West London is the tourist’s first point of call when arriving in the big city. They stroll through Hyde Park, pay a visit to Kensington Palace and window-shop at Harrods. All that is well and good, but we’re here to shine a light on some of the hidden gems in the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea. This walk will take you around 2-4 hours, depending on how quickly you walk and how long you spend at each location. From a carved oak tree to an art-deco cinema and a secret cocktail bar, the walk will take you around the places in Kensington & Chelsea that tourists just don’t know about.
We recommend starting your walk around 4 PM, preferably in good weather. That way you’ll get to see Kensington & Chelsea in it’s full, sunlit glory. You’ll also be able to take advantage of the daily 6.30 PM screening at Cine Lumiere, which should have you out in time for a nightcap at the Evans & Peel Detective Agency.
1. Steal a Peek at the Victorian Pet Cemetery
Start your walk at Lancaster Gate. Head towards the Victoria Gate entrance to Hyde Park on Bayswater Road. At the gate, you’ll have to do some careful sleuthing. Walk along Bayswater Road to the right of the gate, keeping your eyes peeled on the foliage behind the fence. In the garden of the gatekeeper’s lodge, you’ll just about be able to spot a collection of tiny tombstones. This is none other than a Victorian pet cemetery. It was started by a 19th-century gatekeeper who lived in the lodge. He kindly allowed his friends to bury their pet dog, Cherry, in his garden. By the time the cemetery closed for business in 1906, there were around 300 cats and dogs buried there.
2. Meet the Fairies at Elfin Oak
Not many people know about the loveliest secret of Kensington Gardens: Elfin Oak. This hollow oak stump is 900 years old and meticulously carved with magical woodland creatures. The tree was carved between 1928 and 1930 by illustrator Ivor Innes. You may struggle to get a nice photo, though: the tree is Grade II-listed, so it’s protected by a thick steel cage through which you can just about get a glimpse at all the carvings.
3. Have a cuppa at a Cabmen’s Shelter
Ever wondered about the little green booths scattered around West London? Those are Cabmen’s Shelters. The Cabmen’s Shelter Fund was set up in 1875 to provide London cabbies with a place to recharge with a cup of tea and a sandwich on the job. At the time, cabbies had to eat expensive lunches at pubs. They would have had to pay someone to look after the cab while they ate, and many were tempted to drink on the job. Today, 13 of the Shelters are still in operation. Anyone can buy food and drinks but only licensed London cabbies are allowed inside, where they can read a newspaper, eat or even microwave their own food. No Uber drivers allowed, obviously. You’ll find one shelter on Kensington Park Road near the Queen’s Gate entrance to the park.
4. Get some Culture at the Design Museum
From the Cabmen’s Shelter, it’ll be a bit of a walk to our next location, the Design Museum. If you’re feeling lazy, hail the 9 or 10 bus at the stop right across from the shelter. The Design Museum has recently moved to a new location on Kensington High Street. The building, which used to house the Commonwealth Institute, was updated for the museum by architect John Pawson in 2016. Inside, you’ll find a rotating calendar of exhibitions, as well as the permanent exhibition, entitled Designer Maker User. The museum is free to enter, so you can take as much or as little time as you want. If you’re not up for the exhibits, there’s a cafe downstairs, and the building itself is well worth a quick look around.
5. Take some time out at the Kyoto Garden
Although it’s one of the Queen’s Royal Parks, we sometimes think that Holland Park doesn’t get enough appreciation. It’s full of hidden gems, from a ‘luxury hostel’ set in a Grade-I listed Jacobean mansion to opera performances during the summer months. One of the best secrets of Holland Park is the Kyoto Garden nestled in its centre. This little piece of Japan in the heart of London was created in 1992 as part of the Japan festival that took place in London that year.
6. Marvel at the Leighton House Museum
The facade of this unique house museum really doesn’t do it justice: inside, the Leighton House Museum is an Arabian palace. It served as the home of Victorian artist Lord Frederic Leighton. The house features an unusual Islamic-style entrance hall and an impressive collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings. This is one house museum that is undoubtedly worth the £9 entrance fee.
7. Pay homage to Freddie Mercury at his Home & Studio
OK, if you’re not a Queen fan, you can probably skip this stop on the tour. If you are, though, you may enjoy a visit to 1 Logan Place, where Freddie Mercury once held his home and studio. The walls and door were once covered in graffiti and notes from fans, but, understandably, the owners must not have been too happy about that. Today, the door is covered in an inch-thick sheet of plexiglass with signs proclaiming ‘Private Property’ and ‘Graffiti is a Crime’. When we last visited, a lone fan had stuck a couple of wildflowers in a crack of the glass – the only remaining sign that Freddie Mercury once lived and worked at this address.
8. Stop for a Snack at Fulham Tarts
By this point in the walk, you’re probably ready for a well-deserved rest. Drop by Fulham Tarts for a break. This little cafe is a great stop for a muffin and a lemonade. If tea and cake is more your style, switch it out for Fait Maison just around the corner.
9. Take a Stroll Down Kensington & Chelsea’s Prettiest Mews Street
London’s iconic mews streets used to serve as stables back when horses were city dwellers’ primary form of transportation. When the need for horses dropped, they were converted into residential houses, the stables converted into garages or livingrooms opening out onto the quiet streets. Kensington & Chelsea are home to most of London’s mews streets, and one of the prettiest of them all is Queen’s Gate Mews. This charming street winds around corners, with hidden nooks and crannies. It’s lined with colourful stable doors and elegant potted plants, making it a quintessential ‘London-y’ place to take a stroll. Plus, it’s got the added benefit of having one of London’s most celebrated gastropubs, The Queen’s Arms, at its end. Feel free to stop off for a pre-cocktail beer, or maybe a dinner of chicken pot pie.
10. Make an appointment at the Evans & Peel Detective Agency
The last stop on our tour of alternative Kensington & Chelsea is the most mysterious. You may have some trouble finding the Evans & Peel Detective Agency, hidden behind an inconspicuous black door on the side of a dry cleaner. You’ll need to have made an appointment beforehand, so come prepared. The detectives at Evans & Peel are always appreciative of a little help solving one of their tougher cases, so bring them some evidence and you may just be able to nab yourself a finder’s fee…
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