London is packed with colour and culture. There’s so much to see that when planning a London itinerary 2 days doesn’t seem like long enough. But in fact it’s quite possible to fit in the most iconic landmarks and still enjoy some shopping and down time too. Here’s our local’s guide to the must-see sights and sounds of the United Kingdom’s capital city from marching bands at Buckingham Palace to leafy parks and world famous views. Read on for our essential 2 days in London guide.
This post contains affiliate links, this means that I may receive a commission at no cost to you if you click a link and make a purchase.
London Itinerary 2 Days
Packed with colour and culture, from centuries old pageantry to awe-inspiring architecture, London is a real pin-up amongst capital cities. But it isn’t just about iconic landmarks. London is a fast-moving metropolis, constantly evolving so there’s always something new to see and enjoy. Which is why so many people are drawn back to the UK’s capital city again and again.
I came to London for my first job and have lived here ever since. My two sons have grown up here and London has been part of our daily life. But I know it’s a city that can seem overwhelming when you first visit: so much to see, so little time!
So I’ve put together a set of sightseeing options for two days in London. It’s a realistic London itinerary: I’m not going to suggest that you visit all the sights in one day or gaily hop back and forth around town. I’ve concentrated on the must-sees that work well together to save you time and effort.
This 2 day London itinerary is a whistle-stop tour of history, culture and icons that should appeal to adults as well as teens. I’ve skipped the custom-made tourist experiences in favour of the authentic sights that Londoners themselves cherish. It’s an action-packed schedule but you can tailor-make it to suit yourself. Each morning and afternoon has alternative suggestions, so you can pick, choose or swop sections depending on everyone’s interests, how much walking you want to do… oh, and the weather!
By the way, 2 days in London is long enough to see the major sights but I’ve had to miss out a lot of wonderful things. You won’t have time to see everything I’ve listed including the options, but then that’s a great reason to come back!
THE LONDON PASS is it worth it for 2 days in London?
The London Pass offers free entry to more than 80 London attractions along with one day’s Hop On Hop Off bus tour and boat cruise. Adults can buy Passes for 1 day, 2 days, 3 days, 6 days or 10 days whilst children aged 5 to 15 years qualify for Child passes.
A one day London Pass costs £75 for an adult. But a two day pass is £99, 3 days is £125 and 6 days a comparative bargain at £169. If you’re keen to see as many sights as possible this can really help cut the costs.
The London Pass works on a credits system. Each time you scan your pass at one of the qualifying attractions credits are deducted. In credit terms the value of a 2 day Pass is £275.
So do the maths based on your own appetite for sightseeing across consecutive days, versus the stand-alone cost of each of the attractions. To help you work this out I’ve indicated which sights in this itinerary are included in the London Pass. For comparison I’ve also added the current price (Spring 2019) of an adult entry ticket without a Pass. NB If you decide not to buy a Pass, I’ve included links so that you can book tickets for individual attractions and tours.
Bear in mind that at busy times of year it’s a good idea to book London attractions in advance. Skip the line options will also help you to avoid wasting time. If you have a particular attraction high on your wish list then plan your itinerary so that you can visit it early in the day. This is especially important at weekends and public holidays.
London Itinerary: morning day 1
The first morning of our London in 2 days itinerary is all about the must-sees. It includes Palaces, pageantry and Parliament, all within walking distance if the weather is decent. I’ve given options for bailing out to go shopping and some cultural stops too.
Is this post useful? If so pin this to Pinterest to save and share
Buckingham Palace and London pageantry
Let’s begin at Buckingham Palace, official London residence of Her Majesty the Queen. It’s a beautiful building and looks extra special if the Royal Standard is flying from the flagpole. It’s a sign that the Queen is in residence. Visiting Buckingham Palace in the morning can also give you the chance to glimpse some of the pageantry that London is famous for.
Buckingham Palace is easy to find, a few minute’s walk from Victoria station. In front of it stands the Victoria Memorial and The Mall, a grand carriageway that stretches from the Palace to Trafalgar Square.
Changing the Guard
This very traditional military ceremony takes place several times a week at 11am in front of the Palace. Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace is popular: to get a good view you’ll need to arrive up to an hour beforehand. Even then your view is interrupted by the railings of the Palace. NB the steps of the Victoria Memorial are another popular place to stand.
