The complete travel guide for catching all that you can in the capital city in 48 hours. When to go, how to get there, how to get around, what to do, where to eat, and where to stay.
Where: London, England
When visiting the UK there are few reasons one should not visit the beloved, historical, trend setting city of London. When we were touring this beautiful country in July we of course fulfilled one of our bucket listers with a few days of city life before heading for the coast.
We visited London during the month of July. Before we left for our trip we sought advice on what to wear due to stories of the infamously sporadic and rainy London weather but as it turns out we were very fortunate to have sunshine and warm temperatures throughout our entire trip.
How To Get There:
There are about as many options for getting to London as there are places for fish and chips. The key to lowering your transportation stresses in the capital city is to first take a look at the whole picture. Flying into one of the London airports is the most popular choice for international visitors but you will inevitably need to use a combination of the methods below over the course of your trip.
Plane - There are six airports serving the greater London area but the three most common are Heathrow, Gatwick, and Stanstead. The airport that you will be routed to is highly dependent on the airline service that you choose but as a whole the airports in London are busy and crowded (check here for a post by Travel Insider for an in depth look at London Airports).
Train - Trains route to terminals all over London and in our opinion are a great way to get to the heart of the city from surrounding areas. Trains can be a very budget friendly option if you are willing to book in advance and commit to an exact time of travel. Arriving by train will also add value to your journey by allowing you to watch the English countryside pass by your window. The best collective place to shop train tickets is the official National Rail Enquiries website which has the most up-to-date maintenance schedules and useful features like the Cheapest Fare Finder.
Bus - If money is the most deciding factor in your journey then coach bus is your choice, with one way fares as low as £5.00 using Megabus or National Express. One thing to consider before booking is that with the budget price comes a significant increase in transit time.
Car - This would be our last resort for getting to London which repeatedly ranks among one of the most congested developed cities in the world. So unless you want to spend a significant portion of your trip staring a stream of brake lights in front of you then it may be best to leave the rental car on the lot. However, it is still an option.
How to Get Around:
Getting around London takes slightly more finesse than getting to the city but the options are still great. All of the public transit in London is handled by the TfL (Transport for London) which makes for a fairly painless way to pay for your journeys using a simple tap-to-pay system of the Oyster card which can be purchased or topped off at any tube station within the city. (Online Oyster card management is only available for residents of the UK).
Congestion tip: no matter which method of transit you choose you are likely to encounter heavy crowds during the typical weekday rush hours of 7:30 - 9:30 and 4:30 - 6:30.
The Tube - A trip to London is not complete without a journey on the Tube. Generally speaking it is the fastest way to get where you need to go within the city. If you are travelling during the summer keep in mind that the cars are not air conditioned and can be quite crowded.
The overall cost of your trips on the tube is based on which zone you are traveling to and from but for the majority of tourists most travel will stay within Zone 1 (check here for a TfL map of the zones) meaning you will average about £7.00 per day per person (for more detailed fare info check here)
The Big Red Double Decker Buses - These are a true London icon for good reason because they are everywhere! At times it seems as if they make up over half of the traffic on the roads. In our opinion this is the best way to get around the city because if you find a seat on the upper deck you will have a very budget friendly tour of the city. The buses do tend to be a bit slower especially during rush hour but in our opinion the slower pace is worth it when you can look out of the window at the sights you would have other wised missed using the underground (check here for map of common tourist routes from the TfL).
The buses are also cheaper than taking the underground with fares for a single ride at £1.50 and a daily cap of £4.50 and if you are travelling with multiple people the savings can add up quickly.
The River Bus (Boat)- A great way to take in the sights of London from the water for a relatively small cost. The service is run by a separate company (check out the Thames Clippers maps and fares here) under the wing of the TfL so your Oyster card will still work as a form of payment just keep in mind that you cannot add funds to your Oyster card at the pier. Using an Oyster card will also give you a lower fare (£6.60 vs. £8.00 for a Central Zone ride) and allow you to skip the lines of less informed tourists purchasing paper tickets at the pier. For a good overall tour of London on the Thames we recommend taking the River Bus from the London Eye to Greenwich. It also serves as a great mini tour of London via water.
**As a reminder, if you are paying with an Oyster card make sure that you have enough to cover the cost of the journey on your card prior to arriving at the pier because you can use the oyster card for payment you cannot add money to one at the pier.**
Daily Cap Note - When budgeting out your inner-city travel keep in mind that the daily caps do not carry over between services.
What To Do:
London is such a vast city overflowing with energy and life that there is always something going on and always a new iconic landmark to visit. It seems to be a daunting task with so many places to check off in such a short time span but here's an overview of our determination to squeeze in everything that we possibly could in our very small time we spent in this wonderful city.
