All Articles The perfect 2 days in London

The perfect 2 days in London

The sun peaks through behind the Tower of London, with a bridge in the foreground
Maria Kirsten Adelmann
By Maria Kirsten Adelmann19 Jan 2023 10 minutes read

We admit it: You can’t see everything London has to offer in just 48 hours. But with a strategic itinerary, you can get a surprisingly solid sense of England’s capital. From a taste of the royal life at Buckingham Palace to a taste of beer at a local pub, think of this as a London sampler.

To make the most of your time, we’ve grouped each day’s activities based on area, so you won’t have to trudge (or tube) your way back and forth across the city. We’ve also included down time that does double-duty as sightseeing (think afternoon tea at an iconic spot). And, to ensure not a single stop is a dud, this itinerary uses Tripadvisor reviews and ratings, highlighted throughout.


DAY ONE

A pink sunrise view over the River Thames with the London Eye in the distance
A black London cabin moves down the street with grey buildings in the background
The Big Ben clock tower lit up with warm lights at night

MORNING: Iconic London in a Gothic mode

Prioritize your most essential London sightseeing by heading to Westminster first thing. The Westminster tube stop drops your right out at Westminster Bridge, which extends over the Thames River and offers an epic view of several of London’s main attractions. We’re talking the London Eye, an enormous Ferris wheel with city views, and Westminster Palace (the House of Parliament) with its attached clocktower, aka Big Ben (though technically, Big Ben is the bell inside). Get there at the top of the hour to hear it chime.

After you’ve taken in the grandeur from the outside—Westminster Bridge offers the best view—walk around the corner to Westminster Abbey, a stunning gothic cathedral and UNESCO World Heritage Site (together with Westminster Palace). Plan to arrive right when it opens (9:30 a.m. Monday through Saturday) to avoid the crowds, and book ahead to guarantee a spot. For a small extra fee, you can also visit The Queen's Diamond Jubilee Galleries, a small gallery that gives you a bird’s eye view of the abbey. Expect to spend at least 45 minutes marveling at Westminster Abbey, though some visitors spend as much as two hours scouting out the famous figures buried there (Charles Dickens, Stephen Hawkins, Henry VII) and taking in all the ornamental sculptures and stained glass.

Once you’ve had your fill of gothic architecture, take the 15-minute walk to Buckingham Palace. If you want to see the changing of the guard, which takes place at 10:45 (every other day in some seasons), skip the interior of the Abbey and arrive here nice and early to stake out a good view. Otherwise, snap an exterior pic of the royal residence and forge ahead.

Travelers say: "I was so excited to finally get to see the [Queen’s Diamond Jubilee] Galleries, and was NOT disappointed! It’s kind of amazing to see the structural ‘insides’ of the Abbey, and the view ‘down below’ is spectacular… you also get unique views of the gargoyles on the buttresses. It was well worth the extra fiver!” —Kris M

WESTMINSTER TOURS OPTIONS

  • The Westminster Abbey audio tour, included with entrance, is well-produced and informative if you don’t want to shell out extra money for a guided tour. Download the app in advance and pack headphones.
  • If navigating via Google maps exhausts you, this three-hour Westminster walking tour is basically a survey course on London attractions and includes entry into Westminster Abbey.
  • History buffs who prefer to end their Westminster tour with Churchill instead of a church will enjoy this walking tour, which closes out with a trip to Churchill’s War Rooms, one of the city’s hidden gems.
  • The London Landmarks & Secret Gems Bike Ride + Historic Pub + Graffiti Session bike tour is fantastic fun, taking riders all over Westminster and beyond. It also features a key pub stop in Covent Garden and some (legal) graffiti-making in a tunnel beloved by street artists.

AFTERNOON: From famous tea to famous art

Hop on the tube at Green Park and hop off two stops later at Knightsbridge Station to find yourself in one of London’s fanciest shopping districts. Window-shop on the five-minute walk to Harrods, London’s world-famous department store.

Here, you can cross off another square on your London Bingo card with Harrods’ exceptional tea time, complete with the requisite tiny sandwiches and scones. If you forgot to make a reservation or can’t pull off “smart casual” on a day of sightseeing, Harrods has plenty of other bars and restaurants for a pit stop. Once you’ve snacked, check out the wonderfully bizarre Egyptian Escalator, pick up some souvenirs, or visit the toy department, where you nab the official Harrods’ version of a Paddington Bear plushie.

If you’ve splashed out a bit on toys and fancy tea, you can save money at the Victoria and Albert Museum, which is mercifully free. Just a ten-minute walk from Harrods, the V&A is the world’s largest museum of the decorative arts and home to prints, paintings, costumes and ceramics. It’s also one place where you don’t have to book tickets ahead, so just wander over when you’re ready. Highlights include one of the world’s oldest and largest carpets and Tipu’s Tiger, an almost life-size statue of a tiger with a mechanical organ that mimics the cries of the person it’s attacking (though you may want to read up on its controversial history).

EVENING: Fish, chips, and British pubs

Pop on the Piccadilly Line at South Kensington and rest your feet for the 20-minute tube ride to Trafalgar Square, London’s most photographed square, thanks in part to the 145-foot-high Nelson’s Column. There are plenty of dinner options nearby, but we recommend The Marquis, which serves up quintessential cozy pub charm and equally quintessential British dishes like fish and chips. If it’s good enough for Charles Dickens, who was once a regular there, it’s good enough for us.

From here, amble your way around Covent Garden, a charming neighborhood that’s home to shops, street performers, pubs, and cafes. (Note that most stores in the area close at 8 p.m., so if shopping is priority you may want to amble first, then eat.) Make your way north to Soho, the city’s nightlife neighborhood, which is home to the Red Light District and is also LGBTQ+ central. We love The French House, an authentic no-frills bar that was once a gathering point for the French Resistance during World War II. This is also West End territory, London’s Broadway equivalent, so the theater nerds can swap out a pub crawl for the latest hot ticket performance.

Worthy detours along the way

DAY TWO

Interior of the Globe Theatre, with people on three different levels of the wooden structure

MORNING: English breakfast and two million years of human history

Fill up before a day of sightseeing at Salt & Pepper, which serves up a classic English Breakfast (typically bacon, eggs, and yes, baked beans). It also has a handy location just a five-minute walk from The British Museum, your first stop of the day. This museum of human history, art, and culture is arguably London’s best, which means getting there early is a good strategy for heading off the crowds. (The museum opens at 10 a.m. daily, and tickets are free and can be booked ahead, though you may be asked to donate.) Even half a day here isn’t enough, so make a beeline to the Rosetta Stone, then pick and choose which exhibits to explore. If deciding which of 80,000 artifacts to look at is overwhelming, just take a tour—many are free, though booking ahead is recommended.

Travelers say: "The British Museum is an absolute treasure box! What do you want to see? Ancient maps, Egyptian mummies, sculpture from Greece, the first printed Bible, original handwritten words to Beatles song, Shakespeare, the Magna Carta? All this and MORE! There is never enough time to see it all." —@Dream6793

AFTERNOON: Ghosts from the past at the Tower of London

If you need a break from heavier English food, hop across the street for lunch at Bloomsbury Street Kitchen (open Wednesday through Saturday) which serves up outstanding Mediterranean and Japanese small plates.

Once you’ve refueled, take the 30-minute trip on the tube to the Tower of London. This 11th-century fortress castle and UNESCO World Heritage Site is where, among other things, 16th-century queen Anne Boleyn was locked up and beheaded (supposedly, she is one of many ghosts that haunt the grounds). Yes, the Tower of London is often overrun, but its true crime history is completely fascinating. While you’re there, don’t forget to check out the Crown Jewels.

Next, head over to Tower Millennium Pier and take the RB1 “River Bus” to Bankside, with the added benefit of a built-in 10-minute river cruise.

TOWER OF LONDON/THAMES RIVER TOUR OPTIONS

  • Beefeaters, aka the Tower of London guards (famously pictured on bottles of Beefeater Gin), give tours that are the stuff of legend—not to mention free with entry. Tours run every half hour; no need to book ahead.
  • If you want to spend more time on water, the Thames Hop-On-Hop-Off River Cruise is an excellent option. It stops at two Day Two sites (the Tower of London and Shakespeare’s Globe Theater), though if you’ve done Day One’s morning itinerary, you’ll double up on some attractions.
  • No way around it: The Tower of London gets mobbed. If it’s your priority, consider getting a skip-the-line, early access pass to the Tower, which also includes a tour and tickets for a river cruise.

EVENING: All’s well that ends well

Start your evening off with a dinner at Swan at the Globe, a chic modern restaurant offering seasonal British dishes and classy cocktails. An added bonus: It has a great view over the Thames and St. Paul’s Cathedral, which means you’ll cross yet another attraction off your London sightseeing safari.

Then head next door for a play at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, a full-size reproduction of the famous playwright’s original open-air theater. (When you book tickets ahead, make sure they’re for The Globe; it’s easy to accidentally book tickets to The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse instead.) Standing room tickets on the floor are super cheap and super fun—it’s like you’re watching a production back in the 1600s. But after a full day of sightseeing, we understand if you want to rest your feet and sit on a bench. (If you do, spring the extra pound for a cushion.) Even in an open-air theater, the show must go on, as they say, so if the weather looks iffy bring a raincoat (umbrellas aren’t allowed) and enjoy a truly British experience: Shakespeare in the rain.

