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Hattie Lloyd 29/08/23

Channel Your Inner Flaneur in St James's

Itinerary Location: St James’s & Mayfair |  Duration: 6 Hours

Centred around Pall Mall, a street basically built for giant games of croquet in the 1630s, St. James’s used to be the London pied-à-terre for the landed gentry and later became known as ‘Clubland’ after the dozens of Old Boys’ clubs lining its streets.

So you’d be forgiven for thinking that it doesn’t have a lot to offer anyone who isn’t a 17th century aristocrat.

As it happens, there’s a lot to enjoy here. It’s very possible to explore the gems of the neighbourhood (which include perfectly normal, modern things like bookshops and pelicans) and dip your toe into the high life with oysters and martinis if you fancy it, without having to spend like the wayward son of a Regency-era duke. St James’s, after all, was also the stomping ground of the flaneur, someone who spent the day just strolling around and people-watching.

Your day of moderate flamboyance begins at Piccadilly Circus (after all, what’s more aristocratic than taking the Bakerloo line?). Above ground, head up Piccadilly, past St James’s Church (where Bridgerton itself was filmed) and dip into:


maison assouline st james's

Housed in a former bank (that looks ridiculously palatial but is only a century old), Maison Assouline is the ultimate coffee table bookshop. Travel, art, fashion and more are all covered in the weighty tomes laid out on its tables, shelves and scattered Persian rugs. Taking one home with you would require both physically and metaphorically deep pockets, so satisfy yourself with a browse, possibly grabbing a coffee from the bookshop’s wood-panelled Swan Bar before heading to your next stop.

➋ ST JAMES’S PARK | 2:15pm

Head back past the church and duck right down the alleyway to find yourself on Jermyn Street – if you’ve got time for a detour, pop into Paxton & Whitfield, one of the oldest cheesemongers in England, and Floris, the country’s oldest perfumers who have been making royally-approved scents here for almost three centuries.

Walk down Duke of York’s street, cross the leafy garden square, and take a right down Pall Mall (where you’ll clock some of those grandiose club buildings). At the end you’ll come to St. James’s Palace, built for Henry VIIIth and now the residence of Princess Anne and the royal stamp collection.

Pelicans in St James Park

Continue down Marlborough Road and you’ll reach St. James’s Park, one of eight royal parks in London. Keep going in a straight line, and you’ll reach the Blue Bridge – a picturesque spot where you can take in views of Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, Big Ben, and, if it’s the right time of year, some beautiful autumn colours. Following the lake round, you’ll come to Duck Island Cottage, where, between 2.30 and 3.30pm every day, the park’s resident pelicans are fed their lunch.


Retrace your steps back up to Piccadilly to reach the Royal Academy. Originally a 17th century mansion, this grandiose building has been the home of scientists, artists and astronomers since the 1760s. Now, it’s one of the most impressive art galleries in London, staging big-ticket shows displaying the works of artists from Francis Bacon to Kyōsai. If your interest isn’t piqued by the temporary exhibitions, there’s also a free collection on display, showcasing a rotating selection of treasures from the RA’s archives. Currently you’ll be greeted by Sir Thomas Lawrence’s stark naked portrait of Satan summoning demons from the fiery pits of hell, and a nice landscape by Constable.

Royal Academy London art galleries

Heading out the back of the RA, you’ll walk past London’s oldest tailor, Ede & Ravenscroft, and Savile Row – created by the 18th century painter and heiress Dorothy Savile, who insisted her gentlemen friends be impeccably dressed. It wasn’t her only foray into city planning, though – she also built the nearby Burlington Arcade because her house guests would always turn up with shoes stinking of oysters, having had to walk over the discarded shells outside the oyster bar nearby. So it seems only proper to honour her memory with a trip to –


bentleys oyster bar

Rejoin Regent Street briefly before ducking down Swallow Street and slipping into Bentley’s (you’ll recognise it by the giant neon sign of an oyster wearing a bow tie). This seafood staple has been going strong for over a century, and its current caretaker is the affable Richard Corrigan (Daffodil Mulligan, Dickie’s Bar, etc.). Grab a stool up at the marble counter and watch the crisp-aproned magicians behind the bar shuck a couple of oysters for you on the spot – they serve over 1000 of them every day. It might also strike you that a pint of Guinness might be a good idea at this point, and they’ll happily provide on that front too.

Time to pay your respects to another stalwart: turn right to rejoin Piccadilly, and continue right until you meet St. James’s Street. Tucked away here you’ll find St. James’s Place, and tucked away there you’ll find Dukes Hotel.

➎ DUKES BAR | 5pm

dukes bar

A true London legend, canonised in Ian Fleming’s books as the inspiration for Bond’s martinis, ‘shaken not stirred’. The Dukes bar has perfected the recipe: give a nod to one of the jacketed barkeeps and they’ll wheel the martini trolley over to your table before constructing the Platonic ideal of the drink right before your eyes, poured to the very top with impossible precision. The drinks here are so potent that there’s a limit of two per person – just as well, as any more and it’s going to become very difficult to lift that glass without spilling it all over yourself.

At this point, it will become increasingly urgent for you to get some carbs in your system. Hotfoot it along Piccadilly to your last stop for the evening:

➏ THE WOLSELEY | 6:30pm

the wolseley restaurant st james

Nowhere does casual elegance better than old Piccadilly stalwart, The Wolseley. Set in an art deco car showroom decked top-to-toe in glossy monochrome marble, it originally opened under the remit of legendary hospitality duo Corbin & King. Much to the restaurant world’s chagrin, the group was taken over last year, but The Wolseley – for now at least – retains its unique combination of top-class service, European grand café-inspired menu and (for the area) relatively wallet-friendly price tag.

Their prix fixe nets you three courses for just over £30, but there are a couple of treat dishes on the menu too if you fancy being frivolous: half lobsters, coq au vin to share, and oysters served with a tankard of Black Velvet. Cap it all off with that most noble of puddings: the Chantilly cream-smothered banana split.

Post-martini morning you will be glad you did.


The Itinerary:

Maison Assouline | 196A Piccadilly, St. James’s, London W1J 9EY

St James’s Park | London, SW1H 9AP

The Royal Academy | Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BD

Bentley’s Oyster Bar & Grill | 11-15 Swallow St, London W1B 4DG

Dukes Bar | 35 St James’s Place, St. James’s, London SW1A 1NY

The Wolseley | 160 Piccadilly, St. James’s, London W1J 9EB

Enjoyed your tour of St James’s? Check out more Nudge Itineraries

Itinerary: A Day in St. James’s

Starts at Piccadilly Circus tube, St James's,