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Kensington, Chelsea, and Knightsbridge

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The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea (or "K&C" as the locals call it) is where you’ll find London at its richest, and not just in the moneyed sense. South Kensington offers a concentration of great museums near Cromwell Road, with historic Kensington Palace located nearby in Kensington Gardens. Once-raffish Chelsea, where the Pre-Raphaelites painted and Mick Jagger partied, is now a thoroughly respectable home for the discreetly wealthy while flashier Knightsbridge has become a bolt-hole for international plutocrats, with shopping to match their tastes.

Kensington

Kensington incorporates the area along the southern edge of Hyde Park from Exhibition Road (where the big museum complex is) and the area to the west of the park bordered by leafy Holland Park Avenue on the north and traffic-heavy Cromwell Road on the south. This more westerly zone includes the satellite neighborhood of Holland Park, with its serenely grand villas and charming park, as well as local shopping mecca Kensington High Street and the antiques shops on Kensington Church Street.

Kensington’s first royal connection was created when King William III, fed up with the dampness arising from the Thames, bought a country place there in 1689 and converted it into Kensington Palace. Queen Victoria's consort, Prince Albert, added the jewel in the borough's crown when he turned the profits of the Great Exhibition of 1851 into South Kensington's metropolis of museums: The Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A), the Science Museum, and the Natural History Museum. His namesakes in the area include the Royal Albert Hall, with bas-reliefs that make it resemble a giant, redbrick Wedgwood teapot, and the lavish Albert Memorial.

Turn into Derry Street or Young Street and enter Kensington Square, one of the most complete 17th-century residential squares in London. Holland Park is about ¾ mile farther west; both Leighton House and 18 Stafford Terrace, two of London’s most gorgeously decorated Victorian-era houses (the lavish use of Islamic tiles, inlaid mosaics, gilded ceilings, and marble columns make the former into an Arabian Nights fantasy), are nearby as well.

Chelsea

Chelsea was settled before the Domesday Book was compiled and already fashionable when two of Henry VIII's wives lived there. On the banks of the Thames are the vast grounds of the Royal Hospital, designed by Christopher Wren. A walk along the riverside embankment will take you to Cheyne Walk, a lovely street dating back to the 18th century. Several of its more notable residents—who range from J.M.W. Turner and Henry James to Laurence Olivier and Keith Richards—are commemorated by blue plaques on their former houses.

The Albert Bridge, a sherbet-color Victorian confection of a suspension bridge, provides one of London's great romantic views, especially at night. Leave time to explore the tiny Georgian lanes of pastel-color houses that veer off King's Road to the north—especially Jubilee Place and Burnsall Street, leading to the hidden "village square" of Chelsea Green. On Saturday there's an excellent farmers' market up from the Saatchi Gallery selling artisanal cheese and chocolates, local oysters, and organic meats, plus stalls serving international food.

Residential Chelsea extends along the river from the Chelsea Bridge west to the Battersea Bridge and north as far as the Old Brompton Road.

Knightsbridge

There's no getting away from it. With two world-famous department stores—Harrods and Harvey Nichols, a few hundred yards apart and surrounded by numerous boutiques selling the biggest names in international luxury and expensive jewelry—London’s wealthiest enclave (not many other neighborhoods are plagued with street racers in Maseratis) will appeal most to those who enjoy conspicuous consumption.

Nearby Sloane Street is lined with top-end designer boutiques such as Prada, Dior, and Tods. If it all starts to become a bit generic (although expensive generic), Beauchamp Place (pronounced "Beecham") is lined with equally luxe boutiques, but they tend to be one-offs and more distinctive and less global.

Posh Knightsbridge is located to the east of Kensington, bordered by Hyde Park on the north and Pont Street just past Harrods on the south.

Belgravia

Steps away from the roaring traffic of Hyde Park Corner is quiet, fashionable Belgravia, one of the most impressive set pieces of 19th-century urban planning, which lies just to the east of Kensington and Chelsea. Street after street is lined with grand cream stucco terraces, once aristocrats’ town houses and most still part of the Grosvenor estate owned by the Dukes of Westminster. Many buildings are leased to embassies or organizations, but a remarkable number around Lowndes Square, Eaton Place, and Eaton Square remain in the hands of private owners, whether old money or the oligarchy who put their security guards in the attached mews houses. Some people consider the area near Elizabeth Street to be southern Belgravia, others call it Pimlico–Victoria. Either way, you’ll find small, unique stores here specializing in baked goods, wine, gifts, and stationery rather than fashion (except for canine fashion).

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Kensington, Chelsea, and Knightsbridge at a Glance

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