This past sunny Saturday we chose to make a day of it and find the best new things to do in South Kensington, London.
Our itinerary turned out to be fun, so I’m sharing it with you, whether you’re a local looking to explore, or you’re travelling and staying in Kensington and seeking newer cultural experiences.
London day out itinerary: Japan House Kensington and the best new things to do in South Kensington
Japan House Kensington
We are huge fans of Japan and our lovely sister-in-law, Asami, inspires us to seek whatever knowledge we can about this fascinating country.
When we read about Japan House Kensington opening, it was swiftly added to our ‘must do’ list, especially as we’d already had a look through the cool Japan Centre in Soho, we wanted to compare.
The space is sleek and clean, boasting design that pleases the eye.
Set across three levels, at the Japan House Kensington, you can shop for unique gifts, plan a travel trip, relax in the library, and soak up history within the exhibition area.
Japan House is intended to offer full cultural immersion through food, art, hospitality, events and carefully curated exhibitions.
Japan is famous for its cuisine and at Japan House, centrally positioned in a Grade II Heritage Listed Art Deco building on High Street Kensington, there’s a beautiful restaurant on the top level, and a cafe at street level.
I tried a Matcha tea shot (or ‘small tea’) – traditionally brewed in front of us – quite bitter to taste and very strong.
At first I didn’t feel so good because I hadn’t eaten in the morning, but I’m pretty sure the tea gave me a clean energy boost that lasted the entire day. I’m sold.
Japan House Kensington is one of three new cultural centres that aim to show the ‘real’ Japan, the other two being in São Paulo and Los Angeles.
Everything at Japan House is Japanese, from the floor tiles to the chefs preparing authentic cuisine.
It’s easy to pop in for a quick look around, or spend a while browsing the displays and books.
Under a ten-minute walk from Japan House Kensington is the fabulous Design Centre in its new SW London home.
The Design Museum was housed in a former banana warehouse on the Thames at Tower Bridge for 27 years, before moving to Kensington and becoming one of the best new things to do in the area.
Upon entering the building in South Kensington, we learn that the place was founded by Sir Terence Conran in the belief that design has a vital part to play in shaping and understanding the world.
Honestly, visiting here was a highlight of our day out finding the best of contemporary Kensington attractions.
The museum celebrates creativity and innovation, and all that has shaped the world around us, including design we might not even see or consider, such as digital design.
The Design Museum, like Japan House Kensington, is picture-perfect in shape and design. It’s mostly free but there are paid exhibitions that might interest you too.
Aside from being visually engaging across all exhibitions that range from fashion to typewriters, transport and political posters, the Design Museum asks us to think about the world around us. How did we get to Kensington – bus or train? Have we looked at a map today; touched a phone; put on shoes; posted to social media?
All of our activities involve design, and usually a manufacturing process developing goods for a specific end-user.
This immersive and interactive experience offers a glimpse into familiar objects of the past and present like cameras, computers and calculators. It also showcases futuristic 3D-printed objects, virtual products and a projection of the world’s transport, immigration and healthcare systems as time ticks on.
A thoroughly enjoyable reminder of the creativity and innovation we are surrounded by each and every day. It’s time we stop taking it all for granted, I think. Drop by the Design Museum for a visit – I dare you – it’ll make you think differently.
Time for lunch at Zuaya in South Kensington
In keeping with our theme exploring the best new things to do in South Kensington, visiting Japan House Kensington and the Design Museum, we made our way to a new restaurant, Zuaya.
Zuaya is a short stroll from Japan House or the Design Museum and is opposite an entrance to Kensington Park – perfect for walking off a big meal later on.
It’s a fabulous South American themed restaurant, with a chic rainforest-themed interior.
The menu draws on influence from Mexico, Argentina and Peru and all dishes are absolutely photo-worthy.
Service at Zuaya was excellent, and we enjoyed our dining experience.
There’s a range of sharing options at Zuaya, as well as an a la carte menu, all reasonably priced. If you’re up for ditching the usual high-street chains which are plentiful in this area, give it a go.
I particularly liked the vegetable cau cau, a stew of sweet potato, butternut squash, mint and Peruvian potato (pictured above).
