15 Fascinating Things To Do

One of the most upmarket areas in London, St James is an integral part of the West End. Also spelt St James’s, this historical district is known for its art galleries, green spaces and private members clubs.

St James, London

Bordered by Haymarket, Green Park, The Mall and Piccadilly, St James is a lovely place to wander. The area became fashionable in the 16th century when St James’s Palace was built for Henry VIII.

The Royal Family later moved to Buckingham Palace, however St James’s Palace is still used for some court business. In fact, foreign ambassadors to the UK are designated “Ambassadors to the Court of St James”.

Although you can’t actually visit St James’s Palace, it’s possible to attend a church service at the Chapel Royal. Here are some more great things to do in St James.

St James's Palace in London UK
St James’s Palace

1. Admire the Architecture

St James has an impressive amount of elegant townhouses, having been a popular residential area for aristocrats. Among these are Lancaster House, a neo-classical mansion built from Bath stone, that is now home to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Marlborough House was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and his son, and houses the Commonwealth Secretariat.

St James’s Piccadilly was also designed by Sir Christopher Wren. This Anglican church holds the Piccadilly Craft Market six days a week.

Admiralty Arch is an Edwardian archway that was commissioned by King Edward VII as a memorial to Queen Victoria. It stands at the end of the Mall next to Trafalgar Square.

Carlton House Terrace and Clarence House were both designed by the architect John Nash. Clarence House is the official UK residence of Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. Spencer House is an elegant 18th century townhouse, commissioned by an ancestor of Diana, Princess of Wales.

Spencer House, St James, London
Spencer House

2. Catch a Play at a West End Theatre

St James is blessed with several great theatres. These include Jermyn Street Theatre, Her Majesty’s Theatre and The Theatre Royal Haymarket. The latter dates back to 1720 and is the third oldest playhouse still in use in London.

Theatre Royal, Haymarket, London
Theatre Royal Haymarket

3. Art Galleries and Auction Houses

There are many art galleries in St James, from Bowman Sculpture to Stern Pissarro Gallery and The Nine British Art. White Cube Mason’s Yard specializes in modern art and is tucked away in a little square off Duke Street St James’s.

Several auction houses can be found in the area, including Christie’s London on King Street and Bloomsbury Auctions on Pall Mall. You’ll also find several art museums, including The Royal Academy of Art on Piccadilly.

The Institute of Contemporary Arts is home to The Mall Galleries, a bookshop and cafe. Located within Nash House on Carlton House Terrace, the institute hosts a wide range of exhibitions, films and talks.

The ICA galleries in St James London
ICA at Carlton House Terrace

4. Michelin Starred Dining at Seven Park Place

William Drabble, the Executive Chef at Seven Park Place has held a Michelin star for ten years running. Tucked away within the boutique St James’s Hotel and Club, this stylish restaurant has widely spaced tables and an intimate ambiance.

The menu combines French inspired dishes with locally sourced seasonal ingredients to great effect. Although this is fine dining, there is nothing heavy about it.

We like the lunch set menus, which on our visit featured delicious starters of pickled herring with potato, fennel and apple salad grain mustard dressing and ravioli of roasted Crottin de Chavignol with sweet red pepper and tomato.

Seven Park Place
Seven Park Place

The main courses are equally tempting, from a baked pollock with lemon and parsley crumb, roasted cauliflower and lobster butter sauce to lamb cooked three ways: confit breast, seared fillet and croquette of slow cooked shoulder.

We finished our meal in style with a succulent milk chocolate tart with passion fruit sorbet and a moreish honey parfait with blood orange and orange sorbet. Order coffee or tea and you’ll enjoy a lovely selection of petit fours too.

Seven Park Place by William Drabble,  7-8 Park Pl, St. James’s, London SW1A 1LS, United Kingdom

Food by William Drabble
Food by William Drabble

5. St James’s Market

While the area of St James is known for its traditional architecture and shops, it also has many contemporary boutiques and restaurants. St James’s Market is the first new development in London for over 50 years.

