A byword for monied London, Mayfair is associated with a sort of refined luxury, a place for the earth's millionaires to be rich together without feeling flash. For the vast majority of is, it's a handful of exclusive boutiques and classy hotels situated on some of the capital's cleanest streets (so clean they had to call them 'mews' instead). Even tourists from abroad tend to pass through Mayfair on their way between Soho and Hyde Park, gawping at the buildings but not stopping for too long. But this little enclave, squared in by Regent St to the east, Piccadilly to the south, Bond St to the north, and Park Lane to the west, has plenty to offer the ordinary punter by way of cheap, even free, entertainment. Here we take a look at some of the best things to do in and around Mayfair.
The National Portrait Gallery in St. Martin's Place opened in 1856, and has focused on famous faces ever since. It was the world's first portrait gallery, housing paintings of reigning monarchs and the royal family, as well as other important figures in British history. Just round the corner on Trafalgar Square is the National Gallery, widely regarded one of the greatest art collections in the world. It contains works dating from 1250 on, including paintings by Titian, Rubens, Rembrandt, Degas, Van Gogh, Monet and Picasso.
Both galleries are free to enter, as is the Royal Academy of Arts, founded by George III in 1768 to promote 'the arts of design'. It holds regular exhibitions for prominent artists and architects, and is frequently a venue for debates and seminars on the visual arts. Trafalgar Square itself is like an outdoor gallery, and a firm fixture on the itinerary of any first-time visitor to London
A short hop from the heart of Mayfair, just over Constitution Hill, is Buckingham Palace, the Queen's London residence. Built by the duke of Buckingham in 1703, and bought by George III in 1762, it has been the official home of the British monarch since Queen Victoria took the throne in 1837.
The palace's very public backyard comprises Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. Famous for Speaker's Corner and the palace's ceremonial gatehouse Marble Arch, the Great Exhibition of 1851 was held here. The Serpentine lake separates Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, a modern art gallery of the same name standing on its shores. No visit to Mayfair is complete without a walk round these iconic parks.
Fortnum and Mason has been at the centre of London culture since the Georgian era. A department store as famous as Harrods, it's renowned for its food hall, selling gourmet treats from the world's finest chefs. Even if you don't buy anything, simply wandering around the classical form of the hallowed store is a fine way to spend an afternoon.
Mayfair is famous for five star hotels like Claridge's and The Connaught, but there are ways to stay in the area on a cheaper budget. The Holiday Inn London Mayfair hotel is affordable, but retains the elegance you expect from a Berkeley Street address. Within close walking distance of Berkeley Square, Oxford Street, and all the attractions featured above, it gives you a touch of glamour at a reasonable rate. Alternatively, you could look at staying at the Holiday Inn London - Kensington Forum hotel which is perfectly situated in one of London’s most luxurious and beautiful areas within South Kensington.