Christmas in Kensington

For culture, crafts, and Christmas shopping, we head to Kensington to find intellectual experiences and gifts galore

Treat yourself to a stay in Kensington this December, for a spot of Christmas shopping and festive experiences to get yourself into the seasonal spirit. Uncover the story of The Holland Park Circle, explore historic residences Leighton House and Sambourne House, or pop into Japan House’s fascinating Ainu Lives exhibition to discover this indigenous people as told in their own words.

With plenty of unique shops and independent stores to browse, Kensington is the perfect spot to pick up some unique gifts for loved ones, before refuelling with wine and cheese at The Drop, or a sparkling festive afternoon tea at elegant The Milestone Hotel.

The Venetian Suite at The Milestone Hotel, Kensington

Where to Stay:

The Milestone Hotel
Named for the streetside ‘mile’ stone, which graces the pavement to this day, this hotel celebrates a long and captivating history. Expect an effortless blend of the contemporary and charmingly classic, from original marble flooring in this Grade-II listed building, to walls covered in finely embroidered fabric, antique artifacts, and calming colour palettes in many of the 55 unique bedrooms.

Elegant and luxurious, dine at the hotel’s Cheneston’s restaurant, named for an early spelling of ‘Kensington’, before retiring to Stables Bar, once home to King Henry VIII’s steeds. While the jostling horses and stalls are long gone, you can almost feel the energy still thrumming within its walls, which boast elegant wood panelling, tartan, shining stirrups and tack. With a range of delicious cocktails to choose from, each served with flair, as well as wines by the glass and spirits, get chatting to knowledgeable Bar Manager Angelo Lo Greco and his team and you’ll soon have whiled away a very pleasant evening.

Kensington’s Leighton House Image Dirk Lindner

What to See:

Leighton House
The former home and studio of leading Victorian artist, Frederic, Lord Leighton, this slice of Victorian history will surprise and delight with its vibrant colours, contrasting interior styles, and ambitious Arab Hall. Designed as a studio, gallery and entertaining space first, and home second, the story of this award-winning artist and his role in popularising British art is deftly told through the spaces he used to inhabit.

A visit wouldn’t be complete without a trip downstairs to discover The Holland Park Circle, a community of creatives populating the area from the early 1850s, before a visit to the gift shop for unique textiles, festive ornaments and baubles, stationary, coffee table books and other artisan pieces.

Continue on to nearby Sambourne House for an illustration of Victorian life in the home of Punch cartoonist Edward Linley Sambourne.

Ainu Stories at Japan House
Well worth a visit, this stunning exhibition tells the stories of the Ainu people of southern Hokkaido in northern Japan. Sensitively compiled, discover a range of traditional items and contemporary worked crafts alongside intimate video interviews with members of the Ainu community. Each focused on a facet of their culture – from dance and crafts, to hunting and foods – it explores historic aspects as well as what it means to be Ainu today. Created in collaboration with the people of Biratori, this is a fascinating insight into the little known lives of this indigenous people of Japan.

The Shop at Japan House Kensington Image by Lee Mawdsley

Where to Shop:

Japan House
Celebrating its fifth anniversary this year, this one stop shop for all things Japanese in London is a treasure trove of inspiration and awe. With an extensive programme of events and exhibitions, from traditional woodcarving and cookery demonstrations, to films and festive workshops, this cultural hub brings the best of Japan to Kensington. 

Gift ideas abound, with a wide range of functional yet aesthetically pleasing products on display. Consider Japanese stationery, inks and washi (paper), kitchenware made by prominent artisans, or matcha, sweet treats, and rare Japanese whiskies.

Design Museum
A visit to Kensington wouldn’t be complete without a stop at the Design Museum, currently showing REBEL: 30 Years of London Fashion and Skateboard alongside its permanent collection and free displays. It’s a great spot to grab a bite to eat or pick up unusual gifts from one of its three shops, from fashion and design books, prints and pictures, to design-themed games, homewares, ornaments, and curiosities.

The Drop, Kensington – wine bar and bottle shop

Where to Refuel:

The Drop
Opened last year, this relative newcomer offers a wide range of Old World wines alongside a smattering of carefully-sourced bottles from the US and New Zealand. A wine bar and bottle shop, owner Dom is well-versed in recommendations for a range of palettes and price points, as well as boasting an impressive knowledge of Greek grape varieties. Enjoy a glass of wine perched at the bar with a selection of cheese or charcuterie, or grab a table and settle in for the evening with a bottle (or two!) and some dishes from the short yet tempting food selection. 

Afternoon Tea at The Milestone Hotel
After a busy day of festive shopping, return to The Milestone Hotel; the perfect place to relax, unwind, and rest weary feet. Given a suitably seasonal upgrade, enjoy afternoon tea served in the elegant Park Lounge, replete with festive greenery, Christmas trees, baubles galore, and a roaring log fire. 

Expect a traditional tea experience and generous selection of black and herbal teas to choose from, with suitably festive fancies from tender turkey sandwiches to chestnut choux buns and chocolate orange bavarois, all served alongside scones with lashings of jam and clotted cream.

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