Jess and I are huge fans of London. I do have to admit though that it was a city that took me a while to get, and it was only after I lived there for a couple of years that I really had an appreciation for it.
There’s just so much to see and do, from some of England’s loveliest city parks through to thousand year old castles and churches. And that’s before I’ve even thought about all the culture on offer, from museums to musicals, theatre shows, live music and fine dining.
I think it’s fair to say that two years still wasn’t enough to see everything the UK’s capital has to offer. Which is a good thing, because it means that every time we return to London, we find something new to do!
In today’s post, I’m going to share with you everything that I would recommend to the first time visitor looking for a great two day London itinerary. This is not going to be a list of hidden gems, even though London has plenty of those. This is a list of all the places you’re going to want to visit on your first time to London – the iconic sights that you’ve seen in postcards and films – plus a couple of curve-balls you might not have thought of, but may be worth your time to visit.
I’ve also grouped these in a logical order in terms of visiting, so as to maximise your sight-seeing over your two days in London.
London is a big place with a lot to see and do, so you’re not going to be able to get everywhere, and I don’t want you to be spending all your time on public transport – the goal here is give you an itinerary whereby you can see as much as possible with minimal downtime for transport between sights. In fact, you might be pleasantly surprised to find out just how walkable London is on this two day itinerary! Let’s get started!
A 2 Day London Itinerary
1. Tower of London
What better place to start your Two Day London itinerary than with a visit to the Tower of London, home to the English Crown Jewels and the site of numerous key historical events, including the execution of all sorts of people who were deemed inappropriate by whoever was in charge at the time.
These days there’s less blood running on the grass, but you will still find plenty to do, from popping in to see the monarch’s crown through to exploring the White Castle at the centre of the keep. My advice for getting the most out of your visit is to arrive as soon as the Tower opens, which is around 9am, and beating the crowds to the crown jewels. You’re likely going to want to spend at least an hour here, if not two – there is a lot to see (and photograph!) here.
2. Tower Bridge Exhibition
On from the Tower of London, you’re going to find yourself right next to Tower Bridge, the most iconic of all the London bridges. If you want to learn more about the bridge and not just take some classic photos, then you should visit the Tower Bridge Exhibition.
Here you can learn about the history of the bridge, including how it was built and how the lifting mechanism works to allow ships through. More excitingly, you can walk the glass floor walkway, a 42 meter high walkway that will definitely test any fear of heights you may have!
There’s an entry fee, and you can see opening times and prices here. Included on the London Pass.
3. HMS Belfast
After you’ve crossed tower bridge, you might consider visiting HMS Belfast, which is permanently moored on the Thames a short walk from Tower Bridge on the south bank. This historic warship, operated today by Imperial War Museums, will definitely be of interest to military buffs, or anyone with even a slight interest in boats.
Launched just before the outbreak of World War 2, this Royal Navy Light Cruiser saw action in both World War 2 and the Korean War, before being decommissioned in 1963.
Since 1971 she’s been a popular London tourist attraction, and you can spend a good deal of time learning all about operational life on board a warship, as well as the history of HMS Belfast specifically. Definitely a worthwhile part of your visit.
Entry is ticketed, see opening times and prices here. Included on the London Pass.
4. The Shard
For a truly spectacular view of London, you’re going to want to head up London’s tallest building, the Shard. This 95 storey skyscraper was opened in 2012, with the viewing deck opened in 2013.
From the top you get incredible views of the majority of London, up and down the Thames. There are two floors from which you can take pictures, and this is one of my recommended photography locations in London.
Entry is ticketed and ideally should be booked in advance. You can see opening times and prices here. As of 2018, this is also included on the London Pass.
5. Houses of Parliament
From HMS Belfast, my suggestion is that you head to London Bridge Tube station and take the Jubilee line to Westminster tube, two stops away. This is a 12 minute journey, and the only public transport you’re going to need to take during the day.
Alternatively, if you want a nice walk, or are interested in some of the optional extras I go into below, then you should walk along the lovely south bank of the Thames. This is one of my favourite walks in London, and if you have the time (around 45 minutes without stops), is well worth it.
