Things to do in West London, UNITED KINGDOMMAP
Traditionally the domain of the capital's rich and famous, West London's attractions include world-class museums, shopping, galleries, entertainment and even a royal palace.
Start your visit with West London's biggest and best museums, conveniently situated next to each other on South Kensington's Museum Mile.
The Science Museum is devoted to industry, technology and science and attracts over 3 million visitors a year; the Victoria & Albert Museum teaches you about all things fashion and style; and the Natural History Museum, in the striking Waterhouse Building, is probably the best museum of its type in the world. Combine these three attractions for a great day out.
These stand-out things to do are complemented by West London's other places to visit. For entertainment, you could hardly do better than the Royal Albert Hall and Wembley Stadium. For art, the Saatchi Gallery. For shopping, Harrods department store and Portobello Road. For natural beauty, Kew Gardens is a short train ride away. And for history, the home of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (aka Wills and Kate), Kensington Palace.
Here's our selection of the best 10 things to do in West London.
1. The Science Museum
The Science Museum, situated close to the Natural History and Victoria and Albert museums in south Kensington's museum district, is a great family day out.
Arranged over seven floors, with 30 galleries displaying around 300,000 items, the Museum attracts about 3 million a year, making it the country's fifth most visited attraction.
The Science Museum's most interesting galleries are:
- Flight (where you will see the world's best preserved Antoinette monoplane and a Gypsy Moth),
- Making the Modern World (where you can find the Puffing Billy, Stephenson’s Rocket, a Model-T Ford and Crick and Watson's DNA model),
- the Energy Hall (complete with a number of functioning engines, including the large Corliss steam engine),
- Exploring Space (with a piece of moon rock and a host of rockets, satellites, space probes and landers, notably the Apollo 10 Lunar Module),
- Energy—fueling the future (the Museum’s latest interactive gallery),
- Launchpad (with over 50 hands-on exhibits aimed at 8-14 year olds),
- Who am I? (a fun interactive gallery that looks at the brain and genetics), and
- Antennae (explaining how the latest scientific advances will change lives).
Information Age: Six Networks That Changed Our World, one of the newest galleries, was opened by Her Majesty the Queen on 24 October 2014 (by sending her first tweet!). The gallery is divided into six sections: the cable, the telephone exchange, broadcast, the constellation, the cell and the web.
Exhibits include an old-fashioned telephone exchange (where operators had to physically connect cables to put calls through) and Tim Berners-Lee's first internet server (complete with post-it note saying 'Do Not Disconnect'!).
The Science Museum's latest gallery is Mathematics: The Winton Gallery. This Zaha Hadid designed space looks like a cross between a wind tunnel and a cryogenics laboratory: built around a 1919 Handley Page aircraft, it certainly brings maths to life.
The museum is also home to an IMEX cinema, several simulators and high quality temporary exhibitions (currently 'Mission to Mercury' and 'Superbugs: the Fight for Our Lives').
Toddlers and children under six will have fun exploring The Garden, a small soft-play area found in the museum's basement.
Amenities include a large shop selling science-inspired souvenirs and gadgets, four cafes and the Deep Blue Diner (a waiter-service family restaurant).
The Science Museum is West London's best family day out.
when? Open 7 days a week from 10 am to 6 pm except 24-26 Dec.
2. The Natural History Museum
With more than 70 million specimens, housed in the breathtaking Waterhouse building, the Natural History Museum is home to the largest and most important natural history collection in the world.
The museum's collection is arranged into four galleries: the red zone (whose exhibits include 'earth lab', 'restless surface' and 'from the beginning'), the green zone (which includes displays on birds, creepy crawlies and minerals), the blue zone (which houses dinosaurs, reptiles, fishes and mammals) and the orange zone (where the wildlife garden and new Darwin centre are located).
Move aside Dippy!
The museum is currently undergoing significant renovation works, which have seen the 105-foot long replica Diplodocus skeleton in the main hall replaced by a 4.5-tonne, 126 year-old skeleton of a blue whale (pictured).
The reason for the change is to emphasise conservation: blue whale numbers plummeted to a few hundred in the 1960s, but have now recovered to about 20,000.
Particular highlights from the Natural History Museum's collection are:
- the blue zone's dinosaurs, and in particular a moving and roaring 25-foot replica of a Tyrannosaurus rex (pictured),
- the 10 tonne, 25-metre long replica blue whale found in the large mammals hall,
- the Volcanoes and Earthquakes gallery, with the Natural History Museum's famous earthquake simulator,
- the new Treasures Gallery, displaying dinosaur teeth, an emperor penguin egg collected by Captain Scott's Antarctic expedition, a first edition of Charles Darwin's 1859 work On the Origin of Species, and the skull of the now extinct Barbary Lion.
The Natural History Museum's Christmas ice-rink opens between October and early January each year (£12.65 for adults; £8.80 for children).
The Museum's current exhibition is Life in the Dark. Running until 8 January 2019, this exhibition introduces you to creatures that thrive at night such as bats, cave boas and the Mexican blind cave fish!
The Natural History Museum is West London's top attraction for children.
when? 10 am to 5.50 pm, seven days a week (not 24-26 December)
£$€¥ Free to enter. The temporary exhibition costs adults £11.50 each (accompanied under 16s go free).
3. The Victoria & Albert Museum
The Victoria & Albert Museum is the world's leading museum of design and fashion.
Its collections are spread over seven levels, occupying 51,000 square metres, in an impressive Aston Webb designed building on south Kensington's museum mile.
The V&A's 145 galleries are arranged around five major themes: Asia, Europe, Materials and Techniques (eg ceramics, contemporary glass, fashion, furniture, jewellery etc), Modern and Exhibitions.
The most famous of the Museum's two million exhibits include
- the 10.5 x 5.3 metre Ardabil Carpet (produced in 1539-40, with 26 million knots, and widely recognised as the finest Persian carpet in the world (pictured)),
- the 1590 10 x 11 foot Great Bed of Ware (made famous in Shakespeare's plays),
- the Orchid and Heanage Jewels (the latter given as a gift by Elizabeth I in 1595),
- five of Leonardo da Vinci's notebooks,
- Adam Ant's Prince Charming Costume and a catsuit worn in 1972 by Mick Jagger,
- the 1903 Cartier Manchester Tiara,
- Wedgewood's 1790 Portland Vase, and
- an 11-metre high Chihuly glass chandelier in the Museum's entrance hall (pictured).
This year the Museum's major exhibitions are Lustrous Surfaces (until 16 September 2018) and The Future Starts Here (until 4 November 2018, showcasing 100 projects shaping the world of tomorrow).
The Museum also boasts three excellent cafeterias (don't miss the main cafe, housed in a series of opulently designed rooms) and gift shop.
The Victoria and Albert is the place to visit for all those who consider themselves stylish!
when? Daily 10am to 5.45pm (10pm on Fridays). Closed 24-26 Dec.
4. Wembley Stadium
West London's Wembley Stadium is the most famous sporting venue in the world.
Rebuilt between 2002 and 2007, the new stadium’s defining characteristic is a 133 metre-high arch which replaces the old stadium’s twin towers.
The new stadium, designed by Foster & Partners, cost £757 million. It contains 166 executive suites, and has a capacity of 90,000 for most sports and 105,000 for concerts.
Sporting and other events
Wembley hosts the finals of the FA and League Cups, and the Community Shield, each year. It also hosted the 2013 finals of the Champions League and the 2012 Olympic Football competitions, together with England’s home football matches, and other sporting events including the rugby league Challenge Cup final and NFL’s International Series.
The most famous match to be held here was England's 4-2 victory over West Germany in the 1966 World Cup Final (attendance: 96,924).