**Travel Tip : The London Pass is a great tool to have in your belt if you are going to be in London for a couple of days and will have time to go inside and tour through many of the iconic sites. It cost quite a bit upfront but it does save money if used to its fullest.
Catch a View
One thing we are learning on our voyages is that there is reward in getting up early (the whole "early bird gets the worm" thing is fairly accurate). We have found that taking in a sunrise is almost better than a sunset (unless you're on a beach somewhere) when you factor in the advantages of drastically less traffic and fewer people. This lack of distraction allows you time to really breathe in what a place has to offer without all the hustle and bustle. On our trip in London we woke up around 4 am to catch a few of the well known congested areas. It was well worth the lack of sleep. While we enjoyed our early morning ventures London is also known for its night life. Climb to top of some of the high rise restaurants or buildings and catch a glimpse of this bustling town under the stars.
Tour the Churches
Become a Royal
This was another thing we chose to wake up early for. We highly recommend visiting Buckingham Palace during the morning hours. If you go any other time during the day you are likely to be met by heavy crowds. Buckingham Palace is open for tours except during specific times of the year. Make sure to check this out online before your visit. Taking a tour would definitely be worth the money if it's an option!
Take a stroll through a local park
.... as you ride your bikes daydream about all the fancy cars
Yes... as we were cruising around on our bicycles we passed a number of expensive, fancy, beautiful cars. London seems to house many of them. So enjoy!
Walk Like a Beatle
Visit the London Eye
Go for a tea break
London is known for it's tea rooms! Be sure to take time during your tour to stop in and enjoy some tea and treats - the English way.
Tower of London
For all you history lovers be sure to show up early and take a tour, lines can get long! Check online for prices.
Walk, drive, ride and even take a tour of this iconic London landmark. Or, you can enjoy the view of it from one of the bridges along the River thames like we did.
Relax and watch some tele' next to the London Stock Exchange
Channel your inner poet at Shakespeare's Globe Theater
Cruise the Thames River via boat
Taking one of the River Thames tour boats serves dual purpose. While you get a chance to learn more about many of the iconic sites along the river, it also serves as a means of getting from one location to the other. It was a great, beautiful option for us trying to get from the London Eye to Greenwich. (See above for more information).
Visit some well known homes - can you recognize them?
Take a trip through Platform 9 & 3/4
For those of you who are Harry Potter fans go and get your photo taken. Located at King's Cross Station. Be ready to wait in line!
Ride a red double decker bus - and sit at the top!
Taking the bus is a great, affordable option for touring the city and getting from one place to another. They are easily accessible... and they are always in service.? (See above for details).
Take a swim
Located in Hyde park, the Serpentine Lido serves as a public pool for both adults and children for just a small fee. Also, when we were visiting, many families had chosen to take their children out for a nice relaxing dip in the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain. A nice way to cool off a sunny afternoon.
... and Big Ben too
Learn the English slang
Take the iconic red phone booth photo
Visit St. Bartholomew's Gatehouse
Where to Dine:
London is a town known for its fine dining, world renown chefs, and tea spots. Since we were there for such a short period of time we didn't get the chance to branch out and explore as many of the dining options as we would have liked. However, we did get a chance to explore just a few. Our top favorite spots were the highest restaurant in London, Duck and Waffle (make reservations prior) and the cheesiest, The Meltroom.
We also heard great recommendations for The Attendant.
Where To Stay:
London is also known for it's luxury hotels. The Connaught, The Ritz, and 45th Park Lane certainly top the list. However, we chose not to stay at one of these well known locations for budget reasons and since we wanted to go out and explore the town so much. We checked in to the lovely Studios2Let instead. They were perfect for our stay with their overall size, cleanliness, and added feature of an en-suite kitchenette. This extra bonus helped us stick to our food budget for the trip since we were able to eat a breakfast, lunch and a dinner in the hotel instead of spending the money to go out. The location was quiet and convenient to the Tube, as well as Kings Cross Station.
What to Pack:
Londons weather is known for being unpredictable. When packing for a trip to London you want a variety of options. However, when you're packing in a bookbag for 10 days like we were you have to be a bit savvy with your packing.
Things we made sure to include:
- A raincoat
- Sweater or Light Jacket
- Nice Outfit (many restaurants have a dress code) - no jeans, no tennis shoes
- A pair of walking shoes
- Neutral colored shirts/pants - nothing flashy or pastel
- A map or GPS of sorts
We hope you enjoy your 48 hours (or more) in London!
We are the Best's! Jo and Mo. We have been immensely blessed with many opportunities to see various parts of the world. We live an average, working life in Raleigh, NC but through our many opportunities have developed a passion to see the world. Our goal is to share with other desiring travelers different tips and experiences from around the world as we begin to check them off our bucket list. If anything, we hope to provide a little sense of motivation and adventure to those wishing to embark on their own journey!
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