One of London’s most historic and prestigious quarters is in the throes of a revival – world-class retailers, elite hotels and gastronomic legends are joined by boutique openings that will surprise and delight
Words: Iris Higgins
Knightsbridge: a Renaissance realm
There are certain haunts of some capital cities that are renowned the world over – New York has the Upper East Side, Paris has Place Vendôme, and London has Knightsbridge. Hailed as London’s premier destination for hospitality, shopping, fine dining and property, Knightsbridge boasts a fine and historic pedigree. Mere marshland during the Middle Ages, by the turn of the 19th century Knightsbridge had transformed into an exclusive destination for the finest tailors, hosiers and milliners in London – the very building blocks for its modern-day reputation as an epicentre of luxury and high society, always moving with the times.
Located in the very heart of the city, luxurious lodgings aren’t hard to find – Knightsbridge boasts the most concentrated array of five-star hotels in all of London. There are, of course, the esteemed stalwarts – the edifice of The Lanesborough was first built in 1719 and its stately mansion overlooks the Wellington Arch. It offers a collection of opulent suites and a dedicated butler service for every room. The Mandarin Oriental and the Bulgari Hotel are similarly celebrated doyens – the latter is renowned for its 25-metre colonnaded swimming pool, a haven hidden from the city’s hustle and bustle. Speaking of clandestine pools, the historic The Berkeley hotel is home to the area’s only rooftop swimming pool. This heated hidden oasis provides spectacular views of Hyde Park and the London skyline and is the height (quite literally) of luxury. And despite its wealth of heritage hotels, Knightsbridge is an area that welcomes change and innovation. The highly anticipated opening of The Peninsula London (scheduled for early 2023) will set a new standard of luxury living in the capital. This grand hotel, located in an enviable spot overlooking Hyde Park Corner, will feature 25 private residences, a destination spa and indoor swimming pool, a screening room, a fleet of Rolls-Royces for guests and a magnificent ballroom that will no doubt play host to the city’s most glamorous events. The five-star hotel will further impact the landscape of Knightsbridge with its very own one-storey shopping area – The Peninsula Arcade – providing over 1,100sqm of shopping space.
With such central abodes, it’s easy to explore the boutiques and department stores that Knightsbridge is most famous for. The behemoths of British retail are impossible to miss – Harrods, with its lavishly decorated exterior and deluxe offering of ready-to-wear fashion, beauty, fine jewellery and interiors, is widely considered to be the world’s leading luxury department store. Just a short walk up Brompton Road resides its stylish counterpart, Harvey Nichols – first opened in 1831, the department store is now celebrated for its modern and vibrant Foodmarket, along with a cool and contemporary edit of designer fashion and accessories.
Between these two giants of Knightsbridge is the recently upgraded majestic Knightsbridge Estate. Purchased by the Olayan Group in 2010, the northern end of the development boasts seven flagship retail units, 67,000sqft of state-of-the-art offices, 33 luxury rental apartments and a destination rooftop restaurant. Already many of the shops on Brompton Road and Hans Crescent have been transformed, including the remodelled Burberry store and the state-of-the-art new flagship Apple store. Pavements have also been widened to a maximum of nine metres and an award-winning LED lighting scheme was introduced in 2011, further enhancing the experience for the local community. A recipient of The Green Apple Award, The Knightsbridge Estate is proof of a commitment to keeping the community safe, sustainable and environmentally friendly.
As well as making room for the grand dames of the retail world, these advancements also work hard to support the eclectic array of small boutiques. Brompton Road and Knightsbridge are also home to artisan jewellers such as Samer Halimeh New York and family-run watch and jewellery boutique Theodore’s Collection. For fashion, high-street stalwarts The Kooples, Zara, Guess and Tommy Hilfiger provide a coveted selection of items while stores such as Azagury, which has dressed some of the most glamorous women in the world; The Cashmere Shop and Caroline Castigliano bridal design fly the flag for independent artisans. In fact, no matter how fanciful your whim, Knightsbridge has it covered – The Map House of London on Beauchamp Place is a veritable treasure trove for travel books and maps, while the gleaming showrooms of Automobili Pininfarina and McLaren serve the local appetite for supercars. And for fans of both fashion and motor racing, Red Bull-owned clothing line AlphaTauri launched its first store outside of Austria in a glossy 3,500sqft two-storey shop on Brompton Road in late 2022. In Knightsbridge, every niche of luxury living, antique or avant-garde, is seemingly thriving full throttle.
After a busy shopping trip, fine dining awaits. Michelin-starred Dinner by Heston Blumenthal at the Mandarin Oriental and Marcus at The Berkeley hotel on Wilton Place, and the newly opened Studio Frantzén at Harrods from world-renowned chef Björn Frantzén, are just a few of the restaurants conceived by chefs on the world stage. But there is also a wealth of smaller, elegant eateries – there is Art Deco neighbourhood brasserie Cicchetti on Hans Road and Il Baretto, which both offer authentic Italian food and wine to rival that of Rome. For a whimsical take on high tea, Feya now offers an afternoon tea experience within its tropical café on Brompton Road to complement its own range of delicious teas, a fabulous place to stop and rest your feet during a shopping spree.
Aside from fashion, food and frippery, this pocket of London is home to some of the UK’s most celebrated museums and galleries. The Natural History Museum, the Victoria & Albert Museum, and the Science Museum are just a handful of the nearby cultural institutions to explore. And, having opened in 2022, the Pavilion Club is London’s hottest new private members’ club, located in the Grade II-listed former Danish Club at 64 Knightsbridge
Not limited to historic works, however, Knightsbridge also lays claim to a thriving contemporary art scene, too – a stroll past the French Embassy will reveal the spot where Banksy created his Les Misérables protest mural in 2016, while freshly opened The Arx Gallery on Brompton Road brings together the worlds of art, design, craftsmanship and cutting-edge technology, within a visionary 15,000sqft space located in the Smallbone Luxury Pavilion over four expansive floors. The gallery plays host to a diverse international programme of dynamic, multi-sensory solo and collaborative exhibitions from up-and-coming and highly acclaimed contemporary artists including Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin.
It is somewhat unsurprising, then, given the breadth and depth of all it has to offer, that Knightsbridge property remains highly sought-after, boasting some of the UK’s most valuable homes. Its very positioning has much to do with this – it is not just a prestigious postcode; it also offers precious access to green space, including the many private and historic garden sanctuaries tucked away in leafy side streets. We may not all be lucky enough to have access to a covetable Garden Square (especially some of the most beautiful in the city), but locals and visitors alike can’t help but be charmed by Hyde Park. One of London’s eight Royal Parks, Hyde Park borders Knightsbridge and comprises over 5,000 acres of parkland thoughtfully peppered with poignant monuments and tributes. The Boy and Dolphin, crafted in 1862, and The Huntress, crafted in 1906, are two touching works that reside on the Knightsbridge aspect of the park, installed near its exquisite rose garden. Surrounded by the city’s hubbub, these roses perfectly embody the spirit of Knightsbridge – sumptuous and lavish, with the ability to always bloom anew.