The corner of London once nicknamed the “Albertopolis” is one of the most beautiful part of London. Now more commonly known as South Kensington, it is steep in history as home to the royal palace for most of the 18th century and where Queen Victoria spent her formative years. It is an art, science and cultural hub with iconic institutions like Victoria & Albert Museum, the Science Museum, Royal Albert Hall and Imperial College as well as The Royal Geographical Society and Royal College of Art.
We have put together a day out to help you discover this gorgeous part of London. We will be spending time at the Natural History Museum, Kensington Gardens and indulging in some gastronomical food for a fun, relaxing and educational time.
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Croissant at Raison D’être
Start the day with breakfast at Raison D’être (raisondetrecafe.com, map), a local hidden gem 6 minute walk from Natural History Museum. It is an uncomplicated cafe with buckets of neighbourly friendliness and fresh delicious food. Enjoy a fresh croissant or an almond croissant with a nice cup of coffee. Or charge up with an English breakfast of Cumberland sausage, scrambled eggs with toasted baguette & roasted vine tomatoes. You could not have asked for a better start to the itinerary.
The cathedral of nature
This fascinating museum is housed in one of the most beautiful building in London. The Natural History Museum (nhm.ac.uk, map) was envisioned as “a cathedral to nature” by Sir Richard Owen – the man who coined the term “dinosaur”. In collaboration with architect Alfred Waterhouse, they brought this purposed built museum to live in 1881. Cladded with curious fawn and blue-grey terracotta, it is one of the most revered example of Romanesque architecture.
Through the main entrance on Cromwell Road, you will be greeted by the 25 metre blue whale skeleton, the largest living animal, suspended in the middle of Hintze Hall. Through the corridors to the right and left of this amazing hall you will find 80 millions specimens, from the smallest beetle to the largest dinosaur.
Stare into the eyes of a life-size model T-Rex, the largest carnivore ever to have walked the Earth. Come face-to-face with the extinct wholly mammoths, dodo bird and the sabre-toothed tiger (cat). Marvel at a life-size model of a termite mound. Compare the anatomy of horse with a human as well as compare the human with the brain of the blue whale.
Apart from the museum artefacts and displays, do not forget to look up at the building’s gallery ceiling, especially in Hintze Hall. It is adorned with intricate tiles displaying a vast array of plants from all over the world.
As the museum is free, there is likely to be a long queue. Do plan your time accordingly to take this into account.
Avoid visiting on weekends and UK school holiday if possible. You can check the dates on the UK government website (gov.uk).
Participate in the “Behind-the-Scenes Tour: Spirit Collection” where you will be taken on a guided exploration of some of the specimens collected by Charles Darwin that are preserved in spirit. You will also meet Archie, a 8.62 metre-long giant squid. (Ticket price: £15 pp online)
Dumplings and buckwheat pancake lunch
When you are ready for lunch, you are never short of options in this part of London.
Nestled on the ground floor of one of the elegant buildings along Exhibition Road is Ognisko (ogniskorestaurant.co.uk, map). It is a classy Polish restaurant serving up delicious Eastern European dishes with a large outdoor terrace which will be perfect in the summer. Start with some Pierogi dumplings filled with cheese, potatoes & onions and some fluffy buckwheat pancakes (blinis) topped with popping Keta caviar (trout roe). For the main course, try the traditional Chicken Paprykarz – chargrilled chicken simmered in a paprika roux. Make sure to try the flavoured Polish vodka which comes as shots or carafes of 10 cl to 50 cl (is it too early in the day for it?).
Memorials and modern art at the royal garden
After a hearty lunch, make your way north on Exhibition Road to spend the afternoon in Kensington Gardens. Initially created as a private royal playground to Kensington Palace, it has now been open to the public for over a century as part of London’s eight Royal Parks. There are 5 landmarks in the park which we will take you through as part of your day out. Your 1st stop is The Albert Memorial.
The Albert Memorial
This 175 feet Victorian splendour was unveiled in 1872 to commemorate the death of Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert. It was designed by George Gilbert Scott, a prolific Gothic Revival architect, and built in collaboration with some of the best sculptors and artists at that time.
