Tucked behind the nightmare that is Oxford Street, the quiet streets of well-heeled Marylebone couldn’t stand in starker contrast.
Stroll around and you’ll discover an area rich in history, with quirky museums sitting alongside independent shops, traditional pubs next to chic boutiques. It’s time to explore the best things to do in Marylebone.
Marylebone is an area of quiet delights. Less ostentatious than nearby Mayfair, it’s often billed as a village that got sucked up into central London – if that village happened to be filled with imposing rebond-bricked Georgian architecture and costly shops.
Independent boutiques and cafes thrive and a selection of some of the city’s most interesting museums and galleries – not to mention some of the city’s quaintest pubs, most stylish bars and restaurants. It’s an area I’ve come to love in recent years – a small pocket of London that somehow manages to feel both historic and contemporary at the same time.
Top Picks for Things to do in Marylebone
What to do, where to drink and where to eat….
Things to do in Marylebone
Delving into the spots you shouldn’t miss.
The Wallace Collection
The collection was put together by four subsequent Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace (widely thought to be the illegitimate son of the fourth Marquess of Hertford – seemingly borne out by the fact the Marquess left him the family collection and extensive property on his death) and bequeathed to the nation by Wallace’s wife.
Interesting as the history of the collection is, it’s the collection itself that draws visitors time and time again – over 5,500 items are displayed in 25 beautifully-decorated galleries. Expect to see works by artists such as Velazquez, Titian, Rembrandt and Canaletto hung on jewel-coloured damask walls, hovering over baroque furniture.
You’ll find the most famous work Franz Hal’s The Laughing Cavalier in the aptly-named Great Gallery.
Marylebone Parish Church
Marylebone’s population expanded rapidly in the 18th century – with the result that a new parish church was needed to replace the now-destroyed St Mary-by-the-Bourne (aha, I sense the origins of a name) church.
The grandeur of the new Marylebone Parish Church may be diminished by its unattractive location on the heaving Marylebone Road but it’s an imposing building with a lot of history and well deserving of a spot in any Marylebone guide.
In fact, Marylebone Parish Church played a pivotal role in the Victorian romance of the century – between the poets Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barret Browning. They got married in secret here after a quiet romance hidden from Barret Browning’s controlling father – ask in advance and you can see the Browning Chapel.
British Dental Association Museum
You know how I love a weird museum and it just so happens that Marylebone is blessed with two that I featured in my Unusual London Book.
The first, the small museum in the British Dental Association is a jaw-clenchingly frank jaunt through the (sometimes unpleasant) history of dentistry.
Think dentists are something to be scared of today? How about the time when it was common practice for your blacksmith to try their hand at yanking out uncooperative teeth?
I dare you not to shiver as you thumb through the brute instruments on display. There are even small interactive exhibits where you can practice drilling and pulling teeth.
Anaesthesia Heritage Centre
You’ll find the second of Marylebone’s quirky museum offerings in the basement of the Association of Anaesthetists. If the name didn’t give it away, the Anaesthesia Heritage Centre is dedicated to all things in the world of anaesthesia and pain relief.
Don’t knock it – it’s surprisingly interesting – walking you through the evolution of one of the most important developments in modern medicine through an extensive collection of displays.
BBC Broadcasting House
The grand art-deco buildings of BBC Broadcasting House are nothing if not controversial – even now, coming on to a century after its completion. Designed by G Vaal Myers, the Portland-stone clad structure was the first purpose-built broadcasting building. Totally worth seeing, if only for the giant sculptures on its exterior – Prospero and Ariel by Eric Gill.
The grandest of London’s Royal Parks, Regent’s Park is a purpose-built pleasure ground enjoyed by locals and tourists alike. Where else in the city can you find a park with an extensive rose garden, zoo, canal, outdoors theatre and boating lake?
Realistically, only the southern reaches fall within Marylebone itself but it would be a shame not to explore the whole if you have the time.
Sherlock Holmes Museum
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective famously resided at 221B Baker Street – the very location where you’ll now find The Sherlock Holmes Museum. As the name suggests – the space is dedicated to the deerstalker wearing, cigar puffing detective – complete with recreations of the residence lived in by Holmes and his famous sidekick, Dr John Watson.
