Roam Guide / 2 Days in London
This is (admittedly) an ambitious couple of days in London. A two day itinerary; which on one hand hits more than the highlights, and on the other hand leaves much to explore. Intended to be a companion guide to our post on the English Countryside, you can easily pair a busy weekend in London with downtime spent in the Chiltern Hills. The walking tour included in this guide was created by English expat and R&R contributors Nick Pocock and his wife Marie. Food suggestions provided by Fred & Stacy at George & The Dragon Pub in Minneapolis, after repeat visits to London.
When to travel to London: May- June, plus the summer months. It’s nice to go when it’s warmer and the days are long so you can really pack in the activities. September is mild and quiet so that too is a good time to visit.
Irrespective of where you stay, you’ll likely be arriving in London at one of two airports; Heathrow (LHR) or Gatwick, both of which connect very easily to Central London. Outside of a private charter and a reputable taxi service (both of which will be quite costly) you have several other transportation options.
From Heathrow you have three choices:
The Heathrow Express (or HEX) is the fastest way from the airport into Central London’s Paddington Station with no stops en route. You can book tickets in advance online and add them to your apple wallet. It is also included in some Brit Rail passes if you are using those to head into the countryside or on to Paris.
TfL Rail (formerly known as Heathrow Connect) is an overground train similar to the HEX, but it is a stopping service that takes about 35 minutes from the airport to Paddington.
Taking ‘the Tube’ from the airport is fairly simple. There are three underground stations at the airport: one at Terminal 5, one serving T1, 2, 3 and one at 4. Take any Piccadilly line train from any of these stations. At Hammersmith, get out and walk across the platform to join an eastbound District line train. Take the District line to Victoria Station and that's it.
From Gatwick you have a couple as well:
The Gatwick Express is quickest way into Central London. The station is in the South Terminal and they operate four trains an hour to and from London Victoria in just 30 minutes. You can book online or use the self-service machines to print your ticket at ~ $20.
While it takes twice as long, Thames Link operates through the night and offers return service at a discount.
From both London Victoria and London Paddington you will transfer to your hotel in a cab or via the underground (“the tube”). It’s a uncomplicated process, as London has public transportation nailed. The bus and the tube take contactless payment - just swipe your amex and go. It won’t take long to feel familiar as this is the way you’ll explore the city.
A word about logistics — It is advantageous to purchase a London Pass but only if you actually plan to access and tour multiple attractions on this list. The Oyster Card is a great option for prepaying transportation including local buses that stop at the sights, the airport express trains, and the tube (underground subway) .
Double Decker Bus Ride
Begin your day in the Marylebone neighborhood on Baker Street. Locate the #139 bus (marked #1 on our google map) and begin your tour of London. Go to the second deck and the front row. Enjoy the short bus ride as you wind passed landmarks like the Marble Arch, Oxford Circus, Picadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square and finish close to the London Eye.
River Thames - London Eye
Your bus ride commences near Waterloo Station. From there you walk to the river Thames and, depending on weather, take a stroll along the south riverwalk to The London Bridge. Look for the cast iron black signage. If poor weather, simply take The Tube to Tower Hill and the Tower of London. If you would like to take a ride on the Eye (the huge observation wheel). It’s best to purchase a Fast Track ticket online in advance.
The London Bridge
Continue along the south bank and you will pass London Bridge. It's not falling down and is in fact, the new London Bridge. The original London Bridge is in Arizona, because a Texas business man bought it by mistake. His intenention was to buy the Tower Bridge, next on our walking tour.
Walk the Tower Bridge
Welcome to the iconic Tower Bridge. You can pay (or use your London Pass) to climb the towers, where you’ll find an outstanding view of the surrounding area. Otherwise, just enjoy the walk across the bridge and towards the Tower of London, where Anne Boleyn famously lost her head.
Rtip: if you enjoy spooky stories, is to consider the Jack the Ripper Night Walk which starts nightly from the Tower Hill tube station nearby.
Tower of London
The Tower of London is home to plenty of history and The Crown Jewels. It's worth taking a walking tour from one of the Beefeaters (the gin is named after them). The Beefeater tours are of no additional cost if you have an entry ticket, and it’s the only way to see the church inside the Tower.
Rtip: If you have enough time in your itinerary to break up the sightseeing, the Tower of London is a good one to schedule at the end of your day so you can participate in the Ceremony of the Keys. This takes place every night and they allow a small group of people to attend as they lock up the tower for the evening. It is an absolutely amazing experience. Beware it books up quickly.
After you're finished at the Tower, head to the ferry terminal nearby for a free river cruise. It's actually a public ferry, but hop on and take the boat down to Westminster. The "Captain" will provide a tour, even though it's not a tour boat. Good humour and a bit of history. Disembark the ferry at Westminster Pier and head to The Houses of Parliament. You can certainly opt for a more formal river cruise with hop on/off privileges through The London Pass, but this option heads the opposite direction up the river beginning at the Westminster Pier.
Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament
This is the center of the British Government. The famous tower is known as Big Ben. However, Big Ben is actually the name of the Bell that tolls inside the clock. Take your obligatory selfie and move on. It’s just a short walk to Westminster Abbey.
One of the biggest focal points of London and in British history. There are many famous names buried in the Abbey, but also many famous Royals have been married here. It's worth the admission fee to go inside and take a look. Once you're finished, head over to Winston's War Rooms.
This is a fascinating place for anyone who is interested in WW2 history. It's real to life reconstruction of the underground rooms that Churchill ran the war from. Learn about the sequence of events and how they conducted battle strategy. The audio tour is captivating and you can take as little or as long as you like walking the war rooms.
When finished it’s a nice stroll through St James Park to Buckingham Palace. If you choose instead to walk down The Mall, there are a number of sights, including St Jame's Palace and the Admiralty Arch. The Mall sits between Trafalgar Square (seen earlier from the bus) and Buckingham Palace.
Royalty at it's finest. Don't forget to take in the Victoria Memorial in the center of the large roundabout. As you look away from Buckingham Palace, you will see The Mall. If you time it right, you may also see the Changing of The Guards. It begins at 11am sharp and lasts for 45 minutes.
Rtip: consider an evening Tour in Buckingham Palace – it’s expensive but worth it if you have time in your schedule. They offer alternative explorations of the Queen’s galleries and the state rooms, but the exclusive tours are very limited. While it books up quickly, they do add last minute tours if the queen is away. It’s worth re-checking the website multiple times as your trip approaches and the queen’s schedule changes.
Adjacent to Buckingham Palace is an iconic park where you’ll find Kensington Palace, the Princess Diana memorial, and the Serpentine Galleries (its annual summer Pavilion has become a site for international architectural experimentation.)
Rtip: is not to miss “speakers’ corner” in Hyde Park where you’ll often find activists and zealots expressing their freedom of speech. This landmark will make a particular impression on middle grade American tourists.
If you are finishing up Day One as outlined, Fred & Stacy have several suggestions for you in the area—
When you’ve had a full day touring the food halls at Harrods might be the perfect choice for dinner. Harrods is truly a spectacle to behold. The meat! The seafood! The pastries! The wine! The chocolates! They also have a bunch of small restaurants & bars to eat at — a champagne bar, an oyster bar, a steakhouse, a truffle restaurant, fish and chips counter, and more.
Rtip: High Tea in Harrods Food Hall is an impressive experience and a great add on, time permitting.
This is a charming neighborhood restaurant. You’ll need a reservations because it’s tiny. The owner can be seen bustling around, answering the phone, waiting on tables, etc. The menu is written on a chalkboard and the food is outstanding. The people watching can also be great fun.
Rtip: is to consider going for a simple, fresh Italian meal at Sale Pepe. It’s been around a long time and it’s delicious every time.
Now for this option, you’ll likely want to change your clothes and be in the mood for a fine dining experience. It’s fancy yes, but it’s amazing. The Five Fields is a romantic, high end spot a little closer to the river in London’s Chelsea neighborhood. It’s a modern but welcoming restaurant with British influences and seasonality. They exclusively offer a three course price-fixed menu.
If you want to splurge on a special meal and it’s fine dining you are after, consider Dinner by Heston Blumenthal. While it is rather pricy it’s an incredible experience. It’s actually located near Harrod’s inside the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. They make a dish called “meat fruit” that is just delicious.
If you’re not too tired after dinner you can finish up your day, taking in the lights and energy of Trafalgar Square. This famous square hosts Nelson's Column and a number of eclectic street performers. You can see from the map below, it’s very near to the above mentioned restaurants and a wonderful place to catch public transport back to your hotel.
Start Day 2 here at this amazing food hall you can dine at one of the many stalls preparing food or purchase ingredients to recreate at "home.” Consider going early for a cup of coffee to beat the tourists and see how the locals shop.
Devour Suggestions in Borough Market-
We love the meat pies at The Ginger Pig.
The grilled cheese sandwich at Kappacasein Dairy
The Beinenstich (bee sting) cake at Artisan food
La Tua the best spot for delicious pasta.
Rtip: if you find yourself at Borough Market and you want a sit-down meal, check out Padella. They do not take reservations and you will likely have to wait in line, but they are quite efficient and friendly, and the food is spectacular! The lunch and dinner menus are the same, and you can line up 20 minutes before they start either service.
Millennium Bridge / Globe Theatre
From the market, walk along the south bank that you covered a portion of yesterday to the Millennium Bridge (the wobbly bridge); The only pedestrian bridge across the Thames River. Also have a look at the Globe Theater as you approach the bridge. An accurate rebuild of the original Globe Theater where Shakespeare's plays were performed. If you are interested, you can take a tour of the Globe Theater. It’s fairly short, informative and entertaining.
Rtip: If you are a museum lover, the Millennium Bridge is near the Tate Modern You can easily sub-in or deviate by adding in this incredible museum. There's also a restaurant up top, inside that has great views of St. Paul's.
St. Paul's Cathedral
As you walk over the bridge, you are presented with a beautiful view of St Paul's Cathedral. Go inside and take in Sir Christopher Wren's masterpiece.
Nearby Devour Suggestions -
St. John Restaurant - nose to tail, farm to table type place.
Barbecoa - Jamie Oliver’s restaurant. Great food.
Brasserie Blanc - multiple locations and a really good lunch.
Rtip: If you are looking for an affordable afternoon tea experience, think about OXO Tower Restaurant over looking the Thames and St. Paul’s. It’s a nice alternative to the fancy hotel ‘high tea’ options, and it’s right on your Day One adventure path.
The British Museum
From St Paul's, take the Tube over to the British Museum (home to the Rosetta Stone) spend some hours taking in all this free museum has to offer. Holborn is the closest underground station. The British museum can be overwhelming so if it’s feeling like too much I’d suggest The National Portrait gallery (near Trafalgar sq.) It’s smaller and more manageable but just as beautiful.
To end any tour of London, you must see a popular West End show. You can purchase tickets online and it’s important to do that ahead of time. There are meal & ticket deals out there that allow you to purchase a package to cover dinner and your admission (if that interests you), and you can always buy tickets direct from the theater websites. Some suggestions include ‘Hamilton’ (of course) playing at The Victoria Palace Theater, or the long running ‘The Woman in Black’ at The Fortune Theater. Additionally you can go on StubHub and get tickets for Harry Potter ‘The Cursed Child’, parts one and two! It is amazing and they perform actual magic on stage at the Palace Theatre London.
“You can't go wrong with the theatre. It’s my top recommendation to visitors every time, no matter what the age.” - Marie
A “go to” restaurant recommendation near the theatre is J. Sheekey for their fish and chips and their oysters. It’s a historical spot in Leicester Square and they offer a ‘late supper’ menu for post theatre goers.
Additional options from Fred & Stacy near the Theater District -
G&D Pub’s favorite Indian restaurant in all of London featuring curry. Friendly service and amazing food make this a very popular place. They don’t take dinner reservations unless you are 6 or more, but the last lunch reservation is around 5:30 pm so you can always book that slot and go for an early dinner, bypassing the long line (often out the door!) The 5:30 reservation in Covent Gardern is also great if you are going to see a show.
With multiple locations, Hawksmoor Seven Dials, in the old Watney-Combe brewery, is the perfect place for a late afternoon burger if you are following the Day One itinerary above. This restaurant is tucked down a quiet street just a short walk from Covent Garden. The steakhouse at dinnertime is simply amazing. Make a reservation before your show and order the sticky toffee pudding for desert.
Rtip: If you are a red meat lover you’ll enjoy the butler trolley of Roast Beef at Simpsons on the Strand.
Quite well hidden near Hyde Park and Buckingham Palace, you’ll find this iconic pub. The ceiling is wallpapered with currency and the pub is said to be haunted. If that’s not enough of a reason to visit, consider the delightful bar menu and and crisp pale ales that await you (that is if you can find it).
“The more localized, residential neighborhood pubs are the best.” - Nick
The Horseshoe Inn
This pub is the epitome of charming London, complete with a pub cat and a garden terrace. It’s got that great comfortable familiarity and it’s close to the London Bridge.
Take a tour of Beefeater Gin. It’s pretty cool to see their operation and it’s a fairly short visit that you can book ahead of time on their website. They also sell a gin called, ‘London Garden’, that is only available at the distillery.
If you haven’t yet booked a place to stay, consider the following contributor suggested hotel options. Click the image below for booking information. Starting at $190-$320.
Premier League Football Match
If you can get tickets, to go to a West Ham United Premier League match. They recently moved in to the Olympic Stadium (hosted the 2012 Olympics), now known as the London Stadium.
Rtip: if you can’t see a soccer match consider catching a rugby game at Twickenham Stadium
On a beautiful day you can rent a bike and take in one of London’s favorite parks. This may seem a hike but it’s worth the effort. To get here, take The Tube Northern Line from Tottenham Court Road and change at Embankment to the District Line Westbound to Richmond. It'll take about 45 mins.
Nearby Devour Suggestions -
The River Cafe - Depending on where you are staying, the River Café will probably be otherwise out of the way (Hammersmith) but wow, the food is so worth it!
Additional suggestions for adventure from Fred & Stacy at George & The Dragon —
If you’re a big fan of the Harry Potter movies , go to the Warner Bros Studio Tour in Watford Junction. This will take up a good portion of the day but it is pretty great. You’ll need to book tickets on their website in advance as they don’t sell them at the door. If you decide to do the studio tour, you’ll want to make sure you get the express train out of Euston Station (the other one takes three times as long)!
This is the spectacular Baroque style palace of Henry VIII. We wholeheartedly recommend a day trip to Hampton Court. The hedge maze there is crazy cool as is the infamous Haunted Gallery. If you prefer to stay in London, Kensington Palace or the Banqueting House are good choices too and included in the Historic Royal Palaces membership.
Click here to see everywhere Ready & Roam suggests you include in your visit.