London Drum

Spend Two Days In London – Example 48-Hour Itinerary

Three example itineraries with the best places to visit during a two-day holiday in London

Idea #1 – Art galleries & museums

National Gallery
Horse Guards Parade
Banqueting House
Victoria Embankment Gardens
Courtauld Gallery
British Museum
Day One | What you will see:
National Gallery, Horse Guards, Banqueting House, Courtauld Gallery and British Museum

Idea #1 was all about rushing around town and seeing as many landmarks as possible, whereas this one is a bit more sedate. This two-day plan will take you around some of the best art galleries and museums in the capital.

Let’s begin with the best art gallery in London – the National Gallery. Make your way to Trafalgar Square and take some photos of Nelson’s Column, and then spend 1½ hours walking around the country’s finest collection of artworks. You’ll see pieces by Vermeer, Cézanne, Monet, Rembrandt, Rubens, Titian, Turner and Van Gogh.

Now walk down Whitehall and take some photos outside Horse Guards. Directly over the road is Banqueting House. Head in there for a look at one of the greatest works of art in the country – the Rubens on the ceiling (allow for 45 mins).

Walk down Horse Guards Avenue and turn left into the beautiful Whitehall Gardens. Keep going to the end and cross over the road into Victoria Embankment Gardens. When you get to the end of the park keep going and turn left at Waterloo Bridge.

The next gallery inside the courtyard of Somerset House. The Courtauld Gallery is famous for its collection of French Impressionists and has paintings by Monet, Manet, Rubens and Van Gogh (allow for 1 hour).

Now catch the No.1 bus from Waterloo Bridge and get off just after Holborn station and walk to the British Museum. If we’ve got our timings right then you should still have a couple of hours to look around their collection.

Natural History Museum
Victoria & Albert Museum
Brompton Oratory
Day Two | What you will see:
Natural History Museum, V&A Museum, Brompton Oratory and shopping at Harrods

Day two begins with another couple of museums in South Kensington. The Natural History Museum is best-known for its dinosaur fossils, but if you’re an adult then you’ll probably be more interested in its collection of stuffed animals – this museum is like a dead zoo.

It has rooms full of elephants, lions, tigers, giraffes, hippos, rhinos, polar bears, grizzly bears, fish, insects, tropical birds… practically every animal that you can think of (allow for 2-3 hours).

The Victoria & Albert Museum is just over the road. This museum focuses on art and design but doubles up as a very good art gallery with works by Raphael, Constable and Turner.

The highlight of your visit will be the Cast Room which contains copies of some of the world’s greatest statues like Trajan’s Column and Michelangelo’s David (allow for 2-3 hours).

When you leave the museum have a quick look inside Brompton Oratory next-door (surely one of the most beautiful churches in London) and then walk up Brompton Road until you’re standing outside Harrods.

Harrods is one of the most luxurious shops in the world and is worth a look inside simply to see the decor – check out the food halls, sweet hall and Egyptian escalator. Your friends at home will probably be expecting a nice souvenir after your two-day stay, and most people just buy a magazine or something cheap to get hold of one of their much sought-after green carrier bags. (Then you can slip something else from Tescos or Sainsburys inside instead!)

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Idea #2 – Changing the Guard, sightseeing bus, landmarks and a show

Trafalgar Square
Horse Guards Parade
Buckingham Palace
Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace
Tootbus Tour
Tower of London
Covent Garden
Day One | What you will see:
Trafalgar Square, Horse Guards, Changing the Guard, sightseeing bus, Tower of London, meal in the West End

If this is your first trip to London then you’ll probably want to see Big Ben and Changing the Guard – that’s what most tourists want to see when they visit London for the first time. So idea No.1 is going to squeeze in all of these and more.

Start at Trafalgar Square and Nelson’s Column, and then buy a sightseeing bus ticket from the Tootbus Tour shop on the corner of Cockspur Street. Don’t get on the bus just yet, though, because we want to see some other attractions first.

Walk down Whitehall and take a photograph of the soldiers standing outside Horse Guards, then walk through the central arch into the parade ground. Keep going through the park until you see Buckingham Palace.