Located just off Haymarket and Regent Street, St James’s Market is home to several restaurants. It also features St James’s Market Pavilion, which has a gold leaf clad ceiling with engraved wheatsheaf. This reflects the importance of wheat as a former currency at the old St James’s Market.

St James's Market Pavilion
St James’s Market Pavilion

6. Smallest Public Square in London

Pickering Place is the smallest open public space in London. Blink and you’ll miss it!

Located next to the wine merchant Berry Brothers & Rudd, Pickering Place is accessible via a timber-panelled passageway.

In the passage, you’ll notice a gold plaque commemorating the Texas Legation. When Texas was a republic from 1842-1845, it’s diplomatic representation to the Court of St James was based here.

In later years, the novelist Graham Greene and former Prime Minister Lord Palmerston both lived in Pickering Place. The square is particularly atmospheric at night, being one of the few places in London that are still illuminated by gas light.

Pickering Place, St James, London
The smallest public square in London

7. Retail Therapy

The quarter of St James has many interesting boutiques and is one of the best men’s shopping areas in London. Elegant gentlemen’s outfitters such as Harvie and Hudson line Jermyn Street.

Along St James’s Street itself, there are several traditional shops including Lock & Co. Hatters at No. 6, John Lobb the shoe maker at No. 9 and James J. Fox at No. 19. Truefitt & Hill at No. 71 is the oldest barbershop in the world, established in 1805.

A statue of the dandy Beau Brummell stands in front of Piccadilly Arcade. In Regency England, Brummell introduced the modern suit and necktie.

Beau Brummell statue
Beau Brummell statue

Piccadilly Arcade is a Grade II listed building with some exclusive shops such as Favourbrook, known for its stylish waistcoats and formalwear. Nearby, Princes Arcade is home to Bates Hats, who sell a colorful range of bowler hats, fedoras, panamas and top hats.

One of the smallest pubs in London, the London Beer House can be found in Royal Opera Arcade off Pall Mall. This is actually the oldest shopping arcade in the world and was designed by famous architect John Nash,

Bates Hats, Princes Arcade, Jermynn Street, London
Bates Hats

8. Learn about Military History

There are two interesting museums in St James’s that focus on Britain’s military operations – Churchill War Rooms and the Guards Museum. A branch of the Imperial War Museum, Churchill War Rooms were the epicenter of Britain’s WWII strategy.

Situated on Clive Steps, King Charles Street, this underground bunker was occupied by Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his team of military strategists. It’s one of the best things to do in London with teens, who will find it fascinating.

Inside the Cabinet War Rooms you can see the minuscule Transatlantic Telephone Room. Disguised as a toilet, it was from here that Churchill spoke in secret to the President of the United States.

The Guards Museum is located within Wellington Barracks on Birdcage Walk. Focusing on the history of the Foot Guards, it spans 360 years.

The Guards Museum, St James, London
The Guards Bookshop

9. Pelicans of St James’s Park

You wouldn’t expect to see pelicans in a UK park, but this tradition dates back to 1664. The Russian Ambassador to the UK gave the pelicans to Charles II, who was a fan of waterfowl.

The pelicans tend to congregate around Duck Island on the east side of St James’s Park Lake. The keepers feed them with fish on the island every day at 2.30 pm.

There are 16 other species of bird in St James’s Park. This 23 hectare park is the oldest public space in London.

The famous pelicans in St James's Park London
Pelicans in St James’s Park

10. Picnic in a Park

As well as St James’s Park, the area is blessed with several other green spaces including St James’s Square. Created as an aristocratic residential development in the 1660s, the square features an equestrian statue of King William III.

The London Library is a private subscription based library overlooking the gardens, with over 1 million books.

