A simple route highlighting the architectural masterpieces in the museum district of west London.
Distance 2.5 miles (4km)
Minimum time 1hr
Level of difficulty Easy
Paths City pavements
Landscape Busy city centre
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 173 London NorthTQ 269788; South Kensington tubeTQ 254784; Earls Court tube
Dog friendliness Four-legged friends won't enjoy this one
Public toilets None on route
1 From South Kensington tube cross Thurloe Street and turn left into Exhibition Road. Cross the road at the traffic lights. On the right-hand corner is the Victoria and Albert Museum. On the opposite side of the road sits the splendid Natural History Museum. The walk continues along Exhibition Road past the Science Museum, on the left, followed by Imperial College (for science, technology and medicine).
2 Turn left into Prince Consort Road, which is home to the 600 students of the Royal College of Music. If you see some oddly shaped rucksacks and bags, they probably belong to a musician or student at this school, which provides courses for performers and composers. In the concert hall sits an organ donated by the composer Hubert Parry, who taught here, as did Charles Villiers Stanford and Ralph Vaughan Williams.
3 Half-way along Prince Consort Road, on the right, there are some steps that lead up to the Royal Albert Hall, with its familiar red-domed roof. At the top of these bear right to reach the main road, Kensington Gore. Cross this at the traffic lights for a closer look at the Albert Memorial, only recently restored to its former glory in Kensington Gardens.
4 Retrace your steps back to the Royal Albert Hall. With the building on your left, continue along Kensington Gore, past the rather dull exterior of the Royal College of Art (in marked contrast to the decorative Estonian Embassy behind it), until you reach Queen's Gate. Turn left past the Gore Hotel and cross Prince Consort Road. On the left is the other end of Imperial College and soon you'll see the wildlife garden of the Natural History Museum, behind the railings where Queen's Gate meets Cromwell Road. Continue ahead, still on Queen's Gate, then take the first right into Stanhope Gardens, which then becomes Harrington Gardens. At the end of the road turn left, then soon right, into Bramham Gardens, to reach Earls Court Road. To visit the fascinating West Brompton Cemetery, turn left here, to Old Brompton Road, then go right. Otherwise turn right, to reach Earls Court tube.
This walk captures the spirit of the Great Exhibition of 1851, which was organised by Prince Albert, the Queen's Consort. The exhibition was so successful that it inspired him to establish a permanent centre for the study of the applied arts and sciences. He proposed that some of the profits from the exhibition should be used to buy land in South Kensington. The result was the world-class concentration of museums in South Kensington, and Imperial College. Although this is a relatively short walk you can easily spend a day here if you visit any of the museums.
The Victoria and Albert Museum is regarded as one of the world's greatest museums. As it has more than 7 miles (11.3km) of galleries, it's hard to know where to begin. It's best to take your time and wander around slowly.
The neo-Gothic architecture of the Natural History Museum is extraordinary. Designed by Alfred Waterhouse, it uses the decorative terracotta that was so fashionable in the Victorian era to full effect. A series of lion sculptures also feature in the design.
The Science Museum is less impressive outside - even some of its staff say that it resembles 'a small Selfridges'. In the early stages it was an odd collection of wooden buildings. The chief architect, Sir Richard Allison, had been asked to maintain the strictest economy in the new construction, which was built on a grand scale, as was the rambling hulk that is Imperial College.
The restoration of the Albert Memorial is one of English Heritage's most ambitious conservation projects to date. The memorial, which was stripped back to its cast-iron core and totally rebuilt, took four years to restore.
All the museums mentioned have either a café or restaurant. The Victoria and Albert Museum's restaurant serves wine and beers, and all dishes are made from fresh ingredients. The Victoria Brasserie, accessed from Door 2 of the Royal Albert Hall, has a buffet.
The Earls Court Exhibition Centre began life as a triangular-shaped, outdoor arena. It was the venue for the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show, an extravaganza that coincided with Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee. The show included 100 North American Indians, most of who had never before ventured outside their native reservations. The show was so popular that the Queen requested a performance at Windsor Castle before it went on tour to Europe. One reviewer at the time wrote 'It is new, it is brilliant, it is startling, it will go!' The present building opened in 1937 and was designed by the Detroit architect C Howard Crabem, who had made his name designing theatres all over North America. In nearby West Brompton Cemetery are the graves of two of the North American Indians who died in Britain after coming over to perform in the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show. One was Chief Long Wolf who died at the age of 59.