Mayfair: shops, restaurants and spas of the British elite
Mayfair was originally the location of the annual fortnight-long May Fair that took place between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but today it is one of the most luxurious places in London. British aristocracy is present all over Mayfair, with large parts of the area still owned by the Royal Family and other long-standing aristocratic clans.
If you head over to Spencer House, you’ll find the ancestral home of Diana, Princess of Wales. Despite her family not living in the house since 1926, it is still popular with visitors and is open to tourists following refurbishment. Built in the mid-eighteenth century for the first Earl, this Palladian mansion contains eight uniquely decorated rooms that were used for the purposes of entertainment. Part of the building is now made up of offices, but visitors can tour many of the house’s rooms. If you are lucky, you will visit on a day you can enter the garden, a beautiful area with gorgeous views of the nearby Green Park.
Only five minutes walk from Spencer House is the famous department store, Fortnum & Mason. The store has the honour of being the Grocers & Provision Merchants to Her Majesty, The Queen. What does that mean, you may well be asking? Well, it means that all those tasty looking hams and cheeses, fruits and vegetables and teas and biscuits find their way to the Queen’s dinner table. For the mere mortals among us, Fortnum & Mason sell absolutely delicious picnic hampers containing the best of the food available to the Royal family. During Victorian times, these hampers were bought by attendees of the Henley Regatta or the Ascot Races (two famous sporting events which members of high society still frequent today). Nowadays however, any one of us can purchase these hampers and head to one of London’s amazing Royal parks for a luxurious meal. The average hamper for two will set you back anything between £100 and £150, but the experience will be well worth it!
Fortnum & Mason’s traditional Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon on Piccadilly in London is the perfect place to have a quintessentially English high tea. The famous department store, located on Piccadilly Street just next to Green Park, serves...
Afternoon Tea at Fortnum & Mason
Fortnum & Mason’s traditional Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon on Piccadilly in London is the perfect place to have a quintessentially English high tea. The famous department store, located on Piccadilly Street just next to Green Park, serves...Find out more
If you don’t fancy heading to Green Park with a £100 hamper of hams, head to the Royal Academy of Arts across the road and feed your brain instead. Not as famous as other museums in the city, it’s a well known place for locals and a wonderful place for tourists to discover, packed with annual exhibitions ranging from Italian Renaissance to French Impressionists and even some Russian avant-garde art.
Once you have left, head to the nearby Burlington Arcade that runs from Piccadilly to Burlington Gardens. Lord George Cavendish, owner of the neighbouring Burlington House (now the Royal Academy!) built the arcade to stop people throwing their rubbish over his garden wall. Apparently discarded oyster shells were the kebab wrappers of their day!
This pedestrian arcade will wow you with its elegant shop fronts and its glazed roof. It was upmarket in the nineteenth century and remains so today, with some of their boutiques being the best in their respective areas; jewellers Nourbel & Le Cavelier for example, or cashmere brand N. Peal.
You may be mistaken in thinking that it is the designer shops that make Burlington Arcade such a hot spot for tourists to visit. However, it is actually the rules and regulations in the arcade that make it stand out. Unfortunately for those budding musicians amongst you, you are not allowed to whistle. Why, you may ask? It is because the rooms above the shops were used as makeshift brothels, and the prostitutes inhabiting the rooms would double up on their jobs by working as look outs for pickpockets in the area. If the police entered the arcade, the prostitutes would whistle, the pickpockets could run, and the police would be none the wiser. Eventually clocking onto the ploy, they enforced a ban on whistling, and said ban is still in place today. If you go there today and give a little whistle, you may get a warning from one of the uniformed beadles patrolling the area!
From here, you will want to stop for a little refreshment. Why not have a coffee or treat yourself to a glass of champagne in one of Mayfair’s famous hotels? Just three minutes walk from Burlington Arcade is Browns Hotel, an embodiment of British luxury at its finest. The hotel opened in 1837 and has hosted luminaries such as Theodore Roosevelt, Emperor Napoleon, Rudyard Kipling, Agatha Christie and Oscar Wilde, as well as many others. Even if you are not staying at this hotel, be sure to check out the tea room for a range of different flavours and blends, or grab a glass of bubbly champagne from Donovan’s Bar. Named after the photographer Terence Donovan – famous for his photographs of the 1960s era “Swinging London”, many of which adorn the walls of the bar – you will find over sixty varieties of cocktails on the menu as well as another thirty brands of wines and champagnes. If you want to have such a great night you don’t remember it in the morning, Donovan’s is one of the best places to do so!
Alternatively, try the Claridges. One of the oldest hotels in Britain, past guests have included Brad Pitt, Mariah Carey and Mick Jagger; a tad more rock and roll than Browns! Visiting heads of state also tend to stay here, so much so that according to legend, people used to ring the telephone operators ask to speak to the king and would be asked which one they meant! While a night’s stay could set you back up to £7000, visiting the bar won’t take too much out of your wallet; a glass of wine will cost £15 while a cocktail will be £18.
Drinking afternoon tea at Grosvenor House overlooking Hyde Park you will experience English luxury at its finest. This place has seen royalty and London elite stepping through its doors for over 80 years. In fact Queen Elizabeth learnt how to skate...
Afternoon Tea at Grosvenor House
Drinking afternoon tea at Grosvenor House overlooking Hyde Park you will experience English luxury at its finest. This place has seen royalty and London elite stepping through its doors for over 80 years. In fact Queen Elizabeth learnt how to skate...Find out more
If these sound too posh or expensive for your liking (understandably!), luckily Mayfair has a couple of cheap eats as well. Head down to Shepherd Street to find Sofra, a Turkish restaurant where a main course and a glass of wine won’t cost anymore than £10 to £15. Alternatively you can try Truc Vert on North Audley Street for some simple French dishes, or another stunning French local, L’Artise Muscle. The restaurant could do no more to feel as authentic as possible; its Parisian air and its gorgeous rustic decor are perfect accompaniments to the food. We recommend the ‘tarte aux oignons carmelizes et fromage de chevre’; a delicious mussel dish that is even more of a mouthful than its name!
Mayfair is also known for one of London’s – nay, the world’s! – most luxurious streets to shop on: Bond Street. Here, you will find ranges of designer boutiques from around the world. British, American, French and Italian fashion designers have set up shops here, willing to sell their wares to the more glamorous amongst you. On Old Bond Street is the headquarters of Alexander McQueen, the brand that created the Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding dress.
If you want to give the luxury shopping a miss and you are just after more general goods, Oxford Street is but a few minutes’ walk away. Europe’s busiest shopping street, you will find stores ranging from clothing to electronic goods by way of various restaurants and fast food places.
To finish your evening in true aristocratic style, head back to Mayfair; specifically Handel House Museum, where you will be privy to a stunning evening concert of classical music. Located on Brook Street, where the great baroque composer George Frideric Handel lived for almost forty years until his death in 1759. Tickets usually cost £9 and typically concerts will revolve around the music of Handel himself as well as other musical geniuses like Beethoven and Mozart.