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London Travel Guide

  • Photo: © Zach Nelson / Fodors Travel

Mayfair and Marylebone

A favorite of newspaper style sections everywhere, Marylebone High Street forms the heart of Marylebone (pronounced "Marr-le-bone") Village, a vibrant, upscale neighborhood that encompasses the squares and streets around High Street and nearby Marylebone Lane. The district took its name from a church dedicated to St. Mary and the bourne (another word for "stream") that ran through the original village.

Its development, by various members of the aristocracy, began in the early 18th century. Today, it's hard to believe that you're just a few blocks north of gaudy Oxford Street as you wander in and out of Marylebone's small shops and boutiques, the best of which include La Fromagerie (2–6 Moxon Street), an excellent cheese shop; Daunt Books (Nos. 83–84), a travel bookshop; "Cabbages and Frocks" market on the grounds of the St. Marylebone Parish Church, held Saturday 11–5, which purveys specialty foods and vintage clothing; and on Sunday 10–2, a large farmers' and artisanal-food market in a parking lot on Cramer Street, just behind High Street. But some memorable sights await, too, including that best remnant of ancient régime France in London, the fabled Wallace Collection. The best metro stop for the area is Bond Street.

Mayfair forms the core of London's West End, the city's smartest central area. This neighborhood epitomizes the stately flavor that is peculiarly London's—the sense of being in a great, rich, powerful city is almost palpable as you wander along the posh and polished streets. Scoot across the district’s one exception to all this elegance—Oxford Street—and you'll discover the pleasant streets of Marylebone, the most central of London’s many "villages."

Ultra-ritzy Mayfair, lined with beautiful 18th-century mansions (along with Edwardian apartment buildings faced with deep-red brick), is the address of choice for many of London's wealthiest residents. Once you note the sheer number of Rolls-Royces, Bentleys, and Jaguars, you may become acutely aware of how poor you are. Even the delivery vans hereabouts all seem to bear some royal coat of arms, proclaiming them to be purveyors of fine goodies for as long as anyone can remember.

The district can't claim to be stuffed with must-sees—but that is part of its appeal. There is no shortage of history and gorgeous architecture; the streets here are custom-built for window-shopping, expansive strolling, and getting a peek into the lifestyles of London’s rich and famous, past and present. Mayfair is primarily residential, so its homes are off-limits except for one satisfyingly grand house: Apsley House, the Duke of Wellington’s home, built by Robert Adam in 1771, and once known as No. 1, London.

Despite being bounded by four of the busiest streets in London—bustling budget-shopping mecca Oxford Street to the north, traffic artery Park Lane with Hyde Park beyond to the west, and elegant boulevards Regent Street and Piccadilly to the east and south, respectively—Mayfair itself is remarkably traffic-free and a delight to explore. Starting at Selfridges on Oxford Street, a southward stroll will take you through quiet residential streets lined with Georgian town houses (the area was largely developed in the 17th and 18th centuries) and, with a bit of artful navigating, to four lovely greenswards: Grosvenor Square, Berkeley Square, Hanover Square, with its splendid St. George's Church where Handel worshipped, and the quiet St. George's Gardens, bounded by a maze of atmospheric streets and mews. Mayfair is also London's most exclusive shopping destination, with such enclaves as Mount Street, Bruton Street, Savile Row, and the Burlington Arcade. At the western end of Mayfair at Hyde Park corner are two memorials to England's great hero, the Duke of Wellington: Wellington Arch and the duke's restored London residence, Apsley House.

The Royal Academy of Arts is at the southern fringe of Mayfair on Piccadilly, and just across the road begins more sedate St. James's, with its old-money galleries, restaurants, and gentlemen's clubs that embody the history and privilege of traditional London. You’ll get the best sense of the neighborhood just to the south on St. James's Square and Pall Mall, with its private clubs tucked away in 18th- and 19th-century patrician buildings.

The name Mayfair derives from the 15-day May fair that was once held in the charming warren of small streets known as Shepherd Market. But in the 18th century, the residents of this now-fashionable neighborhood felt the fair was lowering the tone and so put a stop to it.

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