But you can still admire the mounted soldiers in ceremonial uniform, a marching band and the parade ground precision of the troops from other points on their route. The Changing of the Life Guards at Horseguards Parade at the other end of The Mall takes place most days and can be less crowded than the Palace railings. For all details including timings, maps and general guidance click here for the official Changing the Guard website.
Another option is to stroll down The Mall between 10.45 and 11.45am on a day in which a Changing of the Guard is scheduled. This way you’ll see the mounted contingent ride down from Hyde Park barracks and then return after the ceremony at Horseguards. You may also see a marching band leave St James Palace to go to the ceremony at Buckingham Palace, then return later on the same route. Check the website, above, for timings.
Alternatively you can book a Changing of the Guard walking tour here, so you can walk in step with the soldiers on their route to Buckingham Palace and learn about the background of this royal ceremony.
Royal Exhibitions near the Palace
On days without a Changing of the Guard ceremony, you can still enjoy the splendour of the Palace, then pop into an exhibition in nearby Buckingham Palace Road. The Royal Mews for instance is a working stables with a fine collection of state coaches. The Queen’s Gallery displays selections from the Royal Family’s art collection. At the other end of The Mall the Household Cavalry has a living museum: a glass panel allows visitors to see inside the stables on Horseguards where troopers tend their horses. All three museums are included in the London Pass. Normal ticket prices without pass: Royal Mews, £12 ; The Queen’s Gallery, £14 ; Household Cavalry Museum, £8.
St James Park
Changing of the Guard is all over by 12 at which point you can pop into St James Park, handily adjacent to The Mall. It’s an oasis of greenery with colourful formal planting and a peaceful lake and fountain. Buy an ice cream or be like a Londoner and bring your own snacks to enjoy on the park benches or the green stripy deckchairs to hire. If you cross the bridge over the lake you’ll see distant views of Buckingham Palace in one direction and the London Eye in the other.
Now walk down through the park or along the Mall to Admiralty Arch and Trafalgar Square where Nelson stands on his Column.
Admiral Horatio, Lord Nelson, lost his life in 1805 whilst winning a great victory at sea in the Battle of Trafalgar. His lofty statue overlooks the geographic centre of London. The four bronze lions who guard the base of the column are almost as famous.
Options: You may be thinking it’s lunchtime now. From Trafalgar Square you have the option to walk to nearby Covent Garden (see below for more details) for food, more sights and shopping. On the other hand art lovers may not want to miss the opportunity to visit the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, Constable’s Hay Wain and the Rokeby Venus by Velasquez are only a few of the world famous works of art on view. The National Gallery is free to enter and has two cafes and a restaurant inside.
Houses of Parliament
From Trafalgar Square turn into Whitehall then walk past the Cenotaph and our Prime Minister’s HQ at 10 Downing Street towards Parliament Square, Big Ben, and the Houses of Parliament.
So far the walk from Buckingham Palace has been 1.5 miles. It takes about 25 minutes without stops. If you decide to linger to watch parts or all of the Changing the Guard allow at least one and a half or two hours.
The Parliament buildings are under repair at the moment (Spring 2019). But round the corner Westminster Abbey is as glorious as usual. Because this is a short, two day itinerary, I suggest you admire it from the outside only.
Options: Entrance to Westminster Abbey is included in the London Pass, normal entry fee without pass is £23. So queues permitting, London passholders could pop in for a look at the stunning interior.
Options: History buffs and/or teenagers studying World War Two will be fascinated by the Churchill War Rooms. This was the nerve centre of Winston Churchill’s defence of our realm against the forces of Hitler. It is surprising and humbling to see the low-tech, cramped and subterranean world from which Churchill and his team directed operations. The Churchill War Rooms are included in the London Pass, normal entrance cost without pass is £22.
Alternatively, buy tickets to the Churchill War Rooms by clicking here.
South Bank at lunchtime
If you still haven’t had lunch, cross Westminster bridge to South Bank. This is traditionally a great spot to photograph Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. However, Big Ben is peeping out through layers of scaffolding at the moment (Spring 2019). So you might want to concentrate on views of the London Eye and County Hall instead.
The London Eye, an observation wheel to mark the Millennium, has become a landmark in its own right. But it’s a pricey ride, there’s generally queuing involved even if you book ahead and the Houses of Parliament aren’t looking their best at the moment. If you’re still keen to take a turn in the wheel click here to book tickets for the London Eye.