Another option is to take the river boat – this is going to be a little more expensive than the tube, but is a unique way to get around London, and it will take you straight to Westminster Pier.
Either way, you’re going to find yourself by the Houses of Parliament, official known as the Palace of Westminster. This is the seat of government in England, home to the House of Commons and the House of Lords, and is where the politics in England takes place.
Whilst it is possible to go inside and take a tour, I’d suggest just taking photos from the outside of this beautiful building, particularly of the Elizabeth Tower, home to Big Ben, and then heading on to:
6. Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey is definitely one of the UK’s most impressive churches. It’s here that key events in the life of the British Royal Family take place including Royal Weddings (16 to date) and Coronations (the majority of British rulers since 1066!).
Westminster Abbey is also one of the most desirable burial sites in the UK, with countless famous figures from British history buried here, including Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Chaucer, and multiple British royals, prime ministers and more.
Even if you’re not interested in the Royal family or the buried dead though, you can’t help but be impressed by this gorgeous gothic style building. Again, there is plenty to see and do here (and the line to get in can take a little while), so plan at least an hour or two to fully appreciate the property.
There’s a fee to get in Westminster Abbey. See prices and opening hours here. Included on the London Pass.
7. Churchill War Rooms
Last on our list for the day (see below for some optional extras if you want to fit more in!) are the Churchill War Rooms. Set below the heart of the government buildings in London, this huge underground bunker is where Winston Churchill directed the majority of the war effort during World War 2.
This maze of rooms is now open as a tourist attraction, and is a really fascinating place to explore, covering both the life and times of Churchill, as well as providing insight into the rooms themselves, and the people who spent so many years of their lives working away in secrecy underneath London during the war years.
An excellent audio guide is included as part of the tour, and again, you can easily spend a couple of hours here soaking everything in. When you’re done, you’ll emerge blinking into the light, where you might want to take a stroll around St. James Park, or head through Whitehall to see the home of the British Prime Minster at No. 10 Downing Street, before finishing up at Trafalgar Square, where you’ve got full access to all the shows in the West End – an excellent way to spend the evening ahead!
The Churchill War Rooms are very popular, so we advise booking in advance or using a London Pass, which has free entry to the War Rooms and access to the pre-booked ticket queue, which is a lot faster. You can see prices and opening times here.
Optional Extras On Your Route:
I appreciate that you might not be totally in to some of the ideas I’ve floated above, or be a super-quick sight-seer. Fear not, London has more for you! Along the south bank (always worth a wander), you can stop in at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, the Tate Modern Art Gallery, and even quickly cross the Millennium bridge for a visit to St. Paul’s Cathedral.
If you like walking tours, we can also recommend the company Take Walks, who are behind the popular walking tour company Walks of Italy. They have expanded their portfolio, and now have a number of walks in London, including London in a Day & a Royal London walking tour that includes the changing of the guard.
8. Kensington Palace
On your second day in London you’re going to head a little to the West, and take in some of the sights in this area, starting with Kensington Palace. Inextricably linked with Queen Victoria, who was born here, Kensington Palace is a Royal Residence, and has been since the 17th century. Today it’s occupied by both Princes William and Harry, and whilst you can’t visit the private Royal Residence, you can tour the State Rooms.
These have actually been open to the public for a long time, in a practice started by Queen Victoria in 1899, and today Kensington Palace is one of the most popular of the Royal Palaces for visitors.
There are a series of four themed routes through the palace, covering different aspects of the history of the palace, and all four are worth doing.
Then, when you’re done, there’s an excellent café where you can have a hot drink and a sandwich, before embarking on the rest of your day’s adventures.
9. Royal Albert Hall
From Kensington Palace, it’s a lovely walk through Kensington Gardens to the Royal Albert Hall. This was opened by Queen Victoria in 1871, and is named in memory of her husband Albert, who had died six years earlier.
