Updated: May 15
On the London version of Monopoly, Mayfair is the most expensive place on the board, and for good reason. Once a sleepy backwater where old money lived quietly in peace it has period elegance and charm consisting predominantly of Georgian Townhouses, but in recent years it has attracted niche financial institutions in particular hedge funds and the uber wealthy.
The name Mayfair is derived from an annual fair that ran from the late 1600s right up to around 1764 when the newer monied residents took exception to what had become quite a raucous event comprising of entertainers, jugglers, fighters and prostitutes, all washed down with copious amounts of cheap ale on what had previously been a rural setting.
Inspite of the extraordinary wealth, Mayfair is still very accessible and well worth a visit, even if only to see how the other half live. The pubs there are no more expensive than anywhere else in central London so you don’t have to feel excluded if you are on a budget. From the Lancaster Hall Hotel, you can walk through both Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park into Mayfair within 20 minutes. Alternatively, you can take a 94 bus or one stop on the Central Line to Marble Arch and walk down Park Lane.
Eat at the Queen's favourite restaurant
As you would expect, Mayfair has restaurants that cater to the wealthy residents and workers of Mayfair but there are some great places to eat and drink without breaking the bank.
Bellamy’s is a French style brasserie hidden down a pretty mews called Bruton Place, off Berkeley Square. This restaurant is reputed to be the Queen’s favourite, although it is not something that they promote themselves, with service being exemplary and discrete. A three-course fixed price menu is on offer at £29.50.
Alternatively, on the same mews, is the Guinea Grill which is a Mayfair institution. What appears on the outside to be a regular pub has a back room that has specialised in aged, grass fed British beef since 1852.
For those on a budget, or who prefer a more informal setting we recommend the Coach and Horses pub on Bruton Street. This is a charming Tudor style pub that serves traditional British dishes including Sunday Roast and Fish and Chips.
Hear a nightingale sing on Berkeley Square
Berkeley Square is a grand, leafy square in the heart of Mayfair and nowadays is surrounded by upmarket car showrooms, hedge fund offices and art galleries. Immortalised in the song penned in 1939 by Eric Maschwitz and Manning Sherwin, it’s a great spot to sit and watch the world go by.
Rub shoulders with the super rich
Given its proximity to the Royal palaces, Mayfair has attracted the well-heeled since being developed in the 17th Century from agricultural land. Inspite of its charming streets and elegant regency townhouses, Mayfair is no sleepy backwater and has a thriving art, fashion and shopping scene.
For shopping we recommend taking in Old and New Bond streets with every global high-end fashion label on display. Mount Street is where to truly rub shoulders with the super-rich as they dine at Scott’s and take coffee at the Connaught’s Patisserie or shop at international branded boutiques.
The annual Mayfair Art Weekend, usually held in June, is a rare opportunity to take in a tour of the many private galleries over the course of an evening and see a wide range of pieces without any obligation.
Indulge your inner artist at the Royal Academy
The Royal Academy is a unique British Institution on the edge of Mayfair, off Piccadilly.
Founded by artists and architects, since the 1700s it provides a free display of art and architecture from their collection, both past and present, with the aim of introducing new audiences to a wide range of the ancient and modern-day art.
Aside from hosting world-class exhibitions of art, the remit of the RA is to encourage the practice of art, and unlike many similar institutions, each Royal Academician must be a practicing artist, having donated at least one of their artworks to the RA collection. Home to the oldest art school in the country, the courses are highly sought after.
Shop like a Victorian
The Royal Arcade off Old Bond street has changed very little since its construction in 1879 with a glass roof and ornate arches. Originally called The Arcade, it became the Royal Arcade when shirtmaker May & Brettell became supplier to Queen Victoria. Nowadays it still caters to the high end market with Antiques, Galleries, Shoemakers, Perfumers and luxury chocolate.
Take a moment to walk down this wonderful piece of shopping history. It might be exclusive but it is certainly inviting, especially when decorated over the Christmas period.
Around the corner on Burlington Gardens you will find the similarly grand Burlington Arcade which was supposedly commissioned by the Earl of Burlington (Lord George Cavendish) so that his wife could shop safely. Like the Royal Arcade it is mainly occupied by independent shops selling luxury goods and fine foods, all guarded by a unique security staff known as Beadles who hail from the Victorian era and are dressed accordingly.
Pay homage to the great musicians
If you are a music lover, there is a treat in stall on Brook Street in the heart of Mayfair. At number 23 above the shop front there is a blue plaque to signify that the legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix lived there during the 1960’s. Even though he died at the very young age of 27 he made a huge impression with his songs, in particular Voodoo Child which epitomised the music of the 1960s.
At the opposite end of the musical spectrum is George Fredick Handell who lived next door at number 25. It is here that he composed Zadok the Priest and Messiah. It is extraordinary to think that this is the place where he spent the last 3 decades of his life creating a body of work that would propel him to musical immortality.
Both properties have been restored as their illustrious occupants would have recognised. You can buy a ticket to see both here.
Nearby on Savile Row you will find a blue plaque at number 3. This is where the Beatles made their last public performance on the roof in 1969, playing 'Let it be'.
Get suited and booted on Savile Row
Savile Row has been synonymous with fine British tailoring since the 18th Century with famous clients including Winston Churchill, the British Royal family, Lord Nelson, of Nelson's Column fame on Trafalgar square and even Napoleon.
Located at the prestigious No. 1 Savile Row (founded separately in the late 1700s), Gieves and Hawkes built their reputation with uniforms for the Royal Navy and British Army. Since then, they have supplied fine tailoring to Royalty around the world along with stars of stage and screen.
Have a pint in a country pub
Mayfair is served by a number of characterful pubs with long histories stretching back to the 18th Century with many having a country pub vibe. The Punchbowl was built on the grounds of Hay Hill Farm in 1750; on the opposite side of the mews there are more clues as to the rural origins of the area.
Our favourites are the Guinea Grill on Bruton Place, the previously mentioned Coach and Horses on Bruton Street and the Windmill on Mill Street which is a great place for a traditional pie and a pint.