Worthy detours along the way

Know Before You Go


London is bright and bustling June through August, with weather in the mid-70s (though heat waves are getting a bit more common). While May and September are a bit cooler, their budding flowers or falling leaves are a bonus, plus there are fewer crowds. November through February are cool, dark, and even rainier than usual, but travel and hotel rates can be at their cheapest. Dark days are a bit cheerier from mid-November through December, when the city is dotted with Christmas markets, ice skating rinks, and epic holiday lights.



As a global capital, London tends to keep open hours the whole week long. Most museums are open regular hours seven days a week, though church-related sights are often closed on Sundays. Shops tend to open a little later Sundays, around noon, and some restaurants are closed Sundays and/or Mondays.



Museums and shops in London open around 10 a.m., with museums typically closing at 5 or 6 p.m. and shops at 7 or 8 p.m. Restaurants tend to be open from noon to 9 p.m., though some close between 3 and 5 p.m. to make the transition from lunch to dinner. Despite the fact that most Londoners aim for afternoon tea between 2 to 4 p.m., high-end venues will take reservations for teatime anywhere from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. to max out reservations. Pubs tend to open around noon. And don’t expect to do a pub crawl into the late hours—they actually close “early” compared to cocktail bars, usually around 11 p.m.



Covent Garden: Smack-dab in the middle of the action and featured at the end of our Day One itinerary, Covent Garden is one of the most central locations in London. The Claremont, Charing Cross is an elegant 1865 hotel with chandeliers, marble columns, and a chic cocktail bar, just a few minutes’ walk from tube stops and Trafalgar Square and a 15- to 20-minute walk from both The British Museum and Westminster Abbey.

Westminster: You might not realize how close you are to London hotspots when you’re lounging in St. James’ Court, A Taj Hotel’s classy courtyard with its own fountain, but it’s located right between Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey. With both the District Line and Circle Line a few minutes’ walk away at St. James Park, even the sights not right outside the front door will feel pretty close.

East End: OK, it’s not as central or scenic but hotels in the East End are cheaper and closer to Day Two attractions like The Tower of London. Travelodge London City Hotel isn’t fancy, but it gets high ratings for covering the basics for a cheap price. Plus, it’s just a four-minute walk to the Circle Line, which means most of London is easily within reach.



Public transportation: The tube, aka London’s underground transit system, is wide-reaching, relatively simple, and always running, with 24/7 service on major lines. That said, trips can add up. A Day Travelcard includes unlimited trips on the tube, trams, and buses within most of central London, and it’s worth it for travelers making three or more trips a day. If you like to linger over your hotel buffet breakfast, an Off-Peak Travel card, which can be used after 9:30 a.m., is an even better deal. The Oyster card is also an option, but requires a deposit fee so many not be worth it for shorter visits.

By bike: London is not as bike friendly as other European cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen, though there are designated bike lanes in some areas, like the three-mile cycle route running along the river from the Tower of London to Big Ben. If you’re looking to pedal your way around the city, guided bike tours are a good option, such as one that covers London’s Royal Parks or another to see major attractions with stops for art-making and beer.

By taxi: London’s iconic black cabs are super cute, but a word of warning: They tend to be pricey, with fluctuating rates that depend on traffic. And that traffic can also inch along. As of this writing, the ride-share app Uber was running in London, but Lyft was not. London taxis also have their own app: Gett.

Airport transfers: London has six international airports, including City, Luton, Stansted, Southend, and, the two largest, Heathrow and Gatwick.

From Heathrow, the Piccadilly Line on the tube runs directly to Piccadilly Circus in 50 minutes. The faster option is the Heathrow Express rail line, which runs to Paddington Station in just 20 minutes. It’s more expensive than the tube, but it still beats taking a taxi, the priciest option by far and—thanks to traffic—often the slowest. Some hotels also offer hotel bus service—the Heathrow Hotel Hoppa, for example, makes trips to 25 hotels around the city and is as cheap as public transit.

From Gatwick Airport, the 30-minute Gatwick Express is by far the fastest option, running direct to Victoria Station. The Thameslink train costs half as much but takes twice as long, though it runs to more stations, including Blackfriars, St. Pancras International, and London Bridge. Both depart every fifteen minutes during the day. Buses are the most time-consuming choice, departing hourly and taking at least 90 minutes depending on the stop and time of day. Through easyBus, the National Express runs a bus from Gatwick to Victoria Station for as little as two pounds, but be sure to book ahead online or it could cost as much the train.


Maria Kirsten Adelmann
Maria Kirsten Adelmann has lived in the US and Europe and once traveled around the world on a ship, visiting ports in Asia, Africa, and beyond. She has written hundreds of reviews of hotels, cruise ships, and travel products.