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48-Hours in London: Where to go and what to see

Aerial view of London city down the Thames, including Tower Bridge

As a gateway to Europe, London is a thriving metropolis of art, culture, business, food and so much more. It’s location as a connection for Americans and Africans to Europe and beyond, and vice versa, as well as the vast array of connecting flights from its six international airports, makes it’s one of the best cities for a layover.

While you could easily spend weeks or even months exploring London and Britain, a layover is a perfect way to get a taste of the country. Whether you are staying for a few hours or overnight, this guide will help you plan the ultimate 48-hour stopover in London.

TIP: Don’t spend your long London layover sitting at the airport! Even if you only have half a day, you can still see some of the city. This guide can also be condensed and used to put together your perfect stopover in London.

What to do with 48-Hours in London:

Day 1

Have only a short layover?

Get your walking shoes on and take the London Underground straight to Westminster Station. From here, you’ll be able to take in some of London’s most iconic attractions within a short walk.

Big Ben, The London Eye, Parliament and Westminster Abbey are all located a short walk from the station. You’ll also be able to see the famous Tower Bridge (often mistakenely labelled as ‘London Bridge’) and the Tower of London as you take a walk along the Thames.

If you have extra time, Westminster Station is also nearby the Houses of Parliament, the London Aquarium and the Jewel Room. There’s also the Churchill War Rooms (a totally underrated sight for history buffs) and Florence Nightingale Museum. Plus, plenty of galleries to explore.

READ NEXT: How to get from London Heathrow to London City Centre

Explore London‘s top sights easily by bus

If you ask me what to do on a layover in London, I’d recommend taking a sightseeing bus, especially if it’s the first time you are visiting. London has plenty of hop-on and hop-off bus tours and I have been on a couple, but for ease of access, the Big Bus Tours are probably my favourite.

Running regularly from key sights around the city, the London bus tour puts the capital’s crown jewels within easy reach. Glimpse the Queen at Buckingham Palace, set your watch by Big Ben, and learn fun facts about the London Eye. Included is an audio tour, map, and the choice of an open-top or closed-top double-decker bus.

I highly recommend trying to get to Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guard daily. I believe the time varies by season so be sure to check this website.

Walking Tour of London

For those seeking an inexpensive but informative tour in Central London, invest in the £6 audio walking tour of London by Head to Foot Audio Tours. There are a range of tours to choose from depending on your interests.
One tour is called “Corridors of Power” and includes some of the cities most popular political sights, such as Trafalgar Square, Whitehall, Westminster. Another at the same price is titled “Palaces, Processions, and Piccadilly” and includes Trafalgar Square, The Mall, Buckingham Palace, Royal Parks and (as you might imagine from the title) Piccadilly.

The talks are recorded in sections which you download from the Internet onto your MP3 player. You also download a map marking the route.

For those who like a traditional walking tour consider London Walks. These daily walking tours have different themes each day, and there’s no need to make reservations with London Walks! There is a small fee (£15 for adults, £10 for concession card holders and £5 for kids) and a great way to get to know London on a more personal level.

The walking tours take around 2-hours so they’re perfect if you have a long layover in London and want to stretch you legs and get some fresh air!

Picnic in Hyde Park (in the warm months!)

While London has no shortage of incredible restaurants, enjoy the fresh air on your London stopover by picnicking in London. There is no place better to do so than in Hyde Park.

One of the Royal Parks, there are several points of interests throughout the park – including listening to those at Speakers Corner, the whimsical Queen Elizabeth Gate, and the Rose Garden – but it’s also a great place to stroll and people watch as you feast on some food from a nearby store or supermarket.

READ NEXT: What to see and do in Hyde Park

Enjoy Afternoon Tea

A quintessential British experience, enjoying a traditional Afternoon Tea should be high on travellers to London wish list.

Some of my favourite places to have afternoon tea in London include –

  • London Landmarks Afternoon Tea at Town House at the Kensingtonenjoy London’s top sights in cookie and chocolate form at this quintessential British afternoon tea.
  • TĪNG in the Shangri-La at the the Shard London best for incredible views of London from one of the cities most iconic buildings!
  • Hotel Ampersandbest for quirky high teas (think science-themed, Wimbledon-themed, and more!)
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Afternoon Tea at One AldwychTuck into weird and wonderful creations inspired by Roald Dahl’s much-loved book.
  • Brigit’s Bakery Afternoon Tea Bus TourHop aboard a vintage routemaster bus and tour London, spotting iconic sights along the way… all while indulging in colourful cupcakes and dainty finger sandwiches.

READ NEXT: Afternoon Tea at TĪNG in the Shangri-La at the Shard London

Breakfast with a view at Duck & Waffle

Day 2

Enjoy Breakfast (or Brunch) in one

Fuel up for a big day of exploring the British capital! London is full of quaint and quirky cafes perfect for brunch. Here are some of my favourite –

  • Duck & Waffledine with incredible views of Central London from the 40th floor of 110 Bishopgate Building.
  • The Breakfast Club this chain of delicious restaurants will have you going ‘mmm’ with their warm welcomes and seriously great breakfast good available all day long.
  • Farm Girl – serving up holistic, fresh food & damn good coffee, Australian style, operating five cafes across central London.
  • Granger & Comissing Aussie brunches? Then this is the place to pick up your smashed avo and a quality flat white.
  • Foxcroft & Ginger recently moving from Soho to their Balham location, this much loved London spot serves up great breakfasts and lunches. There’s also craft beer and drinks available all day.