The dessert menu is tempting too, but we highly recommend the smooth and creamy home-made mango ice-cream. Yummy!
Take a look at the website or Instagram feed for more London foodie inspiration.
V&A Museum: the future starts here
Your afternoon itinerary could vary greatly in Kensington, depending on the weather and your interests.
As mentioned, a wander through the neighbouring parks of Kensington and Hyde is entirely viable; you could visit Kensington Palace too, or the shops on the high street.
We chose to catch a bus about five minutes up the road and got off at the Albert Hall stop with Exhibition Road in our sights.
This road is pretty busy – understandably – it houses a number of London’s most popular museums that are all free to enter, including the Science Museum and Natural History Museum.
Today however, we wanted to go somewhere new and found ourselves inside the very excellent Victoria and Albert (V&A) museum. Dubbed ‘the world’s leading museum of art and design’, it’s also free to enter, however we being particularly technologically-curious, decided to pay for an exhibition called The Future Starts Here.
This exhibition showcases ‘100 projects shaping the world of tomorrow’.
This includes robots, social bots and wearable tech; digital avatars keeping you around upon death; emails to trees; and bracelets designed to revive you after death (pictured above) if you are one of the couple of thousand who have signed up for cryonics and wish to be frozen but woken when we figure out how to do it!
Most fascinating is a live project that tracks a young Nigerian living in LA who has faced homelessness and trauma through years of hiding from immigration officers, knowing that if his meagre income as an Uber driver were to cease in America, his family back in Niger would be totally ruined.
He agreed to be part of this project that tracks his insomnia as well as use of WhatsApp and Instagram so he can keep in touch with his much-loved and missed family and friends back home. Pictured above, when the curtains are open it means he’s using these services and they also show where he is within his sleep patterns.
A study hailing all the way from our home of Queensland was featured too, and upon donning this attractive headset, you’re dropped into the middle of an extraordinary colourful coral reef to explore as if you’re in the waters just off Cairns.
I won’t give the rest of the secrets of this exhibition away. You really might enjoy it for yourself. If you miss it though, there’s plenty of other options at the V&A. I’ll definitely return soon.
Final stop: dessert at Maitre Choux
A shout-out to our friend Lisa for suggesting this little spot, about five minutes walk from the V&A.
Maitre Choux bakes fresh eclairs and chouquettes every day, made by none other than three Michelin Star pastry chef Joakim Prat.
For a decadent little treat (or two) to get you through the rest of your day, this will hit the spot.
There’s a colourful array of delicious goodies, but the place is small so choose a time when it’s likely to be a bit quieter. Saturday around 3pm was fine, and you can take-away or dine in for respite from the crowds outside.
Find this place on Instagram for a regular dose of prettiness.
That’s our day itinerary in SW London – from Japan House Kensington to a host of museum experiences and delicious, adventurous food. The activities are mostly indoors so perfect if it’s getting a little chilly outside or it’s raining.
We had the exciting task of dipping our toes back in old familiar waters, and ended up as London correspondents for a number of Aussie breakfast radio shows.
Royal Wedding Aussies live from London
Throughout the week we talked all things royal wedding as Aussies live from London on River (Brisbane), Power FM, and a host of other stations across Queensland and New South Wales. We were a little tired by the end of it, but it was good fun.
We were also tipped-off by channel nine that they would be broadcasting live from Buckingham Palace, and I fortuitously ended up at a royal rehearsal in Windsor!
Take a look at these Instagram Stories highlights for the best of the royal wedding, Aussies live from London.
Congrats Harry and Meghan! What a lovely, sunny, romantic and historic event to be a part of.
Let us know in the comments how you celebrated xo
Love Royal Experiences? Did you know we have a few other great posts and insight to share?
Back at home in Australia sometimes you’ll find us engaged in banter at the pub with our neighbours from New Zealand. We’ll give each other a little good-humoured grief about our accents and get into heated debates about who boasts the best cities.
We can make fun of each other at home, you know? But overseas when we run into an Antipodean on our travels we more often than not stick together.
It’s a little like how in your family you can make fun (within reason, obviously) of siblings or cousins, but if someone else tries to, we’ll automatically defend the other.
