London is at the top of many people’s travel wish lists, and for good reason! It has everything you could possibly want. Ok, except maybe a lot of sunshine, but who cares? London is rich in culture, history, and old world charm in addition to being a cutting-edge metropolis. The difficult part of visiting a city with so much to offer is creating a tight itinerary. We know the feeling! Stephen’s first visit was for less than 48 hours, on our way to Italy. So, we did what we normally try not to do – we hit as many of the “tourist-y” must-see attractions for our first-timer! But we still made sure to plan some more “authentic” London experiences, too. We typically like to get as deep into a city’s culture as possible, but with such limited time we tried to strike a balance. So, if you only have 48 hours in London or less, we’ve got an awesome itinerary for you right here.
Arriving In London!
Naturally, you’ll first want to settle into your hotel, Airbnb, or wherever it is that you’ll be sleping before venturing out to explore. We booked a sweet bed and breakfast just a half-mile from Victoria Station, and found this to be a great central location for getting to and from the things we wanted to see and do.
Grab A Pasty for Lunch
From there we were off to cram in as much exploring as possible, but not before fueling up on some pasties that we’d been dreaming about for months prior. While we usually avoid chain restaurants while traveling, we were pressed for time and needed our pasty fix, so we hit up the Cornwall Pasty Company (we know, we know!) right near Victoria Station, and frankly – it hit the spot! Next time we’ll go more authentic, we promise.
No London itinerary would be complete without seeing the iconic Buckingham Palace! If you happen to be near Victoria Station, it’s less than a mile away, and the walk is well worth it. Hell, any walk-about in London is worth it! If you’re there at the right day and time, you’ll catch the changing of the guard. At the very least you’ll see a few of them marching around like real-life toy soldiers, which in itself is pretty cool. If you’re peering through the palace gates like most other folks, look behind you for your next photo opp – the Queen Victoria Memorial.
Just outside the Palace is The Mall, which is a beautiful, tree-lined royal road leading from Trafalgar Square to Buckingham Palace. You can walk just under 1 mile straight down The Mall to Trafalgar Square, or take the more “scenic” route we’re about to tell you about. Choose your own adventure here, but check out the Mall either way – even if only in the vicinity of the palace.
Saint James Park
Saint James Park is one of several gorgeous parks in London, it contains a lake with two islands (West Island and Duck Island), a colony of pelicans, lots of ducks, and of course – the Queen’s swans. Hot tip: watch your back if trying to feed any of these winged beauties, they’re aggressive and quick! We definitely suggest you explore the park,
The River Thames
Head east through the park from Buckingham Palace towards the world famous River Thames. Once you’ve come out on the east end you’ll be close to the river and in an area full of classic, British must-sees including: Westminster Abbey; the House of Parliament; 10 Downing Street (the Prime Minister’s Office); the Churchill Warrooms; New Scotland Yard; and Elizabeth Tower, where you’ll find Big Ben. The river is the heartbeat of the city in many ways, and no 48 hours in London would be complete without a proper stroll along side its infamous banks.
The London Eye
You can’t miss the London Eye just across the river from here. For us, checking it out from this vantage point (without paying the $30 or so to actually ride it) was just fine. We don’t doubt the views from the top are breathtaking, we just chose not to go for it and opted for a different spectacular view elsewhere instead, which we’ll get to in a sec.
Trafalgar Square And Picadilly Circus
If you chose the adventure of routing through Saint James Park, from Big Ben it’s a mere half-mile walk to Trafalgar Square, and another half mile from there to Picadilly Circus – both of which you should squeeze into your 48 hour London Itinerary.
Fish & Chips Dinner At A Centuries-old Public House
No doubt all of this walking has worked you into a “proper starve,” and while there’s no shortage of great spots to grab a bite, we suggest you get yourself over to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese to get a substantial dose of that old world charm with your dinner. Rebuilt shortly after the Great Fire of 1666, there has been a pub at this location since 1538. It’s a “Grade II listed” public house and is known for its literary associations. Regular patrons having included Charles Dickens, G.K. Chesterton and Mark Twain. It’s attractive due to its lack of natural light, and goes underground a few floors. You’ll find a bunch of cool, really small nooks to sit in along the way and a bar in the basement, which is where we ordered our delicious fish & chips – another must for any London itinerary!
