The station was opened on 24 December 1868 by the Metropolitan Railway (MR, later the Metropolitan line) and the District Railway (DR, later the District line). The MR had previously opened an extension from Praed Street (now Paddington) to Gloucester Road on 1 October 1868 and opened tracks to South Kensington to connect to the DR when the DR opened the first section of its line to Westminster. The original South Kensington station, designed by the MR's engineer John Fowler, had two platforms although it was intended that this would be supplemented as DR services extended. By the beginning of the 20th century, the DR had been extended to Richmond, Ealing Broadway, Hounslow West and Wimbledon in the west and to New Cross Gate in the east. The southern section of the Inner Circle was suffering considerable congestion between South Kensington and Mansion House, between which stations the DR was running an average of 20 trains per hour with more in the peak periods. To relieve the congestion, the DR planned an express deep-level tube line starting from a connection to its sub-surface tracks west of Gloucester Road and running to Mansion House. The tunnels were planned to run about 60 to 70 feet (18–21 m) beneath the existing sub-surface route with only one intermediate stop at Charing Cross (now Embankment). In 1898, the DR took over the Brompton and Piccadilly Circus Railway (B&PCR) which had a route planned from South Kensington to Piccadilly Circus. The route was modified to join the DR deep-level route at South Kensington. Following the purchase of the DR by the Underground Electric Railways Company of London in 1902, the planned DR and B&PCR lines were merged with a third proposed route from the Great Northern and Strand Railway. The DR deep-level route was revised at its western end to continue to Earl's Court and surface to the east of Barons Court
The main station entrance is located at the junction of Old Brompton Road (A3218), Thurloe Place, Harrington Road, Onslow Place and Pelham Street. Subsidiary entrances are located in Exhibition Road giving access by pedestrian tunnel to the Natural History, Science and Victoria and Albert Museums. Also close by are the Royal Albert Hall, Imperial College London, the Royal College of Music, the London branch of the Goethe-Institut and the Ismaili Centre. The station is in two parts: sub-surface platforms opened in 1868 by the Metropolitan Railway and the District Railway as part of the companies' extension of the Inner Circle route eastwards from Gloucester Road to Westminster and deep level platforms opened in 1906 by the Great Northern, Piccadilly and Brompton Railway. The station has wi-fi, payphones, cash machines, Euro cash machines, escalators and help points.
Connections: District and Circle Lines.London Buses routes 14, 49, 70, 74, 345, 360, 414, 430 and C1 and night routes N74 and N97 serve the station.