For a long time I’ve had London on my list of places that I’ve wanted to visit and I was finally able to make a quick trip on my way back from the United States last week. And just like that, I fell in love with London much like I did on my first visit to New York City. London is a town filled with lively neighborhoods, busting restaurants and plenty of sights to keep you busy. Since I only had about 48 hours in London I thought that it would be a good idea to put together a first-timers guide to visiting London so that you make stops at all of the noteworthy places and fall in love with London much like I did!
First things first, get a London Pass. For only £94 you can get a 2-day pass which will allow you access to most of London’s top sights for free, gives you fast-track entry at most places and also a free 1-day hop-on-hop-off bus tour. It’s a no-brainer and one of the best ways to maximize your time within the city. If there are less things that you might want to see and you think that you can fit them into one-day, consider just a single day pass for £69. Keep in mind that the London Eye is not included in the London Pass.
Consider starting your day at the Tower of London which is accessible with the London Pass. This is one of the most famous fortresses and has been a prison, palace and royal armory over the years. One of the biggest attractions now are the Crown Jewels which are on display. For anyone that isn’t totally obsessed with the royal family, the Crown Jewels are the collection of items used only for the coronation of the new king or queen of England. You’ll get to see the actual crown that the current Queen of England wore on her coronation day. Also behind the walls of the Tower of London are the six resident ravens where rumor has it that if the ravens ever left the court and the tower will fall. Find more details on the Tower of London here.
Nearby the Tower of London is the Tower Bridge crossing the River Thames. You can head here next using your London Pass for Fast Track entry. You’ll be guided over 2 walkways, learning the history of the bridge and even have a chance to stand on the glass-bottom portion for a view of the river and traffic below. Before exiting the experience you can walk through the Victorian Engine Rooms which once held the coal-driven steam engines used to power the bridges. You can read more details on the Tower Bridge here.
From here you can easily access The Shard where you can travel up 800 feet in the air to catch one of the best views in the city. There is a viewing gallery and if you go up just a couple of more flights you’ll have access to an open-air gallery skydeck. You might also consider visiting this attraction closer to dusk for gorgeous sunset views but if you’re also going to do the London Eye you can accomplish this same feel. More details on The Shard can be found here.
While you’re in the area you may want to check out the Borough Market, just 2 blocks west of The Shard. Here you can find a great lunch but beware, it can get very crowded and congested. There are plenty of food truck-style food vendors and sit-down restaurants to choose from.
If you’re there during warmer months you can use your London Pass to take a Thames River Cruise for an up close glimpse of Big Ben (currently covered by scaffolding), Parliament, Westminster Abby and much more. It was a bit chilly during November while we were in town and the waters seemed rough so we did not do the river cruise.
Depending on where you’re at with time you can consider a few different options of how to spend the rest of your day. The London Eye is beautiful at sunset but you have to plan your timing just right so that you’re not just boarding the wheel when it’s turning dark. It takes 30-minutes for a full rotation and there tend to be long lines even with a scheduled time slot. For an additional £9 per ticket you can purchase Fast-Track tickets but I wouldn’t say that it is worth the extra pricing.
From here I would suggest a stroll across the river, through Trafalger Square and over to Picadilly Circus for a Times Square-like experience. You’ll get a glimpse of lighted billboards, tons of tourists and a great place for some fun photos. From here you can check out Chinatown and decide if this is where you want to land for authentic Asian cuisine and plenty of Peking duck.
If you weren’t tired enough from a full day of activity and walking there is plenty more to see on day #2! Wake up early and head to catch a glimpse of Buckingham Palace before all of the tourists crowd the square in front of the gates. Take a short stroll over to Westminster Abbey to take a tour of one of the most iconic places in British history. Be sure it is open on the day that you plan to visit as it was closed for a special event during my time in London. This has been the location of coronation since 1066, the site of William and Kate’s wedding and the burial spot of Charles Dickens.
If you’re a history-buff you might consider a stop at the Churchill War Rooms before heading over to Kensington Palace. You can hop a bus to the edge of Hyde Park for a nice stroll through these beautiful gardens and be sure to walk past the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain. This is now the home of William and Kate but currently they have an exhibition of some of Diana’s fashion that she wore over her years in the spotlight.
Depending on your interests you can fill your time with a lot of other options on day #2, including:
- A trip to Harrods for a lot of window shopping in one of the most beautiful department stores that I’ve ever seen.
- Take the tube to St. John’s Wood Station and within a short distance you can cross Abbey Road and snap a Beatles-esque photo. Nearby is the famous Abbey Road Studio and a gift shop. More details on this experience can be found here.
- Head to Camden Town and stroll through Camden Market. This old stable is loaded with food stalls, handmade goods and vintage items with a little bit of something for everyone.
- Fish and Chips – Head to Rock & Sole Plaice for some of the best fish and chips…and mushy peas that you can find in London. They have indoor and outdoor seating and a noteworthy selection of fish to fill your belly. Plus, they’ve been in business since 1871, so I think they know what they’re doing!
London has a lot to offer and it can be a bit overwhelming. You may not be able to fit in everything that you want to do in only two days but you can certainly try! Don’t be intimidated by the bus or the tube, they are both super easy to navigate. Plus, riding on the top of a double-decker bus will make you feel like a real Brit and offer you some great views of the city!