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South Kensington area guide

Visiting SW7? Find great restaurants, bars, hotels and things to do near the museums in South Kensington

South Kensington is one of the most visited parts of London, and for good reason: it’s home to the Natural History, Science and V&A museums. The main thoroughfare, Exhibition Road, is a lively and fitting route past the iconic institutions, up to Hyde Park and the Albert Memorial. There’s architectural splendour at nearly every turn, from the florid Italianate Brompton Oratory Catholic church to the iconic Royal Albert Hall. This distinctly elegant part of the capital also has a strong French accent thanks to the nearby Lycée Français and Institut Français, plus a sizeable student population (the Royal College of Art, Royal College of Music, Imperial College and numerous language schools are all here) and lots of embassies. There are restaurants and hotels galore too, plus a self-styled 'design quarter' with a cluster of high-end furniture shops. Here’s our pick of the best things to eat, drink, see and do in South Kensington. 

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Things to do in South Kensington

Natural History Museum

Natural History Museum

A research institution and a fabulous museum, full of incredible natural wonders. 

Time Out says
5 out of 5 stars
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5 out of 5 stars
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Hyde Park
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Hyde Park

One of the largest and grandest of London's Royal Parks.

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4 out of 5 stars
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Royal Albert Hall

Royal Albert Hall

Venue says: “Join us for headline acts, classical coffee mornings, late-night jazz, and everything in between. Unforgettable experiences since 1871.”

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5 out of 5 stars
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V&A

V&A

The V&A is one of the world’s – let alone London's – most magnificent museums.

Time Out says
5 out of 5 stars
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5 out of 5 stars
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Restaurants in South Kensington

Dinings SW3
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Dinings SW3

Let’s get the awkward stuff out of the way. This long-awaited sequel to Dinings W1 is not cheap. But if sushi is your desert island dinner, it’s worth it. It’s everything that was great about the first Dinings, only with a bit more sophistication. First up: the setting. Compared to the charmingly poky Marylebone site (one teeny counter, two teeny basement rooms), this space, in a Grade I-listed building, is palatial: pale walls, double-height ceilings and gorgeous arched windows, dust-scattered sunlight streaming through them. There are tables, or a large, luxurious marble counter, where you can watch in awe as the chefs perform their micro-surgery. Because the menu, again, dials things up a notch. More dishes. More smoke. More razzmatazz. It’s not pretentious – they only get the blowtorch out with good reason – but quietly ambitious. There’s subtle complexity and precision on every plate. It’s food you’ll want to savour. The signature wagyu bun (£7.95) is bang-on. A juicy, intensely flavoured patty, a brown bun that’s soft and warm, the hit of heat, the crunch of baby gem. Sticking with the meat – cooked on the Josper for maximum nom – there were moreish izakaya-style chicken wings (£3 a pop, the best-value thing here) and a beautiful slab of charred Iberian pork loin with a sage and fermented miso sauce. Sounds incredible, right? It was. The sushi, meanwhile, is ‘modern’. There was sashimi of fatty salmon belly with a microscopic ‘Nikkei salsa’; seared, delicately sweet

Time Out says
4 out of 5 stars
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5 out of 5 stars
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Chicama
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Chicama

The name of this Chelsea newbie is not (thankfully), a twee riff on the word ‘chic’. Chicama is actually just a coastal town in Peru. Which is fitting, when you consider that this is the newer, more seafoody sibling of Marylebone’s Pachamama (a party restaurant, also Peruvian, popular with young moneyed sorts). The people here are no less beautiful, just a shade more mature. This is the southern, ‘resi’ enclave of SW10, after all. So the fiesta has been toned down, but, hey, this is still a lively place where you can have a good time. Deep Latin beats ripple through the L-shaped room – a space once home to neighbourhood trattoria Osteria dell’Arancio – while the large open kitchen adds to the hubbub. Flirty young staff, as impeccably groomed as the diners, squeeze between swish marble tables dishing out plates that are modish, mini and – on the whole – marvellous. From the selection of small plates (the most exciting part of the menu) came a knockout seabass ceviche, its citrus-cured flesh layered not just with fragrant heritage tomatoes, but with toasted sweetcorn kernels and pickled red onion. There’s a wide selection of chargrilled fish, like delicate fillet of sea bream. These all come with intriguing sauces (smoked ají panca and horseradish, say), but absolutely no carbs: just the thing if you’ve got a size six dress to squeeze into. But for sheer brilliance and creativity, the prize has to go to a simple ‘snack’ plate, of ‘tapioca marshmallows’. Imagine a chewy, glue

Time Out says
4 out of 5 stars
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4 out of 5 stars
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Ceru
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Ceru

Venue says: “Lively Levantine mezze restaurant, gluten-free, healthy yet indulgent small plates. Offering express lunch platters and weekend brunch.”