Purpose built as an entertainment space, today the hall is most famous for hosting the annual Proms – an eight week long series of classical music concerts and events. It also hosts all sorts of other events, from film screenings to tennis, so there’s always something going on.
Even if there isn’t anything going on though, it’s worth a visit, with hour long guided tours available, where you’ll be able to visit that gorgeous auditorium, the Queen’s private suites, as well as learn a bit about the architecture and history of performances at the venue, which are now in excess of 150,000 since it opened. Pretty impressive stuff.
Tours carry a fee, and you should book in advance to avoid disappointment. You can see tour times and prices here. Free for holders of the London Pass, but we still advise booking in advance.
10. V&A Museum
Keeping with the Queen Victoria theme, your next stop is one of our favourite museums in London – the Victoria and Albert Museum, usually known as the V&A.
Free to visit (although there are usually special exhibitions for a fee), this is the world’s largest museum of decorative arts and design, with over two million objects in the collection spanning 5,000 years of human existence. As you might imagine, that’s quite a lot to take in, and you could likely spend multiple days here exploring all the artefacts on offer.
Entry is free, except to special exhibits. See opening times here.
11. Buckingham Palace
Moving on from the V&A, and the last stop on the tour is Buckingham Palace. Depending on the time of year you visit, you have a number of options for visiting Buckingham Palace. Personally, I’d advise going in the afternoon, after you’ve visited all the above, and to finish off your day. You’ll avoid the crowds associated with the changing of the guard ceremony, and have an overall far more pleasant experience.
I do know however that lots of people do wish do experience the Changing of the Guard ceremony, so if that’s you, you’ll need to juggle the above itinerary a little as the ceremony takes place over 45 minutes in the middle of the day.
Finally, in the summer months, you can actually tour parts of Buckingham Palace. These tours last around two hours, and operate quite late into the evenings, so you could definitely do this at the end of the day. If this is something you want to do you definitely need to book in advance to ensure you get a ticket.
Optional Extras On Your Route:
Again, there is loads more to see and do in this area, really depending on what you’re interested in. Harrods, the world famous shopping experience, is a brief walk from the V&A museum. You could also really go museum crazy, and drop in at either the Natural History Museum or Science Museum, both of which are free.
If you’re into pageantry, just round the corner from Buckingham Palace, and officially part of the grounds, the Royal Mews is a fascinating place to visit, and much less popular than its exhibits deserve. Finally, if you’re into afternoon tea, you can experience a fashionable take on the high tea experience at the Berkeley.
2 Day London Itinerary Map
To help you visualise all the above we’ve put together a map so you can see where all the sights are and plan your accommodation and public transport appropriately. You can see this on Google maps here.
How to Save Money on Your London Itinerary Sight-Seeing
Whilst London does have many excellent free museums and sights, a good many of the sights in the list above are not free to enter. In fact, if you add up all the prices for just the main attractions on the list, without any optional extras, you’re looking at over £150 in entry fees alone!
Thankfully, there is a way to save on sight-seeing, as well as take advantage of skip the line access, plus get free entry to loads more attractions should you end up having a bit more time to spare.
The London Pass is the answer. For your two day trip, you can pick up a two day London pass which will get you free access to all the main attractions on the list above (plus lots more!), for only £94, saving you over £50. It’s basically a no-brainer if you ask me. It even includes a Hop on Hop off bus tour of London!
We’ve used them on multiple trips to London, and just love how easy they are to use. They’re available in a variety of lengths to suit any stay, plus you can pre-order an Oyster travel card to accompany your London Card if you’re interested in that convenience.
For more information and an overview of the savings for various lengths of trips and sights that the London Pass offers, check out the full post on the London Pass that Jess put together on her blog.
Bonus tip: Hop on Hop off Bus tour & River Cruise
If you do invest in a London Pass, then you could take advantage of a couple of travel options it comes with. The first of these is a hop-on, hop off bus tour: with the London Pass you can use one of these for a day. They operate throughout the year, and are always a nice way to see a number of sights and learn about them.