Wembley is also the venue for the country's largest music concerts given by acts such as Queen, Take That, Oasis, U2, Coldplay, The Killers and Robbie Williams.
Visitors can watch a match or concert, or take the Footsteps of Legends Tour. This 75-minute experience visits the changing rooms, pressroom, stands, royal box and 107 steps which winning sides climb to collect their trophy.
Wembley Stadium is the best thing to do in West London for those who love sports.
Wembley's other attractions include the Wembley Arena (a 12,500-seater world famous music venue which has hosted the Beatles, Rolling Stones, ABBA and Bob Dylan), and the London Designer Outlet (where you can get big discounts on highstreet fashion brands and aspiring new designers). You should also check out the intricately carved Neasden and Ealing Road Temples.
The town is connected to the Stadium the 50-metre Marks Barfield designed White Horse Bridge.
where? Wembley Stadium, Wembley, West London HA9 0WS. Closest transport links: Wembley Park Station (Jubilee and Metropolitan lines), Wembley Stadium Station (Chiltern line) and Wembley Central Station (Bakerloo line and London overground train line). MAP
when? The Wembley Stadium tour can be taken Monday to Saturday, 10am to 5pm, except on match days. Advance booking is highly recommended.
£$€¥ Tours cost £19 for adults and £12 for children. A family ticket (2 adults and 2 children) costs £54. Tickets for England matches generally range from £25 to £100.
5. Kew Gardens
Visit Kew Gardens, in south-west London, to see the world’s largest collection of living plants situated in over 300 acres of botanical gardens and glasshouses.
With over 300,000 species in all, Kew was awarded UNESCO world heritage status in 2003.
The Palm House
The best known of Kew’s glasshouses is the iconic Victorian Palm House. Built in wrought iron between 1844 and 1848, this curvaceous 110-metre long structure rises to a height of 66 feet at its central dome and contains 16,000 panes of hand-blown glass.
The Palm House recreates a rainforest climate and houses banana, rubber and cocoa plants, mango, starfruit and jackfruit trees and the African oil palm, double coconut palm and rare Madagascan triangle palm.
Kew Gardens boasts a number of other impressive glasshouses:
- the waterlily house (Kew’s hottest environment, displaying the large Victoria cruziana—giant waterlily—in its large central pond),
- the temperate house (the largest surviving Victorian glasshouse in the world, housing plants such as lemon and lime trees, tea bushes and a 58-foot high Chilean wine palm),
- the modern alpine house (specially built in 2006 to draw in cool air), and
- the bonsai house (home to a number of 150 year-old specimens).
Lakes, pagodas and more ...
Also found in the grounds are a number of lakes, pagodas (Sir William Chambers’ 1762 Great Pagoda is the most famous), temples, arches and gateways, together with over 20 different formal gardens (for example the Japanese, rock and rose gardens).
The Treetop Walkway and Hive
One of Kew's recent additions is a 200-metre aerial treetop walkway. At a height of 18 metres, the walkway allows visitor to study the ecosystem of the forest canopy. Unsurprisingly, it is also a hit with children.
Another new attraction is The Hive, a 17-metre tall recreation of a bees' hive made of 170,000 aluminium parts and 1,000 LEDs. This multi-sensory experience allows visitors to understand the secret lives of bees.
May 2019 saw the opening of Kew latest attraction for children: a huge playground to the north of the estate called The Children's Garden.
Kew has a number of coffee shops and eateries. The cafes are good value and, perhaps unsurprisingly, have committed to using eco-friendly ingredients and packaging. The Orangery's self-service restaurant is well-appointed, but gets very busy and serves average food; better to bring a picnic.
2019 sees Kew host a major Chihuly Glass exhibition, entitled 'Reflections on Nature': but you'll have to walk around the grounds to check out Dale Chihuly's vibrant blown-glass.
