Doing 48 hours in London is nowhere near enough to do this city justice.
If you want a great itinerary or suggestions of what to do, you’ll normally find everyone else tells you to do the same thing. But, because London is our home city (or one of them), we’re gonna hit you with the best budget options for a 2 day itinerary in London.
We’re also gonna skip the horrible tourist traps. We’ll just tell you straight off:
You can skip…
- Camden Market (Rammed full of people, a bit too Disneyworld London)
- Harrods (Horrible shopping experience).
- Leicester Square/Piccadilly Circus (As authentic as Times Square with as many locals).
- Buckingham Palace (Over rated).
- Abbey Road (it’s a zebra crossing and not even the same one from that album cover).
Actually, you might walk past Buckingham Palace but it’s not the most impressive building in London let alone the most impressive palace!
So put on your walking shoes, grab your camera and lets do our 48 hour whistlestop tour of the big smoke!
Where to stay in London
As London is a vast city with many districts you could be staying pretty much anywhere. When booking a hotel try and keep it within zones 1-2 on the tube map. If you find a hotel further out than zone 3 (at the most) it’ll be a false economy as the time and money spent coming in to town will cancel out that saving.
You’ll most likely find yourself in
- Hammersmith/Shepherds Bush.
- London Bridge/Whitechapel.
- Kings Cross.
- South Bank/Waterloo area.
All of these are good central spots and will do fine for a two day stay.
Expect to pay upwards of GB£50 per night for a cheap room, or around £20 for a dorm room. If you’re travelling as a couple you should be able to find something for around £20-30 each per night. For a decent room expect upwards of £70-80. Check out prices on Hotels.com or LateRooms.com.
There are two options for travel.
- Use a contactless bank card – if you’re using a foreign (Non UK/EU issued ) bank card, you may want to check if there will be any fees for using contactless on the transport network.
- Get an oyster card. A £5 deposit plus add £10-15 for two days travel. Hand the card in when you leave to get your deposit back.
You can use both of these methods on all the main public transport in London. Budget around £7-8 per day for travel within zones 1-2. Be warned that travelling to zone 6 (Heathrow) will be around £7 on its own.
Read here for more info.
Grab yourself a big breakfast at one of the best spots in town. You’ll see tourists and locals queuing outside chains of Dishoom and Breakfast Club, but they’re expensive and, quite frankly, overrated.
Head to E. Pellici (Bethnal Green tube) or Regency Cafe (Pimlico/Victoria/St James Park tube) for a proper English breakfast. If you’re not up for a full English then grab a bacon sandwich. None of that smashed avocado on sourdough here I’m afraid. Make sure you get a proper cup of tea too.The whole lot should come to around £6-7.
If you’re feeling flash, head to Duck and Waffle (Liverpool Street Station) for the highest breakfast in town. It’s expensive (about £15-20 a dish) but for the views alone you won’t mind paying a bit extra. You’ll also avoid having to go on the London Eye or the Shard as you’ll get that view for part of your meal!
The easiest way to do most of London’s key sites in one is to walk South Bank. The stretch between Waterloo/Westminster and London Bridge is a regenerated area which used to be an industrial wasteland. The walk along the river will be packed full of iconic sights and you can choose to enter or skip any of these as you go.
Assuming you’re going from Waterloo/Westminster towards London Bridge, these are the sights you’ll pass.
- Big Ben and Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament) – (on the opposite side of the river)
- The London Eye (tourist trap – avoid).
- The London Dungeon (another tourist trap – avoid)
- Royal Festival Hall and the Waterloo market (behind Royal Festival Hall).
- BFI (British Film Institute – basically a cinema and restaurant with archives of free old movies).
- Oxo Tower (art galleries, restaurants and shops in an old warehouse/wharf).
- St Pauls Cathedral (on the opposite side of the river).
- Tate Modern (Free entry!! A good stop if you like modern art).
- Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre (check their listings here).
- Borough Market (Tourist trap, but a good one. Lots of amazing food).
- Southwark Cathedral
- The Shard (tallest building in London with expensive viewing platform and several restaurants).
- Tower Bridge (the iconic bridge).
- Tower of London (on the opposite side of the river)
Lets say you do start at Buckingham Palace (it’s OK, you’re a tourist, we forgive you) you can still walk from there, via Downing Street/Whitehall and the Horse Guards Parade all the way to the Tower of London. At full pelt the walk will take over an hour but with stops, allow most of the day.
