London Travel Guide: What to See in 48 Hours

London is a city you must see at least once in your life! Although they call America a melting pot, London is home to over 8 million residents speaking over 300 languages. With so much to see it can seem overwhelming to do it all in just 2 days. I’ve summed up the best itinerary and most efficient way to view all the top sights in 48 hours. Read on to discover your all inclusive London travel guide.

London Travel Guide

I tend to prefer to plan travel out ahead of time to ensure I see everything on my list in the most efficient way possible, especially in a city as large as London. However, I’ve learned sometimes being human makes the picture perfect itinerary on paper impossible. So try not to be too hard on yourself, do what you can while you travel and enjoy every minute. 

London Travel Guide

Starting with where to stay, I’ll walk you through the best places to grab a bite, sights you must see, and how to get around the city to help you plan your trip and round out your London travel guide.

Where to Stay in London

When traveling, I usually like to scope out a place to stay outside the city center to get a feel for how the locals live, and explore a part of town away from the hustle and bustle of main tourist attractions. In London, I found an affordable studio in Little Venice on Airbnb that was a perfect home base. The apartment was walkable to both Paddington train station and the Warwick tube station.

From Little Venice, we were also able to explore quite a few areas on foot including Notting Hill, Portobello Road Market, Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park.

Where to Eat in London

We didn’t get to try most of the places on our London list of places to eat due to jet lag resulting in over sleeping and a messed up food schedule the first few days, but we enjoyed Caravan Bankside for dinner and drinks with friends, and Warwick Castle Pub in Little Venice for a traditional Sunday roast.

London Travel Guide

What to See in London

Day 1 started around 11 in the morning for us after our Red Eye flight arrived. You’re most likely pretty excited if you’ve just landed, so I recommend starting with some of the more famous sights.

From Little Venice we took the underground (AKA the tube or the subway) down to Waterloo station to start walking along the South Bank. First, we viewed the recently unveiled Big Ben Clock Tower from a less crowded look out point, marked as CJD Memorial Plaque on Google Maps.

*Tip: to save time, download my whole trip map with all the places I recommend on my London travel guide already marked for your convenience. 

London Travel Guide

Make your way up the South Bank on foot, viewing landmarks including the London Eye and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. Cross the River Thames at the Millennium Bridge to view St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Keep walking east to see St Dunstan in the East, a church originally built around 1100 that was destroyed in WWII. Halfway between the London Bridge and the Tower of London, it is now a public garden, opened in 1970. This is a fun gem hiding in plain site to add to your London travel guide.

Finally, make it up to the Tower of London. I would recommend buying tickets to see it. The tower and grounds bring the history of London to life. Built in 1100, the Tower is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Enjoy learning facts about William the Conquerer, Ann Boleyn, and more. Oh, and view the Crown Jewels if you’re into 105 carat diamonds.

*Did you know? Simon Fraser was the last person to be beheaded at the Tower in 1745 for his role in the Scottish Jacobite Rebellion. Later in our 2 week UK journey, we visited the Culloden Battlefield outside of Inverness, the site of the last battle in the Jacobite Rebellion.

After you’ve finished touring the Tower of London, it’s time to get off your feet for a while. I pre-booked tickets to Sky Garden. I would highly recommend making a visit to get a 360 degree birds eye view of the city for free. Booking opens 3 weeks in advance as walk in’s are not usually accommodated. We enjoyed some time off our feet with drinks, a snack and an incredible view. 

London Travel Guide

Day 2 is where the trip got interesting. I had been a bit overly optimistic and underestimated the jet lag (it wasn’t this bad in my early 20’s!). I had planned a fullll day starting at 8 am. However, we did not wake up until 11 am. With three hours lost, we still tried to fit it all in and ultimately failed. I will share the original itinerary in all its perfection, as well as the more realistic version to show what we were actually able to accomplish in one day. 

