One of London’s most historic—and poshest—areas is also home to some of its least-known gems. Craig Taylor explains its enduring appeal, and Sarah Miller shares its best addresses.
Most Londoners rarely have cause to visit Knightsbridge. But most can recount stories of the curious things that happen there—tales of old money mixing with new, of rich wives keying their neighbors’ Bentleys during “an alleged parking rage incident,” of Russian oligarchs and Saudi royals and all the colorful excess their lifestyles entail. Last year, two men were spotted smoking a hookah while sitting on folding chairs in the middle of Brompton Road. Blond, jodhpured women on horseback clip-clop down Rotten Row in the mists of early morning, while afternoon tea at the Rembrandt commences, a little ontheearlyside,at 2:30p.m.
To outsiders, even pausing in Knightsbridge can feel like a luxury (that afternoon tea for two can cost nearly $100). Travelers looking to replace a suitcase could leave Harrods with a model featuring “crocodile trim details” for $55,818. It’s an area that can seem covered in shining surfaces, peopled by mannequins in Vuitton and Burberry. Beyond the glitz, though, you’ll find some of London’s most characterful shops, whether you’re in the market for antiquarian maps or the best chocolate this side of the Channel.
Lately, Knightsbridge has also attracted—some say at long last—the star chefs of the world, who are offering up an unexpected array of old-school English cuisine: pig’s trotter at Pierre Koffmann’s restaurant Koffmann’s; pigeon pie at Pétrus; a liver parfait christened “meat fruit” at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal. For those looking for a more relaxed dining experience, from modern Middle Eastern to a great British steak, the options are varied, as our guide proves.
Knightsbridge was not always a monied place. Back in 1780, in William Thornton’s survey of London, the district was unspectacular, apart from the pubs—“a village a little to the east of Kensington, with many public houses and several new buildings lately erected, but none of them sufficiently remarkable to admit of particular description.”
Much as in William Thornton’s day, the area’s pubs remain an attraction in their own right. Often tucked away on side streets, these are institutions far removed from the exclusivity of Knightsbridge proper. The Grenadier, on Wilton Row, brings in lovers of military history, and is supposedly haunted by a man beaten to death for cheating at cards. No matter: previous violent death can’t take away from its charm. The walk home should be savored. Wandering Knightsbridge is a particular pleasure. Look upon the beauty, and wonder at the curious contrasts that define it.—Craig Taylor
Three restaurants not to miss.
This stylish take on a traditional French brasserie is Sloane Square’s ultimate spot to see and be seen. Join well-groomed locals for steak frites and a bottle of Château Margaux. entrées $11–$38.
The new Knightsbridge outpost of this favorite East End steak house serves beef from ethically raised native breeds and seafood from around the British Isles. entrées $27–$49.
This small, all-white deli from Jerusalem-born chef Yotam Ottolenghi sells vibrant, locally sourced salads and unusual flatbreads—perfect for a picnic in Hyde Park. entrées $5–$14.
The Perfect Pint
Step back in time at these beloved pubs.
Set on a Belgravia side street, this 1720 building is known as one of the most haunted pubs in Britain. Reports exist of various ghostly goings-on, but that hasn’t deterred such customers as Madonna and Prince William from bellying up to the bar and enjoying a pint or two.
This quintessentially British pub was built in the 1820s and specializes in traditionally fermented, or “real,” ales. Its name refers to tradesmen who campaigned against plans to demolish the site; today it’s populated by friendly area residents.
Our picks of the area’s indie boutiques.
This unique store from designer Maureen Doherty, in a tiny mews house, sells off-beat, deconstructed dresses and separates. 36 Kinnerton St.; 44-20-7235-9315.
Founded in 1907, the shop is London’s oldest antiquarian map specialist; it received a Royal Warrant in 1920. Its enormous collection attracts both cartography connoisseurs and curious amateurs.
Philip Treacy is the preferred local milliner in hat couture. Famous for their iconic, often whimsical qualities, Treacy’s hats have been spotted on everyone from pop stars to members of the royal family.
A true London original (its only other branch is in New York City), this little shop is renowned for its books on interior design, architecture, and the decorative arts. It also has a great selection of rare and antiquarian titles.
Eric and Lin Van Peterson’s quirky gold and silver pieces, many embellished with semiprecious stones, are beloved by the likes of Poppy Delevingne and Charlize Theron.
He’s been voted Britain’s Best Chocolatier four times by the Academy of Chocolate. Visit the store on the weekend and you’ll find Curley himself at the dessert bar.
Old meets new in the Knightsbridge art scene.
This is where Charles Saatchi now shows off his personal collection in 70,000 square feet of exhibition space in the beautiful Duke of York’s headquarters on King’s Road. It opened its new space in 2008 with a sensational show of Chinese art, but it also regularly stages touring exhibitions such as a recent one on Hermès.
Since it opened, in 1970, this former tea pavilion in Hyde Park has exhibited art-world titans from Man Ray to Jeff Koons. Each June it also becomes one of London’s most high-profile party venues when it launches its annual architect-designed pavilion. Past designers have included Ai Weiwei, Herzog & de Meuron, and Frank Gehry; this year’s 15th anniversary pavilion is by subversive Spanish architects SelgasCano.
Serpentine Sackler Gallery
The Serpentine's offshoot opened in September 2013 and lies across a lake from the main gallery. Zaha Hadid oversaw the renovation and expansion of the 200-year-old gunpowder store, which also includes a modern British restaurant, shop, and event space, all framed by an undulating white canopy.