One of the world’s most well-known and fascinating cities, you could spend weeks in London and still only scratch the surface, but if you follow our tips, you can still get a really good feel for the city if your time is limited.
In just 48 hours you can visit several of the well-known highlights, but make sure to take some time off from box-ticking to wander through the busy, cosmopolitan streets, to soak up the atmosphere and get a feel for the character of this fascinating city.
Central London is surprisingly compact and it is easy to get between many of the famous sights without having to take public transport, and exploring on foot will help you stumble upon many of London’s ‘hidden gems’.
Hit the ground running
Drop your bags at your hotel and get straight out for an early hit of culture! London is well-known for its wide selection of World Class museums and galleries (most of which are free), so squeeze one in on your first afternoon.
There are many options but it is hard to beat the British Museum in Bloomsbury. Its huge entrance atrium is immediately impressive and the collection includes the Rosetta Stone, the Parthenon Sculptures and the Oxus Treasures. Popular exhibitions are also regularly hosted, but may need booking in advance.
From here you can make the short walk to lively Soho for the evening (making a quick detour to Oxford Street if you fancy some shopping!). The criss-cross of streets south of Oxford Street that makes up the area of Soho is chock full of restaurants, bars and cafes and is the perfect place for some people watching.
Try to grab a window seat at one of the many bar-restaurants along Old Compton Street for a prime view of Soho life over your pre-dinner drink. The eating options are endless with hundreds of restaurants from the casual cheap-eat to world famous fine dining – one of our favourites is Yotam Ottolenghi’s Nopi, where middle-eastern flavours take centre stage and, if you are feeling sociable, you can take a seat at the communal dining table downstairs (booking essential). It also gives you the chance to pop in for a pre or post dinner pint at The Lyric, a fantastically characterful Victorian pub that offers a wide selection of craft beers.
Along the South Bank
Get an early start to make the most of your full day and, after a hearty breakfast to set you up, head for Westminster, where you can see the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and call into Westminster Abbey.
Once you are finished with the political heart of London, head across Westminster Bridge to the south side of the river, admiring the view back on the Palace of Westminster and the London skyline as you do.
Head east and, if you would like to get a bird’s eye view of the city, make the London Eye your first stop (buying fast-track tickets in advance saves precious time). Otherwise, continue along the river, enjoying the lively footpath that is always filled with performers, food stalls and art exhibitions.
Pass the Royal Festival Hall, British Film Institute and National Theatre, which all have options for some refreshment as well as changing exhibitions and a regular farmers’ market, and admire the impressive buildings that line the north side of the river, before reaching the pedestrian Millennium Bridge. On the south side of the bridge, call into the Tate Modern to see the latest exhibition in the vast Turbine Hall, and consider crossing the bridge to visit famous St Paul’s Cathedral.
Back on the south side, continue on to London Bridge, where the narrowing pathways give a real sense of what this part of London was like in medieval times, and stop at Borough Market, a huge food market, for lunch or to pick up some produce. Pass HMS Belfast, now permanently moored on the Thames and a museum open to the public, to reach Tower Bridge.
Crossing back to the north side, your last stop is the fascinating Tower of London, a building with one of the most fascinating histories of any in the world. Royal palace, fortress, prison and place of execution, the Tower has witnessed many of the most significant events in English history. It remains home to the Crown Jewels as well as the famous ‘Beefeaters’, who conduct tours of the tower. Advance purchase of tickets can save time queuing.
If you don't fancy the walk, you can take the River Bus down the Thames from the London Eye Pier to London Bridge or all the way to the Tower of London, getting a good view of the other sights as you pass by!
For many, a trip to London isn’t complete without seeing a West End show, so grab an early dinner at one of the many restaurants in the theatre district that offers early bird theatre menus and spend your evening singing along to your favourite tunes.
The most popular shows can sell out months in advance, so booking in advance is sensible if you have something specific you would like to see, but there are always last minute tickets available for some shows, so don’t panic if you haven’t booked ahead.
If you prefer serious theatre, head for the Old Vic instead (advance booking essential), where you can have pre-theatre dinner and post-theatre drinks at one of the many bars and restaurants that line The Cut.
Have a slightly more leisurely start to the day, after a big day yesterday, before enjoying a stroll through the Royal Parks of Hyde Park, Green Park and St James’ Park (hire a rowing boat in Hyde Park if time allows!) to reach Buckingham Palace, the famous Royal residence in time to watch the changing of the guard at 11am. You can nearly always get a spot where you can see what’s happening but if you want to be right at the railings, you would need to arrive early! Note that the changing of the guard usually takes place every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, but do check for your dates.
If you have time for some last minute shopping, stroll up to Selfridges, one of London’s most famous department stores, (where you could grab a quick lunch at the café in the food hall) and along Jermyn Street, where some of the shops seem unchanged in centuries, before heading back to your hotel to collect your bags!
If you would like any help planning a trip to London or around Britain, please do get in touch.