London Travel Guide

London Travel Guide: Perfect Itinerary 

-Walk through Notting Hill to Portobello Road Market around 8 am (best antique shopping between Chepstow Villas and Elgin Crescent, about 1/2 mile in total)

-Walk to Kensington Gardens, then catch the Big Bus on the blue route

-Ride it to the red bus connection at Marble Arch, then ride to Neal’s Yard/Covent Garden area for lunch in SOHO.

-Walk the Mall to Buckingham Palace.

-Tour Churchill War Rooms, then ride the rest of the Big Bus red route to Westminster Abbey. See if they have a prayer or communion service so you can attend and go in.

-It was Sunday, so we planned to end our day with a proper Sunday roast at the Bridge House in Little Venice, two doors down from where we were staying.

London Travel Guide

Actual Itinerary

Now it’s time to share how Day 2 actually went. I share this so you have realistic expectations of what is possible, and also to always be prepared for the unexpected. Pivot, and try to enjoy the bumps that will arise in the road. 

We walked to Portobello Road market around noon. So many neat, antique treasures to see and shop on a Sunday! I surely would have bought more if I had a means to get it home. We walked down to Kensington Gardens and were hungry for lunch. Unfortunately, we had just missed the Big Bus on the blue route, and it would be 30 mins until the next one came. Since we got a late start, that was time we did not have.

We decided to try to make it to SOHO for lunch on foot. We set out through Hyde Park, but gave out about 1/4 way through due to hunger and physical exhaustion (those 24,000 steps we took the prior day were starting to hit). I decided I couldn’t make it that much farther, so we stopped at a small coffee shop in the park.

Such pretty colorful buildings around Notting Hill

From there, we only had time to walk past Buckingham Palace and to Churchill War Rooms for our 2 o’clock ticket time. Churchill War Rooms is a museum which includes the historic underground bunkers that served as the British command centre throughout WWII. It’s a fun addition to your London travel guide.

We walked to a bus stop to get on the red route of the double decker Big Bus to continue sightseeing while giving our feet a break. I think the hop on, hop off bus is a great option for above ground transport, and to see and hear about different landmarks around the city. The time schedule did not work out to make to Westminster Abbey for their prayer service, maybe next time! 

London Travel Guide Bonus

Day 3, we took the train for a day trip to Oxford, England from Paddington Station. You can find that day itinerary here! But that night, as we arrived back in London we caught a train to Selhurst Park to see Crystal Palace play Arsenal. 

If you are anything like my husband and I, you grew up playing soccer in the states and may have even idolized how popular the sport was in Europe. So, if you take a trip across the pond, one of your must see’s is probably a soccer game. 

London Travel Guide

* Did you know? Most of the soccer stadiums near London are quite a ways out of the city.

My husband decided he wanted a more intimate game experience with a smaller stadium, so he chose Crystal Palace. To get there, the route seemed pretty straight forward. Underground to Victoria Station, then the south line to Selhurst. However what we didn’t know is that the South Line isn’t another underground line, it’s actually a train line you need separate tickets for. It was a lot trying to navigate this at rush hour, but was worth it.

How to Get Around London

My favorite way to explore a city is on foot. But in a city like London, you tire out quickly and before you realize it, you’ve racked up 12 miles of walking in one day.

Some of my favorite alternatives are the underground (AKA the tube), and the hop on-hop off bus tours. We booked the Big Bus tour, but Tootbus and City Sightseeing tours are other options in town. 

*Did you know? You can now pay for a single ride on the underground via contactless payment using a credit card, without having to stand at the kiosk and buy a ticket the old fashioned way! Much quicker and cheaper if you know you are just taking one or two rides. 

The best way to get from Heathrow Airport to Little Venice is to take the Heathrow Express train from Heathrow to Paddington Station. Tickets are available to pre-book online for $18 a person, or you can buy them when you get there. It’s both the most affordable and quickest way to get to that part of the city. 

I hope I have covered everything you will need for 48 hours in London. There are definitely more food options we missed out on, but felt we saw a good bit of the landmarks as affordably as we could. If you want more information on how to plan a trip, especially an international voyage for a week or two, I share all my planning tips and tricks here.

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