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Chelsea Physic Garden is one of the capital’s best-kept green secrets. Founded in 1673 as the Apothecaries’ Garden, the botanical space has a rich history and still houses more than 5,000 plant species. The gardens are open daily for visitors and are the perfect place to enjoy a leisurely amble. Feeling peckish? Stop by the Tangerine Dream Cafe, which serves up a delicious afternoon tea with a twist – think lavender scones and homemade ginger beer.
History enthusiasts will relish in the story of the Royal Chelsea Hospital, a 300-year-old foundation that’s home to soldiers in their retirement. The scarlet-uniformed army veterans (known as Chelsea Pensioners) host tours of the space, which feature beautiful buildings designed by the architect of St Paul’s Cathedral, Sir Christopher Wren. They’ll also relate incredible stories of the Royal Hospital’s past and present inhabitants. In May, the grounds are transformed for The Chelsea Flower Show – one of the most celebrated gardening events of the year.
The Saatchi Gallery – Charles Saatchi’s private art collection – never fails to disappoint with its forward-thinking exhibitions. Entry is free and its prime location at the top of the King’s Road makes this the perfect spot to while away a couple of hours. The highly-acclaimed Gallery Mess Cafe and its daily afternoon tea offering are also worth a mention, especially the boozy option that features ice-cold Pommery champagne and jugs of Pimm’s in the summer months.
Stamford Bridge, located on the western edge of Chelsea near Fulham Broadway, is the home of Premier League Champions Chelsea FC. Tours, which run daily, offer an action-packed insight into the team and will take you behind the scenes, discovering areas such as the dressing room, players’ tunnel and press room. Afterwards, swing by the museum, which boasts an extensive array of Chelsea-related memorabilia. A must-visit for any Chelsea fan or football fanatic.
Nestled between Peter Jones (the Sloane Square iteration of John Lewis) and the Saatchi Gallery, the Duke of York Square offers one of London’s chicest open-air retail experiences. Stock up on the latest trends at one of Europe’s biggest Zara outposts, treat yourself to a mini facial at Dermalogica, or browse inspiring coffee table books at the Phillippe Starck-designed Taschen. Head down to the Saturday market, which takes place come rain or shine, and feast on chorizo scotch eggs, pistacho-laden cannoli and vegan banana bread.
Spend a morning or afternoon discovering London’s Blue Plaques on a walk through leafy Chelsea. For more than 150 years, blue plaques have commemorated the homes and workplaces of famous figures, of which there is no shortage in SW3. Former residents include George Eliot, Alfred Hitchcock, Oscar Wilde and Sylvia Pankhurst. Head down Smith Street and you may even spot a plaque dedicated to P L Travers, the author of Mary Poppins. It’s believed 50 Smith Street was the inspiration behind the Banks family home in the iconic Disney movie.
No trip to Chelsea is complete without a wander down the King’s Road, a picturesque street which runs parallel to the River Thames. You’ll find an eclectic mix of independent boutiques, designer offerings and high street staples. Highlights include the Nike store, a space dedicated solely to women’s fitness, The Shop at Bluebird for under-the-radar fashion brands, Anthropologie for beautiful things you didn’t know you needed, and must-have homeware at Heal’s.
A stone’s throw from Sloane Square Tube station is Pavilion Road, a charming, cobbled street with a village feel. Work up a sweat at boutique gym KXU (there’s even an infrared sauna and cryotherapy chamber) before feasting on an egg and avocado-laden brunch at Hans Bar & Grill or Granger & Co. Be sure to stock up on seasonal produce, charcuterie and cheese at resident Natoora and a doughnut or two from Bread Ahead while you’re there. Stationery fiends should also check out Papersmiths – its floor-to-ceiling shelves are brimming with design-led offerings (all of which can be monogrammed) as well as journals, periodicals and books covering graphic design, fashion and psychology.
Retail therapy in Chelsea isn’t limited to designer clothes. Tucked off the beaten path is Lots Road, a London antique institution that hosts auctions every Sunday – expect to find everything from Persian rugs to Louis XV-style mirrors. The Furniture Cave, located at the end of the King’s Road, is also worth a visit if antiques are your thing. The space, spread over three floors, houses over 20 dealers offering paintings, ceramics, silver and furniture. Jewellery fans should seek out Bourbon-Hanby Arcade, the only remaining antique jewellery emporium in Chelsea, for one-off pieces.