A new hotel opening prompted me to head to southwest London and fall in love with Kingston all over again. Don’t overlook this characterful neighbourhood. Instead, allow me to show you the best things to do in Kingston Upon Thames in London.
See also 31 Unusual Things to do in London and the neighbourhood guide to London.
The Best Things to do in Kingston Upon Thames
Just 30 minutes by train from central London, Kingston upon Thames pulls off something of a magic trick. Part stand-alone neighbourhood village, with unique medieval buildings and history. Part seamless modern space with shopping options to convert even the most devour of puritanical monks into the 21st century consumer capital.
Kingston works as a launchpad into the world of history, shopping and leafy riverside walks. And though I lived there during my doctoring days, a new hotel just outside the busy centre brought me back.
Let me tell you all about the best things to do in Kingston, as well as take you through a review of the new hotel, The Kingston 1. And just before you think there are too many kings in that sentence…my address used to be Mr & Dr King, Kingston Hill, Kingston. For real.
What is there to do in Kingston upon Thames?
What is Kingston upon Thames famous for?
Here’s the short version:
- Leafy riverside walks and cafes
- The Bentalls Centre and every shop you could dream of
- Wild open parks like Richmond Park and Bushy Park
- Hampton Court Palace – the former home of King Henry VIII
Disclosure: if you book or buy through any of the links on this page, we may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Some, but not all, of the experiences mentioned were gifted. However, as ever, as always, we keep the right to write what we like and make our own recommendations. There’s just no point otherwise!
When should you visit Kingston upon Thames?
You’ll find plenty of things to do in Kingston Upon Thames all year around. However, if lazing by the river is high on your agenda, then your best bet is during the summer months of May to September. Although, as with everything to do with the weather in Britain: nothing is guaranteed.
The Best Things to do in Kingston upon Thames, London
Browse Kingston Ancient Market
On any day of the week, head to Ancient Market Place Kingston to find Kingston’s market going strong. It’s been going strong since around 1170 or so, selling flowers, fresh vegetables, pastries and street food. Each winter, twinkling lights and sugar dust turn Kingston Market into one of the best Christmas Markets in London.
Stroll along the riverside
A beautiful path meanders along the banks of the Thames, dotted with cafes and restaurants and under the watchful eye of mallard ducks and swans. Watch rowing boats glide past and think about how much history has taken place just upstream and downstream of this spot.
Shop in the gleaming Bentall Centre
I’m not the first to notice the similarity between houses of worship of the past and shopping centres of the present. But following that line of thought makes the Bentall Centre the St Paul’s Cathedral or Notre Dame of shopping malls.
Gleaming in geometric white, the Bentall Centre is home to more than 1000 different brands in more than 75 shops and stores. Even if shopping is not your thing, it’s worth paying a visit to marvel at the design.
Shop in the independent boutiques
While the Bentall Centre and the Ancient Market are focal talking points, for obvious reasons, Kingston’s trading and shopping offering runs beyond those two. You’ll find specialist shops for old vinyl records, craft beer, haberdashery and more as well as the fresh produce of the market and big names of the Bentall Centre and High Street.
Take architecture tours
One of the best things to do in Kingston upon Thames in London involves travelling back through time through bricks and mortar. From the gleaming, modern Bentall Centre to the flavours of Kingston’s ancient market and the All Saints Church, you can spot sculptures, facades, shields and all kinds of architectural accoutrements.
But all is not as it appears. Take the Jack Wills building above, full of dark Tudor beams and saints and shields. And although Hampton Court Palace, a Tudor stronghold, lies just across the river, this Tudor facade is, well, a facade.
It was constructed during the Victorian era to add a sense of grandeur to this meeting place of Saxon Kings.
You can walk around Kingston yourself easily enough, but to get more from the experience, try out an architectural tour like this.
Visit the Rose Theatre
The Rose Theatre in Kingston takes its inspiration from the Rose Theatre of the first Elizabethan era, a place where Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe saw their work come to life. This new version has a few more comforts than the original, however. You’ll notice a roof and some comfortable modern seats. Thankfully.
Sip cocktails and dine at the Kingston 1
In the name of nothing but research, I caught up with an old friend to try out the new cocktails at Solo Restaurant at the Kingston One Hotel. Freshly made, the Solo Martini had a sense of sophistication, while the Pornstar Martini had a dreadful name but refreshing, pomegranate taste.
You can also dine here and sip cocktails elsewhere but more about that later.
Roam around Richmond Park
One of the best things to do in Kingston upon Thames involves enjoying the outdoor activities along the river and in Richmond Park. When I lived in Kingston, I went cycling every morning through Richmond Park. It’s one of the Royal Parks, with free access and maintained gardens, cycle paths and hiking routes.
If you go there quietly, you’ll likely see deer wandering through the grass.
