joining the inner and outer layers of the structure. As the light is diffused through the coloured panels, it gives a stained glass effect. Inside is a café serving Fortnum & Mason sandwiches, salads, cakes and pastries.

  • The Serpentine Pavilion is open from now until 18 October 2015. Free to visit, but also contains a café inside. Open 10am-6pm. Serpentine Pavilion, Kensington Gardens, Kensington, W2 3XA. Nearest tube: Lancaster Gate, Knightsbridge or South Kensington. For more information, visit the Serpentine Gallery website.
© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2015

The light streaming through the structure gives a stained glass effect


For Metro Girl’s post on last year’s Pavilion, click here.

For a guide to what else is on in London in October, click here.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Photo Friday: Smiljan Radić’s Serpentine Pavilion

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

Smiljan Radić’s Serpentine Pavilion is open until 19 October 2014

I haven’t done a photo post in a while, but thought I’d do a short post with a photo of the Serpentine Pavilion, which is only open for another few weeks before it leaves London forever. Every year, the Serpentine gallery in Kensington Gardens invites an architect to design a temporary structure outside the building for the summer.

Open since late June, this year’s Pavilion is the 14th and has been designed by Chilean architect Smiljan Radić. The Pavilion is a semi-translucent shell-like structure propped up on quarry stones. It has been compared to a giant rock or spaceship due to its wide span of metallic-looking material. The temporary building includes a café inside, giving visitors a chance to enter and interact with the Pavilion.

  • The Pavilion is located in Kensington Gardens, just outside the Serpentine Gallery, Kensington W2 3XA. Nearest tube: Lancaster Gate, Knightsbridge or South Kensington. The gallery is free to enter and is open daily from 10am-6pm. The Pavilion remains open daily until 19 October 2014. For more information, visit the Serpentine Gallery website.

For a post on last year’s Pavilion, read Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2013: Sou Fujimoto lights up Kensington Gardens with his airy, lattice creation.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2013: Sou Fujimoto lights up Kensington Gardens with his airy, lattice creation

A bit of bling amongst the green: The glistening Albert Memorial in Hyde Park

Albert Memorial © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

The Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens stands as a monument to a prince by his devastated queen

Albert Memorial © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

A gilt bronze statue of Prince Albert seated while holding a catalogue of the Great Exhibition

Of all our monarchs over the past 1,000 years, Queen Victoria is one of Britain’s most famous and iconic. During her reign of 63 years, the country was in the middle of a great change due to the Industrial Revolution. Although she was only 18 when she became Queen following the death of her uncle William IV, many of us picture her as an elderly widow dressed in black. Of course, the reason for her black clothes was her decades of deep mourning for her late consort, Prince Albert, who died at the age of 42.

Following Prince Albert’s death in 1861, his grieving wife ordered his legacy to be enshrined both in Britain and across the Empire. The novelist Charles Dickens actually commented to his friend John Leech in a letter: ‘If you should meet an accessible cave anywhere in the neighbourhood, to which a hermit could retire from the memory of Prince Albert and testimonials to the same, pray let me know it.’ This is where we come to the Albert Memorial and Royal Albert Hall – a Taj Mahal of sorts from the Queen. Us Brits aren’t known for flashy, gold monuments, so tourists may well find it a surprise to see the glimmering Albert Memorial standing in Kensington Gardens.

Ahead of the Royal Albert Hall’s existence, Albert had proposed an entertainment venue on the site following the success of the Great Exhibition of 1851. However, he died before work began, with the Queen deciding the venue should be titled the Royal Albert Hall, instead of the earlier, rather boring title Central Hall of Arts and Sciences, after laying the foundation stone.

Albert Memorial close up © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Golden canopy: A mosaic of an allegorical figure representing the art of architecture

Albert Memorial © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

The allegorical sculptures of the Americas (right) – on a bison – and Africa (left) – on a camel

Albert Memorial © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Costly: The Albert Memorial finally opened in 1872 at an estimated cost of £120,000

However, the Albert Memorial was always part of the plan following the Prince’s death. In 1862, the Lord Mayor at the time headed a committee to find a suitable design for a public lasting memorial, which had to include a statue of the Prince, under the Queen’s orders. Eventually, noted Victorian architect Sir George Gilbert Scott submitted the winning design – which demonstrated the Prince’s passions for the arts and sciences.

After much delays – some due to the rising public costs – the 176 foot tall Albert Memorial was officially opened by the Queen in 1872, although Albert’s statue wasn’t ‘seated’ until three years later. Construction cost around £120,000, equivalent to £10million in today’s money.

Rather unusually for the period, the statue of Prince Albert – made of gilt bronze – was seated, rather than standing. In one of his hands is a catalogue of the Great Exhibition, which had been organised by the Prince. Above the statue, is a Gothic canopy featuring mosaics depicting allegorical figures of the arts – painting, poetry, sculpture and architecture. Also adorned on the sides are eight statues representing Christian virtues, including faith, hope and charity.

At the base of the canopy are four white sculptures depicting Victorian industries and sciences, including agriculture, commerce, engineering and manufacturing. Situated further from the statue are four more sculpture sets depicting four continents Europe, Asia, Americas and Africa. A group of people and products associated with the continent sit on four different animals – a cow, camel, bison and bull.

Albert Memorial © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Wildlife: The allegorical sculpture of Asia (left) with an elephant and Europe (right) with a bull

Over the years, the memorial saw some decline, and spent many decades black instead of gold. Prior to its restoration and re-gilding in the early 2000s, English Heritage discovered the black coating on Albert’s statue pre-dated the war and believe it may have been painted as such following pollution damage to the gold, not in an attempt to hide the landmark from the enemy during the two World Wars as had been previously thought.

  • The Albert Memorial is located in Kensington Gardens, directly across Kensington Road from the Royal Albert Hall. It is open and free to visit during park hours. Nearest stations: High Street Kensington, Hyde Park Corner, South Kensington or Gloucester Road.
© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

The memorial stands opposite the Royal Albert Hall


For a post on another Sir George Gilbert Scott’s creation in London, read REVIEW: Afternoon tea at The Gilbert Scott at St Pancras.

Or to read about his grandson Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s creations, click A look inside Battersea Power Station or the story behind the red phone box.

For more of Metro Girl’s history posts, click here.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin