Off the beaten track: discover alt-Chelsea (and Kensington)


If you’re not so much one for mainstream sightseeing, you’ll find the West London area of Kensington and Chelsea’s chock-full of hidden gems to uncover. And, make no mistake, these are alt-attractions that you really do want to peel back the cover of and discover all the wonders to be experienced beneath.

So, once you’ve worked out where to stay in Chelsea on a short-break you’ve planned for this part of the capital, here’s those all-too-little-visited sites you must make time to frequent – at least once…

Visit the Victorian Pet Cemetery

Hyde Park’s Victoria Gate entrance (on the Bayswater Road) is where to head for one of the most moving and, at the same time, one of the most charming of all things you might see in London. For, yes, as you walk along the road, keeping the park’s fence to your side and especially keeping your peelers on the foliage, you’ll eventually find yourself looking into the garden of the gatekeeper’s lodge – and here, you’ll espy a number of small tombstones. Inspect them carefully and you’ll discover they’re dedicated to animal friends of one-time nearby residents; this being a genuine ‘pet cemetery’ that was run by a 19th-Century gatekeeper of the park for a few years. The place was forced to close in 1906 but not before it had become the resting place of up to 300 much-loved creatures.

Encounter Elfin Oak’s faeries

Arguably the most charming and kid-friendly of all the charming and kid-friendly Kensington Gardens’ attractions, Elfin Oak may be a 900-year-old oak stump (yes, it really is that old!), but it’s also home to a number of magical and marvellous woodland creatures, the sight of which are sure to the delight the child in you – whatever your real/ supposed age. Carved into the tree around 90 years ago now by talented illustrator Ivor Innes, they’re a sight to behold, all right; seen through the steel cage, that is, that encases the rightly Grade II-listed, grand old oak.

Enjoy some ‘me’ time in Kyoto Garden

Kyoto Garden

One of the most serene and beautiful spots in Kensington and Chelsea – and, frankly, all London – this gem, tucked away at the very centre of the salubrious greenery of Holland Park, the unmistakeably Japanese-themed Kyoto Garden is a site of man-made beauty amidst the chaotic if fascinating urban sprawl of the capital. Delightful and restful to a tee, it was established back in 1992 for a London-based festival of all things Japanese and, ever since, has become a firm favourite of all those to discover its charms. Perfect for a blissed-out afternoon before dining out at an awesome restaurant or popping back to your accommodation in Chelsea London for dinner.

Make for Chelsea’s most charming mews

Much of Chelsea’s appeal is based around its main drag, the King’s Road (with its bevy of fashion boutiques, antiques houses, jewellery outlets, bars and restaurants), and yet that’s far from all this distinguished district offers. For it was once effectively a village and there are traces of that countryside-like hamlet still around today (more than a century after it was fully subsumed into London proper). Take, for instance, Queen’s Gate Mews.

For this small (but perfectly formed) street is, indeed, a traditional mews; a cobbled lane whose homes once upon a time featured all too obviously stables – now mostly converted into garages or generously-sized living rooms – and which offers up all manner of nooks and crannies as it, rather wonderfully, winds its way around corners. With its pastel-shaded ‘stable’ doors and plethora of potted plants dotted here and there, it truly is like stepping into the past or, at least, something of a fantasy London – the effect only but enhanced by one of the city’s best gastropubs, The Queen’s Arms, being located at its end.