Green Park is another popular London picnic spot. Spread over 47 acres, the park has 2 memorials. These are the Bomber Command Memorial, dedicated to those aircraft pilots who lost their life in WWII and the Canada Memorial commemorating members of the Canadian Forces killed in WWI and WWII.

Green Park in St James, London, UK
Green Park

11. Duke of York Column

One of the tallest statues in London, the Duke of York Column is a monument commemorating Prince Frederick. The Commander-in-Chief of the British Army, Frederick was the second son of King George III.

It is thought that Prince Frederick may be the inspiration behind the famous Grand Old Duke of York nursery rhyme. The 124ft column and statue were inaugurated in 1834.

At the bottom of the Duke of York Steps, there’s the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Memorial.

The Duke of York Column, London
Duke of York Column

12. Private Members Clubs

There are so many private members clubs in St James that the area used to be referred to as Clubland. The clubs followed on from the coffee houses that used to be meeting places for business in the 17th century.

Originally gentlemen’s clubs only, most of them are now open to men and women. Well known clubs in the area include Boodles, The East India Club, The Carlton Club, The RAC Club and White’s, the oldest St James members club.

The Reform Club features in Jules Verne’s novel Around the World in 80 Days, while The Athenaeum on Pall Mall occupies a Neoclassical building designed by Decimus Burton.

The Athenaeum Private Members Club on Pall Mall, London
The Athenaeum

13. Stay in a Luxurious Hotel

DUKES London is tucked away on St James’s Place. This five star hotel is home to DUKES Bar, one of the best hotel bars in London. The author Ian Fleming was so fond of their dry Martinis, that he made them a favourite of his character James Bond.

St James’s Hotel and Club is discreetly located on Park Place and boasts direct access to Green Park. The stunning Victorian building has played host to celebrities such as Roger Moore and Sean Connery for over 160 years.

Tucked away within this 5 star St James hotel, there’s the St James’s Club, a private members club, as well as five meeting and events spaces. There are 60 well appointed guest rooms and suites, including a penthouse with a huge rooftop terrace.

Diners can choose between Michelin starred Seven Park Place or the more casual William’s Bar and Bistro, both overseen by award-winning chef William Drabble. Wellness treatments are available to guests in the comfort of their own rooms.

St James's Hotel and Club, London, UK
St James’s Hotel and Club

14. Buckingham Palace

Overlooking both Green Park and St James’s Park, Buckingham Palace is the official London residence of the monarchy. The Neoclassical building was designed by John Nash.

Buckingham Palace has a chapel, cinema, doctor’s office, police station and swimming pool inside. There are secret tunnels underneath the palace, which the Queen Mother once explored with King George VI.

You can’t visit the tunnels, but you can go inside Buckingham Palace in Summertime. Get your ticket well in advance to avoid disappointment.

Buckingham Palace, St James, London, UK
Buckingham Palace

15. Watch a Procession

Many historical processions take place in St James’s, such as the Trooping of the Colour At Horse Guards Parade. This ceremony celebrates the Queen’s official birthday and usually takes place on a Saturday in mid June.

The Changing The Life Guard ceremony normally takes place at 11 am on weekdays and 10 am on Sundays. The New Guard relieves the Old Guard, while trumpeters sound a Royal salute.

A procession along The Mall in St James, London
Things to do in St James

Final Thoughts on Things to Do in St James London

As you can see, there are many great things to do in St James. From checking out the parks and historic buildings to browsing in the art galleries, there’s something here to suit everyone.

You can cover a lot of the St James attractions in one day, however an overnight stay is highly recommended to make the most of the dining and entertainment options in this charming area.

It’s the perfect spot for a weekend getaway, particularly if you’re a fan of history and heritage. Every corner in St James seems to offer something wonderful and exciting to unearth, making it an ideal place to explore different sides of London.

For those looking for more ideas on what they can do while exploring London, be sure to check check out our other articles that cover some of the other fascinating sights this great city has to offer.

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Read all our London articles here.

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Fun things to do in St James

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