Walking tour of Kensington: more than just a palace

Let me take you on a tour of Kensington!  My friends Kaarina and Alison have merged their talents to show us some of the very cool and off the beaten path sights near Kensington High Street-- this is one fun full day of adventure for you!

Today's visit: 3 great restaurants
Kensington High Street
Kensington Square
Kensington Palace
Embassy Row
charming mews houses
a wonderful secret church courtyard
a preserved Victorian home
Leighton House, an opulent artist's house
The Design Museum
Holland Park and Holland House
Churchill Arms Pub

Gotta get busy! If we want to do all of this in one day, we need sustenance! So after arriving at Kensington High Street Station (quite the upscale tube stop!), we dip into Bill's for a quick coffee and bite. (Bill's is a chain of restaurants that I love---great food, big menu, reasonably priced and fun interior!)

Chic Kensington High Street Station

Inside, at Bill's for coffee and breakfast!

We gather our ideas and set off with a right onto Kensington High Street. Almost immediately we are stopped in our tracks by the very new and intriguing Japan House (combination cultural learning center, exhibition hall, store and restaurant covering 3 floors of an old department store). It opened here in June of 2018 after successful launches in Sao Paolo and Los Angeles. Japan House's intent is to share Japanese culture in a peaceful space. Very cool and worth seeing. Make sure you go to the lower exhibition hall. The entry level has shopping, a tea kiosk and library, and the top floor is a restaurant.

I want to see the huge Whole Foods which I have heard so much about, so we  wander next door into another 3 floor department store conversion. This Whole Foods, at 80,000 square feet is equal in size to their Austin flagship store (which happens to have an ice rink on top).  

I'm pretty overwhelmed. The lower floor houses your general shopping experience--produce, a fishmonger and full meat counter.  The ground floor has take-away, a cheese shop, a patisserie, florist, coffee bar, Mochi bar and Amazon Locker. The top floor is home to 8 restaurants. Eight.  Ya, definitely larger than your average Tesco.

Surprisingly, we leave Whole Foods empty handed, with a right on the High Street and then a right onto Young Street. This leads us directly to Kensington Square, a lovely residential garden square dating from 1685.

Kensington Square
Surrounding the gardens are beautiful historical homes. The two oldest are at #11 and #12, built in 1702 on what was once called "a parcel of waste". I think whoever wrote that would be surprised to find that this real estate is among the most expensive in London. 

#11 and #12 Kensington Square
Continuing around the square, we come to the Maria Assumption Chapel, a beautiful church built in 1875, which still is the religious home for the Convent of the Assumption (The convent resides at #20, #23 and one building directly across the square). We didn't go in, but if you get a chance, please try to get a peak.

At # 41, you will find the Blue Plaque listed home of Edward Burne-Jones, a Pre-Raphaelite artist, whose 2018 exhibition at the Tate Britain Kaarina and I were lucky enough to see.  The Pre-Raphaelites (founded 1848) were a group of British artists, many of whom lived in the Kensington area. Its members believed that the classical poses and compositions of Raphael in particular had corrupted art, hence the name "Pre-Raphaelite". Below is one of Burne-Jones' works. 

We leave the square at the corner near #11 and #12, and pass a cluster of art galleries, on our way to Kensington Palace. We wander through beautiful brick mansion blocks and when we arrive back at the High Street, we face the Kensington Palace entrance that the Royals use, Palace Avenue. We stop for a peek at the palace (which you should go to if you haven't done so. Allow 2 hours and be sure to see the King's galleries, the temporary collections and the beautiful gardens. There is also a great cafe).

But we decide to walk down "Embassy Row" (the official street name is Kensington Palace Gardens, and I've mentioned in a previous blog that this street is the most expensive in London). You can walk all the way through, but since we are on a mission, we take a left between the Israeli and Romanian consulates, down York House Place, where we cross Kensington Church street onto Holland Street. 

This is where we stop, ooh and aaah. Holland Street has some beautiful mews streets like this one on Gordon Place, across from the charming Elephant and Castle Pub. 

Gordon Place Mews in early spring

We backtrack a block to Kensington Church Walk, a street so adorable that it is tough to believe it is just a block off the busy High Street. 

There are tiny shops here, and we wander into Hornets, an upscale second-hand store for men's apparel. I eye a £600 {@$800} men's silk top hat, which I later find out is a bargain!  On this street you will also find the Blue Plaque sign of poet Ezra Pound.