A lot of this mateship goes back to war times, and on 25 April each year our nations commemorate Anzac Day to observe when our troupes landed at Gallipoli in 1915.
Today Anzac Day still stands as one of our nations’ most important occasions and is marked by a public holiday each year, as well as moving dawn services and daytime military marches.
Incidentally, it’s also my birthday.
Indeed, many of us make the pilgrimage to Gallipoli in Turkey for special dawn ceremonies.
And, there are always services in London including a dawn service at the Australian War Memorial, Hyde Park Corner which is – you might be surprised to know – usually overflowing with attendees.
If you have spent any time travelling or living abroad, you’ll appreciate that the sense of patriotism is often stronger when you’re away from home.
Add that to an emotional national day and you’ll usually find a hive of expats huddling together flying their flag.
On Anzac Day, Aussies and Kiwis unite, and being this far away – just as our men were 102 years ago – it’s a poignant moment to be part of.
It’s for this reason that I jumped on an opportunity that a colleague at work – a lovely lady from New Zealand – told me about.
Each year our High Commission offers passes to special ceremonies, and those with an Australian or New Zealand passport can apply.
You can try this link from the beginning of each year (or if it’s not working, Google ‘Anzac Day London High Commission’).
You must apply for passes to attend this special service, held at the Cenotaph war memorial in Whitehall, and followed by a church service at Westminster Abbey up the road.
Here’s a sample of what we experienced:
The day was moving and memorable. Highly recommended – add the task to your diary from February next year. We’ll definitely do this again.
Rolling green hills, pretty ponds, and sheep calmly grazing across vast expanses of English countryside − it was all very dreamy, as we headed towards the filming location of Downton Abbey, Highclere Castle.
We’d been driving along a quiet winding road for a while and wondered where it was.
“If you tilt your head to the left, Miss, just over the tops of those trees, you’ll see it in a moment,” chimed the jolly cab driver I’d met just 15 minutes ago in the nearby village of Newbury.
Filming location of Downton Abbey, Highclere Castle
As he spoke, indeed, it appeared! How amazing – Downton Abbey, or in real life, Highclere Castle – a very accessible day trip from London.
I couldn’t help the welling of excitement as we rounded the corner past more manicured greenery.
All of a sudden, England’s most famous stately home, Highclere Castle arose, grand as ever.
It reminded me of the excitement of when we had the chance to explore historical Blencowe Hall (part of my heritage and a stately place up in the north of England)!
It was just like in one of the world’s most-watched series’, Downton Abbey (sadly, final season aired in 2016, but as of an update to this blog, a film was released late 2019.
Exploring Highclere Castle (‘Downton Abbey’)
You too can play out your Crawley family fantasies by visiting the filming location of Downton Abbey, as do thousands of others who visit annually during the lavish property’s open periods (usually UK’s spring/summer).
It’s an opportunity to step back into another world altogether.
The library is magnificent, housing over 5000 classic editions; pause a moment in the posh dining room and ballroom (where many a romantic Downton moment has been stolen), and the bedrooms (there’s over 50!).
When Downton filming is done, Highclere hosts expensive events and celebrity weddings.
It’s home to Lord and Lady Carnarvon, and the property has been in the Carnarvon family for over 300 years.
Back in its heyday, an army of 60 servants catered to the Carnarvons’ every desire. However, it costs around $1 million to maintain such a stately home these days, with just 20 full time staff.
Getting from London to Highclere Castle
It’s an easy day trip − around an hour’s train ride from Paddington to the quaint town of Newbury, then a friendly cab driver will ferry you to Downton… er, I mean, Highclere (but don’t worry if you get it wrong, they’re used to it!).
Good news for those fretting over the end of our favourite show or indeed excited for the new film – you can still make a pilgrimage here and enjoy ever more of England’s charms. Book your tickets here
Are you a Downton Abbely fan too? Drop me a line in the comments!
Anyone who has been to York in England knows there’s plenty of cool things to do here. It’s a charming northern English city, and I’m definitely glad to have stopped by, even if just for a weekend.
We wanted an adventure outside of London. York is feasible being that trains take only a couple of hours between the cities.
