Famous for being the most expensive property on the UK version of Monopoly, Mayfair is part of London full of expensive housing, five-star hotels, designer shops and fine restaurants and bars. But, there’s plenty to see and do in the area too.
by Fiona Maclean;
Fiona Maclean is a London based freelance writer and marketing consultant. She’s lived in London for most of her adult life though she travels extensively.;
What to see and do in Mayfair?
1. Art and Artists at the Royal Academy
A favourite Art Gallery in London, Burlington House is home to the Royal Academy.
250 years old this year (2018) the Royal Academy is largely managed by elected artists, Royal Academicians, whose work makes up much of the permanent collections.
The gallery is entirely privately funded – by a thriving Friends scheme and by bequests and donations.
2. A Bohemian Red-Light District at Shepherd Market
Mayfair itself is named after a fifteen-day fair established in the 1680s by James II, that took place at Shepherd Market. 18th century gentrification of Mayfair killed off the festival and local architect Edward Shepherd was commissioned to redevelop the area.
Completed in the mid-18th century it originally had a duck pond and theatre. By the 1920s it was a fashionable area for writers and artists.
A hotch-potch collection of traditional bars, eclectic restaurants and curious shops, in the 1980s it had a reputation as a high-class red-light district and is well known as the place where politician and best-selling author Jeffrey Archer met prostitute Monica Coghlan.
3. The American Connection at Grosvenor Square
Grosvenor Square is the centrepiece of the Mayfair property of the Duke of Westminster, and takes its name from the surname of Sir Richard Grosvenor, who became the first Duke of Westminster and who developed the area around 1721.
Apart from being an extremely fashionable area, Grosvenor Square was also home to the American Embassy until very recently, the listed building still occupies one side of the square and is easy to spot because of the large golden eagle suspended from the front façade.
There’s a memorial in the square to the British people who lost their lives in the 9/11 disaster and statues of three American presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan.
4. Tailored Time at Savile Row
If you are interested in men’s fashion, a visit to Savile Row is essential. Home to over 40 tailors, the term “bespoke”, a suit cut and made by hand, originated in Savile Row.
The area keeps its character partly because of the combined force of members of the Savile Row Bespoke Association, founded in 2004, which along with owners the Pollen Estate, works with the local council to protect the street’s tailoring heritage under the Savile Row Special Policy Area.
5. Fashion and Fripperies in Burlington Arcade
Mayfair is full of designer shops. And, there are a number of shopping arcades, of which The Burlington Arcade is one of the earliest – it opened on 20 March 1819. It runs behind Bond Street from Piccadilly through to Burlington Gardens.
Packed with designer shops, it is still patrolled by Burlington Arcade beadles in traditional uniforms including top hats and frockcoats.
If it’s raining, then the Burlington Arcade is a great place to stay dry and still get an iconic London selfie.
— Fiona Maclean
6. The Heart of British Science at The Royal Institution
The Royal Institution is housed in a Grade I listed building on Albermarle Street. Founded in 1799, it was awarded a Royal Charter a year later.
Established to promote scientific education and research, the current Patron is HM The Queen. It’s probably best known for the Christmas Lectures – a series of science lectures covering a variety of subjects with lecturers who have included Michael Faraday.
There are a series of science focused activities and tours of the main building can be arranged. The Faraday Museum is free to visit and provides a unique insight into the research that the Royal Institution has championed.
A highlight is Faraday’s magnetic laboratory displayed as it was in the 1850s opposite a current state-of-the-art nanotechnology lab.
7. From Handel to Hendrix
Perhaps one of Mayfair’s more curious places to visit, two adjacent houses on Brook Street.
Number 25 was once the home of George Fredrick Handel while some 200 years later, the attic at number23 was Jimi Hendrix’s London base.
Today 25 is restored to the early Georgian style they would have had during Handel’s life while the apartment at 23 is restored to 1960’s style.
