As one of the most upmarket and exciting places in the whole of London, Kensington gets plenty of attention from those who love its sophisticated restaurants, stylish bars and endless shopping opportunities. From the super trendy to the ultra chic, this is the neighbourhood to be, particularly as it borders the equally upmarket Mayfair. But if you’re staying in the district, there’s one aspect you simply can’t miss – and that’s the gorgeous and beautiful Kensington Gardens themselves. A fantastic place for your morning jog, exploring with the children or even basing your stay in London around, the spectacular green oasis in the centre of the city makes for a wonderful place to be near. See what it has to offer with our guide to Kensington”line-height:1.6″>Gardens.
History and playtime for the kids
The Gardens were originally constructed with Henry VIII in mind, since he often resided in London and needed somewhere to hunt. Take the children on a journey of discovery as you show them Kensington Palace, which boasts plenty of engaging activities to keep the children interested. It’s also worth taking them to see the Peter Pan statue that resides in Kensington Gardens. Originally commissioned in secret by author JM Barrie, the sculpture appeared without permission, to the outrage of Daily Mail readers everywhere. Demands to have it removed were soon silenced when the local council were made aware of how popular it was with the children, however, so the statue stayed, and can be seen to this day.
Children will also absolutely adore the Princess Diana Memorial Playground, shaped like a giant pirate ship. Let them run off and embark on their own adventures for an hour or so while you enjoy a cream tea at the nearby cafe. If you’re super prepared, you can make even walking around the gardens a fun activity for the whole family – make a checklist of all the statues and landmarks you’re going to see and prepare a fun fact to keep the children interested. From the Royal Albert Hall and the Prince Albert Memorial to the Serpentine and Speaker’s Corner, you won’t find yourself lacking for things to include.
Places to eat near Kensington Gardens
Kensington – and in fact, West London in general – is a major favourite for foodies. While there’s definitely a satisfaction in strolling the streets in search of that perfect restaurant, sometimes you’re in a hurry or it’s raining and you just need a recommendation from someone. So if you’re part of the latter crowd, we’ve got some fantastic recommendations that are certain to please the tastebuds.
The first on our list has to be Medlar on Kings Road in Chelsea. This gorgeous venue specialises in French-based cooking but the chef takes inspiration from all over. There’s no pretension here, or over-elaboration. Just fine food. The menu is seasonal but a cursory glance at the Winter 2015 sample suggests that it is very difficult to be disappointed, no matter what time of year you visit. Thinly sliced lamb breast with tempura baby artichokes and aioli. Slow cooked ox cheek with parsnip pureé, horseradish and nasturtium. Duck egg tart with red wine sauce. We’re salivating at the thought. And best of all, you can be sure that all the ingredients have been procured from the British Isles or, if impossible, then certainly Europe. It’s also worth popping in during the weekdays for a look at the lunch menu and the chef is extremely accommodating when it comes to allergies or dietary requirements.
If you’re really looking to impress or fancy a go at experimental dining, Dinner by Heston Blumenthal is the place to be. Boasting first-rate views of Hyde Park and an exciting menu from the man himself, this flagship restaurant is one of the hottest dining tickets in London at the moment. Eating here is an incredible experience that will see you trying out all manner of exciting flavours that have been plucked from the obscurity of history and adapted for a modern palate. Forgotten classics include Spiced Pigeon with ale and artichokes, which sounds like an adventure all on its own. Tipsy Cake made with spit roast pineapple is also a fantastic option.
Our final recommendation comes in the form of Ognisko, which is situated on Exhibition Road, just minutes away from London’s glittering Museum Quarter. Renowned for inventive cuisine, this smart Polish restaurant serves up new taste experiences for a distinguished crowd. Highlights include potato pancakes served up with spiced chicken livers in a sour cherry sauce, beetroot-marinated gravlax with dill and mustard sauce, and chicken paprykarz with kopytka dumplings. But don’t neglect the fish – if you have the chance to try the grilled lemon sole with Polish butter sauce and new potatoes, you simply must give it a go. The restaurant is also open seven days a week and does an interesting lunch and pre-theatre menu if you have plans for the evening. So there really is no excuse not to try out this fantastic eatery.
Cinema near Kensington Gardens
If you’ve finished trotting around the gardens, one guaranteed way of being able to put your feet up for a bit is to go and watch a film in London’s magnificent cinemas. Top of the list has to be the Science Museum, which boasts an extraordinary IMAX screen that allows for awesome 3D viewing. While the subject matter is more often than not documentaries and nature-based stuff for the kids – it is the Science Museum after all – it’s still a great place to have a rest after exploring Kensington Gardens.
Another excellent option is the Curzon cinema in nearby Mayfair, where you can catch the latest releases and then enjoy a cheeky drink at a trendy bar. There is also an Odeon in Marble Arch if you have a particular loyalty to one cinema brand or another.
Now we come to the dull, but necessary, information that you ought to be aware of if you’re hoping to explore Kensington Gardens. First off, parking in London is an absolute nightmare and navigating your way through the restrictions on the residential sections is positively headache-inducing. There are a number of companies that specialise in providing safe and secure areas to leave cars but the premiums on these can be shocking. If you are visiting the Royal Albert Hall, the venue does have a number of spaces that can be requested under special circumstances.
Secondly, the opening hours of Kensington Gardens are from 6am until 8pm. Access is easy from Queensway, Bayswater, Paddington and South Kensington Tube stations. However, if you want the Gardens right on your doorstep during your stay, you’re better off booking accommodation in Kensington or Paddington hotel to ensure you’re nice and close to this beautiful verdant area of London.