The journey ends as it did from around 1841, at the beautiful York transit centre. Incidentally, also revealed to us as the largest Roman burial area in York.
While just two hours between London and York today, back in the 1800s the train journey took 14 hours! I wonder how long it was originally between some of our other favourite destinations accessible by train, like Northampton or Kent?
Things to do in York: getting around
We’d recommend booking tickets for the big red bus ‘hop on hop off’ tour.
Just £10 each (at time of writing), with a stop right outside the train station, this proved to be an effective and informative orientation to the city for a pair of wanderers short on time.
For just £7 more we also enjoyed an hour-long river expedition, worthwhile given the city’s former prominence as a major port of trade.
Weekend in York: what you’ll learn
Throughout the day we learned about the old Tudor building, The King’s Manor, where many a monarch has stayed. Legend has it that Anne Boleyn walks through the courtyard in the evenings, head in her arms.
Old Roman and medieval walls and ruins surround the small city, standing testament to centuries of intriguing history, dating back beyond even 2000 years ago when York held as a Roman fortress.
Coming into contemporary times (by comparison), several closed-in windows were pointed out to us, still remaining barred from when the land owners refused to pay a new tax on sunlight in the eighteenth century. It’s where the term ‘daylight robbery’ comes from.
The famous Gothic York Minster Cathedral – one of the biggest of its kind in northern Europe – is of course beautiful, and stands as the tallest building in these parts.
York is traditionally a very religious city, evidenced by many churches.
We were told of a local saying that dates back hundreds of years:
“You can go to a different church every week and different pub every night”
…because both types of establishments are plentiful within the small space.
Haunted hotels in York
Appropriately, we dined for lunch at The Red Lion pub, allegedly the oldest and most haunted pub in the area! 👻
There are – by many accounts – lots of haunted hotels in York.
The Red Lion’s owner Becci Turner turned out to be a lovely young Aussie (we are everywhere!).
She verified “strange happenings” for the first few months after she took up lodging upstairs at the pub. But, she said it has all settled. They’ve “come to an understanding”.
Shopping and exploring
We discovered many carvery shops and even old cobblestone lanes that used to be filled with butchers stores (mostly now tourist shops); meat was big business around here.
Even more amusing were the delectable (to non-Vegans of course) looking meat stores on the old Viking Street of ‘The coopers/wood and barrel workers’ – how appropriate, Cooper does love his meat!
There was another pub called Cooper’s Place – evidently ‘coopers’ (barrel and tub makers) were very important to the Vikings and also residents throughout medieval times.
Can’t go past a bit of history in amongst beer and a bite to eat.
Aside from churches and pubs there are many amazing Viking exhibitions and museums, Roman wall walks and all sorts of cool events on year-round in York. Set yourself up with a schedule before visiting.
It’s quite extraordinary, being from Australia, and wandering the streets of cities that exist amongst fascinating historical ruins and relics. I do somewhat envy those locals who probably take it all for granted.
It’s been sunny and warm lately – almost, dare I say it, Aussie-like! We’re gearing up for the big Europe trip and taking advantage of our last few days in London, and so today finally ventured to the ‘other end’ of the Overground line to Richmond. What a beautiful part of the world this is! I’d urge visitors in London to take a ride to this region on the river. Elegant homes, cute pubs by the water, quaint shops, the gorgeous Kew Gardens (stop prior to Richmond) and a short bus ride to the delightful Hampton Court Palace, one of Henry VIII’s favourite haunts… well it was back in the day, but perhaps he’s still ‘haunting’ there, who knows? ;-) I must say, I was looking forward to my visit to this palace, and it didn’t disappoint. Unlike The Tower of London which can be a bit creepy (although I love that too), this place is bright, magical and maintains a regal air about it. It’s easy to imagine Queens wandering around the lavish rooms, up and down the staircases, through the famous outdoor maze…
Travel tip: When we first moved to London I invested in a Royal Palaces membership card which not only provides some funds towards the upkeep of London’s lovely old properties, but allows unlimited entry into the likes of Kensington Palace, Kew Palace, The Tower of London and Hampton Court. Brilliant value for money, and offers many options for nice days out.
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