Magnificent Mayfair: exquisite attractions in the heart of the West End

shutterstock 181994516
shutterstock 181994516

Although Chelsea is home to many a fine attraction (and no mistake), you’d be foolish if during a leisurely stay in the area – perhaps at the likes of San Domenico House hotel – you didn’t venture a little further afield; especially to the equally salubrious, admired and brilliantly bustling district of Mayfair. But what might you find there to see and do…?

Royal Academy of Arts

(Burlington House, Piccadilly W1J 0BD/ open: 10am-6pm Monday-Thursday and Saturday-Sunday; 10am-10pm Friday)

Set within the palatial environs of the Georgian-era Burlington House that sits back a little way from Piccadilly, the Royal Academy of Arts is the home not just to the UK’s most esteemed art school (established around 150 years ago) but also galleries upon galleries that host a choice selection of finely curated, rolling exhibitions. Constantly changing then, this programme of exhibits appeals to the eyes, ears and, well, all the senses of every possible visitor. So, despite its ornate grey-brick surroundings, the Royal Academy is far from a stuffy institution; perhaps the best example of which being its legendary Summer Exhibition, which displays works of fine art, in their thousands, from any and every amateur and professional artist whom submits their work.

Apsley House

(149 Piccadilly W1J 7NT/ open: 11am-5pm Wednesday-Sunday; 11am-5pm Bank Holidays)

Located at the far western end of Piccadilly near Hyde Park (so merely a hop on the Tube away from any of the hotels near Sloane Square), Apsley House is highly recommended – if nothing else – because it was, for many years, the London home of the iconic ‘Iron Duke’ himself and titanic British hero of the Napoleonic Wars, Arthur Wellesley, the 1st Duke of Wellington. Designed and built by Robert Adam and completed in 1778, its Regency interiors are among the greatest examples of their kind anywhere in the UK; today they play host to some of the finest Renaissance fine art you’ll find anywhere in the world (including paintings by the likes of Rubens, van Dyke and Velazquez) and a cacophony of magnificent silver and porcelain. Known in Wellesley’s lifetime as ‘Number 1 London’ (it was the first address anyone passed on entrance to London via Knightsbridge’s tollgates), Apsley House today remains a property (partially) lived in by his descendants.

Handel & Hendrix in London

(25 Brook Street W1K 4HB/ open: 11am-6pm Monday-Saturday)

Finally, proof indeed that London has played an indefatigable role in the rise of popular music is the unique story behind this Georgian townhouse. For it was this address that, in two quite separate eras of London’s past, was home to, first, powerhouse baroque composer George Frederic Handel (from 1723 to 1759) and, second, perhaps the greatest rock guitarist who ever lived, Jimi Hendrix (from 1968 to 1969). To wit, the place has now been restored and converted into a small but perfectly formed museum that’s smartly dedicated to the careers of both musical behemoths – and, in particular, the years of their lives they spent living in it. Try to coincide your visit with one of the live music performances or exhibitions it regularly plays host to – the Saturday talks aren’t to be missed, for sure, but definitely not the Thursday evening concerts, predominantly of exquisite Handel-era baroque pieces.