As the masterpiece comes into view, you will see a sky-reaching ornate gold and blue pavilion crowned with a tall spire topped with a cross. The opulence of the monument reflects the might of the British Empire then. The glass mosaic tiles adorning the pavilion were shipped from Venice. At the perimeter of the memorial are four marble sculptures representing the four corners of the world – America, Asia, Africa and Europe – signifying Britain’s central role in the world at that point in history.
Behind the grandeur, the monument is a celebration of Prince Albert’s legacy as an advocate of art, science and social virtues. At the centrepiece of the memorial is a seated statue of Prince Albert holding the catalogue of the Great Exhibition, which he inspired and was held at Hyde Park in 1851. The monument is graced with statues and mosaic art of artists, poets, sculptors and architects like Shakespeare, Beethoven, Rubens, Homer, Raphael, Apelles, Ictinus and Phidias to name a few.
The Serpentine Galleries (serpentinegalleries.org, map) is made up of two galleries 5 minute walk from each other, called the Serpentine Gallery and the newer Serpentine Sackler Gallery. It showcases emerging and established contemporary art and architecture. Admission is free. There is also a cafe located in Zaha Hadid’s famous fluid-form extension to the Serpentine Sackler Gallery to pick up a coffee and a piece of cake. (Closed on Monday)
Princess Diana Memorial Fountain
Come back across the bridge and head towards Princess Diana Memorial Fountain (map) to enjoy the coffee and cake. This is a very different memorial compared to Prince Albert’s earlier, for a very different much loved British royal figure. The space is open, interactive and filled with joy and laughter. A reflection of the Princess’ devotion to making life better for many.
The fountain is a large circular river with water flowing through different riverbed patterns. It creates bubbles, swirls and ripples as water flow through. Sit by the riverbank, put your feet into the flowing river and savour the moment. If you have brought a picnic mat, there are plenty of green space to relax and watch the kids play.
From the fountain, traverse the park for 15 minutes to get to Kensington Palace (hrp.org.uk, map). It was transformed by Sir Christopher Wren, the architect of St Paul’s Cathedral, from a small and suburban villa to the palace you see today in 1689. Since then, it became the main residence for the King or Queen at the end of the 17th and beginning of 18th century. The palace is famous for hosting magnificent and lavish balls as well as being the birthplace of Queen Victoria. It is now the official London residence of Prince William & Kate, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
Worth visiting the palace to experience some of the rooms as they were when Princess Victoria grew up, before she became Queen, and marvel at the opulence of the King’s State Apartments. Be intrigued by the painting at the King’s staircase depicting the lively King George I’s court with unexpected characters. (Entry fee: £17.50 pp. Last entry: 5 pm)
Diana Memorial Playground
If you are on a day out with kids, leave the final 90 minutes of the day for this wonderful free-entry Peter Pan inspired playground. Tucked in the northwest corner of Kensington Park is the life-size pirate ship of Captain Hook, complete with a sandy beach, treasure hunt trails, teepee tents and a secret tunnel. There are ample seats for you to rest after you have had your fair share of fun. The playground is securely fenced and only parents and kids are allowed in and out by an attendant.
Finest sustainable British ingredients for dinner
Core by Clare Smyth
Treat yourself to one of the best restaurant this side of London to cap off an amazing day in London. Two Michelin stars Core (corebyclaresmyth.com, map) is decorated-chef Clare Smyth’s debut restaurant. She made her name as Chef Patron at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay and started out on her own in 2017. There is certainly no need to look back, Core is an effortlessly-fantastic fine dining experience.
The room is light, relaxed and classy. The front of house staff are sharp, courteous and pleasant. The menu is a celebration of the finest sustainable British ingredients with Porthilly rock oysters, Morecambe Bay shrimps, Cornish turbot, Isle of Mull scallop, Highland wagyu beef and Fenland celery. Each dish is a work of art, perfectly cooked and ever so beautifully presented. They have even managed to turn the humble potato into the star of the show. It will be a memorable experience. (Closed on Sunday & Monday)
We hope that you have found the itinerary above helpful. As always, love to hear from you.
Other Travel Tips:
If you are planning to drive into London for this day out, there is a couple of car parks where you can leave your car for the day.
- Union Car Park on Harrington Road (unioncarparks.co.uk, map)
- JustPark on Princess Gate (justpark.com, map) – advance booking required
- NCP Car Park at London Royal Garden Hotel (ncp.co.uk, map)
Please ensure you pay for London’s Congestion Charges if you are there on a weekday (tfl.gov.uk).