Renowned for its prosperous roots, the cultural enclave of South Kensington brims with grandiose Victorian architecture that houses some of the best hotels in London.
South Kensington is London’s museum capital – home to the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum – not to mention the Royal Albert Hall and world-famous shops such as Harrods and Harvey Nichols. Here’s Culture Trip’s guide to the best hotels in South Kensington to suit all budgets.
The rooms at The Ampersand Hotel take their lead from the area’s local landmarks, in particular its museums, with a bird-themed room representing the Natural History Museum, and the Science Museum being channelled by planet-themed decorations in another. While gimmicky can sometimes stray dangerously close to tacky, this boutique hotel – built in 1889 – is all luxury. There are five themes governing the design of the hotel: botany, music, geometry, ornithology and astronomy. There’s also a vintage-inspired Mediterranean restaurant and cocktail bar, a wine room and a vividly coloured tea room.
The rooms at Number Sixteen are filled with bright, bold and colourful prints and pleasantly clashing patterns, giving it a real sense of personality. With owner Kit Kemp doubling as an interior designer, each modern, English-style room has been given the personal touch, uniquely decorated with its own colour scheme, made all the more inviting by large french windows. There’s also a lovely tree-filled patio for guests to enjoy in the summer months, and an airy conservatory for the winter.
This opulent Art Deco-inspired hotel has a dramatic and theatrical air. The grand restaurant has a long marble bar, black panelling and gold-framed mirrors, making you feel like you’re in a golden age Hollywood movie – head down to plush late-night lounge Blakes Below for a nightcap. Rooms range from the understated to the opulent, and each signature double is utterly unique. Provence is a whimsical retreat in shades of lavender field, and the black-and-gold Gypsy room is covered in elaborate designs.
Luxury spills out of every gilded fibre of this Victorian building, where rooms – dripping in ornate antiques and fringed red velvet drapes and dramatic carved wooden beds – encapsulate a regal elegance rarely seen outside stately homes. The bar achieves a distinct British rock-’n’-roll-meets-royalty charm with tartan pillows, silk ottomans and rich mahogany walls that once served as the setting for a Rolling Stones photoshoot. Rooms are named after equally iconic guests: the Judy Garland Suite comes complete with the Hollywood starlet’s very own bed frame, lined with a pacific-blue peacock-feather blanket and cushions. Comfort is ensured with the pillow menu, bathrobe and (unfortunately not ruby-red) slippers, which you can don after a soak in the ancient Roman-inspired marble bath.
A luxury townhouse with a fun and flirty style, this Kit Kemp-designed hotel is full of expertly clashing prints, unique, signature furniture, and artwork. Its public spaces are just as pretty, including a popular bistro and bar, a cosy wood-panelled drawing room with an honesty bar and a library stuffed with plush sofas and armchairs to sink into before a crackling fire. Outside its eclectic doors you will find yourself moments from the blooms of Kensington Gardens, an ideal setting for a summer stroll.
A four-star boutique hotel without the extortionate price tag (the founder calls it “affordable luxury”), The Resident Kensington is a great option for those wanting to save cash for South Kensington jaunts. Housed in a fresh, white stucco townhouse, this hotel has eliminated “unnecessary extras” from its 65 rooms while retaining great facilities such as kitchenettes with a Nespresso machine, a BRITA water filter tap and free Wi-Fi, all complemented with plush furnishings and sleek design. If you’re stuck on where to explore, pick the brains of the 24-hour front-desk team who can recommend some of the city’s best-kept secrets, including unmissable restaurants such as CERU, a Middle Eastern gem just a 15-minute walk away.
Housed just off fashionable King’s Road inside two Georgian townhouses, Sydney House describes itself as a “bijou Chelsea pied-à-terre” – that’s a small and elegant second home in the city, for those of you who don’t speak posh. More relaxed than most on this list, it’s part of a group called Baby Abode, which aims to bring affordable options to the table. The rooms at this four-star hotel – many of which have their own balconies – are modern and bright, with The Room at the Top enjoying its own private roof garden.
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An award-winning hotel, The Milestone underwent a metamorphosis, taking it from 17th-century dwelling to luxury bolthole. Deluxe rooms are done up in themes of decorative schemes such as Matisse and Margaret Rose, and overlook the meticulously manicured lawns of Kensington Gardens (they also come with a platter of fruit or home-made cookies on arrival, and are stocked with toiletries from British perfumer Penhaligon’s). The opulent suites have also been distinctively styled, ranging from Ruhlmann-reminiscent black-and-gold glamour, to the Harlequin Suite’s golden sunburst headboard and diamond-patterned cabinets, to a sultry, red-velvet-clad room inspired by French singer Mistinguett; and all have 24-hour butler service to boot.
Last but certainly not least comes The Exhibitionist – perhaps the most extravagant and eclectic on this list, as its name suggests. This arty boutique hotel in Kensington doubles up as a gallery (actually, there are eight), and describes itself as “an intervention” – a blazing flash of anarchic colour and curatorial precision; it is the ultimate expression of the new boutique. While we’re not sure anything with so hefty a price tag can be called anarchic, The Exhibitionist certainly is a sight to behold. Spaces in the hotel are opened up for artists to display their work, the collection being switched up twice a year, while set pieces such as a life-size bull and a Jimmie Martin mannequin lamp decorate the open-plan ground floor.