Time Out says
4 out of 5 stars
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5 out of 5 stars
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Wright Brothers South Kensington
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Wright Brothers South Kensington

Wow, Orville and Wilbur Wright really branched out once they invented the aeroplane, eh? No, of course not. These Wright Brothers might share the name but they’re from entirely different stock. They run four London seafood restaurants, plus another down in Cornwall, where they’ve also got their own oyster farm to help them source just the right kind of goodies.  It’s clearly working out well for them. This South Ken branch - diddy in comparison to the cavernous Soho and Spitalfields venues - was, on our visit, as busy as a freshly hooked marlin. Service stuttered at first but had bags of charm when it arrived – I reckon they’ve got a pretty good handle on keeping the moneyed locals onside.  First up: a ‘petite’ platter of cockles, whelks, prawns, brown shrimp, oysters, mussels and clams. All exceptional. It was also anything but petite. God only knows what the ‘deluxe’ option looks like – it’s five times the price so presumably five times the size? I’d be amazed if there’s the room to plate it.  Mains are mostly from the sea, and often with some Asian influence. My (excellent) roast crab with ginger, chilli, coriander and coconut milk was fragrant, rich and sweet. My pal’s Dingley Dell pork belly in miso and chilli broth was even better, showing these guys can just as easily turn their hands to turf as surf.  Aviation trivia fans might like to know that Wilbur Wright died not in some Icarus incident (y’know, the guy who flew too close to the sun), but simply from eating s

Time Out says
4 out of 5 stars
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5 out of 5 stars
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Hotels in South Kensington

The Ampersand Hotel

The Ampersand Hotel

This decadent, five-star boutique hotel is a perfect fit for this posh part of town.

Time Out says
4 out of 5 stars
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4 out of 5 stars
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Baglioni Hotel London

Baglioni Hotel London

Exquisite luxury beside South Ken’s countless attractions.

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Bars and pubs in South Kensington

The Hour Glass
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The Hour Glass

In the posh-shop-big-museum nexus around South Kensington, a nice old pub with nice old tiles has been scrubbed up by a couple of lads who own the nearby Brompton Food Market: a grocer, butcher, deli and fishmonger. So as you’d expect, food is a major part of their new venture, but they’ve had the sense to make sure the Hour Glass remains a pub at heart. So the ground floor is a pleasant spot with plenty of standing, leaning and sitting room to enjoy an ale. Beer lovers needn’t waste their time with the stuff in the fridge, but there were a couple of decent ones on tap, including an American Pale Ale from Portobello Brewing Co (£4.45 a pint); maybe a G&T or glass of wine would be more appropriate. There’s a solid selection of proper bar snacks too, including Cumberland scotch eggs and pork pies.  And it’s upstairs that the real food action happens, in a handsome dining room with sparkling glasses and linen crisp and white as a Royal Hospital counterpane. Some tables have a jolly view out over Brompton Road, and up here diners can tuck into British dishes that are served with real attention to detail: chips like crispy ingots, flatiron steak dotted with roasted marrow, wood pigeon with pickled quince and black pudding. The Hour Glass is maybe more successful as a pub-with-food than a plain old pub, but the separate eating space makes it a great spot for a pint anyway. 

Time Out says
4 out of 5 stars
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4 out of 5 stars
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K Bar
Bars and pubs

K Bar

As I walk in to the reception of the Town House Kensington hotel, the low hum to my left is unmistakable: the sound of a lively bar, where people are having fun. There’s no more inviting noise in the world. At early evening, K Bar benefits from guests either returning or preparing for a night out. Either way, they’re after top-notch drinks and have come to the right place.Table service is as good as you’d expect from a quality hotel, with oak-panelled walls and a marble-topped bar adding to the air of opulence. It’s a relatively small area and despite large, comfy sofas lining the walls, you might struggle to find a seat at peak times. But that all adds to the aforementioned buzz, really. Cocktails, meanwhile, are competitively priced and, above all, expertly mixed. My Sazerac (£10) was ‘almost’ as good as you’d get anywhere in London – and that’s saying something in a city that’s fully embraced the Louisiana drink. For the nightcap crowd, there’s even a menu of dessert drinks (such as the Crème Brulée Martini, sweet tooth required). What’s clear is that standards here are set high. Given west London’s dearth of decent cocktail bars, this could be either a blessing or a curse. As K Bar’s head barman points out, ‘People usually like to move on when they go out. But when they come here there’s nowhere near for before or after.’ My tip? Stay at K Bar for one more instead. 

