Most guidebooks, travel agents, bloggers, etc. will tell you London deserves at least three or four days.
Sometimes, that just isn’t possible, and you only have a couple days in the city.
Luckily, London can be done in two days, with a bit of clever planning.
2-day itinerary for London
If you’re visiting in the height of summer (July and August), the weekend crowds in London are insane.
Insider travel tip: If you can, visit on a Sunday (to capitalise on cheaper, off-peak travel tickets, yet miss bustling Saturday), and Monday (when, hopefully, more tourists have moved on and the majority of Londoners are back at work).
Then, plan everything logically according to the different areas of London to avoid wasting time getting between A and B.
While you may be daunted by the sheer volume of sights here, you can visit all the major ones with time to spare.
Before we get into it, here’s a map of all the sights and Tube (subway) lines for reference. I’ve added boxes to signify the different areas and sites you’ll be visiting together:
And, I should say, I have not been sponsored or paid to say any of this, so what you’re getting is my opinion of the best way to spend 48 hours in the city. Enjoy!
Insider travel tip: this will be a big day of walking, so wear comfortable shoes.
London travel tickets
If you are staying outside of London, your best transportation ticket will be an off-peak London Travelcard. This secures your travel on all trains, tubes, and buses in all zones of London. The off-peak part of the ticket only applies if it’s a weekend. Otherwise, you’ll need a peak ticket.
If you stay in London, you have two options:
- the off-peak Travelcard above.
- an Oyster card, which allows you to tap in and out of the Tube, bus, etc.
For an Oyster card, you top up a certain amount (like £10) and can travel until that’s gone. The card itself costs £5, but if you turn it in at the end of your visit, you get your money back.
Euston – the gold star on the map above – will act as the starting point for this itinerary. If you stay anywhere northwest of London, near King’s Cross, in Camden or in Shoreditch, it’s cake to reach. Even from central or south London, it’s easy to access on most Tube lines.
The first round of sites will all be in the blue square, starting with:
Time allowance: 2 hours
Getting there: From Euston, Madame Tussauds is a hop-skip-and-jump (aka two Tube stops) away at Baker Street.
Madame Tussauds tips:
Pre-book a combo ticket for Madame Tussauds and the London Eye. Not only will it save you a bit of cash, you skip the very long queue at Madame Tussauds by booking an entry time online when you buy.
While here, head to the help desk and book a time to join the queue for the Eye.
Tussauds gets crazier later in the day, so starting here gives you more photo ops with the wax figures without horrendous queues.
Time allowance: 30 minutes
Getting there: From Madame Tussauds, jump on the Jubilee line at Baker Street and ride to St. John’s Wood. Then, it’s a short walk.
If you’re Beatles fans, seeing this iconic crossing is a must.
Be aware though, that this is actually a very busy road and London drivers have very little patience… proceed with caution.
Abbey Road advice:
Get here early – before it’s a bloodbath of keen fans crossing at the same times and creating traffic jams – for a shot at a great photo.
Or, get breakfast and place bets on which pedestrian will get hit by London’s fed-up drivers. Your call.
Doubledecker bus ride to Trafalgar Square
An absolute classic, a ride on a red, doubledecker bus works well for the 15-stop journey between Abbey Road and central London.
Time allowance: 30 minutes
Getting there: From Abbey Road, walk with the studio behind you. Pass the triangular intersection where eager cameramen (or less-eager boyfriends) are capturing photos of Beatles wannabes. You’ll need to cross to the left side of the road, where you’ll see a bus stop ahead on the pavement (sidewalk). Make sure it says #139 on the sign above it.
When the bus comes, it will say 139 – Waterloo on the electronic screen across the top of the bus.
To stop the bus, stick your arm out to the side as it approaches (like hailing a cab) – this is the UK’s symbol for ‘please stop, I’m getting on.’
As you board, either show the driver your Travelcard ticket or tap your Oyster card on the yellow circle next to the driver’s window.
