When you fancy a break from the London tourist circuit and want to live like the (chicest) locals do, consider packing your finest luggage and making a beeline for the quintessentially posh residential neighborhoods of Kensington and Chelsea.
The two districts definitely have distinct characters: Chelsea’s boho past (featuring cameos by artsy types ranging from 19th century painter Turner to the Rolling Stones) gives it some local color, while Kensington’s focus is on refined distractions, like a culture-rich museum district and a tony (that means “stylish,” for you non-Brits) high street. That said, they share a common architectural heritage in block after block of cushy townhouses, making them the joint ground zero of upscale living, London-style.
The best way to savor this distinctive residential flavor is to set up your home-away-from-home at one of the area’s signature townhouse hotels, which range from quaintly cozy to upper crust. Want some home-style TLC? Check in at intimate properties like the Pelham Hotel, a charming boutique where the staff always remembers your name; Number Sixteen, a cheery bed and breakfast; or Milestone Hotel, an oh-so British classic with individualized rooms and service. On the other hand, if your residential ideal is a tad more grandiose, spring for a room at The Cadogan, famous for hosting notable poets and writers, or the formal Draycott Hotel, where champagne is served nightly in the drawing room.
Of course, having a sumptuous sanctuary is just the starting point—to really soak up the neighborhood scene, you need to break out of the bedroom. For a different perspective on the residential retreat, indulge in an East Asian massage at zen townhouse spa Ushvani, or make like Princess Diana with a leisurely afternoon exploring her former residence, Kensington Palace. When you’re in the mood to trade “residential retreat” for “meet and greet,” connect with your new neighbors on the lush, local-loved pathways of the Chelsea Physic Garden, over stylish bistro fare at Tom’s Kitchen, or, slightly farther afield, with fireside toddies at classic pub The Windsor Castle.
That said, London is a dynamic, cosmopolitan city—clearly not everyone in Kensington and Chelsea is snuggling down in a townhouse or dishing local politics over pints at the pub. If you prefer your local living a bit more jet-set, there are plenty of options. Dig into a sexy, globetrotting take on “home” at worldly properties like the smoldering Baglioni Hotel, East-meets-West Blakes Hotel, or newly redesigned San Domenico House. Later, scoop up some new designer denim at Trilogy before indulging in imaginative takes on French cuisine at Gordon Ramsay or Tom Aikens, all the while schmoozing with the crowd of global elite they attract.
Whether you’ve come seeking a cozy retreat or a cosmopolitan crowd, Kensington and Chelsea may just charm you into making this corner of London your permanent address. But settling in here for the long haul takes more than just changing up luggage tags—scoring real estate is notoriously tough and keeping your pad suitably smart can be even tougher. To get a feel for what’s required, check out local design institutes founded by (or in honor of) some of the area’s own well-connected residents, like the Saatchi Gallery—which features eye-catching art from the private holdings of media mogul Charles Saatchi—or the Victoria and Albert Museum, whose decorative arts collections cover everything from ceramics to carpets. Or, head to exclusive antique dealer Bentley’s, a must-hit for locals when they want to extravagantly feather their nests.
Either way, whether you really are planning on putting down roots or just want a short-term dose of these unique residential vibes, there really is no place like a home in Kensington and Chelsea.
For full details on these local haunts, please see our complete London guide at The Purple Passport.