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Royal seal of approval: explore England's capital from the sumptuous Kensington hotel

The Kensington London. Drawing Room
The Kensington London. Drawing Room
The Kensington London.
The Kensington London.
The Kensington London. Luxury Studio Suite Bathroom
The Kensington London. Knightsbridge Suite
The Kensington London. Knightsbridge Suite
The Kensington London. Knightsbridge Bathroom
The Kensington London. Knightsbridge Bathroom
The Kensington London. Kensington Studio Suite
The Kensington London. Bar
The Kensington London. Drawing Room
The Kensington London. Brompton Suite
The Kensington London.
Kensington Palace
Kensington Palace and Gardens
The Kensington London.

By Martin Breen

Over the past five years I have only been in London for work purposes, so I felt it was time to hit the tourist trail there.

My base for a recent weekend in the city was The Kensington hotel which sits in the heart of affluent South Kensington and within walking distance of some of London's top tourist attractions and shops. The district has been home to the monarchy at Kensington Palace since 1689 and the official 'royal borough' since 1901.

Harrods, Harvey Nicks and the many other top stores are not far away in Knightsbridge and Kensington High Street. Take a short Tube journey if you want to get to the shopping mecca that is Oxford Street, catch a show in the West End or explore the city centre.

But it is quite easy to just spend time in the local area, not just because the hotel is so amazing you won't want to leave, but attractions nearby include the Royal Albert Hall, the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum and The Victoria and Albert Museum, as well as Kensington Palace and Hyde Park.

When you arrive at The Kensington you feel like you are stepping back in time with its Victorian grandeur and will be amazed by the luxurious facade of the hotel, which is a collection of four 19th century townhouses.

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The Kensington London.

It feels like a beautiful private residence rather than a traditional hotel. Home to 126 rooms and 24 suites, each individually designed with elegant fabrics and custom furnishings to complement the hotel's period architecture, I was lucky enough to be staying in probably my favourite hotel suite of all time.

The Brompton Suite, one of their signature suites, offers the ultimate in London luxury and is the most beautiful accommodation I have stayed in while in the city. It had a separate living room, striking floor-to-ceiling windows, four-poster bed, antique furnishings, original artworks, spectacular 1930s Murano and Waterford Crystal chandeliers and a stunning bathroom with a free-standing Victorian roll-top bath.

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The Kensington London. Brompton Suite

Downstairs the Drawing Room is always a hive of activity, as it has become a favourite daytime hangout for its well-heeled west London neighbours to enjoy morning coffee. If you get the chance, try an elegant afternoon tea there.

Check out its elegant K Bar, with wood-panelled walls, mood lighting and smoky blue glass ceiling, for a great selection of drinks, some excellent creative and classic cocktails. You can also enjoy freshly made healthy juices in The Juicery.

The restaurant, focusing on fresh, seasonal, locally-sourced modern English cuisine, is made up of interconnected drawing rooms, bursting with natural light and overlooking Kensington's tree-lined avenues.

For starters I had superb south coast crab with apple and watercress on Guinness brown bread. The flavours worked together perfectly and as I thought I had already reached seafood heaven my amazing mains arrived.

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The Kensington London. Bar

When checking in, Carlos on the front desk recommended the grilled mixed fish with squid ink risotto. Admittedly it would not have been my first choice but I never pass on personal recommendations. When he told me he was from Italy I had high hopes for this classic Italian dish and he was spot on. The rich black risotto was probably the best I have tasted and worked so well with seafood including scallops, king prawns and halibut.

Even though I was stuffed I just had to try the dessert so polished off all that fine food with a crème brûlée served with home-made shortbread. Again this was a winner and the whole meal was faultless. I would definitely return there just to dine on the squid ink risotto again.

The following morning the traditional English breakfast was just what I needed after a few glasses of wine and beers. As with the night before, the food didn't fail to impress.

To walk off all those extra calories you are in the perfect location with the 242-acre Hyde Park just a mile away - or walk off the pounds on a shopping spree. The hotel also offers guests their own Kensington blue Pashley vintage bikes to explore the area, with the option of a picnic prepared in the kitchen.

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Kensington Palace and Gardens

You can also venture through Hyde Park and Kensington Park into Kensington Palace to see a selection of Princess Diana's clothes, showing the elegant fashion leader she became.

The Diana: Designing for a Princess exhibition explores the evolution of the Princess of Wales' innate sense of style in the display at her former London home.

An iconic piece from Diana's wardrobe complements original sketches created by designer David Sassoon. Her handwritten comments, added alongside her favourite designs, demonstrate the joy she found in fashion. The dress on display is the Evening Dress by Catherine Walker, which she wore to a state dinner in Bangkok, Thailand, in February 1988.

The dress is a subtle tribute to Thai Chakkrabhat, a national dress of Thailand, with an asymmetrical shawl detail. The colours reflect the lotus blossom, the flower of Thailand, a garland of which Diana also wore in her hair.

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Kensington Palace

Designs include a sketch for her going away outfit, worn to board the train for her honeymoon in 1981, and a playful tuxedo-style evening dress worn in 1989.

Also in the display is an annotated sketch for a white chiffon maternity dress which she wore when pregnant with princes William and Harry.

While Kensington is famous for its royal connections and a haven for high-end stores (the Lamborghini showroom is worth a nosey), try out the cool, trendy and alternative stalls and shops in Camden - around 30 minutes by Tube.

With over 1,000 stalls selling fashion, music, art and food (check out The Cheese Bar for an amazing selection of cooked cheese dishes including 'Britain's best grilled cheese') you can spend hours strolling around Camden Market shopping, eating, drinking coffee and people-watching. Other city attractions worth considering include London Zoo, the Tower of London, the Big Bus Tour, the London Eye, Big Ben (left) and Westminster Cathedral and the Houses of Parliament.

London Zoo in Regent's Park is home to 750 different species, making it one of the largest collections in the UK. It is also easier on the legs than Belfast Zoo because it isn't set on a hill!

Penguin Beach is a focal point. The spectacular enclosure, England's largest penguin pool, can house up to a 200-strong breeding colony.

The London Eye is worth a visit and like the Belfast Eye we once had outside City Hall, it gives a fresh perspective of some of the city's most famous landmarks at 443ft above the capital.

You should also try a cruise along the River Thames, as it gives you a chance to see Tower Bridge, the Tower of London, Westminster, Big Ben and other delights from an altogether different vantage point.

But there is so much to see and do, including an array of West End shows, that you can just keep going back.

After my most recent visit, London is most definitely still calling for me.

Travel factfile

Martin stayed at The Kensington. Rates start from £330 for a Classic Room. Check out www.doylecollection.com/kensington

For details on what to see and do in London, check out www.visitlondon.com

To book tickets for Kensington Palace, visit www.hrp.org.uk/kensington-palace/

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