My Mayfair Lady – A Local Girl’s Guide To London’s Exclusive Square Mile
Written by Jaillan Yehia
Most people think of Mayfair and imagine upscale hotels, the beautiful boutiques of Dover Street Market and the high-end establishments of Shepherd Market but take it from a local girl, whether you’re more of a Professor Higgins or an Eliza Doolittle you can still find your fun in Mayfair…
Even an uber-local London girl like me had to turn to the internet to discover that Mayfair was named after the annual fortnight-long May Fair that was held in Shepherd Market each year from 1686 to 1764 – and the historical tidbits don’t stop there; the story of desirable Mayfair is packed with literary characters.
Take tiny Half Moon Street – referenced in Mary Wesley’s The Chamomile Lawn, this diminutive street which borders Green Park is also the setting for the first act of The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde, and it’s other famous fictional residents have included Bertie Wooster, P.G Wodehouse’s well-known master to manservant Jeeves, and surely the ultimate 18th century literary authority, none other than the English dictionary inventor Samuel Johnston’s biographer, James Boswell.
While the history of one of London’s most exclusive areas is undoubtedly fascinating, most Mayfair visitors want to explore what’s on offer in the present day – here’s how to do just that…
First things first, you’ll need a way to get around, and with a lot of traffic in this central London location and parking at a premium most savvy locals use public transport. If you’re staying in and exploring the mini area that is Mayfair you can easily walk – or better yet bike – from place to place.
Hire A Bike In Mayfair
You can pick up one of London’s Santander Cycles (previously sponsored by Barclays and called Barclays bikes) at a variety of locations all around Mayfair.
The best part is that you can choose your starting point and simply drop your bike off whenever and wherever you’re ready to call it a day and head into a shop, pub or restaurant.
Mayfair’s parks and back streets are a delight for cycling – and will show you something new and amazing every day, making them sightseeing gold for open-eyed tourists. Simply pull over when something catches your eye, and you won’t have to worry about finding a parking spot or congestion charges – plus you can cover far more ground faster than you can on foot.
Local tip: There are plenty of really helpful apps to make your city cycling easier – but since Santander took over sponsorship they’ve released their own app for hiring a bike in London which will tell you where the docking stations are located and much more, so you’ll feel like a local in no time.
Eliza Doolittle Rating: ★★★★★
For as little as £2 you can wheel your way around the city
Park Yourself At A Mayfair Park
For a mega-metropolis of around 8 million people London has an amazing amount of beautiful parkland – and the great news is that Mayfair is literally smack bang in the middle of four of London’s most iconic parks – Green Park, St. James’s Park, Regent’s Park and Hyde Park.
Local tip: You cannot go wrong on a hot sunny day by joining the locals and heading to one of the parks. Whether you go for a stroll or hire a bike, you can go fully local and take a blanket and picnic with you, or hire a deck chair in the park.
Most parks have a dedicated deck chair attendant or two who will come round and take payment for chair rental. I’ve actually seen people get off the chairs when they see the attendant coming, then promptly get back on them again after he leaves, but in my opinion that’s just not cricket, so be sure to have some cash ready.
Eliza Doolittle Rating: ★★★
Paying for the deckchairs is more Professor Higgins’ style but budding Eliza’s can bring their own blankets instead
Join The Friday Night Skate
A really fun activity that’s loved by local participants and spectators alike, and which kicks of each Friday in Mayfair is the Friday night skate. This mass outing for rollerbladers sees them gang up on the city and bring a skating party on a 10 mile tour through central London.
The sessions start at Wellington Arch (see below), Hyde Park Corner at 8 pm, and there’s also a leisurely Sunday version at 2 pm which is slower, aimed at beginners and avoids hilly streets, and which begins in the park itself at Serpentine Road.
Eliza Doolittle Rating: ★★★★★
The best things in life are free – as is this skate, whether you’re watching or joining in
Ascend Wellington Arch
As a local there’s no way to overstate the importance of the two arches that border Mayfair, they’re part of the fabric of our daily lives and give this part of London that sense of pomp and majesty which we all love.
While it’s sister monument Marble Arch gives its name to the entire area where Edgware Road and Oxford Street meet, and to the nearby tube station, many Londoners probably couldn’t actually name Wellington Arch despite knowing exactly where it is placed.
Fewer know that it used to be home to a police station and that you can visit Wellington Arch and climb to the top giving you great views of Mayfair and the surrounding area.
Local’s tip: If you’re in town in mid-September for London Open House weekend, Wellington Arch is one of the landmark buildings which is free to visit.
Eliza Doolittle Rating: ★★★★
Great views for under a fiver? Great value for Mayfair
Eat Like A Local In Mayfair
Brunch At Aubaine
Having first opened a branch on Brompton Road, Aubaine was conceived as an upscale bakery and French-style boulangerie where local people could buy fresh bread and cakes in a family-friendly environment.
The great concept and light airy decor led to further branches in Mayfair, including one in Selfridges and the central Mayfair location at Dover Street, each with the same Provencal inspired interiors and Mediterranean-style all day dining that keep the locals coming in.
Local tip: Coffee and cakes are all freshly made just before service each day and this is a perfect spot to seek out an any-time-of-day croquet monsieur.
Dinner At Truc Vert
Mayfair is well-known for its upscale restaurant scene and it boasts many Michelin-starred establishments but for a locally-favoured, understated and underrated dinner in a laid-back French restaurant look no further than the farmhouse vibe at Truc Vert.
Local tip: This deli-meets-eaterie has been given high praise in local press and Truc Vert and its North Audley Street location is perfect for a post-shopping supper.
Eliza Doolittle Rating: ★★
Aubaine and Truc Vert are both very fairly-priced but you might want to bring Professor Higgins along to help out
Try Afternoon Tea
As a London local I’m happy to give you the good news that during your time in Mayfair there’s absolutely nothing touristy about indulging in Afternoon Tea.
I’ve tried everywhere from tiny little ma and pa tea shops to the 5 Star hotels’ offerings, and without leaving the confines of Mayfair you have your pick of establishments from The Wolseley, Claridge’s and The Ritz to Richoux to take your cucumber sandwiches, scones and cakes, all washed down with the tea tipple of your choice.
Local Tip: A proper traditional afternoon tea should give you unlimited sandwiches – after all it is important to have had your fill of savoury before moving onto sweet. Simply ask if they ‘replenish’ at the beginning and eat accordingly.
Eliza Doolittle Rating: ★
If anything is worth splashing out on in Mayfair, afternoon tea is it – you won’t find the best scones going for a song.
Where To Stay In Mayfair
Despite the area’s concentration of beautiful luxury hotels, if you’re looking for the opportunity to live like a local in Mayfair, and want all the comforts of home when you return from exploring your new neighborhood, it is well worth using a home rental service in Mayfair like Air B&B.
For less than the cost of a hotel room you can have an entire stylish apartment in Mayfair to yourself, something which is especially useful when you are spending time in a busy city like London, particularly if you’ve been walking and cycling around to find all your new favourite spots.
As a Londoner I would advocate apartment rental in central London over hotel stays because you can pop home in between forays and make yourself a cuppa (if you want to go truly local you’ll need to acquire the tea habit) or cook up a snack for yourself in your own kitchen – no matter how much you love to eat out when you’re in one place for a week or more it’s blissful to have access to your own home from home, somewhere you can kick off your shoes and not stand on ceremony. And let’s face it British TV isn’t a bad way to spend an evening – if you’re lucky My Fair Lady might even be on.
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