As Kew Gardens is about 45 minutes from central London, a full day should be allowed to make the most of your visit. A day out at Kew Gardens is a must for nature lovers.
where? Kew Gardens (aka The Royal Botanic Gardens), Kew, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 3AB. Tel: +44 (0)20 8332 5655. Email: email@example.com. Closest stations: Kew Gardens (district line and overground) and Kew Bridge overground station. MAP
when? 9.30 am to between 5.30 and 7.30 pm depending on time of year, seven days a week (not 24-25 December)
£$€¥ Adults: £18; Concessions: £16; children under 17 (with an adult): £6. (May 2019) A discount of £1.50 per ticket is available if you book online; you will also avoid the ticket queue!
6. The Royal Albert Hall
Opened by Queen Victoria in 1871, the Royal Albert Hall is a circular concert hall with a capacity of 5,272. It is predominantly used for classical music concerts.
The Hall is best known for holding the annual Summer Proms (or Promenade Concerts), an annual series of classical music concerts. It ends with the 'Last Night of the Proms', held on the second Saturday in September, which involves patriotic flag-waving to songs such as Land of Hope and Glory and Rule Britannia.
The Hall also hosts popular music concerts (by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Eric Clapton, Shirley Bassey and, more recently, The Killers), opera, ballet, sporting events (the tennis ATP Champions Tour Masters event has been played here since 1997) and other functions and ceremonies (the Queen, Churchill and Mandela have all spoken at the Hall).
Built by the Lucas Brothers predominantly of Fareham red brick in a design influenced by Roman amphitheatres, the Hall’s glass and iron domed roof is 135 feet high.
The exterior is notable for the mosaic frieze running around it depicting “The Triumph of Arts and Sciences”, whilst inside the Hall is finished in red velvet and contains the UK’s second largest organ (with 9,999 pipes and 147 stops).
Unfortunately, the acoustics of the Hall were not good, with it often being said that the Hall was the only place where “a British composer could be sure of hearing his work twice”.
This problem was not rectified until the installation in 1969 of fibreglass sound diffusing structures that resemble mushrooms or flying saucers (pictured).
The Albert Hall features in The Beatles song A Day in the Life and in the mocking wartime song, sung to the tune of the Colonel Bogey March, ‘Hitler Has Only Got One Ball/ The Other is in the Albert Hall'. In December 2015, medical records for Hitler were unearthed which revealed that he did have right-side cryptorchidism (or an undescended right testicle).
The Royal Albert Hall is a wonderful attraction for music lovers.
where? Royal Albert Hall, Kensington Gore West London SW7 2AP, United Kingdom. T. +44 20 7589 8212. Closest tubes: South Kensington (District, Circle and Piccadilly Lines) and High Street Kensington (District and Circle Lines). MAP
£$€¥ Tickets for proms start at £6.
Located on a five-acre site on the Brompton Road in Knightsbridge, Harrods is the world’s most famous department store.
Established by Charles Henry Harrod in 1834 as a humble greengrocers, Harrods now covers 1 million square feet of retail space over seven levels, making it the biggest shop in Europe.
Harrods has over 12,000 employees working in 330 departments, including jewellery, sporting gear, bridal, pets (which includes a pet spa), maternity, furniture, and musical instruments. Its motto is Omnia Omnibus Ubique, which means ‘All Things for All People, Everywhere’.
All people, that is, who can afford its luxury brands. In 2012, its revenue was £650 million, generated by 15 million visitors. Harrods is now owned by the Qatar Investment Group, having been sold by Mohamed Al-Fayed for £1.5 billion in 2010.
Visitors should dress smartly (you will be turned away if you are in Bermuda shorts, if you are showing midriff, if you are carrying large baggage, or if you are excessively sweaty!). Most people tend to wander around those departments that tickle their interest, with the beauty and Christmas departments and food halls being popular choices.
Harrods also offers over 30 eateries, and so you should stay for a bite to eat; our favourite restaurants are the Harrods Rotisserie, Bentley’s Sea Grill and the Steakhouse.
