Marvelous Mayfair: 48 hours in the exclusive London neighborhood

The Mayfair area of London. (Shutterstock)
Updated 11 December 2018

Marvelous Mayfair: 48 hours in the exclusive London neighborhood

  • One of the most lavish areas to be in London, Mayfair
  • Truly something magical about West London

DUBAI: It’s the most expensive property in the British version of “Monopoly,” reflecting its lavish status, so a trip to London’s Mayfair isn’t going to be a budget getaway. But there’s more to this affluent area than high-end shopping — all you have to do is take the time to explore. Mayfair is home to numerous art galleries, restaurants, cafés, parks, and more, and the festive period offers the perfect backdrop, with spectacular decorations.

There’s truly something magical about West London during the holidays, so if you have never visited the English capital in the colder months before, it’s well worth the extra thermals.
Covering the well-known areas between Oxford Street, Regent Street, Piccadilly and Park Lane, Mayfair is home to several prestigious properties and landmarks, including Claridge’s, The Dorchester, The Ritz and Green Park. It’s also cemented its reputation as an international art hub, thanks to the big-name galleries scattered all over.

One that definitely shouldn’t be missed is The Royal Academy of Arts in Burlington House, which dates back to 1768, making it the oldest fine arts society in the world. It marked its 250th anniversary with a newly expanded campus this year. We visited the Oceania exhibit (which runs until December 10), featuring 200 fascinating pieces spanning 500 years, all exploring the history and identity of the continent, and including work from New Guinea, New Zealand, Fiji, Tonga, and Australia. Fun fact: Meghan Markle’s first solo appearance as a royal saw her attend the opening of this exhibition.
Food in Mayfair is an art form in itself. You’ll be spoiled for choice, with everything from Indian fusion to Japanese on offer, and many halal options available too. For lunch, book a table at the exceptionally Instagrammable NAC Mayfair, a staple of the area and one that continues to delight with its incredibly friendly service and delightful dishes. Must-tries are the truffled mac and cheese, plus the ridiculously delicious crushed milk-chocolate cookies, served with the nicest ice-cream we have ever sunk a spoon into, and topped with Frosties.
Dinner will require a little more planning. We were lucky to find a table at the trendy Hide — which earned a Michelin star just five months after opening earlier this year. It’s best to reserve as soon as you book your flight. Launched by acclaimed British chef Ollie Dabbous — a self-described “mixed grill” who was born in Kuwait and is of Lebanese-French heritage — Hide is the place to see and be seen; chances are you’ll bump into a celeb while you are there. The à la carte menu is reasonably priced (mains are around $45), with dishes made of seasonal offerings, sourced from small farmers and suppliers across the UK.

Claridge's hotel. (Getty Images)

While we did mention earlier that there’s more to Mayfair than shopping, there’s still nothing wrong with a spot of retail therapy while you’re there. But skip the big chains and famous designers, and opt for the more unusual merchants instead.
Browse Burlington Arcade, the renowned covered shopping destination that opened in 1819, before stopping at British perfumers Penhaligon’s for a one-on-one perfume-profiling session. Based on your hobbies, interests and personality, an in-house expert will be able to find the perfect fragrance for you.
For another quintessentially British experience, cross the road to Lock & Co. Hatters, the world’s oldest hat shop, founded in 1676. Having dressed figures including Winston Churchill, Charlie Chaplin, and royals from the GCC, this institution sells all types of hats for men and women. Even if you don’t end up buying anything, it’s worth a visit just for the experience.
All that walking will no doubt leave you feeling hungry, so make your way to the Sheraton Grand London Park Lane, which has teamed up with Lock & Co., to host a special millinery-themed experience that includes sandwiches, and hat-shaped cakes and scones all served in the brand’s signature hat box. It’s the perfect way to end your shopping trip.

