Situated on the scenic River Thames, the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames is a picturesque place seeped in history, heritage, culture and character. It’s unique position, just 12 miles from central London and less than a half-hour train journey from London Waterloo station, makes this university town a convenient tourist spot.
For an insight into the laidback lifestyle that many in the South-West London suburb enjoy, visiting Kingston upon Thames in the English summer is a must.
Both local people and visitors stroll the riverside and the bridge, pack the many waterside eateries, and relax beside the beautiful River Thames, watching rowers, boats and small yachts glide along the glittering water.
Kingston upon Thames’ prime location means that it’s far away from the jam-packed streets of the English capital, yet close enough to go and experience the bustling London atmosphere if you would choose to.
Where to stay:
There are a number of chain hotels like the Travelodge, smaller boutique properties like the Antoinette Hotel and homely B&B’s such as the White Hart hotel, however, if you’re looking for a truly special stay with real charm and home comforts then opt for the Chase Lodge Hotel, providing a friendly guesthouse atmosphere with impeccable accommodation.
Chase Lodge Hotel
I spent two nights at the Chase Lodge hotel, and can genuinely say it was the best accommodation I’ve stayed in for a long time. As far as first impressions go, the Chase Lodge Hotel did everything well; from the warm welcome at reception, the characterful décor throughout and the kind gesture of complimentary tea/coffee and a cupcake, sat by a roaring fire (which all guests are offered on arrival), were all elements of what you would expect from a perfect break away from the stresses of every day life.
Rooms were clean, spacious and very inviting. The décor was antique-inspired with a touch of shabby chic, which, especially, made the en-suite twin room I stayed in that little bit more homely and snug.
Beds were comfortable, toiletries and fresh towels were replenished through housekeeping everyday, and best of all a TV with a selection of freeview channels as well as tea/coffee making facilities and generous storage space was all practically incorporated into the room – so there was no chance of getting bored or constantly needing to pop out to the coffee shop – especially convenient if the weather is not great during your stay.
This quintessentially British gem is located just a 10-minute walk from the riverside in Kingston upon Thames, in the Hampton Wick area. The train station and bus stops are just a 2-minute walk away, making the location of this pretty place ideal for visitors.
Another thumbs up goes to the friendly breakfast waiter and the breakfast itself, when guests can find a selection of cereals,, porridge, cheese, teas, coffees, yogurt, fruit and toast for a bright and healthy start to their day. With all the key ingredients of a grade A hotel, it’s no wonder that the Chase Lodge Hotel holds the number one spot on the TripAdvisor website for places to stay in Kingston upon Thames.
Things to see and do:
History, heritage, arts, culture, and contemporary leisure activities can all be found in and around Kingston upon Thames. Here are some of the best ways to spend your time, suitable for history buffs, shopping-lovers, culture-seekers and much more.
History: Though the borough’s history can be discovered in many ways, one being a visit to Kingston museum, the other fun and active way to explore the medieval market town’s past is on a Royal Walkabout Trail.
The route takes you to the Coronation Stone, which claims to be where England began and where the first seven Saxon Kings were said to be crowned. You’ll also get to see the remains of the first bridge outside of London to cross the River Thames and visit Lovekyn Chapel – the only remaining free standing chantry chapel in England.
Arts & Culture: Kingston has a thriving arts and culture scene with great local festivals and nightlife. Head for an evening at the Rose Theatre and watch spectacular performances from well-known West End actors. Art connoisseurs can visit one of the many galleries including; Market House Gallery, Fusion Arts and The Stanley Picker Gallery.
If you’re looking for a laugh then Kingston’s comedy clubs will provide just that. There’s three to choose from; Jongleurs, Comedy Store at the Rose Theatre and Outside the Box at the Fighting Cocks. Music-lovers have a great selection of nightclubs, bars, live music gigs and even classical concerts to choose from.
Shopping: A haven for shoppers, Kingston upon Thames is the ultimate destination for shopping outside of the London crowds. The town’s some 500 shops can all be navigated on foot and there really are some treasures to be found.
The Ancient Market area, Market Place, has a variety of visiting stalls including arts and crafts, food, festive and continental markets so there’s always a hidden purchase waiting to be discovered here.
For high street favourites and small boutiques head to Eden Walk and Clarence Street, but there’s no better place to go than the heartbeat of Kingston town centre – Bentalls. The five-floor complex is home to popular stores like H&M, New Look, Aldo, Dune and more, as well as an exclusive range of luxury brands across Womenswear, Menswear, Childrenswear, Cosmetics and Home.
For those looking for a unique find the Kingston Antique Centre, with 90 dealers spread across two floors is well worth a visit. While the eclectic mix of independent shops on Old London Road, marked by the town’s famous falling over red phone boxes, is where you’re also likely to scoop a hidden gem.
Out and About: For a true taste of life in Kingston, a river trip onboard one of Turk Launches’ paddle streamers is a must. The journey covers a beautiful stretch of the River Thames, and I would recommend you hop on for the short but picturesque ride to the nearby Hampton Court Palace.
Hampton Court Palace:
There’s no doubt about it, Hampton Court Palace is one of the most stunning royal buildings to visit in the country, and it’s even better that the landmark façade is just round the corner from Kingston upon Thames.
You can walk in the footsteps of Henry VIII and others royals, appreciating the fascinating and stunning architecture of different royal eras. Hampton Court Palace is over five centuries old and is immersed in intriguing history and facts.
It is the place where Henry VIII is said to have spent three of his honeymoons and when you visit it’s clear to see why; the courtyards are magnificent, the rooms beyond royal elegance and the gardens just simply breathtaking.
Here, you can gaze the awe-inspiring architecture, décor, and array of artwork in the magnificent State apartments, or you can stroll the 60-acre riverside gardens and let yourself get lost in the beautiful world-famous maze.
In the summer months you can take a relaxing stroll or cycle along the Barge Walk that connects Kingston and Hampton Court Palace; a 2.9 mile walk taking approximately an hour and on which you can day dream away or simply value the scenic setting of this place.
Leisure activities: Kingston has a selection of exciting leisure activities to accommodate all interests. Head to The Rotunda for some fun family time and enjoy a session of tenpin bowling or catch the latest film at the Odeon cinema, which also has IMAX showings to make your movie experience extra special.
Water-lovers can opt for the Kingfisher leisure centre with its 25m luxury swimming pool with a tropical feel, wave machine and beach entry. There is also Wendys Workshop a pottery café for children of all ages to come and try some arts and crafts.
There is plenty for adults to do as well, including scuba diving at the NoTanx diving centre, a range of kung-fu, martial arts and Pilates classes, and one of my favourites – jewellery-making classes at a the local Bead Time store.
I attended a one-hour jewellery-making class where the friendly teacher talked us through step-by-step on how to make earrings. We were able to choose are own beads and gems, and produce a set of earrings that were ours to take away at the end of the class.
This experience was surprisingly relaxing and fun, it is also a great way to meet new people and pick up some new skills. To my surprise I made a beautiful pair of earring for my mum which she loved!
I woudld highly recommend these classes to anyone looking to get out and find a new hobby while visiting Kingston – there are classes for necklaces, bracelets and much more. You can even spend the whole day there doing various sessions.
Where to eat:
For al fresco dining in the gorgeous summer months, Charter Quay is the place to go for an array of options in the modern piazza including The Slug and Lettuce, Carluccios, Zizzi Ristorante and Browns Bar and Brasserie.
You can find American-style dining in the Bentalls centre and everything from Pizza Express, to steakhouse, sushi and Frankie and Bennys in The Rotunda. Cafés and coffee houses are all over town too, like Spuds on the high street as well as popular names like Starbucks and Costa.
One of my personal favourites is the award-winning Riverside Vegetaria, voted ‘Britain’s Best Vegetarian Restaurant” by the Vegetarian Society. It’s quaint and cosy with a rustic feel; comfy wooden furniture, candles atop the tables and a riverside location give you a feeling of being transported to a chocolate-box town somewhere it Italy or Spain.
The food here is fantastic; it combines healthy and fresh ingredients to provide a varied cosmopolitan menu offering the best in vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, and wheat-free dishes. The choices here also contain minimal amounts of fat as the talented chefs prepare dishes using only extra virgin olive oil.
During my visit to the Riverside Vegetaria it was easy to see why people love this restaurant. It has a warm and inviting atmosphere, staff members are friendly and attentive, and happy to make recommendations, and the service is fast. Food is of the highest quality; I ordered a Masala Dosai (crispy pancake made from white lentil flour and ground rice, filled with mild or hot spicy potatoes) which came with a delicious cocounut sambol, sambar (mixed vegetable curry) and salad.
For dessert I opted for Vesuvius, a wheat-free hazelnut ice cream with a chocolate sauce centre, covered with a white chocolate coating and sprinkled with crushed hazelnuts. This was hands-down the best vegetarian meal I’d had in a very long time, so tasty that even meat-eaters will be left bragging about the cuisine.
For more information on Kingston Upon Thames, go to www.kingstonfirst.co.uk.
Rooms at Chase Lodge start from £65 per room, per night including breakfast. For reservations and more information call 020 8943 1862 or go to www.chaselodgehotel.com.
The multi-strand stringing earring course costs £20. For more information on Beadtime’s range of courses consult: www.beadtime.co.uk/.
For more information on Riverside Vegetaria consult: www.rsveg.plus.com/ To book a table call 020 8546 7992.
Tickets to Hampton Court Palace are £17.60 for adults and £7.70 for children. For more information go to www.hrp.org.uk/HamptonCourtPalace/.
Have you been to Kingston upon Thames? Tell us about your experience in the comments below or tweet us @FemaleFirst_UK