Revered and always resplendent as one of the most elegant districts of London, Mayfair lies between Marylebone and Paddington to the north, Soho to the east, Westminster to the south and Hyde Park/ Kensington Gardens to the west. No question then, with the refinement of its Regency architecture and hugely sought-after addresses, should you find yourself staying near – or even in – this neighbourhood during a short-break in the UK capital you’ll be fortunate, indeed. Here are just a few of its finest attractions…
The Royal Academy of Arts
(Burlington House, Piccadilly W1J 0BD)
A centuries-old institution of London cultural life, the entirely independent, privately-funded Royal Academy’s biggest claim to fame remains its open ‘Summer Exhibition’, which during the few summer weeks of the year displays (if deemed good and appropriate enough by the judging panel) any work of visual art by anyone, however famous or unknown they may be – incredibly, the exhibition has run annually every year since its inception way back in 1769. Just over a century after hosting the first Summer Exhibition, the place opened itself up as a temporary loan venue for works by Old Masters, another tradition that continues to this day – so much so that nowadays it’s undoubtedly one of the world’s leading art exhibition spaces.
Handel and Hendrix in London
(23 and 25 Brook Street W1K 4HB)
Famed as the London address taken by the supreme German-born baroque composer George Frideric Handel on his arrival in Blighty in 1712 and where he lived for the rest of his life (until his death in 1759), 25 Brook Street is today a museum dedicated to the great musician’s life and works, featuring as it does exquisitely and elegantly restored rooms on its first and second floors, as well as exhibition rooms in the adjacent house – number 23 – in which between 1968 and ’69 lived Jimi Hendrix, possibly the greatest electric guitarist the world has ever known. Boasting a full and fun events programme with highlights such as temporary exhibits, talks, learning activities for children and, yes, live music, of course (especially monthly baroque music recitals), the property offers a unique and fascinating insight into the worlds of the two very different men of music by whom its linked.
(149 Piccadilly W1J 7NT)
Lying just across the road from Hyde Park Corner at the entrance to Hyde Park and, fittingly, Wellington Arch, Apsley House therefore proudly stands at the end of a stroll down the elegant boulevard that’s Piccadilly, thus the ideal venue to visit one day should you be staying at the Piccadilly London West End hotel on Shaftesbury Avenue. But why should you visit it? Well, being the one-time home of the iconic Duke of Wellington – who led the British and other forces to victory against Napoleon in 1815’s Battle of Trafalgar and was later UK Prime Minister – it’s a prime piece of Regency real estate, its interiors so decorous they truly have to be seen to be believed.
Designed and constructed by the legendary Robert Adam from 1771-78, it’s actually still owned and lived in by the Duke’s descendants, whom share it with works by masters such as Rubens, van Dyke and Velazquez. Indeed, after your visit to ‘Number 1 London’, as it’s affectionately known, why not waltz you way back and enjoy an afternoon or early evening at the Piccadilly West End hotel spa? Why not, indeed!
The Royal Institution
(21 Albermarle Street W1S 4BS)
Founded with the lofty ambition of driving public engagement in science via lectures and other events, the Royal Institution has impressively managed to fulfil this gambit – and keep it up – throughout its history. Like the nearby and (in its way, similarly themed) Royal Academy, this venue has in recent decades become synonymous for one particular series of annual events – the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures; fun and engaging talks on science subjects attended by kids and broadcast on TV each December. However, the real reason why this place features on this list is because it contains the Faraday Museum, an attraction open during weekday office hours that showcases where the trailblazing scientist, Michael Faraday, worked during the prime of his career, including his actual 1850s laboratory. To say a visit here makes for an electric couple of hours then is putting it mildly!
(36 Wigmore Street W1U 2BP)
Finally, no time spent sating the senses in Mayfair would surely be complete without sampling the sort of classical music with which its heritage is so associated. Wigmore Hall, which was built by the Bechstein piano company at the turn of the 20th Century may appear to be a magnificent concert hall (which it surely is), but it’s also revered as a venue for hearing chamber and solo classical music owing to its state-of-the-art design – a rectangular shape in addition to the use of Renaissance-era materials like marble and alabaster are thought to lend it truly supreme, clear acoustics. Today, the very best musicians in their field perform regularly (but you may want to check what’s on before you pay a visit), while in the past it was graced by such virtuosos as Percy Grainger, Dame Myra Hess and Camille Saint-Saëns. Exquisite.