The crowd for Changing the Guard can swell into the thousands and if you don’t arrive early you’ll be stuck with a lousy spot. So read our review for the best arrival time and best place to stand.

The ceremony will end around 11.30 AM and the Tootbus Tour stop is just around the corner in Buckingham Gate. Catch one of the Yellow Route buses.

The route will take you past many of London’s most famous landmarks including Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and Parliament. It will then cross over the river a couple of times for a look at the London Eye and St. Paul’s Cathedral. The route will differ depending on whether it’s Mon-Fri or Sat-Sun, but eventually you’ll cross over Tower Bridge and pull up by the Tower of London, which is where you should get off.

If you were lucky with the traffic (unlikely!) then the entire route will have taken around 50 mins, which will give you 2½ hours to look around the Tower of London.

After that we recommend catching the tube from Tower Hill to Embankment (10 mins) for an evening meal in the West End. You might like to try a restaurant around Covent Garden as well (that would be our choice).

St. Paul’s Cathedral
Bank of England Museum
Royal Exchange
Leadenhall Market
The Monument
Tower Bridge
The Shard
West End
Day Two | What you will see:
St. Paul’s Cathedral, The City, The Shard and a West End musical

You will have seen St. Paul’s yesterday while you were sitting on the sightseeing bus, but we’re going to go inside today. After you’ve walked around downstairs try and climb up the domes. The first two levels are easy enough, but if you make it all the way up to the Golden Gallery then very well done – that’s the tiny balcony on top of the dome! (allow for 1½-2 hours).

Now walk down Cheapside until you reach the most impressive junction in London, with three of the City’s finest buildings: the Bank of England, Mansion House and Royal Exchange.

Now walk up Cornhill and turn left into Gracechurch Street. You will see the entrance to Leadenhall Market on the lefthand side. This Victorian market looks like something out of a Dickens novel.

Keep walking down Gracechurch Street, past The Monument, and stop halfway across London Bridge for a great view of Tower Bridge in the distance.

Now we’re going to climb to the top of The Shard. This is the highest skyscraper in London and you can see absolutely everything from up there. Just wait until you see how small St. Paul’s Cathedral looks from up here – and you probably thought it was amazingly tall when you were standing in the Golden Gallery this morning!

A great way to end your two-day stay in London is with a West End musical. Most of the big theatre shows start at 7 PM or 7.30 PM so you should have plenty of time. Two of the longest-running and most popular shows are Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables.

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Idea #3 – Two days in London without spending any money

Piccadilly Circus
Buckingham Palace
Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace
St. James’s Park
Trafalgar Square
Horse Guards Parade
Downing Street
Houses of Parliament
House of Commons
Westinster Abbey
Day One | What you will see:
Piccadilly Circus, Changing the Guard, Trafalgar Square, Horse Guards, Downing St, Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey

London can be a very expensive city to visit, so the idea behind this two-day itinerary is that we’re going to try and avoid spending any money whatsoever – not even on bus and tube fares!

Start at Piccadilly Circus and take a few photos of the lights, and then walk down Piccadilly towards the Ritz Hotel. Turn left into Green Park and keep going until you see Buckingham Palace (20 mins walk).

We’re here to see one of the most popular pieces of free entertainment in London – Changing the Guard. Check the dates beforehand because it doesn’t run every day. And read our review because it contains some useful information about the best place to stand.

When the parade ends at around 11.30 AM walk across St. James’s Park and stop at the central bridge to take a photo of the palace. Then walk through Admiralty Arch (allow for 25-30 mins walking time) and look around Trafalgar Square and Nelson’s Column.

Now continue your sightseeing tour down Whitehall (allow 30-45 mins for the walking and stopping to see the sights). The first sight worth seeing is Horse Guards, which will probably have about a million billion tourists crowding around the soldiers.

Then continue walking down Whitehall until you see the entrance to Downing Street on the right. You can’t get into Downing Street itself, but you can still peer through the gates at the famous front door.

