This Self-Guided Hyde Park and Kensington Walking Tour will take you through beautiful Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, past a posh royal palace, past picturesque and free art galleries, before finishing at the best museums London has to offer. Take this walk at a leisurely pace and enjoy the gardens – consider renting a boat on the water, enjoying an ice cream, and visiting the art galleries. Plan your trip so you’ve got plenty of time to take in the museums at the end – all of which, of course, are free!
Exit MARBLE ARCH STATION take the Pedestrian Subway to the roundabout where MARBLE ARCH stands.
Built in 1827 by esteemed architect Sir John Nash (who also laid out Regent’s Street), the Marble Arch was originally supposed to be an entrance to Buckingham Palace, and it was first placed outside the Palace when it was constructed – where the famous balcony at the East Front of the Palace is today. In 1851, Buckingham Palace was expanded and the arch was moved to its current location. Traditionally, only members of the Royal Family and the Royal Horse Artillery are allowed to pass under the Arch!
Leave the Marble Arch Roundabout and into the park. Cross over CUMBERLAND GATE and come to the corner of HYDE PARK. As soon as you enter, you will be standing at SPEAKERS CORNER.
This north-easy point of Hyde Park has been a popular place for public speaking since the 1800’s. Any member of the public can speak here, however, police can intervene if the speech is said to be “unlawful” or “profane.” Today, most speakers here are preaching on religious and political matters, both topics having actually caused riots to break out here in decades gone past. Notable Speaker’s Corner orators include Vladmir Lenin, George Orwell, and Karl Marx, just to name a few.
Follow one of the paths through Hyde Park – keeping an eye on posted maps as you go to keep you in a southwest direction. Soon you will come to THE SERPENTINE.
Created by Queen Caroline of Ansbach, wife to King George II in 1730, this beautiful recreational lake has a surface area of 16.2 hectares and marks the boundary between Hyde Park and Kensington Garden. The Serpentine today is visited by the public who come here to feed birds, take pleasure boats along the water, or even swim in the summer months. During the London Olympics, the Serpentine was the venue for the men and women’s triathlon and marathon swimming events. Think about grabbing a drink at the cafe here and enjoy your walk along the water!
Keep heading west along the water until you get to CARRIAGE DRIVE, which will allow you to cross the water. Turn LEFT onto the bridge, then make a RIGHT when you see the SERPENTINE GALLERIES.
Here are two contemporary art galleries, located a short walk from one another. Both museums are free and have a constantly-changing schedule of various pieces and exhibitions, both inside and outside their buildings. The original Serpentine Gallery was established in 1970 and has held works by people like Andy Warhol, Gustav Metzger, Jeff Koons, Man Ray, etc.
The second gallery was opened in 2013 and is located inside a former gunpowder store from 1805.
Continue walking through the park in a north western direction. You will soon come to the Round Bond, and just beyond this pond is KENSINGTON PALACE.
The side of the Palace facing the pond features a marble statue of Queen Victoria (actually carved by one of her daughters) who was born here on the 29th of May 1819. The Palace was built by King William III and his wife Queen Mary II in the 1680’s and much of the work seen today was completed by noted architect Sir Christopher Wren (who also designed St. Paul’s Cathedral).
In the 1990’s, Kensington Palace became home to Diana, Princess of Wales and her sons on her divorce from Prince Charles and it was here that Diana was living when she was killed in Paris on the 31st of August 1997. Many people will recognise the golden front gates of the Palace as the location for millions of flowers and tributes (reaching over 5ft deep) that were placed here shortly after her death.
On a happier note, it is here at Kensington Palace that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, William and Kate, live with their son, George (and soon-to-be baby number 2, as of writing). The palace is open to the public, but the quarters of the royal-couple are completely off-limits.
Once you have explored the grounds – or indeed the palace itself – position yourself with your back to the marble statue of Queen Victoria. Turn RIGHT and walk down the path you are standing on (THE BROAD WALK) until you get to the edge of the park. Turn LEFT and walk until you reach the ALBERT MEMORIAL and ROYAL ALBERT HALL.
Commissioned by Queen Victoria as a tribute to her late husband, Prince Albert, the Albert Memorial was opened in 1872 by the Queen herself. The Memorial is 176 ft tall (54 m) and was built at a cost of £120,000 – which is the same as over £10 million today! It took ten years to complete the structure, which depicts a seated golden Prince Albert, under a canopy and surrounded by statues that represent the areas of the globe (Asia, Africa, America and Europe) as well as arts and sciences (agriculture, commerce, engineering, and manufacture). To provide a base for the gigantic statue, the gardens here were dug up and filled in with a series of stone and brick arches to support the Memorial, which was then covered up and relayed with grass, leaving no trace of the huge work that was undertaken here.
The figure of Albert is facing your next stop.
One of the most famous concert venues in Europe, the Royal Albert Hall opened to the public in 1871, and quickly became one of the most high-profile musical venues in the country, hosting more than 350 events every year. The Hall is named after its’ founder, Prince Albert (husband to Queen Victoria) who never lived to see the completion of the Hall, having died in 1861. Today the Hall holds various events including concerts, Cirque du Soleil performances, film premieres and the BRIT awards. It is possible to tour the Hall with a paid-for-guided-tour but it’s free to simply walk around the entirety of the outside.
The inscription that runs around the top of the Hall is a dedication that reads: This hall was erected for the advancement of the arts and sciences and works of inSelf-guided Hyde Park and Kensington tour Albert Halldustry of all nations in fulfilment with the intention of Albert Prince Consort. The site was purchased with the proceeds of the Great Exhibition of the year MDCCCLI. The first stone of the Hall was laid by Her Majesty Queen Victoria on the twentieth day of May MDCCCLXVII and it was opened by Her Majesty the Twenty Ninth of March in the year MDCCCLXXI. Thine O Lord is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty. For all that is in the heaven and in the earth is Thine. The wise and their works are in the hand of God. Glory by to God on high and on earth peace. …whew!
Walk AROUND the Royal Albert Hall to the back, where you will see a wonderful statue of Prince Albert himself. With the statue and the Hall behind you, go down the steps. Turn left onto PRINCE CONSORT RODE. Walk until you come onto EXHIBITION ROAD and turn RIGHT. This road will take you straight to the SCIENCE MUSEUM, THE V&A MUSEUM and THE NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM.
You will come to the Science Museum first, on your RIGHT. This is a family favourite. A lot of the exhibitions here are hands-on, which makes an awesome interactive experience. You’ll see the world’s oldest steam locomotive, the first jet engine, and even an IMAX theatre showing science and nature documentaries.
With the Science Museum to your RIGHT, the building to your LEFT is the Victoria & Albert Museum – the world’s largest museum of decorative arts and design and currently holds over 4.5million objects! Our personal favourite is the “Britain” gallery that has artefacts relating to the history of Britain – including an entire Jacobean room that has been rebuilt inside the Museum. From music instruments to statues, fashion to history, the V&A has it all – as well as a rotating collection of fantastic exhibitions.
Along the main road and attached to the Science Museum is the Natural History Museum. Gemstones, extinct animals and even a MOVING T-Rex dinosaur, the Natural History Museum is packed with fascinating pieces from all over the world. Check out a cutting of one of the largest trees in the world and stand in the shadows of dinosaur skeletons before checking out a collection of spiders and butterflies, then take a walk through the solar system or get up close with a gemstone collection that rivals the Queen’s!
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