St James Spanish Place
You have the architect Edward Goldie to thank for the striking Gothic beauty of St James church. Eye-catching as it is from the outside – the inside hides one of the most artistic English Gothic interiors in the city and which looks much older than it is (it was finished in 1890).
The Spanish Place is a reference to the time when Hertford House – now home of The Wallace Collection – was the home of the Spanish Embassy. At a time when it was difficult for Roman Catholics to worship openly, the Embassy and its chapel provided a place where they could practice their faith.
The relatively small confines of Wigmore Hall may not quite be where you’d expect to find one of London’s best concert halls but hey, nothing is ever quite what it seems. The hall was first built in 1901 (when it went by the name of Bechstein Hall) and is famed for its near-perfect acoustics. Those acoustics – and the plush interior – have made it a favourite for chamber recitals ever since.
Like most posher parts of London, Mayfair is dotted with a number of mews. Wimpole Mews is the prettiest of the area’s offerings. It also stands out for being the location where many of the key events of the scandalous Profumo Affair played out in the sixties.
Eating & Drinking in Marylebone
My favourite places to eat and drink around Marylebone.
Marylebone stalwart Orrey has been wowing locals with its high-end French cuisine for over two decades now – and still shows no signs of abating. Elegance abounds – both in the dining room and on the menu, which features fabulous European classics such as seafood linguine with a lobster bisque.
The Marylebone outpost of stylish enclave of wine bar / restaurant 28-50 takes the concept of its Holborn predecessor and makes it yet more fabulous. The result is an elegant place for you to quaff great wine accompanied by seasonal culinary classics like lamb shoulder on a bed of barley and squash or black olive polenta with cherry tomatoes and a herb salad.
Boutique hotel The Zetter Townhouse is no stranger to a quirky cocktail bar – as their Farringdon outpost will attest. So it should come as no surprise that Seymour’s Parlour is alluring and eccentric in equal measure. The decor – filled with fictional Uncle Seymour’s collection of bric a brac in a dusky red room is the perfect setting for you to enjoy one of the bar’s inventive (and may I say it, damn delicious) cocktails.
Undoubtedly Marylebone’s most prestigious restaurant, the hype about celebrity favourite Chiltern Firehouse may have died down a bit but the quality of Nuno Mendes’ deceptively simple menu has not. Mendes’ emphasis on relaxed reimagined classics with bold flavours is not to be sniffed at, going a long way to justifying the eye-wateringly high prices.
The cutesy monochrome awning of Monocle Cafe may be what lures you in, but it’s the relaxed pace, tasty bites and perfectly-made coffee that will keep you there. Just the right amount of quirky, it’s deservedly popular so you may have to jostle for a seat in the small cafe.
Top Shopping Spots
It’s nice to see that London’s most famous bookshop isn’t a big soulless chain but rather an independent bookseller in a gorgeous Edwardian building on Marylebone High Street. Sure, Daunt Books is one of the city’s most Instagrammable spots but don’t let that distract you from the fact that it’s actually a stellar bookshop and a great place to stock up on new reads.
They specialise in travel – but the collection extends its web to pretty much every genre and style.
The Conran Shop
Few names are as synonymous with good design as Conran, so it’s little surprise that Marylebone’s Conran Shop functions as a mecca for London’s design crowd. Originally a stable building, the shop provides three floors of home inspiration – from discreet staples to one-off design classics.
Cabbages & Frocks
Forget about tacky markets selling knock-off goods, the weekly Cabbages & Frocks market brings some of fashion’s rising stars, chic accessories from designer makers and delicious food to Marylebone each Saturday. Its eclectic offerings have seen it become a London favourite throughout the 11 years it’s been running. Find it in the courtyard of Marylebone Parish Church.
Marylebone Farmers Market
Marylebone’s chi chi farmers market is an exercise in all that’s good and great about neighbourhood farmers markets. Go to shop super-fresh seasonal food from an array of vegetable and fruit sellers, fishmongers, butchers and artisan food producers at one of the best Sunday markets in London. You’ll find it on Aybrook Street.
Map of Marylebone
The Zetter Townhouse
Quirky in all the right ways, The Zetter Townhouse is the place to stay when you’re tired of cookie-cutter hotels but still want to splurge on the luxe-factor.
Exclusive hotel with a stellar restaurant.
Andre Balzac’s spenny hotel in an old fire station has quickly established itself as one of the area’s must-stays.
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