The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea attracts hordes of visitors every year and tourism is a large income generator for the area. So what is it about those Chelsea attractions that draw in the crowds so eagerly?
A Brief History
Strangely, the age and lineage of the borough has been a little lost in terms of 20th and 21st century perceptions, but this is an ancient area full of interest. Chelsea was a small village in Saxon days, on the doorstep of what was, for a time, the largely abandoned Londinium. The origin of the name in Anglo-Saxon English tends to suggest it was a landing place on the river for chalk, although what is certainly clear is that by the later Saxon period, when London had become re-settled and was now growing, Chelsea was a small and probably relatively isolated village.
However, its proximity to the ever-growing London meant that isolation wasn’t going to last long, and by the Tudor period (1485-1603) Chelsea had become fashionable with royalty and nobility.
Both Henry VIII and Thomas Moore were associated with the area and those with power continued to be drawn here in later epochs as well. Charles II built the world-famous Royal Chelsea Hospital here and William and Mary moved into what became Kensington Palace to escape the ‘bad air’ of London.
Today, visitors coming to explore the many Chelsea attractions can see echoes of these past times in and around the borough, through exploring the old sites and buildings.
Literary and Trendy
For much of the 19th and 20th centuries, famous poets, artists, writers and philosophers made their homes in this area. This gave the borough a certain reputation for Bohemian lifestyles and, above all, an intellectual air. Tourists today can walk the same streets as Carlyle, Virginia Woolf, John Stuart Mill and J.M. Barrie and perhaps get a sense of what inspired them.
Of course, in the 1960s and to some extent earlier 1970s, Chelsea was the centre of the great ‘Swinging Britain’ phenomenon that swept the globe. Even today the area remains ‘trendy’, if in a less exuberant way than 50 years ago.
The Big Chelsea Attractions
Every year people are drawn to this lovely part of London to visit the great museums, the Albert Hall, Olympia and the Thames itself. This is conventional tourism but the sheer concentration of massive attractions all in one relatively small area means that visitors to the area are never going to be bored.
One last thing is worthy of mention: the atmosphere and ambience that can be enjoyed when strolling the streets of these two now joined areas. Unusually for inner-city areas, this borough has managed to retain a certain ‘village’ feeling to it. The streets are leafy and full of interesting little gardens and squares and it’s on the borders of some major parks and gardens.
It’s an entirely different world and one that’s very relaxing – the best of both worlds so to speak. It’s possible to walk the streets and escape the hectic London tourist lifestyle, and that fact is one of the Chelsea attractions that isn’t mentioned much but is very real and well worth experiencing.