There are lots of food choices on South Bank for late lunch or snacks.
London Itinerary: afternoon day 1
Options: If you want to do some shopping, this might be the moment to head back over the river, see the Shopping in London box below. This is also, incidentally, a good wet weather option. Otherwise continue along the Thames to Bankside.
Shopping in London
Just north of The Strand, Covent Garden is a handy destination for a rainy day. Many of its clever mix of market stalls and high end boutiques are gathered inside a traditional wrought iron Victorian hall. The area offers lots of places for coffee and lunch as well as street entertainers, music and Instagram opportunities.
Alternatively, head to Regent Street and Oxford Street for a heady mix of the best high street shops plus luxe department stores. Although Londoners don’t really like the touristy vibe of Oxford Street we still go from time to time to visit our special favourites: Selfridges, John Lewis and (if you happen to be a teen) Top Shop. Look out for the black and white, Tudor Revival splendour of Liberty on Regent Street and the seven floors of toys in nearby Hamleys.
To get to Oxford Street from the South Bank, cross the Golden Jubilee bridge to Embankment station then catch the Bakerloo line to Oxford Circus. Or you could take the Jubilee line from Westminster station to Bond Street.
If you’d prefer to carry on walking and sightseeing, stroll east along the south side of the Thames. A pleasant tree-lined walkway passes the Royal Festival Hall and the National Theatre and you’ll find various happenings on the way including street entertainers and food trucks. East of Blackfriars Bridge the walkway becomes Bankside.
Option: As a break from walking you could catch a Thames Clipper boat for a 10 minute river journey from the London Eye Pier to Blackfriars Pier, nearest stop to our next port of call.
St Paul’s Cathedral
It takes around 20 minutes to walk the mile from the London Eye to Bankside and the Tate Modern. Here you can cross to the north side of the river on the no-longer-wobbly Millennium footbridge. Enjoy the views, especially of St Paul’s Cathedral as you cross the Thames.
Option: Now it’s up to you to decide whether to go inside the cathedral itself. As well as the great Cathedral floor and the famous tombs and artwork, you could try out the Whispering Gallery (the Whispering Gallery is temporarily closed, May 2019, check the St Pauls website for further details) and climb to the viewing Galleries in the Dome. You’ll need a couple of hours in St Paul’s if you do go inside. St Paul’s Cathedral is included in the London Pass and the Pass allows holders to skip the line for fast track entry. Otherwise an adult ticket costs £20.
Option: If you decide against an interior visit to St Paul’s you’ll have time for our next stop, the British Museum. It’s hard to pick which of London’s many free museums to visit on a short two day trip. I’ve chosen the BM, not only because it is the oldest and the best known, but also because it’s easy to get to from St Paul’s. Just hop on the Central line tube from St Paul’s to Holborn, two stops away, followed by a short walk to the museum itself.
Here you’ll find the Rosetta Stone and the Egyptian Rooms with their famous mummies, targets of hundreds of school trips every year but no less fascinating for that. I love the Parthenon sculptures, despite the controversy over their ownership, and the Sutton Hoo hoard discovered in a field in Suffolk. And don’t miss the intriguing Lewis Chessmen who inspired the figures in the Wizard’s Chess game in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. The British Museum is free to enter although some exhibitions come at an additional cost. You will find you have to queue to enter on busy days. If there’s a long queue at the main entrance try the Montague Place entry at the back.
And here’s the bonus. Afternoon tea, a British institution, is served in the stunning Great Court at the British Museum, from 3pm to 5.30pm. It’s an affordable option compared to many of the grand hotel offerings and a convenient chance to relax at the end of a busy day of sightseeing. Book ahead for this to be sure of getting a table and plan to see the exhibits first to allow for queuing. Book Afternoon Tea at the British Museum here.
Alternatively visit the Sky Garden at Fenchurch Street (you need to book ahead for this too) for a free sunset view of London. For our tips on the best views in London click here.
West End show
If you have tickets for a West End show in the evening then you could walk from the British Museum to Shaftesbury Avenue in about 10 minutes. Or this might be the moment to splash out on a black cab ride. Otherwise use an app to check the best bus to catch, our family uses Citymapper. You’ll find lots of places to eat before or after the show in Soho, Chinatown or Covent Garden.