Visit Hampton Court Palace
Ah, Hampton Court Palace. The huge, imposing former home of one of England’s most notorious of monarchs: King Henry VIII. Yes, he of the six wives, the split with Rome and the reformation and the series involving Jonathan Rhys Meyers, depending on your preference for history and pop culture.
Originally owned by Henry’s most trusted adviser, Cardinal Wolsey, it became Henry’s as the former slipped from power and the high stakes nature of Tudor life took its toll.
Several other royals lived here afterwards, but it’s the Tudor period that keeps the crowds coming back and trying to make sense of it all.
The Tudor Kitchens
A Tudor soundtrack greets you as you first head under the arch and across the cobblestones. Props and displays list the banqueting feast orders and provide a glimpse into the daily lives of the staff who worked here.
Elsewhere, you can see the small chapel where royal christenings and funerals took place, as well as the grand hall where various queens took turns at being alive and well before things soon took a turn for the worse.
Planning a trip to Hampton Court Palace
Have I mentioned yet that it’s a big, big place? Plan on giving yourself at least half a day to make your way around. Perhaps even a full day if you’re a big fan and want to spend plenty of time in the gardens.
During normal times, you’ll find a functioning cafe and car park, as well as toilets and plenty of benches.
Where to Stay in Kingston upon Thames, London
You’ll find plenty of options for somewhere to stay in Kingston, from vacation rentals to budget and business hotels.
Yet I’d like to highlight the Kingston 1, a boutique spot just far enough from the crazy centre to give you some peace, but close enough to walk to in less than 10 minutes. Here’s my review of the Kingston 1 hotel.
The Kingston 1 Hotel Review
Describing itself as a “new hotel, neighbourhood restaurant and bar off the beaten track,” the Kingston 1 is a whole lotta fun.
It’s hardly off the beaten track at all, being just ten minutes walk from the Bentall Centre. But it is far enough away that you feel as though you’re in a real London neighbourhood, not a tourist trap.
The vibe is understated modern cool but it’s definitely not pretentious. With 22 rooms, it’s small but not tiny but it does hold a hallowed resource when it comes to London hotels. Limited, but some, parking spaces available.
It is, as they say, ideal for staycationers, foodies and business travellers.
Decked out in cool white and charcoal, with splashes of blue and gold, the decor is calming in each of the 22 rooms. Two suites provide an additional living area and premium bar area, while the other guest rooms come as Standard Double, Standard King, Executive Double and Executive King.
You’ll hear the authentic London soundtrack outside and it’s still a busy spot. Personally, I find this soothing and enjoy the sense of place, but if you’re looking for silence and solitude, it’s wise to pack some ear plugs.
Toiletries come from The White Company’s Noir collection and, to many a woman’s relief, include conditioner as well as the standard shampoo, shower gel and body lotion supplies.
The main restaurant, Solo at the Kingston 1, shrugs off the bland feel of many a hotel restaurant with innovative decor and creative food.
Open to the public, including for breakfast and brunch, Solo ups its game further on Thursday to Saturday. Then Head Chef Marco Palazzo from The Hoxton and Jamie’s Italian brings out his chef’s menu, a mix of Italian technique with local British produce.
I chose the signature charred octopus tentacle with olive tapenade, while my friend chose the spinach and ricotta cannelloni. I then opted for the rib eye steak and finished off with the chocolate fondant with hazelnut praline.
The open plan ground floor moves from restaurant to cafe to lounge bar and reception, making good use of the space and switching atmospheres as it goes.
The cocktails are divine. Especially the horribly named but tangy-sweet pornstar martini.
What I Loved
- The cool decor in the rooms and warm and welcoming lounge area.
- The friendly, attentive staff.
- The parking space!
- The fantastic location to get out and explore.
- The charred octopus.
- The cocktail list.
What To Know
- There’s no lift (elevator) so you need to carry luggage upstairs.
- You’ll hear the sounds of London life through the windows.
How to Book
Rooms start at £120 GBP. Email [email protected]
Getting to Kingston upon Thames
Kingston upon Thames sits in greater London on the River Thames, just 12 miles from Westminster and 25 minutes by train to London Waterloo. Kingston has its own station but you may find more frequent connections from nearby Surbiton station and Norbiton station. All three stations lie within zone 6 and can be accessed with the Oyster Card. Surbiton town centre is quieter than Kingston, so I wouldn’t recommend a stay there unless you have a specific reason to go there.
If driving in London freaks you out, bear in mind that the roads around Kingston upon Thames are more genteel than those around Marble Arch and Oxford Circus.
Kingston is close to the M3, A3 and M4 and only 8 miles from the M25. Parking is relatively easy, with numerous car parks, but costs can be high. You can also easily drive from central Kingston upon Thames to Hampton Court Palace, which has its own car park.
Kingston’s closest airport is the international behemoth Heathrow Airport, with good bus and taxi connections between the two. You can also, of course, travel to Gatwick Airport or London City Airport, but the connection will take longer.
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