Keep going until you reach Parliament Square. If we’ve got our timeing right then it should be about 2 PM by now so head inside the Houses of Parliament to watch the MPs inside the House of Commons (Mon-Thu only). It’s totally free and you don’t even need a ticket – just queue up at the visitor’s entrance and ask to enter the House of Commons or House of Lords (allow for 30 mins queueing, and 60 mins in the actual chamber).

Bear in mind that you definitely need to leave by 3.45 PM at the latest to make sure you’ve got enough time to walk over the road for the Evensong service at Westminster Abbey (Mon-Tue, Thu-Fri only). The tourists will get kicked out at 4.30 PM and they don’t charge people to attend their 5 PM church service, so this is a great way of seeing inside for free.

Sky Garden
Bank of England Museum
Mansion House
Royal Exchange
Guildhall Art Gallery
St. Paul’s Cathedral
St. Paul’s Cathedral Evensong
Day Two | What you will see:
Sky Garden, remains of the Roman amphitheatre, Guildhall, One New Change, St. Paul’s

The Sky Garden is a big skyscraper that has a tropical garden on the 35th floor (a bit like the Palm House at Kew), and you can look out across London from 500-feet up in the air. It’s completely free to get inside, but you do need to book a time slot on their website beforehand (you can’t just turn up on the day). Ideally you want to book it for 10 AM and allow yourself about 1 hour inside.

Now walk up Fenchurch Street and Lombard Street towards Bank (10 mins walk). When you get there you can enjoy one of the finest junctions in London – the Bank of England, Mansion House and Royal Exchange.

Continue up Poultry and turn into King Street towards the medieval-looking Guildhall (10 mins walk). The building next-door is the Guildhall Art Gallery.

Head inside the art gallery (it’s all free) and look around the paintings if you want, but what you’ve really come to see is in the basement: the remains of London’s Roman amphitheatre (allow for 1-1½ hours).

When you come out walk across the forecourt towards the pepperpot-shaped building and enter the glass door. This is the entrance to the Guildhall. The public are usually allowed to have a look inside the Great Hall for free, but sometimes they’ll have a meeting on and you’ll have to settle for looking at it from outside instead (allow for 30 mins if you get inside).

Find your way back to Poultry and walk to the end of Cheapside. Turn left down New Change and then look for the opening into the middle of One New Change shopping centre (10-15 mins walk).

Ride that lift all the way to the roof terrace and step out into the open-air for a fantastic view of St. Paul’s Cathedral (allow for 20-30 mins).

The final attraction is inside St. Paul’s itself… but we’re going to have to wait a while if we want to enter it for free. Depending on when you managed to get a time slot at the Sky Garden, you could have another two hours to wait before the Evensong service starts at 5 PM (Mon-Sat).

When it’s close to 4 PM you should make your way to the front steps because they’ll start letting everyone in for the service. They don’t charge people to pray so you’ll be able to see a sizeable part of the inside for free.

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London Squire bookThe owns and has spent the last decade reviewing the capital’s landmarks, attractions and hotels. His guidebook is available from Amazon

Your comments and questions

Shezzie Hi. I'm visiting London for the first time in October and am trying to decide if the London Pass makes sense. Of the attractions included I want to visit Westminster Abbey, St Paul's Cathedral, the Tower of London and the London Bridge Experience. If I can visit all of these in one day, the pass will save me money, but if I spread them over 2-days doesn't. Is it possible to do all four of these in one day? Thanks in advance!

Craig Hi Shezzie, I would say definitely not. The Tower of London on its own takes up half a day. If you want to do it properly then you're looking at 3 hours, but I suppose you could rush around it in two. I wouldn't want to spend any less than 1½ hours each at St Paul's and Westminster Abbey - but you could probably rush around Westminster Abbey in an hour. I don't know about the London Bridge Experience because that's the one I've never been to. But when you factor in travel time and lunch as well then you've got no chance of doing them all in one day.

