Arriving at Kingston train station on a warm and sunny Friday afternoon you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in just another busy London suburb. But there’s a lot more than meets the eye in the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames.
With a history dating back over a thousand years, Kingston gets its name from Kinges Tun meaning royal farm or estate. Behind the modern high street you’ll find an ancient heart that has seen the coronation of perhaps 7 Saxon kings. The historical heart of Kingston is very charming. Its cobbled streets and old building nowadays house upmarket shops. It’s definitely an ideal destination for shopping.
During my Friday afternoon I actually didn’t make it that far. I explored only the main high street and shopping centre as I only had a short time before needing to get ready to go out to dinner. My reason for travelling to Kingston was to attend the Traverse 15 conference for travel bloggers. I’m not a travel blogger per se but having been to Blogstock, which was a blogging festival organised by the same guys, I really wanted to go.
After dinner with some new friends in Prezzo, we headed to All Saints Church for a networking event. This Norman church was built on the site of the Saxon coronations mentioned above. Along with its more modern additions, the church was a spectacular location for drinks.
After drinks we walked through the more attractive part of town and were drawn by our noses into Sweet Revenge. The bakery still had its doors open at 9.30pm because the owner was busy baking a big order. It’s a gorgeous place with pastel coloured tables and chairs and the most pretty cakes. I couldn’t decide between all the flavours so chose vanilla as well as coffee and walnut.
I didn’t eat both cakes at once but they were delicious.
Saturday was filled with the conference. We had a greasy fry up for breakfast before heading to Kingston University for the day. I attended a number of talks on the subject of blogging. One about the PR’s perspective of building relationships, one on improving my travel photography and one on alternative monetisation strategies. At lunchtime I attended a focus group with Air France KLM about how they work with travel bloggers. It was all very interesting and most definitely transferable across various blogging niches.
I spent the evening at Space, one of the student union bars at the University. It certainly took me back a few years or 10. By 11pm I was ready for my bed so I got onto a bus full of people heading out into town to go back to the Travelodge so I could go to sleep. I must be getting old.
Sunday morning was wet. I’d hoped to have some more time to explore Kingston and take photos before getting the boat to Hampton Court but it was windy and miserable. I was still determined to go for a walk and get my camera out.
There’s been a market in Kingston for centuries. Even on this sodden Sunday morning the stall holders were setting up. The Market Place is in the older part of town south of All Saints Church, close to the river.
Nothing was open yet and I was getting a little soggy so I ended up heading straight for Turks Launches to wait for the boat. As part of the conference, Kingstonfirst had arranged a host of Sunday Experiences that ranged from beauty treatments at Clinique to tapas and cocktail making. I opted for the trip to Hampton Court via a river cruise. Read about my day out at Hampton Court here.
There’s not a huge range of hotel options in Kingston. I chose the most budget option, although at £49 per night the Travelodge wasn’t particularly cheap. There are actually 2 Travelodges in Kingston, just a few hundred metres from each other, which is a bit odd. I stayed at the older Kingston Central hotel. My view was over a multi storey car park. I was wondering around in my underwear when I realised that there were skateboarders yards from my window. I don’t think they could see in! Nevertheless I quickly closed the curtains.
My room was huge but basic as you’d expect. I slept well both nights and wasn’t too bothered by noise. There are definitely more sirens in Kingston than I’m used to. The Cafe Bar at the Travelodge didn’t get any custom from me. I ate out the first night, grabbed a salad and hummus wrap from the kebab shop Saturday night and there was no way I was paying £8 for breakfast. I had a cheap fry up Saturday morning and on Sunday I ate the pot of Oats So Simple porridge I’d brought with me. The joys of in-room tea and coffee making facilities!
The shower was a bit rubbish with a curtain that stuck to you and a shower tray that filled up with water so I had to stand there in the cold for a bit to avoid flooding the bathroom. But overall, it wasn’t bad for the price and the location was excellent.
The easiest way to travel to Kingston is probably by train. It’s only half an hour from central London (Waterloo). It’s actually within the London fare zones so you can use your Oyster card, I believe.
Kingston’s centre is compact so you can walk everywhere. I only got the bus back from the uni bar as it was so late, I’d walked there earlier in the evening. Taxis seemed very reasonable. On Saturday we had to get to the Kingston Hill university campus which was about a 15 minute drive. The journey there cost £6 and it was £8 back. Between 3 it was cheaper than the bus.
Kingston as a weekend destination
I’d highly recommend a weekend in Kingston upon Thames. It’s got shopping, culture and nightlife. There are restaurants along the river that would be lovely on a warm, or at least dry, day, a fantastic range of shops and it’s just a stone’s throw from Hampton Court Palace. It’s even got its own cereal cafe. What more could you want?