Kensington Church Street leads us to the St. Mary Abbots school, gardens and church. Please stop and enjoy this peaceful setting, but don't forget to look upward--St. Mary Abbots boasts the highest spire in London (at 278 feet). 

If you are taking this walk on a Wednesday, Saturday or Sunday, you MUST continue to 18 Stafford Terrace, which is a beautifully maintained Victorian home (check website for details and see photo below). To continue to 18 Stafford Terrace, we travel down Phillimore Walk, turning right on Argyll Road, and left on Stafford Terrace to our destination. 

If you are like me, you are pretty hungry at this point.....so it's time for lunch and I have two great places for you!!!

 Filipino food (yes! be daring!)
Continue on Kensington High Street east, and stop at the Romulo Café, at 343 High Street. AMAAAAAZINGGGGG Philippine restaurant. It is so good! I was so busy eating that I forgot to take a photo of the amazing dish I had, but here is a photo of the outside of the restaurant!

Incredible CAFÉ Phillies
The other great option is closer to St Mary Abbot's Church--It is Café Phillies, at 2A Phillimore Gardens.  It has a rustic interior and is packed with locals. I eye the desserts, which are mouth-watering, but Kaarina steers me towards the fabulous egg dishes that they have. OMG the egg on toast! I literally could eat here every day.

Depending on which lunch spot you chose, you are either very close (Café Romulo) or still a bit away from our next stop, which is the Leighton House (12 Holland Park Road), the home and studio of Pre-Raphaelite artist Frederic Leighton.
Leighton's famous "Flaming June"
From the outside, the house looks pretty normal, but go within, and you enter what has been called "the most jaw-dropping room in London".  Not to give too much away, but below is a photo of the entryway. One of the first rooms you see is his "Arab Room", an impressive first impression meant to solidify his stature as President of the Royal Academy.

We make our way back to the high street, and we now enter the Design Museum (224 Kensington High Street), which showcases architectural, product and graphic design. There is a joint exhibit with IKEA which explores the relationships between designer, maker and user. Alison and I need a break after this, and we have a coffee in the small cafe on the main floor. (We didn't realize there is a nicer cafe on the second floor, next time, I would definitely head upstairs to Searcy's)

And now our last official stop is just next door from the Design Museum. We are at the glorious 54-acre Holland Park.  As we enter through the stunning gates, we see soccer teams practicing on the sports fields that comprise the lower third of the park. The top third is somewhat left to nature, so we will concentrate on the middle section.

I'm so intrigued by the buildings ahead because they house a youth hostel! What an amazing location!--I checked and the Safestay Holland Park is pretty booked seven months out--not surprising when the rates are about £32/night!

The original Holland House was bombed in 1940, but its ruins are still used as a backdrop for the open air Holland House Opera in the summer. These gardens are chock-full of flowers in the summer, but this is late winter and it is still so beautiful.

And around us are peacocks strutting and trying to scare off the pigeons. They are exquisitely beautiful... and very screechy!

Walking further in Holland park, we come to the Kyoto Gardens, a gift from the city of Kyoto, Japan in 1991. 

All around us, the trees are budding. I will definitely have to come back in a couple months to see this park in its full glory!

This is the end of our walking tour of Kensington! It's been a full day, so I'm going to suggest  you walk a bit farther (TORTURE!) and end your day at one of the prettiest pubs in London, Churchill Arms. (But you can also backtrack and catch the tube home at the Kensington High Street Station, or you can continue through the park and catch the tube at Holland Park Station.)

To get to Churchill Arms, we continue through the park until we arrive at Holland Park Avenue. We turn right, and travel about 10 blocks, past Notting Hill Station, and we turn right on Kensington Church Street (yes, we've been on this street before, earlier in our tour!). About 4 blocks ahead is our destination. When I say, "You can't miss it", you really can't.  It's known as the most decorated pub in England, but you might not know that it serves Thai Food, and that it has a floral bill of over £25,000 a year!

Churchill Arms Pub exterior in early spring
Interior of Churchill Arms Pub

Well, here is where we leave you.. Enjoy your beer and Thai Food Reward after a great day in Kensington! Bye from Kaarina, Ali and me!

Wait! there's a Bonus Bit! here is some pretty architecture from our walk!

And a real mailbox from the Victorian Era... note the VR initial!

Oh, and here are some maps I made for you, of our walking tour :)

1st half of tour

2nd half of tour

ok, for REAL, this is the end.


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