London is a huge city with many attractions to see and many plenty to explore, but sometimes you can only swing a short trip or a few hours to kill during a long layover. With a tight itinerary in mind, here is a plan for eating the best and seeing the most of London in 48 hours.
Itinerary for Seeing London in 48 Hours
Head out early to beat the crowds at Buckingham Palace, a top spot on every visitor’s itinerary. Snap some pictures of the famous façade and try to make the guards laugh before 9:30am when tours of the palace begin. You’ll be one of the first in line!
Next, walk along The Mall and turn at St. James’ Palace, grabbing a pastry at The Wolseley. Check out the neon signs and the fountain of Eros in Picadilly Circus, then follow Regent Street to Trafalgar Square, home to Nelson’s Columns and the world’s tiniest police station.
Make your way to Horse Guards Parade, where many large-scale public events are held. Pass under the main archway toward Downing Street, home to the British Prime Minister. With all of that walking, you’ll be ready for lunch. If you haven’t caved yet, continue to Big Ben, grabbing a bite at the historic St. Stephen’s Tavern Pub right across the street.
Cut across Parliament Square to Westminster Abbey, host to huge British moments, including coronations, funerals, and royal weddings (including that of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011). The Abbey is closed on Sunday, so plan accordingly in order to get inside.
Pass by the House of Commons and the Palace of Westminster, crossing the River Thames to the London Eye for an incredible view. Back at Westminster Bridge, take classic double-decker bus #148 to Grosvenor Gardens. Enjoy an award-winning Afternoon Tea at the nearby Goring Hotel. Wrap up your day in the West End, home to restaurants, nightlife, and theaters galore.
Fuel up for your day with a full English breakfast, locally called a fry up. You’ll get a huge plate of eggs, bacon, potatoes, beans, toast, and more. Priding itself on local ingredients, Roast serves up the best in town, and its setting overlooking Borough Market is pretty great, too.
After breakfast, walk to nearby London Bridge and along the Thames to often-photographed Tower Bridge. Cross over and check out the Tower of London, home to the Crown Jewels.
Make your way to the Great Tower Street bus stop (15 or N15) and hop on board, enjoying views of the beautiful St. Paul’s Cathedral and Somerset House. Exit at Savoy Street and walk to Covent Garden, a bustling marketplace filled with street performers. The area is packed with restaurants and pubs, so now would be a good time to grab a pint or some lunch—try The Harp in Chandos Place, the Lamb & Flag, or The Freemasons Arms.
The British Museum houses an amazing collection that includes the Rosetta Stone and the Elgin Marbles Parthenon sculptures. It’s free to enter and open daily, so there’s no excuse not to go!
Next, stroll through Soho, checking out the shops on Oxford Street, then jump on the Tube at Oxford Circus, getting off at Knightsbridge. Swing by Harrods before heading to Kensington Palace, home to the newest royal couple, and its gardens. Finish the day with traditional fish and chips—the best are found at North Sea Fish in Bloomsbury and Golden Hind in Marylebone.
Getting Around Town
The quickest and most efficient way to get around London is via its extensive Tube system. This underground train service has 12 lines and 270 stations. Millions of people ride the Tube each day in order to travel throughout the city. Ticketing is charged according to the zones through which you’re planning to travel, but as most of the city’s main attractions are all within Zone 1, things shouldn’t be too complicated. Riding the Tube is a attraction in and of itself–be sure to admire the stations, as many of them contain fantastic artwork.
Another option for getting around in London, and one we suggest using a few times in our itinerary above, is by bus. The city has 700 different lines, many of which use the iconic double-decker red buses. While riding the bus may not be very efficient if you get stuck in traffic, it will offer you a chance to see more of London while you’re traveling between destinations. The same goes with a taxi, which are readily available throughout the city.
For those who like to be active while on vacation, and like to get to know a location up close and personal, bike rentals are available all around town. Hundreds of rental stations are located strategically throughout London and rates are very economical: free for the first half hour and just £1 per hour after that.
Where to Stay
London offers a fantastic mix of hotel accommodations, with everything from 5-star properties to money-saving hostels. With accommodation options scattered in and about all of the main attractions in London, you’ll be able to plan your stay accordingly in order to maximize your time. After all, if you only have two days, it’s key to stay close to the big-name sights in order to avoid wasting precious time traveling around. Choose a London hotel in an area where you’ll spend most of your visit: Mayfair, Soho, West End, or Westminster. While Mayfair and Soho might be a bit more pricey, they’re also right in the thick of things. Westminster is very convenient to the historical government-related part of town. And, of course, the West End is where you’ll likely be spending your evenings, so choosing a hotel in that area will mean having a nearby place to crash after a long day and night on the town. Here are some recommendations in those four fantastic, and convenient, London neighborhoods, broken down by budget:
A classic hotel, The Savoy is all luxury, all the time. The top choice of celebrities and politicians, guest rooms overlook the Thames and the London Eye.
Well-known luxury Mayfair hotel Claridge’s offers every amenity you can imagine, in addition to a great location and spectacular service.
45 Park Lane is consistently voted one of the most luxurious hotels in London. Overlooking Hyde Park in the Mayfair neighborhood, the hotel assigns each guest their own host, who will make sure that every aspect of their stay will be perfection.
Dean Street Townhouse, in the heart of Soho, is perfect if you plan to enjoy London nightlife. With rooms starting at £95, you’ll enjoy comfortable accommodations and an ideal location.
Those looking for a typical hotel experience can check in to the Radisson Blu Edwardian Berkshire, which offers spacious accommodations right off of Oxford Street.
The Doubletree Hotel Westminster is located right in the middle of a bustling neighborhood that is close to all of London’s biggest attractions. With floor-to-ceiling windows, you’ll be able to take in gorgeous views while enjoying your contemporary guest room.
The Pavilion Hotel is perfect for those looking for something on the quirky side. With fashion and rock and roll coursing through its veins, the rooms start at £60.
With simple, straightforward rooms starting at £39, the no-frills Easy Hotel, London Victoria, is great on the wallet, especially if you’ll be spending most of your 48 hours out and about.
Located near Oxford Circus, The Astor Court Hotel is housed in a former gentlemen’s club, but you’d never notice it given that the guest rooms have been remodeled so many times, each one unique and interesting. And with rates starting around £24 a night, you won’t be able to beat either the location or the price!