Kensington was a country village until Sir Christopher Wren was commissioned to build a palace here in the late seventeenth century. It became a desirable place to live, and expanded greatly in the nineteenth century. The walk explores a small area, beginning with the very Victorian Albert Hall and Albert Memorial, before passing through Kensington Gardens to the unostentatious (and famously damp) brick palace.
The route then weaves its way between desirable residences to one of Londonís strangest and most appealing parks, containing the remnants of an aristocratic home.
After some spectacular Victorian housing, we continue through an elegant late Georgian square and end with a very early Georgian one, the first square to be built in Kensington.
If youíre travelling from central London, you could use the tube, but itís worth spending a little extra time by taking the top deck of a number 9 bus from Aldwych or Charing Cross.
The Royal Albert Hall is elliptical in plan and for its first hundred years the acoustics were terrible. Then a series of inverted mushroom shapes were suspended inside the dome, to cure the echo. The area south of the hall developed as a cultural area, including the Royal College of Music, Imperial College and the South Kensington museums. They arenít on the walk but it is worth looking at the Royal College of Organists beside the Albert Hall.
Over the road, and impossible to miss, is the ultra-Gothic memorial to Queen Victoriaís beloved husband Albert, who died young. Some of the many statues represent subject peoples of the British Empire. Not one to be effusive, Queen Victoria didnít actually say she liked it, but awarded a knighthood to the architect, George Gilbert Scott.
Kensington Gardens, together with the adjoining Hyde Park, contribute to the large area of green on the map of London. Flat dwellers have always strolled here, increasingly outnumbered by tourists doing the same. The Round Pond is a good place to sail your model boat, if you have one.
William III was the first king to occupy Kensington Palace. (See left). The early Georges spent more time at St Jamesís Palace, but George III preferred Kensington until he acquired Buckingham House.
It was divided into a series of apartments; Victoria was brought up at Kensington Palace, and Prince Charles and Princess Diana lived here.
The gilded gates you walk past near the southern end of the building (which donít actually lead to an entrance) were the scene of extraordinary public frenzy when Diana died, being piled with flowers, presents and messages.
After the palace you cross a road, Palace Green, sometimes described as the most expensive in Europe. Several of the houses are embassies and thereís a rather sinister ban on photography. Kensington Church Street, once a country lane, is lined with shops, look up to see many were originally Georgian houses. The church itself (by that man Gilbert Scott) has Londonís tallest spire, and Kensington Church Walk offers shops catering for the local clientele.
From there to Holland Park, the walk goes through typical London streets and a square, their style derived from Regency. Hornton Street is later and the houses unusual. If you are like me, youíll stop each time you cross a road, and peer nosily each way.
Holland Park is a mixture of rough and ready woodland, stylised gardens, and the remains of Holland House, heavily bombed in 1940, shown above.
The house was built in the early sixteen hundreds, and was a rare example of a surviving Jacobean house. Many were demolished or altered in the eighteenth century, to be replaced by the fashionable classical style.
One wing was patched up in post war times of austerity, and serves as a youth hostel, while there's a restaurant and wedding venue at the old orangery, and a cafe built against a remaining wall. Elsewhere on this website I blog about Holland Park.
Shortly after leaving Holland Park, to your right at the junction between Ilchester Place and Melbury Road, are two late nineteenth century houses. The nearer and larger is said to have changed hands for £60 million, while its next door neighbour, which is pictured on the left, is styled like a fairytale castle.
They were in the news in 2015 as the owner of the larger house decided to dig out several floors of massive basement. The occupier of the other protested and the council, concerned by this practice of the super-rich which is blighting Kensington, intervened to restrict the changes.
The other side of Kensington High Street is Edwardes Square, pictured on the right. It was started by a Frenchman during the Napoleonic wars, which led to some complications during the development.
More recently, residents have included several authors, including George du Maurier and GK Chesterton.
The architecture here is less spectacular than the flamboyant Victorian design we have seen at the Albert Hall, the Albert Memorial and in Melbury Road. But that is the point of so many of London's Georgian terraces: they are reasoned, restrained and refined.
