As royal wedding excitement hits fever pitch, we explore the London borough the newlyweds will call home
Words Chantal Borciani
Flanked by the verdant acres of Hyde Park and a stone’s throw from walks along the River Thames, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea is a much-loved leafy corner of the capital with a rich history winding back centuries.
Its royal connections can be traced back to 1689 when King William III chose it as his residence, and today Kensington Palace remains the jewel in the borough’s crown.
The birthplace of Queen Victoria in 1819 and her residence until her ascension to the throne in 1837, the palace brims with exhibits, artefacts and original features. Nowhere is quite as ensconced in the modern royal fairytale; the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge reside in a 20-room apartment in Kensington Palace, while former residents include Diana, Princess of Wales and Princess Margaret.
Nottingham Cottage, Prince Harry’s two-bedroom abode is also located in the grounds and was the setting for his romantic proposal to Meghan Markle. While Nottingham Cottage may be out of bounds, visitors can tour public wings including the King’s Gallery, which looks almost exactly as it did when it was decorated for King George I in 1725, with a mix of red damask and opulent carvings and walls bearing some of the finest paintings in the Royal Collection.
The Cupola Room is the most ornately designed room of the State Apartments and was the first royal commission of William Kent, the artist and designer who would go on to decorate the rest of the interior of the palace. For a touch of modern history, the spectacular exhibition of Princess Diana’s dresses runs until February 2019.
After roaming the historic hallways, Kensington Palace’s splendid grounds await. Once part of Hyde Park, the broad pathways of Kensington Gardens lead across the open greens to much-loved attractions, including the 150-year-old Italian water garden, the iconic bronze statue of Peter Pan and Diana Memorial Playground. The seven-mile Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Walk, which crosses to neighbouring Hyde Park’s Diana Memorial Fountain, also passes through Kensington Gardens and marks favourite locations associated with the princess during her lifetime.
Avenues of trees radiate from the Round Pond, leading to the different corners of the parkland. To the west of the Long Water, the Peter Pan statue stands adorned with rabbits, squirrels, mice and fairies, while to the south the Albert Memorial stands proudly on the horizon. For art lovers, the Serpentine Galleries are set either side of Serpentine Bridge and display contemporary art and work by pioneering practitioners, with previous exhibits by Andy Warhol and Damien Hirst. Each summer, the gallery commissions an architect who has not previously built in the UK to design a temporary pavilion for the lawn in front of the Serpentine.
After working up an appetite in the gardens, lunch stops are plentiful. Head to South Kensington and farm-to-fork eaterie, Bumpkin, where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge treated 27 members of their staff to Christmas lunch. For retail therapy, the King’s Road in neighbouring Chelsea is favoured by young royals, including the Duchess of Cambridge, and Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie. The road was built for King Charles II in 1694 and remained private until 1830 for use exclusively by the monarch, but today it offers a mix of designer boutiques, restaurants and high street stores.
A hub for the arts and humanities for decades, Kensington is known as London’s museum quarter. The Natural History Museum is not only one of London’s most spectacular buildings – its changing exhibits are also world-famous.
Victoria & Albert Museum
The Victoria & Albert Museum, housing a permanent collection of 4.5 million objects, sits just across the road and is a bastion of another quintessential English tradition: afternoon tea. Served in the Morris Room, the menu features sweet and savoury delicacies from the Victorian period, such as Mrs Beeton’s cucumber sandwiches, Indian ham sandwiches and fruit sconelets.
Alternatively, make time to go to the Milestone – a luxurious bolthole a stone’s throw from the gates of Kensington Palace and Gardens – to feast on exquisite teatime treats in the hotel’s Cheneston’s Restaurant, the Park Lounge or the Conservatory.
The hotel stands on the site of the former Kensington House, which was occupied by a Commissioner of Excise under William III in 1689, and today its neo-gothic architecture and individually designed bedrooms are considered some of the best in the borough, with the superior queen rooms enjoying views across to the palace.
When evening falls, head to the Royal Albert Hall. The amphitheatre on the South Kensington border is a mecca for opera, ballet and reams of musical events, and has held the Proms concerts annually since 1941.
For dinner, nip across to royal favourite the Goring, in Belgravia – the hotel where the Duchess of Cambridge stayed with her family the night before her wedding to Prince William. The hotel’s Michelin-starred Dining Room serves refined British dishes in the elegant chandelier-lit dining room – the perfect way to toast a royal weekend in the capital.
Meghan and Harry’s Story
Harry and Meghan are first spotted together Christmas tree shopping in London. By this stage, they had been dating for several months, having been introduced by a mutual friend in the July of that year.
Meghan attends Pippa Middleton’s wedding reception as Harry’s date, cementing her role as Harry’s significant other in the eyes of the world.
Meghan appears on the cover of Vanity Fair, confirming that she and Harry are very much a couple and in love. “Personally, I love a great love story,” she declares.
The couple make their first official public appearance at the Invictus Games in Toronto,
of which Harry is a patron. Under the watchful eye of the world press they are openly affectionate with each other.
The couple announce their engagement at Kensington Palace. Just hours later the BBC broadcasts an interview in which they reveal details of the proposal. “It was so sweet and natural and very romantic,” Meghan said.
Meghan also displayed her stunning engagement ring, which Harry designed, incorporating some of his late mother’s diamonds. Harry said he included his mother’s jewels as he wanted “to make sure that she’s with us on this crazy journey together”.
The couple attend their first royal engagement together in Nottingham. The couple visited
a World Aids Day charity fair and met members of Full Effect – an organisation set up to tackle youth crime.
6 March 2018
Meghan is baptised into the Anglican Church ahead of her wedding to Harry.
12 March 2018
Meghan joins Harry and other members of the Royal Family, including Her Majesty The Queen, at the Commonwealth Day Service at Westminster Abbey.
19 May 2018
The couple marry at St George’s Chapel in the grounds of Windsor Castle.