The Best of West London

Costa Rica

Here are some of my suggestions for what to do to the west of Oxford St. West London features museums, fine parks, a glittering memorial, ''the most beautiful urban street in Britain'' and excellent eating. Then there are palaces and parks, trendy shopping and smart eating in Knightsbridge, Kensington and Chelsea. Photo - Ardabil Carpet, Victoria and Albert Museum, by Gareth Huw Davies,

Carpet fantastic.

Twice an hour the lights go up briefly at the Victoria and Albert museum on one of the world’s oldest and finest carpets. There are many copies of the Ardabil carpet, with its intricate swirl of leaves, stems and flowers, including one currently in 10 Downing Street, but none quite matches the glory of the original (34’x 17’), woven in wool and silk in Persia in 1539. In 2006 it was rolled out, horizontally, for the first time since 1892, as the centrepiece to the new Jameel Gallery. Low lighting is part of a delicate conservation regime to conserve the radiant colours. While you wait for the lights to rise,
catch the superb supporting show of more carpets, ceramics, textiles, metalwork, glass and woodwork, the fruits of 1000 years of Islamic creativity from around 900 to 1900. Admission free.

Green Glory.

Let New Yorkers boast about Central Park. London has much more ancient bragging rights. Its string of parks, Hyde, Kensington and Green, are scattered like emerald gems west from the end of Piccadilly. All three are ideal for year-round meandering, (or horseriding, cycling and rollerblading) though a broad latticework of trees and greens. There are lakes and birds and boats and endless interest, with the rest of London standing proud against the horizon. My top three Hyde Park spots are the Princess of Wales fountain, the Peter Pan statue and the babble of free speech at Speakers Corner. Then, coining the line from This Happy Breed, filmed in Hyde Park, go for ‘a nice cup of tea’ at the refurbished Dell or Lido Restaurants, down by the Serpentine.
The Bomber Command Memorial (opened in 2012) is situated in Green Park by Hyde Park Corner. The memorial, designed by Liam O'Connor and built in Portland stone, features a bronze sculpture of seven aircrew. It commemorates the 55,573 airmen of Bomber Command who died during World War II. The nearest tube station is Hyde Park Corner on the Piccadilly line. It is also walking distance from Green Park station on the Jubilee, Piccadilly and Victoria lines.

Take the physic.

We slipped out of the King’s Road bustle and sauntered down the quiet, elegant Chelsea byways to London’s Secret Garden. Founded in 1673, the Chelsea Physic Garden is a magnificent homage to pioneering British horticulture, crammed with 5000 species of high benefit medicinal plants. It stars Britain’s biggest (outdoor) olive tree, and oldest rock garden, made with stones from the Tower of London and Icelandic lava. Autumn highlights include the Toothache Tree, ablaze with orange berries. Look, too for the fruiting pomegranates, the common quince, laden with its aromatic fruits, and the Blue Enigma, whose flowers are an amazingly intense azure. When we ordered our food at the cafe, they let us find a space on the lawn. The waiter brought our order over.

Albert extraordinary

It is probably the planet’s best known performance venue (100 million worldwide watch the Last Night of the Proms). But the Albert Hall is a big comfortable overcoat of a location year-round, with a play list for everybody, from Carmina Burana and the Massed Welsh Male Voice Choirs to the Moody Blues and Bootleg Beatles. I can vouch that a big concert flat-out in that huge space, (eg the Berlioz Mass) tingles like nothing else. Daily tours show you the pomp and the secret recesses of this proud place.
Then take the tour of the nearby Albert Memorial, where the prince consort glimmers under his new patina of gold. Influenced by the series of 13th Century Eleanor Crosses, the memorial in Kensington Gardens is one of the grandest of all high-Victorian gothic extravaganzas. They take you inside the fence for a close of up of intricate friezes, marble figures and gilded bronze. Is it excessive? Judge for yourself.

Shared space

Is this the way to give city streets back to the people? Kensington & Chelsea council has turned Exhibition Road in South Kensington, lined by the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum, the Royal Albert Hall and Imperial College, into ''the most beautiful urban street in Britain'' in the words of a spokesman. The street has been transformed into a shared space environment. Traffic has been reduced to one lane in each direction. A chequered granite design runs from South Kensington Station to Hyde Park along the full width of the road from building to building. Kerbs, barriers and street clutter have been removed. With discretion, pedestrians are free to walk alongside moving vehicles, slowed by a 20 mph limit. On my visit cafe tables had spilled into what had previously been a busy road. And now there is free Wi-Fi in Exhibition Road as well.

Pub perfect.

Here’s living proof that you can recreate much of the familiar and traditional atmosphere of the real thing in a brand new pub. The Thomas Cubitt has all the oak panelling and warm, wood floors of the hostelries of yore, with three big roaring fireplaces. This Grade II-listed building in the heart of Belgravia (nearest station Victoria), is a legacy of the builder who created nearby Belgrave and Eaton Squares. There are three other very upmarket pubs in the Cubitt House group, in the neighbourhoods of Knightsbridge, Pimlico and Marylebone. They are The Grazing Goat, The Orange and The Pantechnicon.

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