Austrian allure: Vienna’s vintage delights

Vienna, on the banks of the Danube. (Shutterstock)
Updated 18 June 2019

Austrian allure: Vienna’s vintage delights

  • The Austrian capital remains one of Europe’s great cities
  • Vienna is one of the world’s great art capitals, and a city obsessed with music

DUBLIN: There are few places more regal than Vienna. The former capital of the Austro-Hungarian empire is one of Europe’s great cities, filled with imperial palaces, baroque architecture and countless artistic and cultural highlights. It’s also increasingly being seen as a haven for design and food — and gradually shedding its rather staid reputation: while Austria’s star may have fallen since the heady days when it ruled a large part of the world, Vienna’s star is very much in ascendance.

First, the palaces. You can thank the Habsburg Monarchy for the Hofburg palace complex, a stunning collection of imperial architecture in the center of the city. Highlights include the Spanish Riding School, where stallions perform intricate equine dances; the Burgkapelle, where the Vienna Boy’s Choir sings at Sunday Mass; and the fascinating Kaiserappartments, where the city’s royalty lived and played.

Other palaces worth visiting are the Schloss Schonbrunn, the Habsburg’s 1,441-room summer residence, and the Schloss Belvedere, a huge complex of baroque buildings, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and includes a museum featuring a plethora of Austrian art.

And if you’re looking for an artistic fix, you are in the right place — Vienna is one of the world’s great art capitals. Head to the Albertina first, which is a converted 19th-century palace filled with old masters and some of the world’s best 20th-century artists. There’s work by everyone from Monet to Picasso to Rothko and it’s worth spending a few hours here to take it all in. A few minutes away is mumok, Vienna’s contemporary art museum. It has a huge collection of more than 10,000 works, featuring the likes of Jasper Johns, Roy Lichenstein and Pablo Picasso. It focuses on modern art, something reflected in the building’s stark design.

By this stage, you are going to need a pit stop, and a few minutes’ walk from mumok is the Hotel Sacher — the most storied hotel in the city. It’s hosted Queen Elizabeth II, John F. Kennedy and a host of other world leaders and A-listers. It is deservedly famous for its Sachertorte, a type of chocolate cake invented for Prince Wenzel von Metternich by the hotel’s founder, Franz Sacher, in 1832.

Given that its former residents include the likes of Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Strauss, it’s no surprise that Vienna is a city obsessed with music. There are countless venues across the city where you can hear classical music, including Musikverein, where the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra perform; the stunningly designed gold-and-crystal Staatsoper (State Opera House); and the wonderful Konzerthaus. For a tour of the city’s musical heritage, pay a visit to Haus der Musik, which features a range of interactive exhibits and traces the musical journey from the prehistoric age to the present day. It’s located in the Palace of Archduke Charles, where the founder of the Vienna Philharmonic once lived.

Vienna may not traditionally be known for its food (aside from the ubiquitous schnitzel), but recent years have seen it rise up the foodie ranks. A good place to start is Naschmarkt, a popular market dotted with small stalls and restaurants. There’s everything from noodles and falafel to, of course, wurstel.

For something more upmarket, head to Gastwirtschaft Wratschko, a favorite of the late Anthony Bourdain. Housed in a low-lit, wood-paneled restaurant that oozes atmosphere, it features a huge range of traditional Austrian cuisine. We recommend trying the steak with green peppercorn sauce, although if you want to go veggie, opt for the cabbage, tomato and cheese lasagna.

Once you are fed and watered, head to the Riesenrad, a huge Ferris wheel built in 1897 that’s over 65 meters high, and takes 20 minutes to complete its rotation. You may recognize it from its many cinematic appearances, including the 1987 James Bond movie “The Living Daylights.”

For something more down to earth, sign up for one of the many river cruises that head up and down the Danube. Most of the cruises offer similar itineraries, although costs can vary wildly, so do your research. The Danube is Europe’s second-longest river and flows nearly 3,000km through 10 countries, and there are plenty of boats that will bring you across Eastern Europe via the river. Although Vienna’s charms are such you’ll likely be reluctant to leave.