10 Best Sights in Mayfair, London

Apsley House

Mayfair Fodor's choice
Apsley House, Wellington Museum, London, England
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Apsley House was built by Robert Adam in the 1770s and was bought by the Duke of Wellington two years after his famous victory over Napoléon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Long known simply as No. 1, London, on account of its being the first mansion at the old tollgate from Knightsbridge village, the Duke's old regency abode continues to look quite grand. Victory over the French made Wellington the greatest soldier and statesman in the land. The so-called Iron Duke lived here from 1817 until his death in 1852, and, although the 7th Duke of Wellington gave the house to the nation, the family retained some residential rights.

As you'd expect, the mansion has many uniforms and weapons on display, but it also houses a celebrated art collection, the bulk of which was once owned by Joseph Bonaparte, onetime King of Spain and older brother of Napoléon. With works by Brueghel, van Dyck, and Rubens, as well as the Spanish masters Velázquez and Murillo (note the former's famous portrait of Pope Innocent X), the collection also includes a Goya portrait of the duke himself on horseback. An 11-foot-tall statue of a nude (fig-leafed) Napoléon looms over you as you approach the grand central staircase. The statue was taken from the Louvre and given as a gift to Wellington from the grateful British government in 1816.

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Burlington Arcade

Mayfair Fodor's choice
Burlington Arcade, London, England
© Zach Nelson / Fodors Travel

With ceilings and lights now restored to how they would have looked when it was built in 1819, Burlington Arcade is the finest of Mayfair's enchanting covered shopping alleys. Originally built for Lord Cavendish, it was meant to stop commoners from flinging garbage into his garden at next-door Burlington House. Top-hatted watchmen called beadles—the world's smallest private police force—still patrol, preserving decorum by preventing you from singing, running, or carrying an open umbrella. The arcade is also the main link between the Royal Academy of Arts and its extended galleries at 6 Burlington Gardens.

Royal Academy of Arts

Mayfair Fodor's choice
Royal Academy of Arts, London, England
© Zach Nelson / Fodors Travel

Burlington House was built in 1664, with later Palladian additions for the 3rd Earl of Burlington in 1720. The piazza in front dates from 1873, when the Renaissance-style buildings around the courtyard were designed by Banks and Barry to house a gaggle of noble scientific societies, including the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Royal Astronomical Society.

The house itself is home to the Royal Academy of Arts and an ambitious redevelopment for the academy's 250th anniversary in 2018 has meant that even more of its 46,000 treasures are now on display. The statue of the academy's first president, Sir Joshua Reynolds, palette in hand, stands prominently in the piazza. Free tours show off part of the collection and the excellent temporary exhibitions. Every June through August, the RA puts on its Summer Exhibition, a huge and eclectic collection of art by living Royal Academicians and many other contemporary artists.

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Bond Street

Mayfair

This world-class shopping haunt is divided into northern "New" (1710) and southern "Old" (1690) halves. You can spot the juncture by a bronzed bench on which Franklin D. Roosevelt sits companionably next to Winston Churchill. At No. 34--35, on New Bond Street, you'll find Sotheby's, the world-famous auction house, as well as upscale retailers like Chanel, Burberry, Louis Vuitton, and Church's. You'll find even more opportunities to flirt with financial ruin on Old Bond Street, with flagship boutiques of top-end designers like Prada, Gucci, and Saint Laurent; an array of fine jewelers including Tiffany & Co.; and art dealers Richard Green, Richard Nagy, and Trinity Fine Art. Cork Street, which parallels the top half of Old Bond Street, is where many top dealers in contemporary art have their galleries.

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David Zwirner

Mayfair

This is just one of several influential New York gallerists to open a London space in Mayfair in recent years, a trend that has revitalized an area that's been losing ground to edgier neighborhoods like Bethnal Green, Hackney, and Peckham. Zwirner's roster contains the likes of Bridget Riley and Jeff Koons, and modern masters such as Piet Mondrian are exhibited in this grand converted town house, too.

Grosvenor Square

Mayfair

Pronounced "Grove-na," this leafy square was laid out in 1721–31 and is as desirable an address today as it was then. Americans have certainly always thought so—from John Adams, the second president, who as ambassador lived at No. 38, to Dwight D. Eisenhower, whose wartime headquarters was at No. 20. The entire west side of the square was home to the U.S. Embassy for more than 50 years until its relocation south of the river. In the square itself stand memorials to Franklin D. Roosevelt and those who died on September 11, 2001. Grosvenor Chapel, completed in 1730 and used by Eisenhower's men during World War II, stands a couple of blocks south of the square on South Audley Street, with the entrance to pretty St. George's Gardens to its left.

Handel & Hendrix in London

Mayfair

This fascinating museum celebrates the lives of not one, but two musical geniuses: classical composer George Frideric Handel and rock guitar legend Jimi Hendrix. Comprising two adjoining buildings, the bulk of the museum centers on the life and works of Handel, who lived at No. 25 for more than 30 years until his death in 1759. In rooms decorated in fine Georgian style, you can linger over original manuscripts and gaze at portraits. Some of the composer's most famous pieces were created here, including Messiah and Music for the Royal Fireworks. Fast-forward 200 years or so, and the apartment on the upper floors of No. 23 housed one of rock's great innovators, Jimi Hendrix, for a short but creative period in the late 1960s. The apartment has been lovingly restored, complete with replica furniture, fixtures, and fittings from Hendrix's heyday.

Marble Arch

Mayfair

John Nash's 1827 arch, moved here from Buckingham Palace in 1851, stands amid the traffic whirlpool where Bayswater Road segues into Oxford Street, at the top of Park Lane. The arch actually contains three small chambers, which served as a police station until the mid-20th century. Search the sidewalk on the traffic island opposite the movie theater for the stone plaque recalling Tyburn Tree, an elaborately designed gallows that stood here for 400 years, until 1783. The condemned would be conveyed here in their finest clothes from Newgate Prison in The City and were expected to affect a casual indifference or face a merciless heckling from the crowds. Towering across the grass from the arch toward Tyburn Way is Still Water, a vast patina-green statue of a horse's head by sculptor Nic Fiddian-Green. Cross over (or under) to the northeastern corner of Hyde Park for Speakers' Corner, a parcel of land long-dedicated to the principle of free speech. On Sunday, people of all views—or none at all—come to pontificate, listen, and debate about everything under the sun.

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Marlborough Gallery

Mayfair

This veteran of the Mayfair art scene has been presenting exhibitions by masters old and new since it was founded in 1946. Great living artists, like Christopher Bramham and Frank Auerbach, plus exhibitions of graphic works from a whole host of starry names are showcased in the main first floor space, while the contemporary gallery on the second floor puts the spotlight on a younger generation of artists from the United Kingdom and abroad.

Wellington Arch

Mayfair

Opposite the Duke of Wellington's mansion, Apsley House, this majestic stone arch surveys the traffic rushing around Hyde Park Corner. Designed by Decimus Burton and completed in 1828, it was created as a grand entrance to the west side of London and echoes the design of that other landmark gate, Marble Arch. Both were triumphal arches commemorating Britain's victory against France in the Napoleonic Wars. Atop the building, the Angel of Peace descends on the quadriga, or four-horse chariot of war. Inside the arch, three floors of permanent and temporary exhibits reveal the monument's history. From the balconies at the top of the arch you can peek into the back garden at across-the-road Buckingham Palace.

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