Climb the stairs behind the driver and sit as close to the front of the bus as you can. The scariest-but-best seats on a doubledecker are the very front seats of the top level.
You’ll spend the next 15 stops cringing as the bus driver nearly misses cyclists, buildings, bus stops, cars, and killing you (though they won’t – they’re very good drivers).
You’re now into the red section of the Tube map, as soon as you reach:
Time allowance: 30 minutes
Getting there: The bus will drop you just steps off this famous London square, named after the Battle of Trafalgar, which was spearheaded and won by Lord Nelson. He’s the guy on the top of the very tall column (called Nelson’s Column, of all things).
Surrounded by museums and dotted with sculptures and statues, this is the site of political demonstrations and the place Londoners and UK citizens gather for protests (a notable one in the past was Bloody Sunday. More recently, students gathered when university fees went from £3,000 to £9,000 per year) and other major events.
It has several interesting things to look out for, detailed in this post, including the:
- National Portrait Gallery
- St Martin’s-in-the-Field church
- Lion statues (you won’t miss these)
- World’s smallest police box
- very centre of London, Charing Cross
Fish ‘n’ chips lunch at Rock & Sole Plaice
After a full morning, it’s a great time to refresh over a British classic — fish ‘n’ chips — at my all-time favourite fish ‘n’ chip place (sorry, plaice) in London.
Time allowance: 1 hour
Getting there: Though just off Trafalgar Square, you’ll want to Google Map your route beforehand (or use data if you have it). It’s a short walk, past a famous intersection called Seven Dials — you’ll know you’ve reached it when seven roads converge on one roundabout where cars enter and exit at speed, horns occasionally blazing, and you praise yourself for not renting a car.
Rock & Sole Plaice is a small shop with outdoor or indoor seating… sit outside if the weather is nice.
Ordering is simple: choose between the classic cod, or mix it up with some tasty haddock (I prefer the latter), in either a regular or large platter (they’re both massive).
Fish ‘n’ chips tips:
The traditional way to eat fish ‘n’ chips is by squirting malt vinegar – readily available on the table – over the chips and sprinkling them with salt. Avoid the ketchup if you can and eat the fish with the mayonnaise provided.
Big Ben & Westminster Abbey
Ah, Big Ben. This London icon rises from the Thames (pronounced tehms) and stands proudly against the blue – or more possibly grey – sky.
Time allowance: 45 minutes
Getting there: Head back to Trafalgar Square. From there, it’s a straight walk to Big Ben, and takes about 15 minutes. If you prefer rising from the Tube station to catch your first glimpse, take the Northern Line southbound from Charing Cross to Embankment.
Big Ben connects to the Houses of Parliament, where the House of Lords and House of Commons meet to discuss the UK’s current agenda.
Right next door is Westminster Abbey, the church of the royalty. Princess Diana was married here, as were Will and Kate more recently. Notable Brits have also been buried inside, though you have to pay to enter.
Big Ben/Westminster advice:
Unless church interiors are your thing, skip going inside the Abbey and appreciate its grandiose from outside.
Having seen all the sights in the red area, you’ll now move into the purple section of the Tube map, with a stop at:
Tower of London & Tower Bridge
Adding to your afternoon of icons, Tower Bridge is the third most-photographed place in London. It sits next to the Tower of London, where you’re headed next.
Time allowance: 1.5 hours
Getting there: Take the District or Circle Line from Westminster or Embankment eastbound to Tower Hill.
Tower of London tip:
Visiting later in the afternoon usually means shorter queues for buying tickets and viewing the crown jewels.
Take a guided tour with one of the Beefeater guards (the men in red with the black hats)… it makes a world of difference and is included in your entrance price. They happen every 30 minutes from opening until 3:30pm.
If you can catch the 3:00 tour, you’ll have enough time to listen to the incredibly interesting history and fun facts from one of them and then explore on your own.
For more on visiting the Tower of London, read this post.
