Bordered to the south by Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, to the west by fashionable Notting Hill and to the east by Marylebone, Bayswater has long been one of London’s most cosmopolitan areas.
Besides long-time British residents, there is a large Arabic population towards Edgware Road, a Greek community attracted by the Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Moscow Road, as well a number of American families attracted by the relative proximity to the American School in St John’s Wood.
The area suffered a degree of bomb damage during World War I, but still has some attractive streets and garden squares lined with stucco terraces, mostly now subdivided into flats.
Property ranges from very expensive apartments in new developments such as The Lancasters, with superb southerly views across Hyde Park and amenities every bit as sophisticated as those of its contemporaries in upper-crust Knightsbridge, to small studio flats interspersed with bed and breakfast hotels, for which the area used to be synonymous. As a consequence of the bomb damage there are also a number of purpose-built apartment blocks.
The biggest landowners in the area are The Church Commissioners, who have embarked upon a programme of reinvestment around Connaught Village, which is becoming one of the capital’s more fashionable shopping destinations.
Streets such as Porchester Terrace offer a mix of period townhouses with well-maintained gardens. Queensway and Westbourne Grove are the busiest shopping streets and offer a wide range of ethnic cuisines in their inexpensive restaurants.
Belgravia is notable for its immensely expensive residential properties. The district sits to the west of Buckingham Palace and is bounded to the north by Knightsbridge and to the west by Chelsea. Most of the land on which it sits is still owned by the Grosvenor Estate, whose careful management of the area helps to maintain its unique character.
The key to Belgravia’s charm is its changes of scale, from minute and charming mews homes in their cobbled cul-de-sacs, through low-storeyed terraces, to the gleaming grandeur of the set pieces of Belgrave Square, Eaton Square and Chester Square.
Yet despite its unchanging air of confident prosperity, the area has changed considerably. Almost exclusively residential, following careful management by the Grosvenor Estate, central Belgravia now benefits from some excellent independently owned neighbourhood shops in Elizabeth Street and Motcomb Street (also home to the area’s lone supermarket), which it has developed as retail zones to service the needs of local residents.
Many of the houses around Belgrave Square are home to embassies, and all but a handful of the buildings on Eaton Square have been converted into grand apartments. In pretty Chester Square, by contrast, the majority of the buildings remain as single private residences popular with a global elite.
Chelsea, home to the annual Chelsea Flower Show, is an area bounded to the south by the River Thames. Its northern boundary is more difficult to define: it merges into Knightsbridge and South Kensington, but it is safe to say it stretches as far as Fulham Road, with its myriad bars and restaurants on the stretch known locally as “The Beach”. Nowadays Fulham Road is far smarter (and quieter) than Chelsea’s main artery, the King’s Road, which is home to a wide range of high street stores. To the west is Chelsea Harbour, and to the east Lower Sloane Street forms the boundary with Belgravia.
The area, made famous in The Swinging Sixties, has a self-contained air. It has its own department store (Peter Jones on Sloane Square), almost a way of life as much as a supplier of goods. You need not leave the area to be fed or entertained; restaurants abound, and it has its own acclaimed theatre (the Royal Court) and is home to the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (based at the Cadogan Hall). Away from the King’s Road, Chelsea keeps the villagey ambience that Fulham and such places aspire to but never quite attain.
Even as a rural village, the area was a magnet for the wealthy and today it offers a wide array of elegant garden squares, pastel-painted terraces, elaborate mansion blocks and a handful of superb Georgian houses, some of which overlook the river.
Although Chelsea lacks a tube station, they surround its borders, and the neighbourhood boasts some excellent private schools.
Some of the largest family houses in central London are to be found in Holland Park. Ironically, many of them were built in the 1840s as speculative developments, but were ultimately too large and had to be divided up and sold off as flats, only to be redeveloped in the past 10 years as the single homes they were always intended to be. They also tend to have large gardens unknown of in other parts of London, which attract those with young families.
An array of excellent shops, particularly around Holland Park Avenue, has grown up to service affluent local residents and there are excellent public transport links to The City as well as easy access west to Heathrow. There are a number of excellent private schools in the neighbourhood.
Aside from the Royal Parks, Holland Park itself is the largest green space in central London and offers an array of sporting facilities. It is also home to a highly regarded open-air opera festival each summer.
Sandwiched in roughly by the open space of Holland Park to the west and by the gardens of Kensington Palace to the east (where houses in Kensington Palace Gardens or “Millionaire’s Row” can change hands for more than £100 million), Kensington is bordered to the north by Notting Hill and by Cromwell Road to the south.