For full British pomp and ceremony, catch the Changing of the Guards at Buckingham Palace from 10:45 (get there early).
Wherever you’re based will probably have some great places to eat. But, if you’re looking for some authentic British food find a pub.
Most pubs will do your standard fare of fish and chips, steak and kidney pie with mash, burgers, steaks and stews. Most pubs in central London are chains, usually Nicholsons, Fullers, Wetherspoons, Youngs or Green King. What this means is you’ll be getting a fairly standardised version of the British pub meal, but as a rule, they’re normally decent and will do the job. If you’re up for seeking out an independent pub offering a more premium dining experience these are ‘gastropubs’, normally offering a sort of cross between fine dining and pub food.
Our favourites are:
- The Eagle (near Farringdon).
- The Gun (former haunt of Admiral Nelson, near Poplar DLR).
- The Windmill (Clapham Common).
The perks to pubs are you can also some of the best beers in the world as part of your meal. London Pride is available everywhere but try British beers such as Camden Hells (lager), Meantime (various including IPA and lagers), Beavertown (their Gamma Ray and Neck Oil are amazing).
A pub meal will come in at around £10-15 and a pint of beer £5. Wetherspoons are the cheapest chain in town. The food is okay but the beer is cheap. However the chain is generally associated with early morning drinkers and soulless venues – a meal can be had for £7-8 with a drink though.
You did a full tourist day yesterday right? This is your chance to be a bit more out there in your London experience… However, it all depends what you want from your visit as to what to do today.
If you’re in town for shopping most visitors head to Oxford Street. To be fair this is where all the shops are, mostly chains like H&M, GAP and Urban Outfitters or department stores like Selfridges – if that’s what you’re after then fair enough.
For more boutique shopping there are little pockets across town where you can really find fashion label cast offs for dirt cheap or even one off pieces from up and coming fashion designers.
Our tip is to seek out Sample Sales. These sometimes charge for entry, but these are normally the very high end versions. Sample sales tend to be places where labels offload their out of season clothes or on occasion where you can catch fashion students selling their very out there wares.
For areas with great shopping away from Oxford Street head to:
- Brick Lane/Old Street area and Spitalfields Market.
- Notting Hill/Portobello Road.
- Kings Road in Chelsea.
- Carnaby Street and Soho.
You’ll find vintage stores, charity shops (always worth a peek), independent labels and clothing markets at all of these.
Art and Culture
Looking for some art and culture? You’re in the right place… London is of course at the cutting edge of modern art, cinema and music that if you’re only in town for 48 hours you’ll have some problems choosing what to do.
Saatchi Galley: Excellent space in Chelsea (near Sloane Square station) for modern art. Often showcasing prize winners and very interesting up and coming artists. Free entry.
Tate Britain: The original Tate museum at Pimilico is packed full of modern and classical art and also houses the Turner Prize when it’s on. Free entry and highly recommended.
Royal Academy/Burlingdon Gardens/Cork Street: The RA plays host to some great exhibitions which you normally need to pay for. But behind the RA you’ll find Cork Street, which is packed full of little independent art galleries. Wander around, pop in, browse and if you can afford it pick up some art!
Hoxton/Bethnal Green: The East End is home to some amazing small galleries which you stumble on while wandering around. Jealous is one of the best known and biggest, but really is the tip of the iceberg. Wander Brick Lane, Old Street and Kingsland Road and keep your eyes open.
In town for cutting edge sounds? Want to see if you can spot the next big thing before they make it famous? This can get tricky as there are a lot of music venues, many of them free. Here’s our pick of the best:
Tooting Tram & Social: An old tram shed come live music venue in the deep south of London. It’s worth a visit to Tooting for Sri Lankan food anyway, but if you’ve come all this way head to the Tram Shed to listen to an eclectic range of music from roco to indie to weird electronica.
Hootenanny: Brixton is home to a few cool live music venues, but this one is a bit of an institution. You’ll catch ska and reggae, funky bands and on occasion a legendary act from the world of hip hop or reggae.
Old Blue Last: In the heart of the super trendy East End, the Old Blue Last is a bit of an institution and is still a place to catch up and coming bands.It’s played host to The Arctic Monkeys, Amy Winehouse, Chromeo, Wiley, Florence + The Machine and stacks more. Here’s a funny history of Old Blue Last for ya…
The Spice Of Life: This pub in Soho isn’t the first place most people think of for cutting edge live music, but it’s basement has live bands every day. It’s always worth a peek, especially if you’re in the area and you’re not up for gay clubs or chain pubs. As a plus the pub is very good with a great beer selection and food.
