2 Days in London – An Itinerary for First Timers

Seeing all of what London has to offer in 2 days is impossible. But you can absolutely get a taste of the city and take in some of the main attractions. I’ve seen hundreds of itineraries which try and rush around everything leaving you 30 minutes max at the place you’re visiting, so I’ve tried to put something together which is manageable with optional extensions if you want to hurtle around like a mad man (or woman) for 2 days.

London is one of the most visited cities in Europe, and a trip to the continent wouldn’t be complete without spending at least a couple of days in the UK’s iconic capital city. It’s big, it’s busy and sometimes it’s totally overwhelming so it’s hard to know where to start. But don’t worry I’ve got you covered.

If you are lucky enough to have longer in the capital, you can also check out my extensions, including a day in Greenwich, a day in Kensington & Hyde Park, a day trip to visit Harry Potter or a trip to a city outside of London like Oxford or Cambridge (posts coming soon).

So let’s dive right in!


Day 1

A. The Tower of London (2-3 hours)

By far my favourite attraction in London. 1,000 years of history in one castle. You can see the Crown Jewels, Traitor’s Gate, Henry VIII’s armour, the spot where numerous people were beheaded, the tower where the princes were kept, and learn about the stories of this castle on a Yeoman Warder’s tour (including torture methods, the gunpowder plot and of course, the castle ravens). It’s full of history which is brought to life throughout the castle, and is just an epic place to be. 

My advice is to get there for opening and go straight to the Crown Jewels. It opens at 9am on all days other than a Sunday and Monday when it opens at 10am. We arrived at 9am on a Friday and ran to the crown jewels. We were the only ones in there and got to see them all to ourselves. By the time we were out, a few more people had arrived but were heading to the jewels so we managed to get some nice photos of Tower Square pretty empty. 

You could easily spend a day at The Tower of London, but if you’ve only got 2 days in the capital then you don’t have time. I’ve seen itineraries which give an hour here, but honestly it needs more. Prioritise it for a morning and don’t rush – the museum in The White Tower is worth spending your time in, seeing the Ravens is a must and a Yeoman Warder’s tour is a unique experience worth making time for. 

View of Tower Green with Tower Bridge in the background

B. Tower Bridge (1 hour incl. museum)

From The Tower of London, it’s a 5 minute walk to Tower Bridge, and another 5 minute walk to cross it. Built in the late 1800s, this bridge is a London icon. You can walk over the bridge (though cars can also drive over it – as my rogue sat nav has meant I have on a number of occasions!)

There is also a really interesting museum within the bridge, which if you’re interested in engineering I really recommend. You can also climb the high level walkways to take in the amazing views out across the Thames and watch London beneath your feet through the glass floor!

If you’re not fussed by the museum, cross the Bridge and head down the steps to your right to hit the waterfront promenade which is the perfect spot for taking photos.

C. The Shard (2 hours incl. lunch)

The Shard is an iconic glass building which is host to numerous restaurants and bars offering 360 degree views out across London. Go for this option if you like food and views (definitely one for me) – at this stage in the day you’re likely to be ready for lunch so head up for a special meal you won’t forget. Book ahead if this is your plan though.

If you’re on a tighter budget, you could visit Borough Market and grab a local treat off the many stalls, or stay in the waterfront area where there are loads of lovely restaurants. Treat yourself to sushi at Temakinho or a steak at Gaucho, or just grab a sandwich and go at Pret. Whatever your budget, there’s an option to suit you.

If you don’t choose to eat in The Shard, then it’s still worth a visit to the viewing platforms to get stunning views out over London….though The Thames water doesn’t look too appealing from a distance, does it?!

View from The Shard

D. The Tate Modern or HMS Belfast (2 hours)

A 6 minute walk from The Shard back to the riverside, the HMS Belfast sits docked in the river. The amazing ship is now a museum, showing what life would be like on the ship for the crew at sea and at war. It’s definitely worth a visit and open until 6pm if you’ve run over on time on any of the previous attractions.

The Tate Modern is the UK’s national gallery of modern art. It’s a 15 minute walk from The Shard (but in the right direction on the way to the next stop). I’m not really an art kind of person, but it’s still a really impressive place with galleries including the works of Andy Warhol and Dora Maar. It is open until 6pm (and 10pm on a Friday and Saturday, should you want a super long visit). 

E. Walk past Shakespeare’s Globe (15 minutes)

There isn’t time to stop here, but at least you can see it. The iconic Globe Theatre on the South Bank is a reconstruction of the Elizabethan Playhouse for which Shakespeare wrote his plays. If you do have time, check out what’s on at the Box Office and see a play!

F. Cross the Millenium Bridge to St Paul’s Cathedral (1 hour)

10 minutes from the Globe lies St Paul’s Cathedral, over the Millennium Bridge. St Paul’s is a Grade I listed building and an absolutely stunning stop of the itinerary. Having dominated the London skyline for over 300 years, the Cathedral is an icon of London – the funerals of Churchill and Admiral Nelson, plus the wedding of Prince Charles and Diana were held here. Entrance is super expensive at £20 each, so you may just want to snap the famous domes from outside.

St Paul’s Cathedral and its famous dome

G. Sky Garden (2 hours incl. drinks and/or dinner)

The Sky Garden is the perfect spot to finish your day. A 15 minute final walk of the day gets you to The Walkie Talkie building, a unique building with the highest public garden in London. Watch the sun set on your day with a glass of wine in hand – a great spot for drinks with a view, or dinner in one of the 3 restaurants. Then collapse in to bed ready for another busy day in the capital tomorrow!