A scattering of excellent schools draw families to the area; the museums of South Kensington are nearby; the Royal Albert Hall is a hub of major cultural events; and Holland Park hosts a well-respected opera festival, all of which create a lively community spirit hard to match elsewhere in central London.
The focus of the area is Kensington High Street, voted one of the nation’s best shopping streets (and home to the organic Whole Foods Market), to the north of which lies The Phillimore Estate, a grid of elegant homes varying in size from substantial to enormous, which is the jewel in Kensington’s crown. Slightly less formal are the homes in the pretty tree-lined streets at the top of Campden Hill heading towards Notting Hill, such as Campden Hill Square, Sheffield Terrace and Bedford Gardens.
To the south of the high street are a number of red-brick mansion blocks (purpose-built Edwardian flats) as well as pretty streets of substantial houses such as Cottesmore Gardens and Victoria Road.
In recent years there have also been a number of exclusive new developments in Kensington, from Earl’s Terrace, which was the redevelopment of an entire terrace of Georgian houses, to The Phillimores, Wycombe Square and Thornwood Gardens on Campden Hill, all of which provide secure environments with concierge and underground parking. Forthcoming developments include those at De Vere Gardens and Holland Green are set to raise the bar higher still.
Knightsbridge is, and always has been, a truly international destination. It is notable as an ultra-expensive residential area, the world-class designer boutiques of Sloane Street and of course department stores Harrods and Harvey Nichols.
Recent developments such as 199 Knightsbridge and One Hyde Park, touted as the most expensive residential address in the world, have only added to that reputation. But as well as these ultra-prime new-build developments, Knightsbridge also offers a range of period houses and flats that are amongst the most desirable in London.
The area around Cadogan Square and Lennox Gardens has its own distinct style of red-brick architecture, where elegant apartments overlook pretty gardens. The continued ownership by the Cadogan Estate of the land on which this area sits has ensured careful management of the area to preserve its historic character.
Meanwhile, just south of busy Brompton Road, Knightsbridge’s main through-route, lay the white stucco houses of Egerton Terrace and Egerton Crescent, which sweeps around a semi-circular private garden, long reckoned the neighbourhood’s smartest addresses.
And just around the corner, Walton Street, a busy little thoroughfare between Knightsbridge and South Kensington, is a mix of upmarket shops, restaurants and pretty terraced houses. As with other neighbourhoods in this part of London, there is a huge diversity of styles.
Maida Vale and Little Venice form a wholly residential district that is spacious, well-ordered and decidedly popular. It is strategically placed for the main routes north and west out of town as well as the Paddington Express trains to Heathrow Airport, which take just 15 minutes.
The large cream stucco houses around the Regent’s Canal (on Blomfield Road and Maida Avenue) are still the area’s biggest single homes, and the smartest. This leafy waterside neighbourhood, alongside the canal and the pretty triangular pool where it meets the Paddington Canal, is known as Little Venice.
Overall, Maida Vale is a rich mine of nice flats, big and small, old and new. What you won’t find here are the usual rows of small terraced houses. The wide roads and spacious layout makes for exceptionally light and pleasant flats with leafy outlooks, especially since many of the avenues of tall white terraces and red-brick mansion blocks conceal shared gardens totally unsuspected by passers-by.
Mayfair is famous in the popular mind as the most expensive property on the Monopoly board. It is the place to look if you need a mansion. It is one of the few places in central London where the really wealthy can find an extremely large house with staff quarters, impressive reception rooms and garaging for several cars. Equally, however, it offers tiny mews houses and small flats, as well as everything in between.
Neatly bordered to the north by the capital’s main shopping street, Oxford Street, to the east by Regent Street, to the south by Piccadilly, which separates it from St James’s (which has a flavour all of its own), and to the west by the open space of Hyde Park, Mayfair offers street after street, square after mews, of houses built in every architectural style between 1700 and 2000, large mansion blocks and serviced apartment buildings.
It has quiet corners and bustling thoroughfares, but as a broad generalization, further west is smarter and quieter. And much of it still retains a village-like feel, despite its proximity to Oxford Street and hosting the nation’s most exclusive shopping street, Bond Street, home to the flagship stores of international fashion labels known the world over.
Mayfair is also undergoing something of a renaissance. In the years after the War, large tranches of the district were given over to commercial office space and the area had a somewhat unlived-in feel. This is now changing as the Grosvenor Estate, the area’s biggest landowner, is converting buildings back to residential use. Similarly, Mount Street has been revitalized as one of the capital’s premier shopping streets
The area also boasts some of London’s finest hotels (The Connaught, Claridges and The Dorchester); its most fashionable restaurants (Scotts, Alain Ducasse and Sketch); as well as private members’ clubs (5 Hertford St, Birley’s, Annabels and The Arts Club).