Discover World Class Museums

London is home to some world-class museums and galleries. If you have a few hours, or it’s a rainy day in London, these are some great places to enjoy –

  • British Museum revel in the amazing collection of rare and historic artifacts from around the world. Highlights include the Rosetta Stone, Parthenon sculptures, and Egyptian mummies.
  • Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A)explore the vast collections that include everything from ceramics and fashion to wallpapers and jewellery, spanning 5,000 years.
  • Natural History Museumfavourites include the Dinosaurs gallery, the blue whale model, and the state-of-the-art Darwin Centre, where you can see hundreds of specimens as well as scientists at work.
  • Tate Modern the iconic power-station-turned-art-gallery, which houses modern and contemporary art from round the world, including works by Picasso, Bourgeois, Warhol, Rothko, and more. 
  • National Galleryworks by Botticelli, Rembrandt, Turner, Renoir and Van Gogh are showcased with more than 2,000 paintings from the Middle Ages to the 20th century, the place is a veritable treasure trove.

Windsor Castle

If you only have a few hours layover in London, or you want to start heading towards the airport, consider spending some time at Windsor or in Eton.

At over 900-years-old, Windsor Castle is the oldest and largest inhibited castle in the world, but remains a functioning Royal Household. Explore the halls of this magnificent Georgian castle, best explored with a tour or using the audio guide (included in the admission price). If you are visiting Windsor Castle, I highly recommend you visit before the Changing of the Guard that happens between 11am and 11.30am Monday to Saturdays from April until the end of July and on alternate days for the rest of the year, weather permitting.

Just across the Thames from Windsor if Eton. This town, famous for its prestigious private (though called ‘public’ in England) boys school with Alumni including Prince William and Harry, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Bear Grylls, Tom Hiddleston, and many more well-known English personalities.

There’s also plenty of quaint English pubs and restaurants for a meal, and plenty of scenic walks to enjoy in the area.

How to get from London’s Airports to the city?

How to get from London Heathrow to the city:

Dubai International is conveniently located in the centre of the city. Generally, it takes anywhere from 15 to 35 minutes to get to most places in the city, depending on where you’re going. A trip to Downtown Dubai is usually around 15 minutes in a car, while Dubai Marina is around 30 minutes from the airport. Old Dubai is around 15 minutes in a taxi.

How to get from London Gatwick to the city:

You can also hop onto the Dubai Metro directly from the airport. Trains run approximately every 10 minutes direct from Terminal 1 and 3, from 5 am to midnight (timings vary on weekends). Fares start at AED2 and smart public transport cards known as Nol, can be purchased at the stations. Most metro stations are connected to the public bus network as well.

How to get from London Luton to the city:

Dubai International is conveniently located in the centre of the city. Generally, it takes anywhere from 15 to 35 minutes to get to most places in the city, depending on where you’re going. A trip to Downtown Dubai is usually around 15 minutes in a car, while Dubai Marina is around 30 minutes from the airport. Old Dubai is around 15 minutes in a taxi.

How to get from London City to the city:

You can also hop onto the Dubai Metro directly from the airport. Trains run approximately every 10 minutes direct from Terminal 1 and 3, from 5 am to midnight (timings vary on weekends). Fares start at AED2 and smart public transport cards known as Nol, can be purchased at the stations. Most metro stations are connected to the public bus network as well.

Where to stay on a London Stopover

With so much to see and do, you’ll be spoilt for choice when choosing where you book your stay in London!

The best budget hotel in Central London…. The Standard London

Housed in the former Camden Town Hall Annex in London’s thriving King’s Cross neighbourhood, the 1974 Brutalist building has been meticulously restored and sets the perfect stage for The Standard’s first hotel outside America.

The Standard, London has 266 rooms ranging from snug Cosy Core rooms to terraced suites with outdoor bathtubs overlooking the dramatic St Pancras station.

On their 10th-floor restaurant, discover Decimo, where Chef Peter Sanchez-Iglesias’ showcases his live-fire cooking surrounded by 360-degree views of London – only accessible by our iconic exterior red pill lift. 

Check the price → Booking.com | Agoda

The best hotel in London with a view… Sea Containers London

Set in the cruise ship-inspired Sea Containers House overlooking the River Thames, this ultra-chic hotel in the vibrant South Bank district is a 9-minute walk from the Tate Modern art gallery and 6 minutes walk from Southwark tube station.

Sea Containers London has stylish rooms with custom furnishings and original art feature flat-screen TVs and free Wi-Fi, plus rainfall showers. Upgraded rooms add patios and/or river views. Suites come with sitting areas or living rooms, while an upgraded suite has a dining room and a wet bar.

There’s a glamorous restaurant, a luxe rooftop lounge, and a sleek bar. Other amenities include an elegant spa and a 24/7 gym.

Check the price → HotelsCombined | Booking.com | Agoda

The best hostel in London… Generator London

The chic, modern Generator London is a 10-minute walk from London King’s Cross train station and 15 minutes stroll from the British Museum on the Piccadilly Line (that takes you to-and-from Heathrow).

Stylish, colourful mixed-sex and female-only dorms include free Wi-Fi and shared bathrooms. Bright private rooms sleep up to 2, some with en suite facilities. Each guest has access to a private locker to store bags or valuables.

On-site there’s a hip bar/restaurant offering pub grub and a funky dining area with a Routemaster bus. Additional amenities include a laid-back cafe with a tin ceiling and a piano, as well as a screening room and a lounge area.

Check the price → HotelsCombined | Booking.com | Agoda


Travelling to London? Read these next –

Tips to Save Money in London

A Luxurious Long-Weekend in London

The Best Hotels near London Heathrow Airport (LHR)
[Coming soon!]

The Best Hotels near London Gatwick Airport (LGW)
[Coming soon!]

The Best Hotels near London Luton Airport (LTN)
[Coming soon!]

The Best Hotels near London City Airport (LCY)

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