A Cabbies Guide to Kensington and Cheslea.
Hello there and welcome to my minicab - this is A Cabbie’s Guide, a regular feature from Parker Cars, which sees me, a long-time London cabbie recommending some of my favourite places in different boroughs around the capital.
Throughout this guide, I will take you on a tour and provide you with some recommendations on things to do and places to go etc.
As there’s so much in Kensington and Chelsea, I can’t promise I’ll cover everything. However, I’ll certainly let you know my favourites and take you on the tourist trail. Hopefully, you’ll try out my recommendations. As you will know from my previous tours, we usually stop and have lunch or dinner, however, there’s so much to see and do in this borough, I’ll warn you now, we are just going to be grabbing food on the go.
So if you’re still with me, buckle up and get yourself comfortable in my cab. No need to get a taxi - as this one’s on me, so the meter isn’t running today, as we take our trip to Kensington and Chelsea.
A Little Bit of Background...
Today, we going regal as this isn’t just Kensington and Chelsea, to give it it’s proper name, the borough is actually the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. To give you a bit of history, it is known by this name as it was granted royal borough status in 1901, as it is the home of Kensington Palace, the birthplace of Queen Victoria in 1819.
Formed by the merger of the Royal Borough of Kensington and the Metropolitan Borough of Chelsea, under the London Government Act 1963, despite now being within the same borough, Kensington and Chelsea both retain their individual characteristics.
Located within Inner London, Kensington and Chelsea is home to some of the most famous things about London. Some of these we will come on to later but to give you a quick run-down of what you can expect in this borough, here are a few of those things:
Notting Hill Carnival
Notting Hill Gate
Royal Hospital Chelsea
The Science Museum
The Natural History Museum
Our first stop in the cab today will be the King’s Road, a 2 mile stretch of road running through Chelsea and Fulham, and famous for its association with 1960’s style.
Called the King’s Road as it was formerly a private royal road, the road was used by King Charles II to travel to Kew and remained a private road until 1830.
Famous connections to the King’s Road include film director Sir Carol Reed who lived there from 1948 until his death in 1976, Thomas Arne who lived there and was believed to have composed “Rule Britannia”, Christina Broom - the UK’s first female press photographer, who was born there in 1862, and of course, 1960’s mod culture.
The King’s Road is also the home to a number of firsts - a couple of these being the world’s first artificial ice rink, which opened there in 1876, and the UK’s first Starbucks, which opened there in 1999.
I find that most of my passengers wanted to take a trip to the King’s Road for its association with mod culture though. And rightly so, it really was the epicentre of the “Swinging Sixties” and was renowned throughout the seventies.
It was home to the striking brushed steel building, the Chelsea Drugstore, which was way ahead of its time with its 16 hour daily opening hours (largely unheard of that time when most shops still closed for half a day on Wednesdays and Saturdays) and its “Flying Squad”, which comprised of young women outfitted tight-fitting purple catsuits hand-delivering customers’ purchases on their fleet of motorbikes. And it was more than just a drugstore or a chemist, it was a place which went down in history thanks to its bars, record stores and all kinds of other concessions. It was so famous that it features in Stanley Kubrick’s film, A Clockwork Orange, and has been mentioned in songs by The Rolling Stones and The Kinks. However, unfortunately, it’s now a McDonalds - but hey we are here and breakfast is still being served, so I won’t judge you if you grab a McMuffin, some hash browns or a coffee.
The other very famous retail store the King’s Road was renowned for was Malcolm McLaren's and Vivienne Westwood’s boutique Let It Rock, renamed SEX in 1974, and then Seditionaries in 1977 - a store which was synonymous with the punk movement in the ‘70s.
This was the place to be in those days, it was the place that shaped punk fashion and provided Vivienne Westwood with a platform to become the world-famous designer that she is today. In the shop, you could find everything from fetish clothing to bondage and punk clothes, T-shirts with slogans of anarchic, social and sexual meaning, and customers from all kinds of backgrounds. Heavily connected with the Sex Pistols due to being run by their manager Malcolm McLaren and having both their original bass player Glen Matlock, and singer and bass player Sid Vicious working there, and also once having The Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde as a shop assistant, the shop is a famous part of British music history.
Today, it’s still there and operates under the name World's End and is part of Vivienne Westwood’s fashion empire.
Unfortunately, a lot of the King’s Road’s appeal is in the past and today, it does just resemble any other high street in many ways. However, there are a few boutiques which still exist there, so if you like your shopping and your counter-culture history, it’s a must-visit place.
Royal Hospital Chelsea
Our next stop takes us to a place which I think is uniquely British in its appeal. I get many tourists in my cab from overseas and they are often sometimes perplexed that what is essentially a retirement home can be visited by people who don’t know any of its residents. However, I explain to them that the Royal Hospital Chelsea is much more than that, it’s a British institution.
Established in 1682 by King Charles II, it was inspired by Les Invalides in Paris as a place to provide a home for veterans, rather than paying them pensions.
Famous for its Chelsea Pensioners, around 300 army veterans currently live at the Royal Hospital, including those who have served in Korea, the Falkland Islands, Cyprus, Northern Ireland and World War II.
Any man or woman who is over the age of 65 and served as a regular soldier may apply to become a Chelsea Pensioner (i.e. a resident), if they have found themselves in a time of need and are "of good character". They can’t have any dependent spouse or family though.
At the Hospital, they are offered accommodation, comradeship and the highest standards of care in recognition of their loyal service to the nation.
In March 2009, the first women in the Hospital's 317-year history were admitted as residents.
