Frequently referred to as the 21st arrondissement of Paris due to the reported 300,000 Parisians now living there, South Kensington radiates the same elegant charm that many associate with the French capital. Thoroughly European with stucco-fronted white terraces, green squares and leafy streets, the area is without a doubt one of the most sought-after and affluent areas in London.
However, it's not all style and no substance here - home to some of London's most-loved (and internationally renowned) museums such as the V&A and the Natural History Museum along Exhibition Road, as well as the Royal Albert Hall and a number of international schools for both adults and children, it's one of the best cultural hubs in the city too.
Formerly filled with students in the 1960s, most South Kensington residents are now affluent families working in the arts or the financial sector, or overseas buyers who want a base for when they visit London. As well as the aforementioned French residents there's a large Spanish community too, and you'll find plenty of shops and restaurants catering to both communities - the charming Bute Street has long been known locally as 'Frog Alley' due to the number of Parisian cafes, patisseries and the famous French bookshop.
On a Map
South Kensington is located in the borough of Kensington and Chelsea in South West London. It occupies the area below Hyde Park, bordering Chelsea, Knightsbridge and West Kensington. The postcode is SW7.
History of South Kensington London
South Kensington developed as an area a lot later than most of the neighbouring parts of London - until the mid nineteenth century, it was used as farming and agricultural land to supply fruit and vegetables to the markets, restaurants and residents of London. The fortunes of the area changed dramatically after the Great Exhibition of 1851, which took place in nearby Hyde Park. This international fair showcased London’s culture and industry, and following the event the organisers purchased the land directly south of Hyde Park, now Exhibition Road and the surrounding streets, in order to build a number of specialist museums dedicated to the arts and sciences.
This led to the creation of some of London’s finest museums such as the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum and the V&A, and Londoners began to flock here for culture and educational pursuits. Once the underground station arrived a few years later, South Kensington experienced a boom of housing, shops and amenities which still remain today.
Transport from South Kensington
Fortunately for residents commuting to work, South Kensington has better transport links than most parts of South West London. The area is served by two tube stations, South Kensington and Gloucester Road, which are both on the Piccadilly, District and Circle lines. As a result, a journey to Central London via Piccadilly Circus takes just 8 minutes, while East London is just a 24 minute ride away via the Circle Line.
Due to the relatively central location, it’s also possible to walk or cycle to plenty of places from South Kensington, including Knightsbridge, Chelsea, and Hyde Park.
Cost of living in South Kensington
If you’re dreaming of an apartment in one of the classic, white, stucco-fronted terraces, be prepared to pay a hefty price - South Kensington is home to some of the most expensive properties in the city. As well as these terraced streets and squares there are also some historic mansion blocks and a few modern developments, but property here is very sought after and quickly snapped up. Be prepared to pay high and act fast if you plan to move here.
As of November 2015, the average cost of a two bed apartment in South Kensington is £4200 per month, although properties can be found from £1800.
Restaurants in South Kensington London
Hidden away inside the Chelsea Cloisters hotel and behind a non-descript doorway, Barts is one of the original London speakeasies. Once you’ve convinced the bouncer to let you in you’re presented with a tiny Aladdin’s cave of cosy tables, clever cocktails and charcuterie platters. There’s even a dressing up box for when things get silly after a few too many drinks…
Address: Chelsea Cloisters, 87 Sloane Ave, London SW3 3DW
Phone: 020 7581 3355
Harking back to South Kensington’s days as farming land for London, Bumpkin is a British brasserie serving healthy, wholesome food in a country kitchen atmosphere. The menu is seasonal with some great daily specials, but our winter favourite has to be the warming chicken pie with creamy tarragon sauce.
Address: 102 Old Brompton Rd, London SW7 3RD
Phone: 020 7341 0802
The sleek, modern Sushi Shop restaurants are ubiquitous throughout Paris, and after dominating the French market they’ve finally made it to London with this flagship UK branch. Famed for their innovative maki menu (which often includes unusual combinations such as foie gras rolls), they also do themed city boxes which are perfect for sharing among friends. Takeaway and delivery is also available.
Address: 10 Old Brompton Rd, London SW7 3DL
Phone: 020 3808 4319
A well-kept local secret, Apero is a popular Mediterranean restaurant and bar in the cellar of Ampersand Hotel. Named after the classy Italian aperitivo hour, where people flock to bars to enjoy a drink after work, the restaurant serves small sharing plates of traditional Italian foods which are perfect for enjoying with a well-deserved Negroni or Campari Spritz after a long day.
Address: 2 Harrington Rd, London SW7 3ER, United Kingdom
Phone: 020 7591 4410
Shops in South Kensington London
Forget heading to the supermarket or your local Oddbins for a bottle of wine - any self-respecting South Kensington local knows the only place to buy a bottle is The Sampler, a vast wine merchant on Thurloe Place. Home to over 1500 wines you’re spoiled for choice, and they also hold regular tasting and sampling events to help you expand your palate.
Address: 35 Thurloe Place Mews, London SW7 2HP
Phone: 020 7225 5091
Looking for an unusual present, or something for a hard-to-please nephew? The expansive shop inside the Science Museum is the best place to pick up an unexpected gift, from chemistry sets and robots to books and science-themed sweatshirts. During the Christmas season they even offer wrapping services, so shopping for the family couldn’t be easier.
Address: Science Museum, Exhibition Rd, London SW7 2DD
Phone: 01375 484567
Sir Terence Conran is one of the most renowned designers of the 20th century, and this flagship store is home to all the stylish Conran-designed furniture, lighting, homeware and gifts that you could want. With plenty of cutting-edge, contemporary pieces, it’s a brilliant place to find an iconic piece for your South Kensington home.
Address: Michelin House, 81 Fulham Rd, London SW3 6RD
Phone: 020 7589 7401
Another Paris export (you’ll find more than enough of these in the area), La Patisserie de Reves really is a patisserie of dreams. There’s a vast array of sweet and savoury treats on offer in the pink and while shop, from meringue tarts and macarons to the flakiest pastries you’ll find this side of the channel. There are even tables for sitting in and a savoury menu of of baguettes and salads if you need a break from all the sugar.
Address: 13 Exhibition Road, South Kensington,. London SW7 2HE
Phone: 020 3603 8233
Things to do in South Kensington London
Stay on top of cultural trends and head to the Art-Deco Cine Lumiere to watch the latest French blockbuster, as this independent cinema (part of the Institute Francais) is dedicated to bringing French-language and Francophone films to the UK. With a schedule full of both new releases and old classics, you’re bound to find something suitably arty to enjoy while brushing up on your language skills.
Address: 17 Queensberry Pl, London SW7 2DT
Phone: 020 7871 3515
If you’ve had your fill of the world-class museums of Exhibition Road, venture a little further towards Ladbroke Grove and give the unique Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising a try instead. Exploring the history of consumer goods from the Victorian period to the modern day, it’s a fascinating look at how shopping habits, the media, and even the lives of women have changed in the last few centuries.
Address: 111-117 Lancaster Road, London, UK W11 1QT
Phone: 020 7908 0880
One of the finest concert venues in London, the Royal Albert Hall is best known for holding the annual Proms, but there are excellent concerts and performances held here throughout the year too from classical music concerts to film screenings with orchestral accompaniment.
Address: Kensington Gore, London SW7 2AP, United Kingdom
Phone: 020 7589 8212
Main image credit: Michael D Beckwith