Adam and Eve Mews (left) was originally, like all mews, stables for the neighbouring houses. In the late twentieth century small garages restored vintage cars, often leaving them parked on the cobbles. Now a discreet Jaguar dealer occupies most of the lock ups.
Most other London mews are now lived in, the well-heeled owners of bijou residences sleeping in the old haylofts.
The last part of the walk was the first square in Kensington, named simply Kensington Square. Building started in 1685. The east side of the square has been demolished and rebuilt, the rest is modified but fundamentally original. Look out for blue plaques.
Distance 6.2km / 3.9 miles.
1. The starting point is the Royal Albert Hall, reached by no 9 bus from Charing Cross (walk back to the Albert Hall from the bus stop) or on foot from High St Kensington tube (having turned right out of the station).
2. Step away from the main road to see the Royal College of Organists by the west side of Albert Hall.
3. Cross the main road to the Albert Memorial.
4. The path leads North from the back of the Memorial.
5. Turn left onto a grey tarmac cycle path.
6. When the grey path bends left, take a path to the right, to the Round Pond (which is visible from here).
7. Reach the pond and go left, to walk beside the water.
8. Go left on a path to the easily visible Kensington Palace.
9. Turn left to walk with the building and then railings to your right.
10. Take the first right to pass the gilded gates once piled with flowers for Princess Diana.
11. Continue straight on when the path becomes a roadway. (Look back at the front of the Palace).
12. At the end, cross the road, Palace Green, to a footpath (nearly opposite but slightly left).
13. Continue straight ahead as the path opens into York House Place.
14. Cross Kensington Church Street (busy road) and go left.
15. Turn right immediately after the church, to pass via an archway.
16. Follow the path as it doubles back around some gardens.
17. Then turn left into Kensington Church Walk.
18. At the end, turn right onto Holland Street.
19. Turn left up Kensington Church Street.
20. Turn left into Gloucester Walk.
21. Turn right into Hornton street and then left into Tor Gardens.
22. Cross Campden Hill Rd and go into Campden Hill opposite.
23. Pass Holland Park School (favoured by many MPs for their children). Continue on footpath when road ends.
24. Go straight across Holland Walk into Holland Park.
25. Turn right then take the first path on the left to Lord Hollandís statue.
26. Continue straight on past the statue.
27. Turn left at the next path, signposted to the Kyoto Garden.
28. Turn left into Kyoto Garden, and left again.
29. Cross over the bridge and follow the path to the end of the water then go left.
30. Go down the steps out of the Kyoto Garden and turn left.
31. Ignore a turn to the right.
32. The path ends at a T junction. Go left, ignoring the steps to the right.
33. Take the first right into a walled garden.
34. Immediately turn right inside the garden.
35. Go straight until you see a water feature below to your left. Turn left to the water feature and an arcade.
36. Go into the arcade and turn left.
37. Continue straight out of the arcade, passing a cafť on your left. Continue to look at the ruined Holland House.
37. Return to the cafť, and turn left downhill to leave the park into Ilchester Place.
38. Stop where Ilchester Place joins Melbury Road to look at the two large houses to the right.
39. Continue in the same direction as before, though now itís down Melbury Road.
40. Turn right onto High Street Kensington.
41. Cross the road at a lights-controlled crossing and continue right.
42. Turn left into Edwardes Square, passing the squareís gardens on your left.
43. Turn left along South Edwardes Square.
44. Turn right out of the Square and continue to Pembroke Square.
45. Turn left along the long side of Pembroke Square.
46. Turn left onto Earls Court Road.
47. Cross Earls Court Road into Abingdon Villas.
48. Cross Abingdon Road to continue, still on Abingdon Villas.
49. Turn left into Allen Street.
50. Right into Adam & Eve Mews beside a church.
51. Follow the Mews all the way round, turn right onto Kensington High Street.
52. Pass the tube station then turn right into Derry Street. Northcliffe House is the Daily Mail head office.
53. Walk round the far side of Kensington Square. (No 20 is the Convent of the Assumption, and Vaughan Williams studied at no 17).
54. Leave the square via Young Street. (William Thackeray wrote Vanity Fair at no 16).
55. Turn left onto Kensington High Street to reach the tube station.
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