The Chelsea Pensioners are a familiar sight and are instantly recognisable due to the blue uniform which they wear whilst in the hospital and the distinctive scarlet coats they wear away from it.
Whilst in uniform, the pensioners wear their medal ribbons and the insignia of rank they reached while serving in the military.
Open to visitors on a daily basis, the Royal Hospital Chelsea sees thousands of visitors walk through its doors each year to learn about the history of the site and the veterans who live there.
As a fan of architecture and history, I’m also a massive fan of marvelling at Sir Christopher Wren’s Grade I and II listed buildings and gardens which the Hospital is comprised of.
Address: Royal Hospital Chelsea, Royal Hospital Road, London, SW3 4SR
Jump back in the cab and get your seat belt on, we are taking a trip to Kensington Palace. Now this is a location which I take many tourists to, as they cannot get enough of the Royal Family..
If you didn’t know, Kensington Palace is the current official London residence of Wills and Kate (the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge), Princess Eugenie and her husband Jack Brooksbank, the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester (the Queen’s cousin Prince Richard and his wife, Birgitte), the Duke and Duchess of Kent (the Queen’s cousin Prince Edward and his wife, Katharine), and Prince and Princess Michael of Kent (the Queen’s cousin Prince Michael and his wife, Princess Michael).
A residence of the Royal Family since the 17th century, Kensington Palace was originally a two-storey Jacobean mansion built by Sir George Coppin in 1605. It was then purchased in 1619 by Heneage Finch, 1st Earl of Nottingham and was known as Nottingham House.
Due to their son William suffering from asthma, joint monarchs William and Mary required a home more comfortable to his needs. They began their search for one which was better equipped than their home at Whitehall Palace which was too near to the River Thames and played havoc with his asthma. They settled on what is now Kensington Palace, purchasing the property from Heneage Finch’s son, the Secretary of State Daniel Finch, 2nd Earl of Nottingham for the princely sum of £20,000!
Once in their possession, they then instructed Sir Christopher Wren to begin an immediate expansion of the house.
Since then, the palace has remained in possession of the Crown and has been home to reigning monarchs William III and Mary II, Queen Anne, George I and George II, with George II being the last reigning monarch to use it.
When George III became king in 1760, the palace then became a residence for non-reigning royalty. Since then its apartments have been home to various royals including Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn, Princess Helena, Duchess of Albany, Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone, the Earl of Athlone, Henry Somerset, Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent, and Princess Margaret, and the Earl of Snowdon.
Today, in addition to being a royal residence, the palace is also a major tourist attraction and we regularly get many passengers wishing to go there since it underwent a major renovation and reopened in 2012 in time for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
Visitors now can choose four different routes throughout the palace and are presented with exhibits which incorporate cutting-edge digital presentations, interactive experiences, and audio sequences that bring to life gowns, wardrobes, antique furniture and all kinds of other memorabilia associated with former residents of the palace.
The palace grounds are also spectacular. In particular, the famous Sunken Garden is a standout highlight with its ornamental flower beds, ornamental pond, vibrant colours and exotic planting, which were all transformed to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Queen Victoria in 2019.
Address: Kensington Palace, Kensington Gardens, London W8 4PX
Our next destination is an event which is held annually across the August Bank Holiday weekend and is famous across the world, the Notting Hill Carnival.
Notting Hill Carnival
Taking place throughout the main streets, side streets and every corner of Notting Hill,
Ladbroke Grove, Westbourne Grove, Westbourne Park and Kensal Road, the Notting Hill Carnival is a party like no other and has taken place annually in London since 1966.
Led by members of the British West Indian community as a celebration of Caribbean culture and traditions in London, the carnival attracts around two and a half million people each year. It’s one of the world's largest street festivals and is something I recommend everyone experiences at some point.
Whether you go on the Sunday, known as family day or on the Monday, or both, it’s a great way to spend the August Bank Holiday. Especially if we are blessed with sunny weather. However, the last few times I’ve been there’s been rain and one year, in particular, I remember there being absolute downpours. That didn’t stop the carnival atmosphere though, even if I was aquaplaning in the cab on the way down to it.
When you attend the carnival you can expect the streets of West London to be filled with Caribbean colours, music and flavours, as elaborate floats and colourful costumed performers wind their way through the streets in the carnival parade, dancing to the sounds of steel bands and calypso music.
Delicious Caribbean food is also a major feature too, and I absolutely enjoy seeing what I can feast on every time I go. Expect food such as rice and peas, jerk chicken, curry goat, dumplings, fried plantain, pulled pork, curry mutton and roti, pork belly ribs, burgers galore and all kinds of other tasty treats! The food really is amazing here and every time I’ve been, I’ve wandered from stall to stall, confused to which one I should eat from! I usually end up getting a few things from each and never regret it!
As one of the world’s largest street festivals, you can expect to see some 50,000 performers in the parade and more than 30 sound systems, with many big-name artists and DJs often putting on secret and not-so-secret sets, all for free. What I love about it most (other than the food) is the range of music at the carnival. You can expect to here genres such as funk, jazz, house, dancehall, reggae, dub, gospel, afro-beats, hip-hop, jungle, drum and bass, ragga, ska, rocksteady, soca, R&B, bashment, calypso and much, much more.
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So sadly, that concludes my guide. I’ve been your cabbie and I’m here to take you in my car to anywhere you desire, whilst giving you a little bit of info about the local area. If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read and would like to book one of our cars, you can do so by calling us on 020 8560 0000 or emailing us at email@example.com
Goodbye and thank you. Until the next time!