8. A Hotel with a History – The Dorchester
Of the hotels which run along Park Lane, the Dorchester is one of the best known. Originally the site of Dorchester House, a mansion built in 1853 which was demolished to allow The Dorchester Hotel to be built from scratch.
It opened in 1931 and has always been one of the most prestigious hotels in the UK and indeed in the world. It still retains many of its original fixtures and fittings, despite being modernised.
9. Imagine life as a debutant at Grosvenor House Hotel
Just down the road from the Dorchester, Grosvenor House Hotel opened two years earlier and similarly was a bespoke luxury hotel, the first in London with en-suite bathrooms for every room.
The Great Room was originally built as an ice rink but was quickly converted into a ballroom and banqueting hall in 1934.
At one time in the 1930s and 40s, the Great Room was the home of the famous Queen Charlotte’s Birthday Ball, the climax of the London Season and probably the most important diary date in London Society.
10. Buy the best in Bond Street
If Oxford Street is London’s most popular shopping street, Bond Street is perhaps the City’s most exclusive one.
Home to every major luxury brand, Bond Street is reputed to have the highest density of haute couture stores anywhere in the world. If you want to (window) shop till you drop, this is where to go.
11. See the family home of the People’s Princess
Spencer house is the ancestral home of Diana, Princess of Wales, though the family haven’t lived here since the 1920s.
An 18th Century Palladian mansion it has been restored and parts of it are now open to the public.
It’s worth a visit to see the public rooms which are beautifully restored and the view out across Green Park
12. Play cards with the Duke
Apart from having arguably the best address in London (Number One, London), Apsley house is also home to an amazing collection of art, porcelain and silverware.
Originally the home of the first Duke of Wellington, it has been kept much as it would have been when he was victorious at Waterloo in 1815.
In addition to normal opening times, they have an occasional series of evening special events where you can take part in a period re-enactment – for example, playing the card games that the Duke of Wellington would have enjoyed.
— Fiona Maclean
13. Collar it at Piccadilly
The road that runs from Piccadilly Circus to Hyde Park Corner, Piccadilly has its own place in history. It has existed since at least medieval times and at one point, in 1663 it was named Portugal Street in 1663 after Catherine of Braganza, the wife of Charles II.
It took the name Piccadilly in the 17th century after a type of collar, the piccadill, that was sold there. It is now a popular shopping street as well as being home to some famous landmarks.
14. Shopping with Royalty at Fortnums
You can’t miss the striking façade of Fortnum and Mason – London’s most famous Grocery story. By appointment to both the Queen and the Prince of Wales, perversely, it was founded due to the entrepreneurial spirit of a royal footman, William Fortnum at the time of Queen Anne.
Rather than waste the half-used candles which were replaced every night, he started reselling them for a profit. Now of course, it is more famous for tea, biscuits and elegant picnic hampers.
The stunning clock above the main entrance of the store was commissioned by W. Garfield Weston, acquired the store in 1951 and whose family still own and run the business. It has 4 foot high models of William Fortnum and Hugh Mason, which appear on the hour and bow to each other in time to chimes and 18th century style music.
— Fiona Maclean
15. Heavenly Notes at St James’s Piccadilly
A Christopher Wren church which was half destroyed by a bomb in 1940, the church still has many original features including a wonderful carved 17th century screen.
St James’s is particularly well known for concerts, talks and events and for a range of markets in the courtyard outside.
16. Put on your Face while Putting on The Ritz
While Park Lane is home to many five-star hotels, the Ritz is definitely a name that most Londoners associate with the ultimate luxury.
On Piccadilly itself, the building dates from 1904 and was constructed in just 2 years on the site of the Old White Horse Cellar, a coaching inn. It was opened by Swiss hotelier Cesar Ritz in May 1906.