Double-Decker Bus Ride
One of the first images that comes to mind for most people when thinking of London is that of the red double-decker buses. Classic! Since you’re probably “knackard” from your long day of walking, kill two birds with one stone here. Take a load off and get your upper-deck-bus-ride fix in at the same time. It’s a great way to find your way back to your bed for the night.
Covent Garden – So London!
Since 1654! Covent Garden is in the heart of London’s West End and you can easily get there by pretty much any mode of transportation. This major hub for dining, shopping, and entertainment span 9 streets and centers on the elegant, iconic car-free piazza. Covent Garden is home to fashion stores, the Royal Opera House, street entertainers, 17th-century St. Paul’s Church, craft stalls at the Apple Market, nearby theaters, restaurants, and plenty of al fresco!
Book A Walking Tour
This is a great way to not only see the city, but also learn from a local! Music-folk that we are, we booked ourselves a Rock Tour (complete with an Abbey Road crossing and photo-op… DUH!), but there are many to choose from. We really strongly recommend you include a walking tour in your London itinerary. Check out our Walking Tours Of London post for some suggestions!
Lunch At Camden Market
Camden Town in North London is famous for its market by the Regent’s Canal. A great spot to grab a bite for lunch, people watch, and stroll the canal a bit. A popular area for punks, teenagers, and tourists alike, Camden Town is funky and a haven of counter-culture. It has a thriving nightlife scene with alternative clubs, old school pubs, and major stars playing the Jazz Cafe and the Roundhouse. And if you’re an Amy Winehouse fan, swing by Stables Market to check out the bronze statue honoring her memory since 2014.
Regent’s Park And The Camden Coffee Shop
Nearby is Regent’s Park with its formal gardens and the London Zoo. On your way up Delancey Street to the park, pop in Camden Coffee Shop. This is not your average coffee shop, but an old school, 3-generations family-owned business that roasts its beans right there on-premises – using one machine from the 1960s and another from 1912 or so! No frills, it’s all about authenticity (and really cool, old equipment!) here in this small artisan’s space. And the beans. To the point that the owner George ONLY sells beans, no drinks!
Sky Garden And Stunning Views Of London
Take in a sunset and the most dramatic views of the city from the rooftop of Sky Garden, which is London’s highest public garden. Sky Pod is its upscale cafe and nightspot, and is one of 3 bars in Sky Garden. From here you’ll see it all – Tower Bridge, the Gherkin, St. Peter’s Cathedral, the Shard, the River Thames (of course), and pretty much, well, everything! While it’s free to go up to catch the views, we recommend calling ahead to make a reservation if you want a table. In which case, you’re likely required to order drinks and apps/food – which we’re gonna asume you plan to do anyway! We also recommend reserving a time before sunset, so you’re there to fully take in the daytime views, watch the sunset, and see the city lights under the night sky!
Bonus Activity! Hyde Park Speakers’ Corner
If your 48 hours in London happens to include a Sunday, then stick this in your itinerary and get to know the people up close! Head over to Hyde Park to experience this long-standing London tradition – the original Speakers’ Corner. Freedom of speech at its finest. People simply show up unannounced in the northeast corner of the park and speak, debate, and discuss anything and everything! The paved area nearest to Marble Arch is what is considered “Hyde Park Speakers’ Corner.” Legally, the area extends beyond that if you feel like getting more into the fringes.
Planning an itinerary for a mere 2 days can be limiting, as there will likely be much left on the table by the end of your visit. You can spend a lifetime exploring this magnificent city and still not see it all, so you definitely won’t get to include everything within just 48 hours in London. But the city is so dense with things to do and iconic things to see that you certainly can cover a lot of ground with the right itinerary. We hope we’ve given you some ideas to work with here.
And if you’re looking for more itineraries, we’ve got you covered: