Kensington Gardens is one of the eight Royal Parks in the UK’s capital city. It spans 265 acres and contains a host of attractions that are must-see and make for excellent photo opportunities.
The area is formal in its appearance, with painstakingly cultivated flower beds, gardens and the ever-popular Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Playground. With regards to these and the large range of other attractions, Kensington Gardens is the ideal place to visit, have a picnic, bring your children, or have a romantic walk with your loved one.
Open from 6am until 5:45pm, you’ll be able to enjoy both sunrise and sunset, depending on which time of year you decide to visit the gardens. The people who are responsible for Kensington Gardens are members of the Executive Agency of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
Explore Kensington Park and The Royal Gardens
The Royal Parks association helps to manage and preserve Kensington Gardens and a total of over 5,000 acres of historic parkland across the entire city. Their work helps to improve conservation areas and habitats for the wildlife who live in these parks.
But, it’s to the attractions of Kensington Gardens that we now turn our attention, and first on our list is…
The Albert Memorial
The Albert Memorial is one of the most ornate structures, not only in Kensington Gardens but in London in general. Designed by George Gilbert Scott, it was unveiled in 1872 and you’ll find it on Albert Memorial Road opposite the Royal Albert Hall, which makes it very easy for you to find on any map or GPS.
It was built to commemorate the death of Prince Albert, which was caused by typhoid fever. He was Queen Victoria’s husband and passed away at the young age of 42.
Although it’s generally known as the Albert Memorial, its official title is the Prince Consort National Memorial and it celebrates Albert’s passions and interests, which is why it’s such an ornate structure.
To learn more about it you can take a guided tour of the Albert Memorial, which take place on the first Sunday of the month between March and December. There are two tours per day, one at 2pm and one at 3pm, they cost one set price each and a reduced rate for concessions.
The Peter Pan statue
JM Barrie, the author of Peter Pan – one of the most famous stories across the globe – commissioned Sir George Frampton to build a statue of the boy who never never wanted to grow up.
Built in 1902, it was erected in Kensington Gardens a decade later, and that is where it stands to this day, to the west of the Long Water area of the park.
The statue not only features Peter Pan, but it also depicts him surrounded by squirrels, rabbits, mice and fairies, all of which are bronzed to create one large woodland scene.
This is a fitting place for the statue of Peter Pan as JM Barrie used Kensington Gardens as inspiration for the novel. In fact, Peter flies out of his nursery to land on the Long Water, and it’s on this exact spot that the statue stands.
The Arch by Henry Moore
Henry Moore was one of the most influential English sculptors and artists thanks to his semi-abstract monumental bronze sculptures.
Moore’s sculptures are on public display all over the world, but it is The Arch that graces Kensington Gardens with its presence.
Henry Moore presented The Arch to the public in 1980 where it sits on the north bank of the Long Water, not far from the Peter Pan statue.
The Arch is six metres high and is made from seven travertine stones that weigh a total of 37 tonnes. The stones were originally sourced from a quarry in northern Italy and although they were disassembled in 1996 to improve their structural stability, they are now safely on display thanks to a successful restoration.
Queen Victoria Statue
As this is a Royal Park, it’s befitting that there are several Royal statues and landmarks scattered through its sprawling lawns. One of these such statues was designed by Princess Louise – the Duchess of Argyll – and it depicts her mother, Queen Victoria.
Upon the plinth, Queen Victoria is captured wearing her coronation robes in 1837, when she was just 18 years old.
Queen Victoria was born in Kensington Palace and grew up there until she was summoned to become queen. Now she resides over the grasses of Kensington Gardens, striking an imposing and solemn Royal character.
Physical Energy Statue
Not every attraction and statue in Kensington Garden has its roots in English history and the Physical Energy Statue is one among these.
Installed in the park in 1907, it commemorates Cecil Rhodes, who was a diamond miner and the founder of Rhodesia – which is now the contemporary Zimbabwe.
Created by George Frederick Watts, the statue is a reproduction of the memorial to Cecil Rhodes, that resides on Table Mountain in Cape Town.
