Living in South Kensington

South Kensington is one of the most affluent London hubs, located in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, to the west and southwest of Charing Cross. South Kensington gravitates around the tube station of the same name, and represents an area known for some of the world's best museums, elegant real estates, charming tree-lined streets with beautiful squares, and lush gardens.

Until the first half of the 19th century, South Kensington was a rural and farming area, catering to London's produce markets. In 1851, the Great Exhibition took place in Hyde Park, laying the foundations of today's exclusive city district. The world's first Culture and Industry Fair attracted many developers to the area. Lands around Exhibition Road were purchased and buildings were constructed to house the Exhibition's art and science displays, which later grew into some of the world most renowned contemporary museums. The Exhibition also brought new roads while construction continued to boom. In 1868, the Underground reached South Kensington and the direct connection with the city made the district an integral part of London.

Today, South Kensington boasts some of the most exclusive real estate properties in the United Kingdom. The area is home to well-to-do families and top notch professionals, predominantly working in the financial and commercial London City Center. South Kensington is also the most densely populated municipality in the country while ethnic diversity makes it one of London's most vibrant communities. In addition to Brits, its residents include non-British Europeans, such as Spaniards and Italians, along with Americans, Australians, South Africans, and Middle Easterners. South Kensington is, however, mostly known as one of the largest French communities outside France. The area is home of the Lycee Francais Charles de Gaulle, where 3,500 students between the ages of 3 and 18 are taught mostly in French and at the French Institute. As an official French government center for language and culture, the Institute offers French cinema presentations, language classes, and even wine tasting. The sizable French presence in South Kensington is felt everywhere - in stores, coffee shops, and restaurants.

Housing

Housing in South Kensington is exclusive, elegant, and expensive. It has been described as eclectic upper-middle class urbanism, including pillar-lined town houses, gorgeous single family homes, and spacious flats and apartments. Prices of townhouses range anywhere between £700,000 to the steep £13,000,000. Apartments go from one to four and a half-million pounds while flats sell for £200,000 for a small studio to a million pounds for a large two or three-bedroom unit. Renting in Kensington is quite expensive and affordable only for the well-do-to professional newcomers. The rent range is between £1,000 a month for a small studio to £26,000 per month for a top of the line, luxury penthouse unit. All areas of the district are considered prime location due to the prestigious schools, renowned cultural institutions, beautiful architecture, and fast connection via the tube to downtown London.

For out-of-town visitors, South Kensington offers some of the best London accommodations, from five-star hotels to small bed and breakfast family inns and elegantly furnished short-term rental apartments.

Museums

South Kensington boasts some of the world's best museums and most prestigious institutions, all concentrated along Exhibition Road. Visitors are certain to enjoy the Natural History Museum, with its 70 million life and earth science specimens, the Science Museum and its oldest steam locomotive, and the world's largest museum of decorative arts and design - Victoria and Albert. South Kensington is also the home of the Royal Albert Hall: one of the most renowned art venues in the world, with 350 performances each year. Other prestigious institutions include the Royal Geographic Society, the Royal College of Art, and the Royal College of Music.

Shopping

South Kensington is a heaven for shopping addicts, a top London shopping destination, offering a great variety for everyone's taste. Sloane Avenue and Fulham Road are known for their designer outlets, catering to fashion aficionados. But there is much more beyond "haute couture" in South Kensington: the area is also famous for its antiques stores and the eclectic mix of quaint mom-and-pop shops, selling a wide variety of wine, food, flowers, stationery, books, arts and crafts supplies, toys, accessories, and much more. The French presence definitely puts its mark on the shopping, with the delicious French breads, meats, cheese, and the French wine at places such as La Bagatelle, La Cave au Fromage, and La Vigneronne.

Restaurants, Pubs and Nightlife

For financiers tired from a long day at work or visitors whose feet need a rest after lengthy museum and store visits, South Kensington offers many outstanding dining places and cool bars. The diverse population of the district has reflected on the variety of restaurants and ethnic menus. Guests can enjoy European, including, of course, French and Italian cuisine, along with Chinese food and more exotic dishes from Argentina, Lebanon, India, Thailand, Japan, and Poland. Traditionalists and lovers of British meals will certainly find something to their taste as well. One restaurant worth noting is 1880 at The Bentley, boasting a great ambiance, royal treatment by the staff, and delicious food, all worth the steep price. Those in favor of the French cuisine should not miss Ambassade de l'Ile, offering distinctive flavours such as foie gras with asparagus tips and watermelon gazpacho. For fans of Indian food, the Bombay Brasserie is certainly a must. The Troubadour, founded in 1954, is a true South Kensington landmark which has seen guests such as Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, and Jimi Hendrix. The place offers a wonderful combination of live music, coffee shop, deli counter, and art exhibit.

Bars and clubs worth mentioning include Opal for fantastic cocktails, The Collection, where visitors can take a glimpse at movie stars and other celebrities, Eclipse or Boujis for their live DJs, and Kosmopol, known for top notch service and drinks.

Transport

South Kensington is also a great place for commuters, served by three subway lines: District, Circle, and Piccadilly and by more than a dozen different buses. A pedestrian tunnel provides access from the South Kensington tube station to the area's museums. The station, which dates from 1891, underwent recent renovations over safety concerns and inadequate space, lighting, seating areas, and lack of phone booths.