A visit to Harrods is a must for those coming to West London.
where? 87-135 Brompton Road, Knightsbridge, West London, SW1X 7XL, United Kingdom. T. +44 20 7730 1234. Closest tube: Knightsbridge (Piccadilly line). MAP
when? Monday to Saturday: 10am to 9pm; Sunday: 11.30am to 6pm.
8. The Saatchi Gallery
The Saatchi Gallery, now housed in the Duke of York’s HQ on the King’s Road, is a 70,000 square foot exhibition space devoted to contemporary art.
The Gallery was opened in 1985, after Charles Saatchi donated his collection of mainly American art, and has displayed the works of Andy Warhol, Damian Hirst, Lucien Freud, Tracey Emin and Donald Judd.
Today, the Gallery has no permanent exhibition save for Richard Wilson’s 20:50 (a used sump oil and steel installation), but its temporary exhibitions attract about 600,000 per year.
They are focused on work by unseen young artists or internationally acclaimed artists whose work has not previously been exhibited in the United Kingdom. The high-ceilinged exhibition spaces offer a great backdrop for the works of art on display, with the Gallery Mess restaurant, bar and café also highly rated.
The Saatchi Gallery is one of West London's undiscovered places to visit.
when? 10am to 6pm, 7 days a week.
9. Kensington Palace
Kensington Palace, found at the western end of Hyde Park, is a royal residence now home to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (aka Wills and Kate).
The building was constructed in 1605, with the royal connection dating from 1689, when William and Mary bought the property (then known as Nottingham House) and commissioned Sir Christopher Wren to improve it.
Both William and Mary died in Kensington Palace, as did George II in 1760. Thereafter the Palace has been used for lesser royalty, with more recent residents including Charles and Diana and the Duke and Duchess of Kent. The current inhabitants—the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, to give William and Kate their formal titles—spent £4.5 million renovating their 20-room apartment complex.
Kensington Palace's most popular attractions include the King’s State Apartments, in particular the Cupola Room (where Queen Victoria was christened in 1819), the Queen’s State Apartments (once used by Queen Mary II for relaxation), and the magnificent Sir John Vanburgh designed 1704 Orangery.
Outside, don’t miss the tranquil and secluded sunken garden. First planted in 1908, it features ornamental flower beds, ponds and fountains surrounded by a walkway of arched lime trees called the Cradle Walk.
The historic parts of Kensington Palace are open to the public throughout the year. The palace is also home to the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection, which displays ceremonial and court dress dating back to the 18th century.
Kensington Palace is a wonderful West London attraction for history buffs.
when? 10am to 5pm, 7 days a week.
£$€¥ Adults: £15; Children under 16: free if accompanied by an adult.
10. Portobello Road Market and Notting Hill
Portobello Road is a street in Notting Hill famous for its Saturday antique and clothes market and for being the setting of many of the scenes in the Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant movie Notting Hill.
Portobello started life as a fresh food market in the late 19th century, with antiques becoming the focus in the late 1940s. These days over 100 antiques dealers sell everything from glass and silver, to watches, books and crystal.
The Antiques Section is found from Chepstow Villas to Elgin Crescent, with fruit and veg between Elgin Crescent and Talbot Road, New Goods between Talbot Road and the Westway and fashion and second hand goods beyond.
Bargain hunting works up an appetite, and there is no shortage of stalls, cafes and restaurants offering coffee, snacks and light lunches. Arrive before 11 am if you want to avoid the worst of the crowds.
And watch out for the rich and famous who choose to live in Notting Hill. They include Bjork, Robbie Williams, Claudia Schiffer, Jamie Oliver, Stella McCartney and Damon Albarn.
The thing to do in West London for celebrity spotters and those that love the hubbub of a busy market.
when? Though the market is open every day except Sunday, Saturday is the best time to visit.