Once you’ve finished, head toward the river to see the famous Tower Bridge. Feel free to cross if you’d like, though it’s easiest to snap your pictures from the banks by the Tower because our next stop is on this side of the river.
St. Paul’s Cathedral
Time allowance: 15 minutes
Getting there: Take the Central Line from Monument Tube Station (a short walk from the Tower) westbound to St. Paul’s.
The second-most known church in London (after Westminster Abbey), St. Paul’s doesn’t host royal weddings, but it did withstand the bombings of London in World War II and became a symbol of British resistance.
Again, you can take a look inside if you’re a church lover; otherwise, head to the water where you’ll run into…
For avid Harry Potter fans, this bridge may look familiar – Death Eaters rip it apart in the Half-Blood Prince film.
Crossing this bridge used to be chaos in real-life as well. When it was built, the natural frequency of the construction materials matched that of human footsteps. An unfortunate coincidence, as that meant walking on it caused it to quake, shiver, and sway. Not ideal for a walking bridge.
It has since been reinforced and the natural frequency changed, so you’re safe to cross here sans quaking to get to the start of the best bit of London’s Southbank (and the yellow section of the Tube map).
Southbank & Shakespeare’s Globe
Time allowance: 50 minutes
This famous bank of the Thames has a great walking path along the water’s edge. Along the route, street performers entertain onlookers, food stands sell tasty snacks, and people converge to share in the festive atmosphere.
With modern London rising from the river banks on both sides, you’ll notice an out-of-place structure right next to Millennium Bridge. This white, thatched, circular building is Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre — a piece of old England among metal and glass skyscrapers.
If you’re interested in seeing a play here on the cheap, read this post.
From the Globe, walk with Tower Bridge behind you along the main path, soaking in the smells and sounds of the Southbank.
It’s a long-ish walk (about 30 minutes) to the London Eye, but the sights are well worth it.
Time allowance: 1.5 hours
Built for the millennium, the London Eye is currently the most-visited paid tourist attraction in London. So, you can expect long, long queues (here are 15 interesting facts about the London Eye to read while you wait).
London Eye advice:
If you booked an ‘entry’ time online or earlier at Madame Tussauds, your spot in the queue is secured. If you did not (*tisk tisk*), or you missed your time slot, you’ll have to queue to book a time, and then get in the main line… and that’s only if they haven’t sold their maximum tickets for that time slot. Just do it in advance and save the headache.
The line can take anywhere from 10 minutes to 1 hour, depending it’s length. The ride itself? Absolutely worth it (and 30 minutes long).
You’ll get a sky-high view of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, and can appreciate how massive London really is, stretching to the horizon in every direction.
Optional evening activities
Maybe you’re knackered from the day and crave your bed – that’s completely understandable. But, if you’re after something to do as daylight wanes to evening, here are some options (read more on them here):
Play at Shakespeare’s Globe: Head back to the Globe and catch a play. It’s true what they say… Shakespeare is actually funny when acted.
Sky Garden: If the Eye didn’t have enough views for your liking, ride to the top (for free after 6pm!) for views of the city skyline at night. Add a cocktail to the mix from the on-site bar, if you fancy.
Alchemist Bar: As the name suggests, you’ll be drinking things that smoke. glow, light on fire, and more at one of these trendy bars — not a dull way to get buzzed by any means.
Pub quiz: I love pub quizzes, and they are quintessentially British. All you have to do to see why I’m hyping it is: find a pub with a quiz on, pay your entry fee (usually £1 to £3 per person), settle in with drinks and food, and see if your brain is up for the trivia test.
You’ll be pitted against other teams in the pub, all answering the same music, sports, pop culture, politics, and general trivia questions. The winner usually gets a free round or cash… not a bad end to a long day.
Phew, you made it.
That’s day one in the bag. Well done, you!
You’ve seen the major sights, so now you can move on to appreciating the culture.
Cue, Day 2.