Then there’s the Thames River Cruise. You get twenty four hour access to this service with a London Pass, with four stops available along the river. I’d recommend this as the transport option on Day 1, between Tower Bridge and Westminster, meaning you can skip the tube and get some lovely views of London from the River Thames.
Given that these two items usually cost almost £40 together, and are included on the London Pass, to me this is just another excellent example of the value for money that the London Pass offers the London visitor.
Getting Around London
London is really easy to get around, with an excellent public transport network. It’s also wonderfully walkable, as hopefully my itinerary makes clear.
For public transport, you definitely need to invest in an Oyster Card. Available both online and from most tube stations, this prepaid card is the most cost-effective way to get around in London, offering fares that are significantly cheaper compared to buying individual tickets with cash.
You just have to load it up, and then tap in and out as you go through tube stops. It also works on London buses and river boats. Note that if you have a contactless bank card, this might end up better value – check out my post comparing Oyster and contactless to figure out which is best for you.
For more information on getting around London, check out my detailed Guide To Transportation Options in London.
Where to Stay in London
Accommodation wise, London has a wide range of options, ranging from hostels, through to self catered apartments and seriously upscale hotels. There’s something to suit every budget, with en-suite double rooms starting from around $80 a night.
For this itinerary, we’d advise staying somewhere fairly central so you can get around easily. We’d suggest staying somewhere in the region between Kensington in the west and Canary Wharf in the east.
For examples of properties at different price points that are centrally located, here are some options:
- The Walrus Bar and Hostel – A well reviewed centrally located hostel
- The Z hotel in Shoreditch – excellent value in a lively and popular part of London with great dining options
- The Nadler Victoria Hotel – a well reviewed and centrally located hotel offering excellent value for money
- The Savoy – true luxury as close to the city centre as you can get!
Generally when searching for somewhere to stay our first choice is booking.com. They’re easy to use, usually have the best prices, and have everything from hotels to hostels, guest-houses and even apartments. Try them for London and see!
If you prefer an apartment, then we recommend AirBnB. We’ve tried all the others, and AirBnB consistently has the most options for locations around the world. Plus, if you’ve never used them before, you’ll get up to a $100 discount if you sign up with this link. (Discount varies by currency and if you choose to host at some point).
If you can’t find what you want on AirBnB, or you want some new options to try out, we wrote a whole post on the best alternatives to AirBnB which you should check out!
Between these options, you should find the best prices and places to stay for your trip, as well as a good selection of reviews and feedback to help you make an informed decision.
Further Reading For Your 2 Days In London
If you’re looking for more inspiration for your London trip, here are some resources to help you out:
- Our detailed guide to what to pack for London, to help you prepare for your trip to London.
- Tips on finding the best Photography Locations in London that I put together
- If you’re short on time, or just really want to focus on the highlights, check out my 1 Day London itinerary, and if you’re here for longer or just want some more ideas for you visit, check out our detailed six day London itinerary
- For the Harry Potter fans amongst you, take a look at our guide to finding Harry Potter in London
- 8 Things to Do in Kensington, London, in case you wanted to focus more on a specific region of the city
- If you enjoy military museums, take a look at our guide to London’s Best Military Museums and Memorials
- Tips on spending Two Weeks in the UK, should you want to have London as the start of a bigger adventure
- For budget planning, see our guide to how much it costs to travel in the UK
- Our experience taking a full day walking tour of London, in case you like the idea of a fully guided day
- Thoughts on taking a day trip from London, taking in Stonehenge, Bath and the Cotswolds
- And another day trip from London, this time to Oxford in a day
- Heading further north? We have loads of content on Scotland, including a 2 Day Edinburgh itinerary, a guide to the North Coast 500 and a 2 Day Glasgow itinerary
- The Eyewitness Travel Guide to London, which has all sorts of information within, including more itneraries and ideas for your trip
- Rick Steve’s London 2018 guide, the #1 bestseller on Amazon for UK travel guides, and always an excellent source of relevant information
And that’s it for my two day London Itinerary post! Got a favourite part of London that I missed? Let us know about it in the comments below!