Pete&Lynne Hi, My daughter and I are travelling to the UK from Australia and we're aiming to spend 2 days in London and wanted to know a few things: 1. Is the London Pass worthwhile? 2. Whats the best way to get around? I have considered hop on hop off buses but they seem very expensive, even though we will probably see things we wouldn't normally look at, what about Oyster cards and travelcards, or just walking? 3. Suggested itinerary - Day One - Piccadilly Circus tube station, British Museum, Selfridges and Oxford Street shops, Hyde Park, Harrods, V&A Museum, Science Museum, Hamleys, Berkeley Square, Fortnum and Mason. Any other suggestions for Day One? - Day Two - From Victoria Station to Big Ben, Palace of Westminster, St Paul's, Tate Modern, Shakespeare's Globe, Tower of London, Tower Bridge. Can you see anything we have missed or should be visiting? Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Craig Hi Pete. I think your itinerary is too ambitious for just two days - you're going to have to take some stuff out. Bear in mind that a lot of those places don't even open until 10 AM and close as early as 5.30 PM, and they are very spread out - London is a very big city. The more places you visit the more time you'll be wasting on the buses and tubes. I'd normally recommend 2 hours each at the British Museum, V&A and Science Museum, but certainly 90 mins minimum - if you include the travel time and a quick half hour for lunch then that is your first day gone already. On day two you've got Big Ben, St Paul's, the Tower of London and Tower Bridge. If you actually want to go inside these places instead of just looking at them from the outside then that is pretty much all you can squeeze in. I would forget Tate Modern and the Globe. As for travelling around, I think you'd be better off just getting a pay-as-you-go Oyster Card. It's not possible to buy a 2-day travelcard, so you may as well just bung 20 quid on an Oyster card (per person). The maximum you'll pay each day is the daily cap, regardless of how many journey you make, so 20 quid each will be plenty. Definitely don't get a hop-on hop-off sightseeing bus - that will be a total waste of money, and use up too much valuable time. I would skip the London Pass as well, as a lot of the places you are visiting are free anyway (British Museum, Science Museum, V&A).

Pete Thanks Craig. The reason for only 2 days in London is that we are travelling to a lot of historical sites throughout the UK particularly Roman sites as my daughter is studying ancient history at university. We do however have an afternoon and half a day before we leave, so what we don't see in the two days we will try and complete at the end.

Craig You might want to add the Guildhall Art Gallery to your itinerary - because that has the remains of London's Roman Amphitheatre in the basement (maybe give it a quick 45 mins after you visit St Paul's). You might like to swap one of your museums for the Museum of London as well, because that has loads of the city's Roman remains inside, and that's very close to St Paul's as well, so maybe you could do them all together

Nikki Myself, my husband and my 14 year old daughter are travelling down from Lancashire late on Friday night and will be staying at the Premier Inn Kings Cross. On Saturday we will be up and out straight after breakfast. We would like to see Trafalgar and Leicester Squares, Downing Street, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Tower Bridge, the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, with maybe the changing of the Guard, a trip on the London Eye and maybe a look at the Princess Diana Memorial in Kensington Park and also a little shopping on Regent street, Bond Street, Piccadilly Circus before we catch the train home on Sunday at 5pm. As this is our first time in London we just don't know what to do first or which order would be best to see all the attractions. If you can help at all that would be wonderful. Thanks Nikki

Craig Hi Nikki, I think you are trying to pack in to much for just two days, especially when you have to end Sunday early to go home. You can do all of these on one day because they're all within walking distance of each other (but you'll have to catch a tube from your hotel first, because that is too far away to walk): get the tube to Leicester Square and then walk them in this order: Piccadilly Circus, then walk up Piccadilly and across Green Park to Buckingham Palace, then down the Mall to Trafalgar Square, Downing Street, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, then across Westminster Bridge to the London Eye. If you are planning on going inside Westminster Abbey and riding the London Eye, then that is probably all you'll have time for (but buy your tickets to the London Eye in advance, because the queues can be an hour long). I would skip Changing the Guard if it was me, because it's right in the middle of the day, and if you want to get a decent spot then you will have to waste an hour of your day just waiting around. You can do all your shopping down Regent Street and Bond Street on Sunday afternoon, but bear in mind that some shops open later on a Sunday - maybe as late as 11 AM for some places. So maybe you could spend the morning/early afternoon at the Tower of London and have a look at Tower Bridge at the same time

Nikki Great. Thank you for your help. Regards Nikki

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