South Kensington-Chelsea is a district of central London. It is one most densely populated places in London and most affluent areas in the world. For travellers, the main points of interest are Albertopolis, containing several of the UK’s major museums, and the shopping around Knightsbridge and Sloane Square.
This district is defined as the southern part of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBK & C), from the Thames in the south to Kensington High Street in the north, also taking in Hyde Park in the east and the area around Kensington Olympia in the west. It includes the area south of the Royal Parks commonly known as High Street Kensington and South Kensington west to Earl’s Court and Olympia and south to West Brompton, Sloane Square and Chelsea. Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens combine to form the largest green space in metropolitan London and provide a real oasis in the heart of this vast city.
South Kensington hosts four of London’s largest and finest museums, its oldest and one of its most famous concert hall, and is home to the venerable Imperial College. High Street Kensington leads to a long line of shops and department stores, offering a less hectic version of Oxford Street, and very upmarket stores in Knightsbridge. Sloane Street connects Knightsbridge to Chelsea via Sloane Square and is lined with luxury brand boutiques.
Chelsea is an extensive riverside area of London that extends broadly from Sloane Square in the east to the World’s End pub in the west and down to the River Thames. The King’s Road marks the main thoroughfare of Chelsea.
The district contains the second largest population of American immigrants in the United Kingdom, many of whom work in the financial sector in the City, while others are connected to institutions such as the American International University, which has a campus just off High Street Kensington. Many local shops, from convenience stores to supermarkets, stock American products in their ethnic food sections. South Kensington is sometimes called the “21st arrondissement” because the number of French expatriates living there would make London the sixth largest French city. The community results in many French cafés, delicatessens and other businesses in the area. Knightsbridge is known for its Russian and Arab populations, with the accompanying restaurants and institutions they bring.
The whole of the district contains some of the most expensive residential property in the world but is a little more downmarket towards its western edges.
Following the success of the Great Exhibition of 1851, of which he was a key figure, Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, proposed a cultural hub to continue the Exhibition’s work and to promote both arts and sciences together in one area. Profits from the Exhibition were used to purchase land, which was then in the countryside, and begin an ambitious plan for the area. The prince was so influential that the project became known as “Albertopolis”, first in mockery and later with affection. The first building, the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria and Albert Museum), opening in 1857. Today Albertopolis, loosely the area around Exhibition Road, contains a collection of world-class museums, universities, conservatories, and other cultural institutions. Its tradition for innovation continues: in 2012 Exhibition Road was redeveloped and converted into a shared space for pedestrians and motorists, with no kerb to separate them.