Troubador: Out in Earls Court you’ll find this surprisingly good venue. It’s played host to legends such as Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix and you never know who you might find on the bill these days. The food is also very good and the area is a popular spot for hotels so if you’re in town you might not be too far… Worth a punt.
The Horse And Groom: More dance music oriented than the others but a great place to catch some cool sounds. Very close to Old Street/Brick Lane and other venues like The Queen of Hoxton and the Old Blue Last.
Check out big gigs in town on our partner site, Ticketmaster UK.
Watching a Premier League football match isn’t cheap but is very much a part of British culture. Big teams like Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham are normally around £40 for a ticket on the day if one is available. Check in advance for best options.
Seats at other teams such as West Ham, Crystal Palace, QPR, Fulham, Milwall and Brentford will be cheaper – upwards of £20. These teams also tend to have more atmospheric grounds as there is a more hardcore of supporters.
Rugby is also a popular spectator sport. Saracens and Harlequins are the two biggest rugby teams in town. Tickets are normally around £20 and matches are normally very atmospheric, even if you haven’t got a clue about rugby.
For Wimbeldon Tennis Championships you’ll need to buy tickets well in advance. You can turn up on the day and take a chance but prices can be steep and you’re unlikely to get in.
Find tickets to sports events at Ticketmaster.
Regular readers of this magazine will know we’re all about getting to know the locals. Sure, Londoners have a rep as being unfriendly or hard to know, but those are tags we’d say are quite inaccurate.
To get in with the locals and experience some real London, check out Meetup.com and browse groups in London. Whatever you’re in to will probably be well represented. Want to meet entrepreneurs or film makers? Practice your Spanish or Chinese? Learn to knit or cook? Join a poetry recital group? Have a look thorough Meetup and find an event you’d like to attend – many of them for free.
Events we have done in London through Meetup:
- Language exchanges.
- Treasure hunts.
- Business Networking.
- Free cinema/film showing evenings.
- Fitness bootcamps.
- Walking tours.
And that’s just the London ones…
If you’re looking to keep the costs down then it’s pretty straightforward to eat for cheap. If you’ve got a hostel or self catering accommodation then grab food from your local supermarket. A meal can be picked up for under £5 in most places, even if that does mean instant pasta and sauce.
But… You’ll want to eat out of course.
Franco Manca: Chain which does excellent sourdough pizza with shops all over town. Around £8 for a pizza.
Wetherspoons pubs: Mentioned earlier. Cheap pub chain with passable food. Burger and a beer for £8. Branches in Baker Street, Leicester Square, Soho, Hammersmith, Tower Bridge, Victoria and pretty much everywhere else…
Edgware Road: Lots of very cheap Lebanese/Syrian eateries. Get a mezze spread for 2 for around £20-30. Keep an eye out for Lebanese places as they are normally good value and healthy.
Chicken Shops: Pretty much everywhere in London you’ll spot a low grade chicken shop with names like ‘Chicken Cottage’ or ‘Dallas Chicken’. They are very cheap and usually better than the famous brand version although obviously not the healthy option. Eat for around £3. Check out this guy who reviews chicken shops in London.
Beigel Bake: On Brick Lane, head to Beigel Bake for salt beef (or salmon) bagels. At £3 for a bagel, cheap and tasty and open 24 hours.
Itsu: The sushi and noodles food chain isn’t super cheap but they do half price food half an hour before closing. Worth knowing if there is one near your location.
Brixton Pound Cafe: This cafe uses food that would otherwise be going to waste to create healthy vegetarian dishes. And it’s pay what you feel… All proceeds go to charity. There are often pop up versions of this business model so keep an eye out (search online for ‘pay what you feel in london’).
Drummond Street Indian: Near Euston Station you’ll find Drummond street which is lined with Indian restaurants such as Ravi Shankar. All you can eat lunches are around £7-8 and are decent quality food.
‘Greasy Spoon’: The British cafe, known as a greasy spoon (don’t let that put you off) is a great source of affordable and hearty British fare. E.Pellici and Regency Cafe are the famous ones, but you’ll find these everywhere. You’ll get something like pie and mash for around £6-8 with a cup of tea.
If you’ve got any suggestions about how to spend 48 hours in London, we’re all ears. Any other insiders tips are always welcome so feel free to drop us a comment below. And if you’ve found this article useful, don’t forget to share!