Rhodes was a bright spark in the history of Rhodesia, who used his money to try to extend the British Empire in Africa. This came good after his death when Britain took control of a large area of the Transvaal following the end of the Boer Wars.
Close to Lancaster Walk and Budges Walk in Kensington Gardens is another foreign influence – this time, it’s the Speke Monument. It was built for John Hanning Speke by Phillip Hardwick who was the designer of the original Euston Railway Station in the city of London.
Installed in 1866, the monument commemorates an explorer who is credited with the discovery of Lake Victoria and who led expeditions to the source of the River Nile.
John Hanning Speke died in 1864 under suspicious circumstances as he was shot by his own gun, but his success at finding the source of the Nile lives on today.
We’re back to the land of make-believe now with the Elfin Oak, which is a great attraction for families, or those who have a vivid imagination.
This is a sculpture made from the hollow trunk of an oak tree – originally from Richmond Park – and features carvings of fairies, elves and woodland animals.
Designed by Ivor Innes in 1930, the sculpture was given to Kensington Gardens by Lady Fortescue in an effort to improve facilities in the Royal Parks. It sits alongside the Princess Diana of Wales Memorial Playground.
Music fans will also appreciate that the Elfin Oak starred on the inside cover of Ummagumma, a 1969 album by Pink Floyd.
These gates are to be found at the south end of West Carriage Drive of Kensington Gardens. Bronze-painted and made of cast iron, they are worth a few minutes of your attention.
Keen photographers will appreciate the intricacy of the ironwork that melds nicely with the stonework of the pillars.
They were made by the Coalbrookdale Company for the Great Exhibition of 1851 and were designed by Charles Crookes.
Each of the gates was cast in one iron piece and the finials support a crown, which represents peace.
Queen Anne’s Alcove
Standing beside Lancaster Gate is Queen Anne’s Alcove, which was made in 1705 by Sir Christopher Wren. Another Royal representation in the park, this alcove sets the southern boundary of the Queen’s formal south garden.
Originally the alcove stood against the park wall at Dial Walk, to the south of Kensington Palace, but it was moved in 1857 by a London builder by the name of Mr Cowley who found its appearance unpleasant.
Now, it isn’t used for anything of note, other than in photos, but in previous years it has been used as a garden shed.
Prince Albert unveiled the Jenner Statue in 1858, and it was built in the same year by William Calder Marshall.
Its first home was not Kensington Gardens either, as its unveiling took place in Trafalgar Square and it remained there until 1862, when it was moved to the Royal Park.
The man who is the subject of the statue is Edward Jenner, who was the doctor who invented the smallpox vaccine.
Originally from Gloucestershire, Mr Jenner lived from 1749-1823, but now he is immortalised in bronze.
Queen Caroline’s Temple
Looking across the Long Water towards Peter Pan and east of Lancaster Walk, Queen Caroline’s Temple sits as a beautiful, classical style summer house.
Although this monument was built for the Queen between 1734-1735, it’s also important to remember that the Long Water was also created for her.
Credit for the building of the monument goes to William Kent, but work has been added to it continuously as it is always receiving new graffiti, some of which dates back to when the park was first open to the public in 1821.
For a time the monument was converted into a home for the park keeper, but it has since been restored and makes a particularly stunning sight on a summer evening.
King William III statue
You need to add another Royal statue to your must-see list, this time it depicts King William III and it was designed in 1907 by H Bauke.
A large, bronze statue, it was originally presented to King Edward VII for the nation of Britain by his nephew, Kaiser Wilhelm II.
Rumour has it that King William III chose to live at Kensington Palace rather than at Whitehall because it was better for his asthma.
Kensington Gardens Bandstand
You’ll find the Kensington Gardens Bandstand to the south of the Round Pond in the park; it was designed by J Markham of the Office of Work and installed in the park in 1931.
This was not the first bandstand to be installed in the park, however, as a previous one was set in Kensington Gardens in 1869 near Mount Gate. This was later moved to Hyde Park in 1886, which is where it continues to remain.
Music has been played at this bandstand from 1855, ever since the reign of Queen Victoria, and you can still enjoy music there today – just check if there are scheduled events first!