Museums and mews
Royal parks and cultural collections in the English metropolis
PALACE IN THE HEART: Originally a playground for young royals, the emerald-green oasis of Kensington Gardens is a paradise for children and adults alike with a pirate-themed playground and expanses of meadow. Gather some goodies for a picnic from Whole Foods Market (the dedicated cheese room has one of the best selections in the city) or visit Kensington Palace, home to William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. The most intimate of the royal residences in London, visitors can explore the state apartments along with special exhibitions, including fashion from the collections of the Queen, Princess Margaret and Diana. Afternoon tea on the terrace of The Orangery is a perfect way to soak up the setting. Orange-scented scones served with Cornish clotted cream and strawberry jam accompany dainty cucumber sandwiches and a pot of fine tea. More: wholefoodsmarket.com; hrp.org.uk; orangerykensingtonpalace.co.uk.
SEASON’SS BEST: The round red-brick Royal Alb bert Hall hosts a broad program of events but is f famous for the BBC Proms, the world’s largest annual series of classical music concerts held each summer. The thrilling season sees a bevy of famous names and orchestras grace the stage as well as new works and talent. The most highly sought-after ticket on the calendar is for the Last Night of the Proms, a fabulous and exuberant display of Britishness (September 10 this year). Those who miss out could head to Hyde Park where the concert is streamed live under the stars. More: royalalberthall.com; bbc.co.uk/proms.
TEAT AND TELL: London’s museum quarter boasts three of London’s biggest and best, all with free entry. Founded in 1852, the Victoria and Albert holds the world’s largest collection of decorative arts and design. Highlights include the splendid Ardabil carpet, the world’s oldest dated floor covering, and seven Raphael Cartoons from 1515, painted designs for the tapestries at the Sistine Chapel. A fabulous collection of fashion dating from the 1300s to contemporary times is also on display. Tea in the Museum Cafe is a must to appreciate the wonderfully historic setting of the world’s first museum restaurant. Choose from three rooms decorated with exquisite tiled walls and murals, grand arches and ethereal stained-glass windows. More: vam.ac.uk. At The Science Museum, goggle at the first Apple computer, a seven-toed cat and what your face will look like as you age. Then marvel at the dinosaur gallery and the gigantic Diplodocus in the central hall of the Natural History Museum. The building is a spectacular backdrop to the enchanting outdoor ice rink set up in winter. More: sciencemuseum.org.uk; nhm.ac.uk.
HYDE AND SEEK: On sunny days, a stroll or cycle around the Serpentine Lake in Hyde Park is a wonderful way to feel connected to London. Bikes can be hired in the gardens and you can stop to visit the Serpentine Gallery, which shows free contemporary art exhibitions. At the Serpentine Cafe, watch the rowboats slip through the sun-dappled water, rent a pedalo or even a deck chair to doze in the sun. In summer there’s a lido for those brave enough to dip their toes in the chilly water. More: serpentinegallery.org; royalparks.org.uk.
FARE THEE WELL: Sally Clarke’s eponymous restaurant has been a well-loved fixture on High Street, Kensington for more than three decades. A pioneer in the revival of high-quality British food, her stylish farm-to-table establishment has a menu laden with interesting vegetables, leaves and herbs, and there’s a smashing set-lunch menu. You might find slow-baked leg of Lancashire duck with pomegranate, orange and sage, or rhubarb and apple polenta crumble with cinnamon cream. More: sallyclarke.com. All wood and warmth, Maggie Jones feels like a rustic English farmhouse, with cosy dining rooms rambling over three rickety floors. Generous portions of classic British comfort food, including traditional pies and puds, are dashed upstairs on vintage English plates. The restaurant, at 6 Old Court Place, is named as an alias for Princess Margaret who often dined here, booking under the name Maggie Jones. More: maggie-jones.co.uk.
T TAKE A TIPPLE: Duck into flower-bedecked b boozer The Churchill Arms for an ale or two and a snoop at some Winston Churchill memorabilia. This eccentric pub is one of the most heavily decorated in London. More: churchillarmskensington.co.uk. Alternatively, the smart Kensington Wine Rooms offers an extensive range by the glass, right through to a pricey Bordeaux first growth. More: winerooms.london.
OUTDOOR OPERA: The densely wooded Holland Park is a romantic spot with strutting peacocks and the tranquil Kyoto Japanese Garden. At its centre is the remains of Holland House, a Jacobean mansion built in 1605 that forms a backdrop in summer to a season of opera staged under a giant canopy. Parties of four or six can indulge in a classic English Picnic Package, collecting their wicker basket on arrival. There’s a great adventure playground, and Holland Walk will take you from High Street, Kensington straight through to Notting Hill. This year’s season includes Die Fledermaus (late July and early August) and The Queen of Spades (August). More: operahollandpark.com.
EMERGING ART: The Royal College of Art boasts many celebrated alumni, from sculptor Henry Moore and illustrator Quentin Blake to garden designer Gertrude Jekyll. Ranked the top post-grad art and design school in the world, the graduate shows in June and early July are a chance to experience “the very best of emerging contemporary art and design practice”. Much of the work at the free exhibitions is for sale or commission, ranging from paintings and photography to sculpture, jewellery and textiles. More: rca.ac.uk.
MEWSM OF THE DAYS: During Victorian times, cobbled lanes known as mews backed on to grand homes and housed the stables. Nowadays, they have been transformed into sought-after residences that offer a quiet retreat from city life. One of the most picturesque is Kynance Mews. On its western side, a tangle of creepers climbs walls, terracotta pots spill over with camellias and a set of old stone steps leads up to an ancient church. Stanhope Mews is a riot of flowers in summer, while Queen’s Gate Mews is home to The Queen’s Arms, a popular pub with Prommers and music students. More: thequeensarmskensington.co.uk. TOUCH OF CLASS: The elegant Kensington and South Kensington districts make an ideal base forf a London holiday. To savour the surrounds in small, leisurely bites, stay in one of the London Perfect group’s hand-selected, stylish rentals. The expansive, three-storey Victoria (pictured), for example, has all the comforts of a private home on a street where Queen Victoria’s ladies in waiting once lived. The Middleton is set on a charming mews moments from Kensington Gardens while the luxurious Rockingham is steps from Museum Row. More: londonperfect.com. If a hotel appeals, Firmdale’s Number Sixteen is a gem with a secluded feel, co-owner and designer Kit Kemp’s trademark eclectic decor, and one of London’s prettiest hotel gardens. More: firmdalehotels.com. • visitbritain.com/au