Known previously as the location for the annual Notting Hill Carnival, the Portobello Road market and as the setting for the 1999 film starring Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant, Notting Hill has come a long way since the 1970s, when large swathes had fallen into poverty and disrepair.
Historically, the wealthy and respectable lived on top of the hill in family houses backing onto delightful communal gardens, which nowadays are one of the area’s biggest attractions, while the poor and unconventional (two quite different types, divided by wealth) lived at the bottom.
These separations no longer apply. Its contemporary reputation is fashionable and affluent. Its streets are lined with pastel-coloured Victorian townhouses; and high-end shops and restaurants abound, particularly around Westbourne Grove, the neighbourhood’s heartland. But it still clings on to its arty, bohemian reputation stemming from its first development in the 1820s, free of the formality of neighbourhoods such as Belgravia just a couple of miles to the south.
Pembridge Square and Dawson Place are home to some of the area’s largest and most expensive detached houses, along with those in Clarendon Road, which like those in Lansdowne Crescent and Elgin Crescent benefit from access to the beautiful communal gardens hidden behind the pretty facades.
The area is home to some excellent schools and the Central Line provides easy access to The City.
Regent's Park is the one major exception to London's careful avoidance of large-scale civic planning. Architect John Nash, the designer of Buckingham Palace who conceived the startling scheme for the Prince Regent in 1811, designed each of the grand terraces of houses around the perimeter of the park, the Outer Circle, to appear like a single palace set in a glorious garden landscape.
The Crown Estate still owns all the freeholds of the graceful stucco terraces, and the area benefits from its careful management. Whilst many of the terraces have been converted into flats, some remain as houses. Those in Hanover Terrace benefit from their own private west-facing gardens. Nearby, Cornwall Terrace, the oldest of the terraces on the western side of the park, has just been the subject of a multi-million pound restoration programme to create 9 new homes, the most expensive of which sold recently for in excess of £100 million. There are also a scattering of superb villas within the park itself.
Whilst it is difficult to define the boundaries of South Kensington precisely, it is generally considered to be that surrounding the underground station of the same name and also that of Gloucester Road.
Part of South Kensington is rather institutional, housing the Natural History Museum, The Science Museum, Imperial College, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Royal College of Music and The Royal College of Art. However, it is also home to some quiet and graceful garden squares such as Thurloe Square and Onslow Square (nowadays made up of some large and impressive lateral apartments), and one of the gems of the Wellcome Trust Estate (which still controls larges swathes of the area), Pelham Crescent. Elegant white stucco terraced houses sweep in a semi-circle around leafy private gardens, which screen the Victorian crescent from Brompton Cross, a fashionable area of shops, bars and restaurants. Stretches of black iron railings, columned porches and Victorian street lamps complete the scene.
To the north of Cromwell Road the buildings, now almost exclusively converted into flats, offer proportions that are almost impossible to find other than in Belgravia. Here though, the atmosphere is much more relaxed; the French Lycée attracts international residents to the area, which gives it a diverse and distinctly European flavour.
Further west, the buildings change to red-brick, the majority of which comprise flats overlooking some pretty communal gardens. The Boltons Conservation Area, where handsome stucco villas are set round an eye-shaped garden with a church at its centre, is home to some of London’s wealthiest residents.
Currently undergoing significant regeneration, Victoria is a vibrant neighbourhood in the heart of the capital, buzzing with new retail outlets and restaurants, whilst also being home to many internationally renowned companies and brands. It forms just part of the wider neighbourhood of Westminster, which is also home to a wealth of cultural attractions including Tate Britain, Westminster Abbey, the Palace of Westminster (more often referred to as the Houses of Parliament) and a host of government ministries that line Whitehall. Hidden away from its main thoroughfares can also be found some of London’s finest streets of Queen Anne and Georgian houses. And for respite there is pretty St James’s Park, essentially the Queen’s front garden, which is leafier than Green Park, with the added bonus of a lake and pelicans.
There are excellent transport connections from Victoria Station, with train services for Gatwick Airport and the south, as well as London Underground connections east and west (District and Circle Lines) and north and south (Victoria Line). Pimlico, Westminster and St James's Park also have their own underground stations, and there are jetties too for the river taxis travelling the Thames to the City and Canary Wharf.
So whilst it may not be thought of as a residential neighbourhood, it is becoming ever more so as new developments continue to spring from the ground, and residents from its more expensive neighbour Mayfair look for cheaper opportunities here. Consequently politicians are being replaced by hedge fund managers, entrepreneurs and business people.