Time Out says
4 out of 5 stars
Users say
5 out of 5 stars
Queen's Arms
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Queen's Arms

Tucked away in a small mews, its proximity to the Royal Albert Hall makes this busy pub the favourite destination for prommers. Its off-street location also provides a much-needed alfresco, cobbled drinking space; inside is a combination of rough-and-ready wooden tables with a chandelier overhead. Among students of the nearby Royal College of Music, it's known as 'The Nines' - there are 98 practice rooms at the college, this pub is affectionately regarded as the ninety-ninth.

Users say
3 out of 5 stars
Anglesea Arms
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Anglesea Arms

Favoured at various times by both Charles Dickens and DH Lawrence, this splendid pub is packed tight on summer evenings, the front terrace and wide main bar area filled with professional blokes chugging Adnams Broadside while their female equivalents put bottles of sancerre on expenses. Solicitors can – indeed, do – celebrate a successful case with a bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. But despite the stereotypes, the Anglesea has always had more aura than the average South Kensington hostelry. Perhaps it’s the erotic painting of Fifi, the ghost that roams its cellar; perhaps it’s the link with the Great Train Robbery, allegedly planned here. On quieter winter lunchtimes, it’s the ideal place for a quality foreign lager (Kirin, Bitburger) and a heart-to-heart over a plate of squid linguine at one of the bottle-green banquettes overlooked by random portraits.

Time Out says
4 out of 5 stars
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5 out of 5 stars
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The perfect weekend in South Kensington

See: Italian Gardens
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See: Italian Gardens

Kensington Gardens is one of the lushest green spaces in the city. 

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5 out of 5 stars
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Browse: V&A Shop
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Browse: V&A Shop

Curated with as much thought and flair as any exhibition.

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5 out of 5 stars
Watch: Ciné Lumière

Watch: Ciné Lumière

An art deco cinema with French flair. 

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4 out of 5 stars
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Explore: Science Museum
Museums

Explore: Science Museum

Seven floors of educational and entertaining exhibits.

Time Out says
5 out of 5 stars
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5 out of 5 stars

More things to do near South Kensington

Design Museum
Museums

Design Museum

After a few setbacks and much anticipation, the Design Museum finally re-opened in its new premises last year – and boy, is it looking flash these days. Now located in the Grade II-listed former Commonwealth Institute building on Kensington High Street, it now boasts three times the space and has an archive, library, two shops and a permanent collection.

Users say
4 out of 5 stars
Serpentine Gallery
Art

Serpentine Gallery

The secluded location to the west of the Long Water in Kensington Gardens makes this small and airy gallery for contemporary art an attractive destination. A rolling two-monthly programme of exhibitions featuring up-to-the-minute artists along with the recent opened Sackler Gallery just over the water keeps the Serpentine in the arts news, as does the annual Serpentine Pavilion: every spring an internationally renowned architect is commissioned to build a new pavilion that opens to the public between June and September. There's a good little art bookshop too, which handily stays open in between exhibitions while the gallery space itself closes.

Time Out says
4 out of 5 stars
Users say
4 out of 5 stars
Holland Park
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Holland Park

The history of Holland Park, one of London’s finest green spaces, makes an interesting tale for history buffs and horticulturalists alike. The park surrounds a Jacobean mansion, Holland House, named after its second owner, the Earl of Holland, whose wife was the first person in England to successfully grow dahlias. In the 19th century, Holland House became a hub of political and literary activity, visited by Disraeli and Lord Byron amongst others, but was largely destroyed by bombs during WWII. These days, dahlias are still grown within the 55 acres of Holland Park, which also houses the Japanese-style Kyoto Gardens with its koi carp and bridge at the foot of a waterfall. Not to be missed for families is the playground, with its extensive climbing equipment, zip wire, giant see-saw and tyre swing. There’s also a fenced-in separate play area for younger children. In summer, open-air theatre and opera are staged in the park. Discover more of London's hidden gardens and green spaces

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5 out of 5 stars
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Harrods
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Harrods

The distinctive terracotta façade with its dark-green awnings stirs up some of the most divided feelings in the capital: for every tourist who comes out clutching their must-have Harrods teddy, there’s a local who sniffs at its vulgarity. It’s true that all the glitz and marble can be a bit much, but it’s hard not to soften at the imposing grandeur of this London institution, even if you prefer to duck into Harvey Nichols down the road. If you do brave entry, the legendary food halls and 27 restaurants are worth it: the Georgian has been open since 1913 and is a prime spot for a traditional afternoon tea, while newer restaurant Tartufi & Friends caters for truffle lovers. However, it’s on the fashion and beauty floors that Harrods really comes into its own, with well-edited collections from the heavyweights in the new Superbrands department and the stunning Shoe Heaven on the fifth floor.  As featured inthe 100 best shops in London

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5 out of 5 stars
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