What a view out to The Shard

Day 2

A. Buckingham Palace  (1 hour)

You can’t visit London and not visit the Queen’s house! You can tour inside the palace with pre-booked tickets and if you want to see The State Rooms, Royal Mews and the Queen’s Gallery then a 2 hour tour may be for you. We opted just to see the Palace, and instead do a tour of the Houses of Parliament as that was more to our interest. If you’d prefer to see the Palace then just stay longer here and don’t linger at Parliament. 

Outside Buckingham Palace

Changing of the Guards also takes place at 11am each day (but get there early to get your spot) if you want to watch the full ceremony in all its splendour.

B. Houses of Parliament incl. Big Ben (2.5 hours)

The Houses of Parliament are another iconic London building. The buildings are open Monday to Saturday and you can attend debates, committee hearings or take a tour to learn about the buildings, role of the House of Lords, House of Commons, British judicial system, and Prime Ministers over time. We found the tour really interesting, and it lasted about 2 hours. 

Big Ben is attached to the Houses of Parliament, right on The River Thames. It’s currently covered in scaffolding but due to be completed at some point in 2021. 

Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament

C. Westminster Abbey (30 minutes)

Westminster Abbey is right by the Houses of Parliament. It’s a World Heritage site, with over 1000 years of history and is an imposing Gothic church which is most definitely worth a visit. Prince William and Kate were married here in 2011, Henry VIII had his coronation here, and Edward III (and many other Kings and Queens) are buried here. It’s historic and it belongs to the Sovereign. Again you can do an audio tour round the Abbey, which is very interesting. 

Westminster Abbey

D. Grab some lunch (1 hour)

Cross Westminster Bridge to the South Bank for a bite to eat. Obviously we chose Hannah – a Japanese restaurant which was really tasty. Also close by you can have traditional English fish and chips by the river front, eat authentic Italian or sit in an English pub and grab a burger. Perfect for anything you fancy eating.

E. London Eye (1.5 hours)

Whilst on this side of the river, it’s time for a ride in to the skies on the London Eye. Originally built as the Millennium Eye, this is basically a massive wheel where you sit in a pod and ride round the wheel in a circle with panoramic views out over London. The circular rotation lasts 30 minutes, and the queues are on average 30 minutes to 1 hour long, so I’ve left plenty of time in the itinerary.

If heights aren’t your thing, you could alternatively choose a boat trip on The Thames – a really exciting option is a RIB boat ride which will throw you up and down as it rides across The Thames, wind in your face.

The London Eye

F. Imperial War Museum or Churchill War Rooms or London Dungeon (2-3 hours)

Again, the choice of options totally depends on your interests. All are within walking distance of The London Eye. 

We chose the Imperial War Museum, those who know me will be unsurprised to hear. We LOVED it. One of the best museums in the world, and we have been to quite a few. There are galleries on WW1, WW2, Afghanistan, a holocaust exhibition, The Falklands and many more. We spent 4 hours in here and only got through the WW1 and Afghanistan galleries. We could easily have spent a full day just in this museum. We will definitely be going back. 

If museums are your thing but maybe you want a more interactive and less intense/more child friendly one, The Churchill War Rooms are the underground caves which served as Britain’s central control during WW2. It also has a section of museum dedicated to the life of Churchill himself. This can be done in a few hours. 

If museums just aren’t your thing, you could choose to visit the London Dungeons instead. This is also a great option if you have children in tow. The dungeons combine special effects, rides and actors to recreate some of London’s famous historical macabre stories in a humorous way. 

The Imperial War Museum

F. Finish the trip off with a special final dinner

There are loads of great restaurants in London. If you want something special for your final evening (and not necessarily breaking the bank), then some of my favourites are: Padella (amazing Italian), Tandoor Chop House (mouth watering Indian), The Counter at Sabor (incredible Tapas), Temper (BBQ eat your heart out), Hawksmoor (yummy steak) and Chicama (tasty Peruvian). Whatever you choose, enjoy your last night in London and sleep tight after all that walking!

And there you have it – a whistle stop tour of the main sights in London in 2 days. After all of that you will probably need another holiday.


Potential Extensions

If you’re in London for more than two days, there are a number of options you could choose to spend more days in the city:

  • Take in more of the central London sites – for example, Trafalgar Square, 10 Downing Street, The British Museum, The National Gallery, Covent Garden, Oxford Street shopping, or the London zoo.
  • A day in and around Kensington (post coming soon) – taking in Hyde Park, Kensington Palace, Madam Tussaud’s, Marble Arch, The Sherlock Holmes Museum, the V&A Musuem, traditional afternoon tea and the Royal Albert Hall
  • A day in Greenwich (post coming soon) – exploring the Royal Observatory and Planetarium, standing on the point where East meets West on the Greenwich Meridian Line, visiting the Maritime Museum, Cutty Sark trading ship and Greenwich Park
  • A day trip outside of the city – this could be to visit Harry Potter at Warner Brothers Studios (post coming soon), taking a trip to the University cities of Oxford or Cambridge, or even taking a tour to the picturesque area of The Cotswolds (post coming soon).

Thanks for reading and I hope you found this post useful if you’re visiting London and looking for ideas on what to do. Let me know what you think in the comments below. Stay safe and happy travelling!

11 Comments

  1. I had about 2-1/2 days in London when I went five years ago, and I still felt incredibly rushed! London is a huge city, and it would take a lifetime to see all that there is to see. I appreciate your tips for 48 hours in the city, and I’ll keep them in mind should I return to London some day!

    Like

    1. Yes there is just so much to do you could spend weeks and still not do much more than scratch the surface – hopefully you can come back one day and explore a bit more 🙂 Thanks for your comments and enjoy the rest of your Sunday!

      Liked by 1 person

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