If you want to get a feel for putting on the Ritz without having to pay too much, walk in confidently and find the glamorous rest-rooms. They are attended and offer proper towels and free perfume. Do leave a tip though
— Fiona Maclean
17. Step back in time at St George’s Hanover Square
The parish church of Mayfair, St George’s was designed by John James and built between 1721 and 1724.
It has Flemish glass windows from the early 16th century and a ‘Last Supper’ that was painted for the church by William Kent. Handel was a regular worshipper here and the church is now home to the annual London Handel Festival.
18. Shop till you drop at Mount Street
A Queen Anne Revival street running parallel with Piccadilly, Mount Street is a fashionista’s haven with exclusive labels like Loewe, Lavin Balanciaga and Louboutin all having shops here.
Just take a little time to dream!
19. Take a selfie and see who else appears at Berkeley Square
London’s most haunted house at number 50 Berkeley Square was originally the home of George Canning, a former prime minister.
But it is Mr Myers, who inhabited the house in mid to late 19th century who is reputed to still be around…he was jilted at the altar and became a recluse, living at the top of the house and only coming out at night.
There are several ghost stories about the property… Most of the houses in Berkeley square are now offices, restaurants and showrooms.
The beautiful gardens, which were laid out in the 18th century are Grade II listed and, one of the square’s ancient London plane trees, planted in 1789, has been calculated to be ‘the most valuable street tree in Britain’ thanks to its size, health and historical significance.
20. Plan your penthouse art collection at the Gagosian
Mayfair is particularly well known for private art galleries and dealers. Larry Gagosian, perhaps the most powerful art dealer in the world, has two in Mayfair, the Davies Street Gallery and the Grosvenor Hill Gallery.
Gagosian specialises in contemporary and modern art exhibitions and represents some of the most famous artists in the world including Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollock, Damien Hirst and Pablo Picasso.
Generally these galleries are free to enter, though you may need to book an appointment.
— Fiona Maclean
21. Find an English Country Retreat in Town at Browns
‘I don’t stay in a hotel, I stay at Brown’s’. Brown’s Hotel was founded in 1837, by James and Sarah Brown. Originally Lord Byron’s butler, James Brown acquired 23 Dover Street and later expanded in 21, 22 and 24, creating Brown’s – with the intention of providing the ultimate country retreat in London.
Many famous dignitaries, authors and artists have stayed in this quintessentially English hotel which was London’s first five-star. And, the first British telephone call was made from the hotel, during Alexander Graham Bell’s visit from Boston in 1877.
22. Decorate the largest Loft at David Zwirner Gallery
A London outpost of the famous New York dealer which has a reputation for historically researched exhibitions and for minimalist and large-scale installations. Artists include Bridget Riley, Jeff Koons and Oscar Murillo.
23. Live Vicariously (or Look for a Millionaire Art Collector) at Pace Gallery
Another New York outpost, Pace Gallery is due north of the Royal Academy and is one of the most influential modern and contemporary art galleries in London.
Artists on their books include Hockney, Rothko, Picasso, Hepworth and Rauschenberg. Maybe a little beyond most of our pockets!
24. Enjoy a coffee concert at The Wigmore Hall
Originally the ‘Bechstein Hall’ it was built between 1899 and 1901 by the German piano manufacturer who had a showroom next door.
Designed by Thomas Edward Collcutt who was also responsible for the Savoy and what is now the Palace theatre, the Wigmore Hall is famous for chamber orchestra concerts and runs Sunday morning concerts with a cup of coffee or sherry included.
25. Chill in the classic lobby of Claridges
Founded in 1812 as Mivart’s Hotel, in 1854 it was sold to Mr and Mrs Claridge who owned a smaller hotel next door. It was listed by Baedekers in 1878 as ‘The First Hotel in London’.
In 1894 it was bought by Richard D’Oyly Carte, founder of the rival Savoy Hotel. He demolished the old building and replaced it with the current Claridges, adding lifts and en-suite bathrooms.
Today it has a reputation for luxury and elegance and is the choice of many film stars and musicians.