I thought and may have even muttered, “Finally I’ve arrived.” It wasn’t just the sense of victory I felt after overcoming a few navigational hiccups riding London’s Underground Circle and District Lines – there was something else about the place that felt different.
I continued out of Kensington Station to meet Caroline, a knowledgable and fabulous Context Travel docent at the Church of St. Mary Abbots. This was the starting point on our walk through the Kensington and Knightsbridge neighbourhoods – a few very special places in London
Founded in the 8th Century, Kensington has a reputation as an area of quality. Originally located 3 miles from the city of London, Kensington eventually became part of London in the 17th century.
Church of St. Mary Abbots
Although the current structure is only 120 years old, St. Mary Abbots Church has been a place of worship for over seven centuries. Considered to be a fashionable church, notable parishioners have included Princess Diana, Beatrix Potter and Sir Isacc Newton.
Designed by Architect Sir George Gilbert Scott in neo-Gothic Early English style, the spectacular church is 179 feet long and seats up to 700.
It only took a glance at Kensington Palace and its gardens to realize that I had arrived at a very special place in London.
Located a short stroll from the Church of St. Mary Abbots, Kensington Palace is the official London residence of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and was once the home of Queen Victoria and Diana, Princess of Wales.
Historically, Kensington Gardens were private and only open to ‘respectfully dressed’ members of the general public on Saturday. Today, runners, dog walkers, and people of all ages enjoy the majestic green space year round from 6 am to dusk. If London were my home, Kensington Gardens would be my playground.
The Albert Memorial
The striking Albert Memorial, commissioned by Queen Victoria as a tribute to her husband, is located at the edge of Kensington Gardens. Prince Albert passed away from typhoid in 1861 at 42 years of age, leaving Queen Victoria to deeply mourn his death for many years.
Sir George Gilbert Scott designed the 175-foot neo-gothic monument to celebrate Prince Albert’s passions and interests. The memorial shows a gilded 14-foot statue of Prince Albert holding a catalogue of the Great Exhibition of 1851. Albert financed and helped organise this first International Exhibition to showcase Britain, and it was a tremendous success.
The broad frieze around the base of the monument signifies Albert’s passion for the arts. Here you will find marble reliefs of 187 individuals – painters, poets, sculptors, musicians and architects all intricately drawn to scale.
At each corner of the monument, sculptures represent the continents of Europe, Africa, America, and Asia.
Royal Albert Hall
Located across from The Albert Memorial, the iconic Royal Albert Hall is impossible to overlook with its circular design and massive glazed-iron roof.
The Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Sciences opened in 1871 as a venue for national and international exhibitions promoting the Arts and Sciences. Today, the Royal Albert Hall is a popular concert hall in London.
Victoria and Albert Museum
The Victoria and Albert Museum, also known as the V&A, is the world’s leading museum of art and design. The collection at the V&A is eclectic and impressive.
The popular Cast Courts at the Victoria and Albert Museum provide a unique opportunity to view casts of original sculptures, such as Michelangelo’s David and Trajan’s Column, up close and in great detail. Opened in 1873, and built to house post-classical European sculptures, the 24-metre high Cast Courts are home to some of the V&A’s biggest items.
After walking through Kensington, our walk concluded in the charming Knightsbridge neighbourhood.
Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary
Our first stop in Knightsbridge, the Roman Catholic Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. This popular Roman Catholic church, built between 1880 and 1884, is the church of a community of priests called “The Congregation of the Oratory of Saint Philip Neri” or Oratorians. This majestic church, designed in Italianate style, is the second largest Catholic church in London.
Founded as a grocery store in 1849, Harrod’s expanded into a luxury department store with the motto Omnia Omnibus Ubique, Latin for ‘All Things for All People, Everywhere’. After a walk through the food hall with Context Travel and shopping the following day, I concur with Harrod’s motto! They have something for everyone.
My initial reaction was right, Kensington is special. Knightsbridge is too. Together these two communities are home to many fabulous sights in London. I discovered these special places in London as part of a Context Travel walk called London Orientation – Kensington and Knightsbridge. The walk is typically 2.5 hours, but I experienced a slightly abbreviated version due to a commitment elsewhere in the city.
Booking a Special Places in London Context Travel Tour
- Prices for the 2.5 hour London Orientation walk are $107/PP for a small group or $427 for a private tour.
- Walks are offered in more than 24 cities in North America, Europe, and Asia. Click here for more information or to book a walk with Context Travel.
- Context Travel limits the tour group size to six people to ensure a conversational atmosphere. The best way to describe the experience is that it like a small, outdoor classroom with a knowledgeable professor.
Travel Tips – Special Places in London
- You may also want to visit Hyde Park, separated from Kensington Gardens by the Serpentine, a recreational water body. I only glanced at Hyde Park, so decided not to include it in the primary list of special places in London. That being said, I have heard great things about the park.
- I enjoy the Context Travel walks because the groups are small, and the docents have in-depth knowledge of the city and subject.
- Admission to museums in London is by voluntary donation.
- The Gift Shop at the Victoria and Albert Museum is one of the best I have been to, and the inventory includes items from local artisans.
I was fortunate to be a guest of Context Travel on the London Orientation walk. As always, my opinions are my own. If I don’t love an experience, I won’t recommend it!