When you try to pack all of London’s attractions into just 96 hours, every minute counts. My minutes were quickly ticking away, on my final morning in the city, with just hours to go before I needed to leave for Heathrow. The southwest corner of Kensington Gardens (half of the area better known as Hyde Park) was just a short walk from my hotel, but after four nights, I still hadn’t made it there. So, I got up early, and went for a walk.
A pair of London’s famous red phone booths stood at the entrance to Kensington Gardens. Despite the growing use of cell phones, you can still find quite a few of these old pay phone booths around the city.
From the entrance on Kensington High Street, it’s just a short walk to…
Kensington Palace dates back to the 1600’s. Throughout its history, it has been popular as a residence for royals who wanted to live close to the city, but not in the middle of the pollution that once plagued London. Back then, Kensington was just a small village on the outskirts of London — but of course, these days it’s very much in the middle of things.
Kensington Palace is the official royal residence for several royals — including a few you’ve probably never heard of, unless you follow the royal family closely. A few of the more familiar names also call Kensington Palace home, including William and Catherine. The beloved Princess Diana also lived here, before her death.
During my visit, rain showers took away some of the splendor of the palace. And, since I was visiting so early in the morning, with so little time to spare before my departure, I wasn’t able to tour inside. Parts of Kensington Palace are open to the public.
Leaving the palace, I headed north. The drizzle had turned into a pretty steady downpour, but I was determined to see as much of the park as I could, before calling it quits. So, I took refuge under this pavilion, which features a clock and the inscription, “Time Flies”. I watched the rain fall for a few minutes, while thinking about how time was, indeed, flying by. Before long, I decided to brave the rain again.
Southeast of Time Flies, I reached the edge of the Round Pond…
… a small lake that was popular with a few swans and other birds, all of whom didn’t seem to mind the inclement weather. I’m sure the pond would have been more beautiful on a clear day, but not today. I hid my camera from the rain and continued my walk, towards the north side of the park.
In the middle of the park, on the north side near Bayswater Road, I discovered the Italian Garden. There are several fountains…
… and some ancient-looking sculptures here, at the end of The Longwater — the lake that stretches south. About halfway through the park, the lake curves, and the lower half is known as The Serpentine. The lake divides Kensington Gardens (on the west side) and Hyde Park (on the east).
South of the Italian Garden, the shores of The Longwater are blocked off by a rusted fence. Continue to follow the path…
… to see one of Kensington Gardens’ most famous statues. It depicts Peter Pan — but not the Disney-fied version who fought Captain Hook. In 1906, J.M. Barrie published Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, which featured a much younger Peter Pan than the one who met up with Wendy in his later novel. The younger Peter Pan lived in Kensington Gardens with the park’s fairies and other magical residents.
I was getting drenched by rain when I arrived at the statue, and only pulled my camera out for a moment, to take a few quick pictures.
A bit further, I reached the bridge that marks the division between The Longwater and The Serpentine. Just beyond it…
… is the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain. It opened in 2004, and was is constructed to symbolize Diana’s life. Water flows from a high point in two directions, meeting again at the bottom of the fountain. It’s designed to be open and accessible, and allow the public to cross over bridges, or reach in and touch the flowing streams.
Unfortunately, I found out the fountain is only open and accessible during certain hours. I was too early, and the gates wouldn’t have been unlocked for a few more hours. So, I had to be satisfied with a view from a distance.
The Princess Diana Fountain is located at the edge of The Serpentine. I took one more look at the pond, then headed south, following West Carriage Drive down to the road that parallels Kensington Road, but lies within the park.
To the east of Carriage Drive, you could take a walk along Rotten Row — a wide horse path that, during the 18th and 19th centuries, was a fashionable place for upper-class Londoners to hang out. (The name is not meant to suggest that rich folks are rotten — rather, it’s a loose translation of “King’s Road” in French.)
Just to the south of Rotten Row is the site of the Great Exhibition. It was the first World’s Fair, held in 1851, in an elaborate building known as the Crystal Palace. Unfortunately, the Crystal Palace no longer exists. After the exhibition, it was moved to another London park and reconstructed. In 1936, it was destroyed in a catastrophic fire.
As I headed back towards Kensington High Street and my hotel, I made a stop at one more attraction in Kensington Gardens. The Royal Albert Memorial stands in memory of Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, who died of typhoid in 1861. The statue of Albert faces south…
… allowing the Prince to gaze out at Royal Albert Hall, the distinctive round building that serves as a venue for music and other cultural performances. Albert had envisioned a performance hall to be built, for the appreciation of the arts and sciences. It was completed 10 years after his death. In its 140+ year history, it has hosted an incredible range of performers, from Rachmaninov to Jay-Z.
Time had run out. All that was left was for me to walk down Kensington Road, back into the High Street Kensington neighborhood and to my hotel, pack up my belongings, and hop on the tube for one last ride to the airport. And wouldn’t you know, when I got back to my hotel, I looked out the window, and the sun was shining, the sky was blue. It was going to be a beautiful day in London, but I was just as happy to have walked through the rain.