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Kensington is London's traditional aristocratic district, where rich matrons and gilded teenagers rub shoulders in shopping streets that reek of money which hasn't been worked for too hard. Pay homage to Princess Diana by visiting Kensington Gardens, while Kensington Palace (+44-870-751-5170), her former home, is located at the west end of the park.
Inside Kensington Palace, the Court Dress Collection, a drag queen's fantasy, is open 10 a.m.-6 p.m, May till October (adults ?12, children ?6). At the sharper end of the park, the Serpentine Gallery (+44-20-7402-6075; free admission) hosts funky avant-garde art: you'll either love it or hate it. But whatever your artistic temperament, you should make the effort to discover one of Kensington's hidden gems, Leighton House (12 Holland Park Rd., W14; +44-20-7602-3316; Wed.-Mon. 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m.; free admission). Tucked away at the other end of High Street, past a 10-minute trawl of shops, this magnificent house is a testament to the homoerotic aesthetic. Built between 1864 and 1879 to house the studio and living quarters of the great classical painter Lord Frederic Leighton, it boasts the stunning Arab Hall, complete with indoor fountain, gilt mosaic frieze, intricate tiling and Victorian art.
Visitors to London find themselves, sooner or later, on the heaving commercial sprawl that is Oxford Street. This high street extraordinaire bisects London's center from Marble Arch in the west to Tottenham Court Road in the east. It's noisy, it's crowded, and, Selfridges aside, it's incredibly dull. Lesbian and gay travelers will almost inevitably head one block south, to the gay mecca of Soho or the designer label shopping districts of Bond Street and South Molton Street. But shifting one block north is also highly recommended for the calmer, charming, and eclectic streets between Baker Street (home of Sherlock Holmes) and Fitzrovia (home of the queerer-than-queer Bloomsbury set).
Spend an hour or two wandering, and you'll discover strange little shops, dark fragrant delis and leafy squares. Starting at Oxford Street tube stop, walk north past the fine Art Deco mass of Broadcasting House (home of the BBC) and into the cool white splendor of Portland Place.
Architecture buffs will want to visit the Royal Institute of British Architects (66 Portland Place, W1; +44-20-7580-5533). It's worth a visit to enjoy the 30s architecture, and for the ground-floor bookshop and first-floor exhibitions of contemporary architectural art (all open to the public and free of charge). It also houses RIBA Cafe, which serves European cakes and excellent lunches. On one side it overlooks the exhibition space; the other opens onto a roof garden with tables and fountain.
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