Tour Mayfair's upscale shops and hotels in London

If these walls could talk. Or better still, if this whole place could talk. If these pavements could talk; if these shops could talk; if these mansions and palaces and luxury hotels and the grand promenades that connect them could speak of their history and the things they've seen. If only.

White's could tell you a few stories. White's is Mayfair's, and subsequently England's, most exclusive "gentlemen's club", so exclusive that it continues to live to the letter of its description, denying 50 per cent of the population even the faintest hope of entry. Prince Charles is a member. Prince William is part of the club. King Edward VII once strolled these halls. The fates of entire nations and empires have no doubt been decided over cups of tea at White's.

To most visitors to Mayfair, of course, White's is just a wall and a door, just an address and a facade. You have no hope of getting inside. All you can do is wander past and continue your exploration of London's most prestigious locale, to continue learning about the history and the characters who have shaped this place, and whose tales can still be divined from its clean, elegant streets.

Mayfair: this area may be intimidating in its exclusivity and prohibitive in its luxury, but in fact being here need not cost anything at all. There's no requirement to order tailor-made suits from Savile Row; no need for whopping bills from five-star hotels; no obligation for impulse bids at Christie's. To soak up the stories and the history of Mayfair is priceless – it's also essentially free.

My first stop here is not White's, but a store I can actually walk into, if not afford to patronise: Berry Bros. & Rudd, which is perched quietly on the corner of Pall Mall and St James's Street, one of the most prestigious addresses in the United Kingdom. The way you snaffle such a locale, I discover, is to get in early: Berry Bros. & Rudd has been selling the finest wines here since 1698.

There is a vast cellar underneath the shop, explains my guide, Alexandra Jackson, a space that holds more than 4000 wines, each selected by one of Berry Bros' five Masters of Wine. The shop has two "Royal Warrants", seals that confirm it as a supplier to the British Royal Family. If those cellar walls could talk, if you could ask them questions …

Back out on the street, famous names jump out at you from the front of elegant buildings, signage that provides a checklist of Mayfair's former residents and England's most influential figures: Sir Winston Churchill, Lord Nelson, P.G. Wodehouse, even Jimi Hendrix.

All probably called into Lock & Co. Hatters, a gentleman's hat-maker that has been in business since 1676. (For perspective, Charles II was in power back then, and Sir Isaac Newton had just been born.) The shop is still open to the public.

Just across the road there is Truefitt & Hill, thought to be the world's oldest barber, having begun shaping beards and trimming moustaches in 1805. Close by there is John Lobb, Bootmaker, crafters of the finest men's shoes since 1849. Both are open to anyone with enough confidence (and pounds sterling) to wander in.

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Around the corner on Piccadilly, Hatchards has been selling books since 1797. Paxton & Whitfield began selling cheese the same year. Chequers Tavern, a cosy pub down a nearby lane, has been serving pints to Mayfair's discerning drinkers since 1666. The personalities and events witnessed by these places is mind-boggling.

And as anyone who has played Monopoly could tell you, the real power and money in Mayfair is commanded by those who build hotels. That would be the people who opened Brown's in 1837, or Claridge's in 1856, or the Connaught in 1897. There is also the Athenaeum, now a hotel, though in the 1800s a gentlemen's club just like White's, where Mayfair's powerful and connected would gather to indulge their vices. The stories it could tell.

TRIP NOTES

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traveller.com.au/london

visitbritain.com

FLY

Singapore Airlines flies from all major ports in Australia to London, via Singapore. See singaporeair.com

STAY

The Athenaeum is an historic, luxury hotel in Mayfair. Rooms start from $680 a night. See athenaeumhotel.com

TOUR

Alexandra Jackson is a member of the British Guild of Tourist Guides and conducts bespoke tours of London and its surrounds. See britainsbestguides.org

The writer travelled as a guest of Visit Britain.

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