You could spend a lifetime exploring London and not even scratch the surface (trust us, we’ve tried). As one of the world’s most vibrant cities, Britain’s bustling capital is bursting with things to see and do. History buff? Explore centuries-old castles. Food fanatic? Take a bite of the city’s culinary scene. Art addict? Stroll around a gallery. There are hundreds to choose from (and most of the big ones are free).
But with so much on your bucket list, how can you see the best of the city in a weekend? Written by a London local, our 48-hour guide will help you pack as much as possible into your trip.
Before you start exploring, it’s time to eat. No trip to the UK is complete without experiencing the famous English breakfast. Head down to your local greasy spoon (that’s London speak for a cheap cafe) and ask for a full English. You’ll receive a plate of sausages, eggs, bacon, beans, toast, mushrooms, and more. Pair it with a milky cup of builder’s tea (also known as English Breakfast) and you’ll look just like a real Londoner. Veggies needn’t be excluded either — many cafes offer a tasty meat-free version.
Walk off your (huge) breakfast with a stroll around Covent Garden. It’s home to the city’s biggest theaters, best boutiques, and most outlandish street performers. The chic market is a must-do, but the area’s real treasures lie just off the beaten path.
Tucked away in the corner of the square, you’ll discover the breathtaking Royal Opera House. Admire the architecture, take a tour, or cross your fingers that there’s a free daytime performance. Then follow the crowds down Neal St, before taking a lesser-known turn into Neal’s Yard — a tiny courtyard filled with bright buildings and quirky shops.
Next up, you’ll need to grab your broomstick and take a short flight to join the Harry Potter tour. Leave the muggle struggle behind and spend the afternoon explore a magical wizarding world. While wandering the streets of trendy Soho, you’ll see the real Diagon Alley, the entrance to the Leaky Cauldron, and of course, the place where Harry bought his first wand. Accio awesome!
Back in the real world, ride the tube for a couple of stops to the mouth-watering Borough Market. It’s one of London’s largest and oldest food markets, with stalls first setting up shop here in the 12th century. You’ll be able to sample premium British produce from fresh fruit to the best pulled pork sandwich in town. Give yourself plenty of time to soak up the sights. Cafes line the outskirts, so you can people watch with a well-deserved coffee.
As the sun goes down, mount the steps up to London’s South Bank — the perfect spot to see the city’s iconic skyline by night. The entertainment is endless on this picturesque stretch of the river. You’ll find Shakespeare’s Globe, Tower Bridge, and get a great view of St Paul’s Cathedral — not to mention all the theaters and galleries. But our favorite experience has to be the unmissable London Eye. Just be sure to beat the lines (or queues as we like to call them) with fast-track admission.
After yesterday’s bumper breakfast, today you’ll need to grab a quick bite to go — we’ve got a lot of ground left to cover! This morning’s all about hitting the big sights, from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey and more. You’ll need to be prepared for a day outdoors come rain or shine (most likely the former in London), so don’t forget your brolly (umbrella).
If you want to sit back an relax, opt for an open-top bus tour. You can cruise past all the highlights while still having time to snap the perfect pic. Looking for something more active? A bike tour is a great way to get up close and personal with all the top attractions (if you’re brave enough to face the London traffic).
Notice that we haven’t mentioned Big Ben? Cross this one off your list until 2021. It’s being renovated and is currently covered in scaffolding from head to toe.
Now it’s time to relax and refuel. On Sunday afternoon, Londoners pack into pubs across the city to enjoy a traditional roast dinner (don’t worry, there are plenty of veggie roast options, too). To get the authentic experience, ask for lots of fluffy Yorkshire puddings and extra gravy (one little jug is never, ever enough).
By this point, you’ll probably have eaten far too many roast potatoes, so let’s take some time to walk it off. Believe it or not, over 40% of London is green space, so there are an endless number of parks to explore. Hyde Park is home to a beautiful lake, flower gardens, and the Diana memorial fountain. You’ll also find historic statues and monuments dotted throughout its 350 acres.
If you’re after something a bit more urban, head to the East End and take a street art walking tour. You’ll see an alternative side to the city, discovering graffiti, murals, and of course, the obligatory Banksy.
As one of Europe’s theater capitals, London’s a great place to take in a show. From West End musicals to cutting edge plays, culture vultures will always have something to watch. For all-singing, all-dancing spectaculars, check out the countless things to see around Leicester Square. For something more serious, book ahead for dramas at the Donmar Warehouse or the Old Vic.
Theater not your thing? Delve into the city’s dark side on a Jack the Ripper tour. You’ll walk the same streets as the notorious killer while getting a fascinating insight into life in Victorian London.
Your 48 hours in London is almost up, so say cheerio like a real Londoner with a farewell drink at the pub. Whether you’re enjoying a beer or soda water, it’s the snacks that you really can’t miss. Order salt and vinegar flavored crisps (that’s potato chips to you), peanuts, and some calorific pork scratchings. Then take a seat and start dreaming about your next trip.