South Kensington is renowned for its world-leading cultural venues and is famed for extraordinary collections, great exhibitions and popular events but what about the hidden gems? Here are a few of our favourites.
The V&A is, of course, a popular stop in South Kensington, but with miles of gallery space, there's plenty of exhibits tucked away that are well worth a visit to see. Up on the third and fourth floors you can find one of the largest and most comprehensive glass collections in the world, tracing the history of glassmaking over the last 3,500 years. There's also the dazzling jewellery section, with over 3,000 jewels set in historical tiaras, Elizabethan pendants, ancient treasures, and contemporary designs. On your way of the Exhibition Road entrance, off the Blavatnik Hall is the stunning Ceramic Staircase which was designed by Frank Moody, a master in the Schools of Design, together with his students.
Over in the Natural History Museum, there are even more riches down in the Vault, including one of the biggest emeralds ever found, a Martian meteorite and an infamous cursed amethyst. And there are treasures of a different kind in the Cadogan Gallery, with its collection of 22 objects spanning 4.5 billion years with extraordinary glass animals, a rare first edition of Darwin's On the Origin of Species, a carved nautilus shell, and Guy the Gorilla. If you take the Spirits Tour you can go behind the scenes for a look at the Museum's fascinating zoology collection preserved in spirit. Explore some of the 27 kilometres of shelves and encounter, Archie, the 8.62-metre-long giant squid.
The Science Museum is a popular venue, but there are a few bits that plenty of visitors miss. The Secret Life of the Home is full of amazing and unexpected facts about household objects. And there's lots of fascinating films going on in the IMAX cinema including Mysteries of the Unseen - focusing on either too fast, too slow or too small for us to observe - and Hidden Universe, bringing our universe to life with real images of distant galaxies, the sun and Mars, taken by Hubble and the world’s most powerful telescopes. If you head to level 2 and explore the Clock Museum – here you can see the collection of more than 1000 watches, 80 clocks and several fine sundials tracing the story of the capital’s clock makers and the evolution of the wristwatch.
The Royal Society of Sculptors headquarters at Dora House have a year-round exhibition space open. Head along to take a look at a diverse range of contemporary sculpture and 3D art, as well as artist talks and workshops. There's also regular craft events on the Third Thursday of every month to introduce you to exciting new skills.
An often-missed venue on Exhibition Road is the Royal Geographical Society. There's often fascinating lectures and talks, but the gallery space with its varying free exhibitions of photography and art. Focusing on different places, people and cultures, these highlight aspects of the world you may not have previously considered.
Also just off Exhibition Road is Imperial College London, where you can find changing exhibitions, often curated by students and staff, in the Blyth Gallery.
At the Royal College of Music, you can enjoy a spectacular night at the opera in the College's stunning Britten Theatre - it is the stage upon which some of the best young singers in the world prepare for operatic careers, and it’s where you can listen to them in comfort for a fraction of the cost of a ticket to the Royal Opera House! Performances are usually held two or three times a year.
With over 600 acres, it's all too easy to miss some of the best bits of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. In the middle of the two, you can find the Serpentine Galleries, full of brilliant contemporary art, as well as the Serpentine Pavilion, which is designed anew each year and forms an art installation throughout the summer months. At the northern end of the Serpentine are the Italian Gardens, installed under the instruction of Prince Albert and restored to their original splendour in 2011. Or you could wander along the Serpentine to view the beautiful bronze Serenity statue or cool your feet in the Diana Memorial Fountain on a hot day.
The Institut français is home to Ciné Lumière, one of London’s most elegant cinemas within a grade two listed art deco building and a mecca for foreign film lovers as well as talks and events. If you are a student, you can catch a film for a fiver. Over at the Goethe-Institut you can also catch a film on the last Wednesday of every month.
The Ismaili Centre, part of an international family of Ismaili Centres, has one of London’s best kept secret rooftop garden and the interior reflects the magic of Islamic geometric design. You can book a tour by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Heading a little further afield, but well worth a visit, is the Leighton House Museum. In the 1860s the artist Frederic Leighton commissioned his friend, the architect George Aitcheson, to build him a showpiece house in Holland Park, which he filled with classical treasures from all over the world, as well as his own works and those of his contemporaries. The house itself is an architectural treasure trove.
If you are looking for somewhere to escape the bustle then visit the secret garden at the rear of Brompton Food Market. This is a great space for breakfast, lunch or dinner… and evening drinks! Or sit back and relax in the V&A's John Madejski garden with the outdoor cafe and oval pool that serves as a paddling pool to children during the summer months.
To follow one of our trails to discover more in South Kensington, click here.