There’s a secret garden in London. It is one of my favorite places to go on summer afternoons, when the city’s streets overflow with people in search of the elusive vitamin D. The garden is tucked away behind unassuming walls near the Thames in Chelsea, and you could pass by a million times without ever noticing it.
It’s called the Chelsea Physic Garden, and it has been overflowing with botanicals and medicinal herbs since 1673. Interspersed among them are crooked statues, overgrown walkways, and little nooks with chairs and benches that are perfect for finding peace in a crowded city.
Beyond the walls of the garden lies Chelsea, one of London’s most chi chi neighborhoods. Famous as a haunt of Pippa and Kate Middleton and the crew from the popular reality TV show Made in Chelsea, the area is desirable as a place to live and popular as a place to shop, dine, and party.
My usual interactions with Chelsea revolve around the King’s Road, a long street that stretches from Sloane Square in the east to Fulham in the west. The road is known for its great shopping, restaurants, and nightlife, and is the main artery running through neighborhood.
From trendy restaurants in Sloane Square like The Botanist and Colbert, to iconic ones down the road like Bluebird (a favorite haunt of Kate Middleton), there is no shortage of entertainments on the King’s Road.
Just off the road lies Duke of York Square, with its mouth-watering Saturday food market and world-class contemporary art museum, the Saatchi Gallery. And there is even a branch of my favorite breakfast spot in Paris, Cuisine de Bar, and its bakery counterpart, Poilane.
Further down the King’s Road—past the innumerable fashion boutiques and restaurants that specialize in ladies who lunch—lies another great secret in Chelsea: the Chelsea Farmers’ Market. Tucked away on Sydney Street, the jumble of cafes, restaurants, and garden shops is always packed with stylish locals enjoying al fresco meals on sunny summer afternoons.
But there’s more to Chelsea than the King’s Road, and the areas between it, Fulham Road, and the Thames are full of other famous locations and secret hidden gems alike. There are the three-Michelin starred Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, the Royal Hospital, where the annual Chelsea Flower Show celebrated its 100th anniversary this year, and the pretty MyHotel Chelsea, a hidden gem of a boutique hotel.
Then there are popular local pubs like The Phene, The Surprise, and The Phoenix, all of which are hidden away off the high street (and are probably too pretty to count as actual pubs).
And speaking of places to drink, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the nightlife in Chelsea. After all, the neighborhood has some of the most famous bars and clubs in London. One of my favorites is Barts, a secret speakeasy in a residential building on Sloane Avenue. The kitschy decor and treasure chest full of costumes mean that it’s always a fun time.
Then there are the clubs, which range from the famous 80’s club, Maggie’s, to the chic JuJu and everything in between (just avoid Raffles; my coat was stolen there a few years back).
When I need a break from all of the clubs, bars, restaurants, and revelry, I head back to the Chelsea Physic Garden to relax and gather my thoughts. And that’s what I love most about Chelsea. When things get overwhelming, you can always retreat to one of its secret spots. Just don’t tell anyone…