Maggie Squires manages to combine shopping with culture in one of the capital’s most vibrant districts
1. Regent’s Park
Leave corporate London behind for a few hours and escape to charming Marylebone – the beautiful buildings, one-off shops and gourmet food make for a fantastic afternoon.
Start at Regent’s Park, at the northern boundary of the area. The green space, once known as Marylebone Park, was originally used as a hunting ground by Henry VIII. In 1818, John Nash, architect to the crown, developed it into the 166-hectare site it is today.
There’s lots to see – consult one of the maps to get your bearings. Try a stroll through Queen Mary’s Gardens, a tranquil spot filled with palm trees and rose gardens. Or visit the Wildlife Garden for some ideas on encouraging wildlife in your own little piece of England – look out for the glassy-eyed earthen newt sculpture. London Zoo, on the northern side, has almost 750 species – you may recognise the reptile exhibit from the film Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (entry is £18.10, visit zsl.org).
If you’re short of time, simply have a wander and enjoy a bit of people watching – it’s a popular spot for runners, romancers, dog-walkers and families. If you’re visiting in summer and have an evening free, there are regular plays performed at the Open Air Theatre (openairtheatre.com). Regent’s Park opens at 5am year-round; closing time is seasonal. Visit royalparks.org.uk
2. Royal Academy of Music Museum
Leave the park via York Bridge on the south side. Straight ahead on Marylebone Road you’ll see St Marylebone Parish Church (stmarylebone.org.uk) – when Nash built York Gate as the main entrance to the park, he designed it deliberately to afford this great view of the grand, pillared structure. Consecrated in 1817, it is topped by several small golden angels who look down benevolently as if protecting the area.
Your next stop, the Royal Academy of Music Museum, is on the corner of York Gate and Marylebone Road and offers a fascinating insight into the history of classical musical instruments. On the ground floor is the “Treasures of the Academy” collection, containing sheet music and guitars from the past 300 years, along with personal letters from musicians dating back to the 1860s.
Go upstairs to the Strings Gallery for a lesson on the evolution of the violin – the oldest instruments on display are from the 1500s. You can also often see a luthier in the workshop maintaining the academy’s stringed instrument collection.
The second floor houses the Piano Gallery, showcasing pianos, harpsichords and fortepianos from the early 19th century, as well as a few old English “square pianos” – a technician is often on hand, making repairs. Students of the academy frequently use the instruments on display and concerts are held a few times a week in the galleries during term time. There’s also a shop selling sheet music, CDs and gifts. Entry is free. Open 11.30am-5.30pm weekdays, 12pm-4pm weekends. Visit ram.ac.uk
3. Marylebone High Street
Cross the busy road and turn down Marylebone High Street – you’ll immediately feel a sense of calm descend. The beating heart of Marylebone village since the 15th century, it is now home to a range of high-end home stores, designer boutiques and cafés.
Highlights include Skandium (skandium.com) at number 86, which offers two floors of Scandinavian-inspired furniture and homeware, and Daunt Books (dauntbooks.co.uk) at 83, well known for its travel section. Cath Kidston’s store (cathkidston.com) at number 51 has quirky bags, purses and clothing in her trademark floral prints, while Caroline and Friends (44) is full of pretty gifts. Apartment C at 70 (apartment-c.com) is the place for beautifully made lingerie.
Foodies shouldn’t miss the Natural Kitchen (77-78), an organic food store/café offering a mouthwatering selection of meats, cheeses, salads, jams, oils and sweet treats (thenaturalkitchen.com), or Divertimenti (33-34), a kitchenware store and café that hides a cookery school in the basement – it occasionally runs a Lunchtime Express class for £25. Visit divertimenti.co.uk
Around the corner on Paddington Street, the brand new Colony Bar and Grill (7-9) offers cuisine and cocktails inspired by the British Raj. Visit colonybarandgrill.com
4. L’Homme Designer Exchange and Catwalk
You’re not finished with shops yet – turn next on to Blandford Street and head for L’Homme Designer Exchange (number 50) and Catwalk next door at 52. These tiny, second-hand clothes stores take only designer goods in top-notch condition – you’ll find the racks near overflowing with eclectic merchandise, and the service is friendly and attentive.
L’Homme Designer Exchange stocks quality men’s garments from brands such as Hugo Boss, Giorgio Armani and YSL Rive Gauche. When I visited, a Prada suit originally on sale for £800 was available for £199. The Catwalk runs a nearly identical operation for women, with clothes, bags and shoes from brands such as Gucci, Marni, Pucci and Louis Vuitton selling at similarly reduced prices. The shop stresses that it will only take items that are very fashionable, so if you like being in vogue – but don’t like spending a fortune – it could be the place to visit. L’Homme Designer Exchange is open 11.30am-4.30pm Monday-Saturday. The Catwalk is open Monday 12.30pm-6pm, Tuesday-Friday 11.30am-6pm, Saturday 11.30am-5pm.
5. The Landmark
For your last stop, head back to Marylebone Road for a well-earned refreshment break at one of the area’s most venerable hotels, the Landmark – it’s a ten-minute walk away, just in front of Marylebone railway station.
The striking Victorian architecture is hard to miss, and inside you’ll find a glass-roofed, eight-storey-high atrium complete with towering palm trees. The Winter Garden restaurant (open 7am-12am) serves breakfast, lunch, dinner and a fantastic afternoon tea, while Two Twenty Two (open 11am-12am) offers lunch and dinner with main dishes starting from £12. The atmosphere is lively yet relaxed, and the drinks list is varied.
A swankier option is the hotel’s Mirror bar. Open from 4pm to 2am Tuesday-Saturday (later than most other bars in the area) it’s a luxurious spot featuring plush seating, jazzy music and excellent staff. Be sure to try the signature mojito champagne cocktail, but be warned that it will set you back £17. The Landmark, 222 Marylebone Road; tel +44 (0)20 7631 8000; landmarklondon.co.uk; mirrorbar-london.com
Bicester Village retail outlet (chicoutletshopping.com) is located an hour by train from London Marylebone station. Visit businesstraveller.com/shopping for a feature on creating a business traveller’s wardrobe at Bicester.