Welcome to Backpacker’s Boutique. Every Sunday, this spot will feature a new travel blogger. Some weeks it will be a really fun interview about packing, fashion, and fitness so you can snoop inside their bags & lives a little bit and other weeks it’ll be a detailed luxury guide to a city the featured blogger/expat knows very well. E-mail me if you’d like to be featured.
A Luxury Guide to South Kensington
Tell us a little about yourself and tell us why you’re an expert on luxury travel in South Kensington, London.
My name is Nicole Trilivas and I’m an author of travel-themed fiction. My debut novel, Girls Who Journey, is about a free-spirited backpacker who gets a gig as an au pair in the affluent and old-moneyed neighborhood of South Kensington.
I’ve always loved the leafy squares and historic white mansion blocks of this elegant pocket of London, so I had no qualms whatsoever about “researching” it for my book.
What makes South Kensington a perfect destination for travelers seeking a glamorous trip?
South Ken (as it’s know to the locals) is all about old-world English charm and culture. With its world-class museums, quaint bookshops, and sweet cafes, it has an understated, real-world sophistication, while still maintaining a warm, neighborhood-y vibe. It’s a must for any anglophile.
Who lives in South Kensington? Any celebs to watch out for?
Unlike some areas of London that are made up of tourists or commercial spaces, real Londoners actually live in South Kensington. There’s a notable French population present, as well as students and affluent families. South Kensington was home to many notable historical figures including Winston Churchill (28 Hyde Park Gate, SW7) and Alfred Hitchcock (153 Cromwell Road, SW5). Keep your eye out for rumored local residents, Stella McCartney, J.K. Rowling, and Hugh Grant. And we can’t forget about the most famous locals: The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (a.k.a. Will and Kate and their children), who live nearby in Kensington Palace.
What 5 star hotel is the best in South Kensington?
South Kensington has a bunch of wonderful hotels that mix 5-star style with boutique culture. Two of my favorites are the famous Blakes Hotel and the more undercover, Number Sixteen:
The glamorous and lavish Blakes Hotel is a London institution and the ultimate boutique experience. Each room is individually styled to represent a different locale like Corfu or Paris. It’s a great place for a decadent splurge!
Tucked away on a side street and discreetly labeled, Number Sixteen is more home than hotel. Yet with its courtyard garden, help-yourself honesty bar, and sunny library built for daydreaming—it’s anything but homely. This is a spot for quiet escapism.
Where are the best hang outs during in South Kensington?
South Ken is known for all the amazing, free museums. There’s the art, design, and fashion of the Victoria and Albert Museum; the kid-friendly Science Museum; and the always-fun Natural History Museum (which has enchanting ice rink out front in the winter!).
There’s also Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, which are perfect for picnics or strolls any time of year.
Speaking of strolling, locals love to have a wander through the small but sweet South Kensington Farmers’ Market, which takes place on Bute Street every Saturday.
A lesser known hangout spot is Kensington Roof Gardens: Set atop the sixth floor of a Kensington High Street building, Sir Richard Branson’s Kensington Roof Gardens gives you 1.5 acres of themed gardens with real flamingos! Stop by at night for a drink on the terrace or dinner at its restaurant, Babylon.
If you have a big date night, what are the most delicious restaurants in South Kensington and what are their best dishes?
Check out Franco-Japanese fusion restaurant, L’Etranger. Go for the tasting menu and ask for a corner table.
Let’s talk desserts in South Kensington- what place makes the best?
Oddono’s makes artisan Italian gelato and is a must—especially in the summer.
Also, we can’t talk desserts without mentioning South Ken’s French expats. Thanks to the presence of the French Consulate, Lycée Français, and the French Institute with it’s art house cinema, the area boasts some ooh la la-worthy pastries at many Parisian style cafes like the Kensington Crêperie.
Tell us all the hot shopping spots in South Kensington; who’s carrying the trendy local designers?
Most high-rolling shopping is done in nearby Knightsbridge (think: Harrods and Harvy Nichols), but booklovers will love to poke around the twee Slightly Foxed; the arty South Kensington Books; or browse the French books at Librairie la Page.
What are a couple of the best salons and spas in South Kensington?
British Vogue calls Sarah Chapman’s Skinesis Clinic “the home of arguably one of the best facials you’ll ever have.” For a little something different, try the marble Turkish hammam at Le Kalon Spa, at The Bentley Hotel.
Time for a great sunset view… where would you go?
The ornate and formidable Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens is a great spot to watch the sky turn dark as the moment lights up. It doesn’t hurt that it has a romantic backstory: It was commission by Queen Victory to honor her beloved husband, as their royal marriage was actually a well-suited, tender match.
Now that the sun’s gone down, fill us on the best places to go for some evening drinks in South Kensington or a great pre-gaming spot.
Barts is a speakeasy-style cocktail den that serves eclectic and eccentric cocktails out of things like top hats. Bar 190 (in the Gore Hotel) has an intimate and historic feel (it hosted a Rolling Stones album launch in 1968). If you’re into wine, you’ll be spoiled for choice: Try the Spanish spot Fernandez & Wells for wine and a charcuterie plate.
If you end the night at a fancy club, which one do you head towards?
The young royals are known to hang out at members-only, always buzzy Boujis.If clubbing is not your bag, the historic Royal Albert Hall hosts everything from classical concerts to top pop acts.
Nicole Trilivas is the author of the novel Girls Who Journey (Berkley Penguin, Dec 2015). She has a deep appetite for travel and adventure and has visited nearly 40 countries and every continent except Antarctica (but it’s on her list). A graduate of Boston University, she has worked in advertising, and her writing has appeared in the New York Times online, Huffington Post, xoJane, Wanderlust, Paste, Thought Catalog, and elsewhere. She lives in New York and London. Connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, Amazon, and Twitter.
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