Where to stay for 2 days in London
I suggest you stay as centrally as you can afford so you don’t waste time by travelling in and out of town. All the sights on this itinerary are in Zone 1 on the Transport for London map which includes Westminster, the City, Southwark and much of Kensington and Chelsea.
Click here for a selection of hotels and apartments in London with Booking.com. You can set your preferred filters then scroll through the photos, descriptions and reviews to choose the accommodation you like best for your stay.
DISCOVER MORE ABOUT LONDON click here for our teen-approved guide to 105 things to do in the capital
London Itinerary: morning day 2
To see London in 2 days it’s best to get up early! This is especially so if you’d like to visit the Tower of London before the rest of the world starts to queue up. I’m beginning the second morning of our 2 day London itinerary at Tower Hill where you can see two of London’s greatest icons, side by side.
Tower of London and London Bridge
Make an early start at the Tower of London before it gets very crowded. To see it properly you’ll want to allow 2 or 3 hours for a visit. Personally I think the Tower is the most beautiful and incongruous sight in 21st century London. Despite its grim history it looks like a little fairytale castle on the banks of the Thames. The Tower of London is included in the London Pass. Gate price without a pass is £28.
Or start the morning at 8.15am for an early access Tower of London guided tour, click here. This tour includes entrance to the Tower, the Opening Ceremony and skip-the-queue entry to the Tower Bridge Experience too.
Afterwards cross the Thames on the iconic Tower Bridge which is just a few steps away. Pedestrians cross for free at pavement level, or you can pay admission for a visit to the bridge exhibition. This includes the aerial walkway, complete with glass panelled floor, across the Thames. If you’re lucky your visit might coincide with a bridge lift: check here for timings. The Tower Bridge Exhibition is included in the London Pass which also entitles users to skip the line entry. Normal entry cost for an adult without a pass is £10.
Option: If you’re using the London Pass you might decide to pay a visit to the top of The Shard. It has London’s highest viewing platform and is close to Tower Bridge. The Shard is included in the London Pass, entrance without a pass is £32.
Or to buy an entrance ticket to View from the Shard, click here.
It must definitely be lunchtime now. Bankside, south of the river, has lots of places to eat including the famous Borough Market, check the opening times before you visit. You’ll find plenty of takeaway food or sit down restaurants if you’d prefer.
London Itinerary: afternoon day 2
You could actually spend the whole day in the London Bridge area if you want to visit all the sights. It is home to two inspired and inspiring reconstructions: Shakespeare’s Globe theatre (gate price £17) and Francis Drake’s ship The Golden Hinde (gate price £5).
Meanwhile HMS Belfast (gate price £16) is moored close to Tower Bridge. All three of these attractions are included in the London Pass.
HERE’S A SELECTION OF TICKETS AND TOURS FROM GET YOUR GUIDE
Options: If you’re keen to see a new district then go to Covent Garden if you haven’t already. Take a Jubilee line tube from London Bridge to Waterloo, then change to the Northern Line to Leicester Square.
On the other hand if you’re looking for a completely different neighbourhood then head out west to South Kensington. Catch a Jubilee Line tube from London Bridge to Green Park. Here you change to the Piccadilly Line to South Kensington. The journey takes about 20 minutes.
South Kensington Museums
This leafy and upmarket residential zone is home to an unbeatable mix of culture, shopping, history and park life. Three of London’s greatest museums reside here and they’re all free. Choose between the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum or the Victoria and Albert Museum, universally known as the V&A. All three museums are free to enter with additional charges for special exhibitions.
You’ll find plenty of places for lunch or snacks in and around the museums. For keen shoppers, Harrods is just down the road in Knightsbridge and opens until 9pm, or 6pm on Sundays. And don’t forget the fashionista’s favourite store, Harvey Nicks, with its covetable edit of luxe brands. Harvey Nichols.
If it’s a warm day and you’re suffering from culture overload then go for a stroll in pretty Kensington Gardens. Prince William and Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, live here with their family at Kensington Palace. You can visit the Palace itself, explore the 17th century state rooms and take afternoon tea in the Pavilion. Access to Kensington Palace is included in the London Pass. Entrance without a pass is £19.50.
Or simply sit by the Serpentine Lake with an ice cream. It’ll be a chance to scroll through all the photos you’ve taken on our 2 day London itinerary.
Please note that all visitor information here is for guidance only. Please check the venues’ websites for the most up to date information on tickets, entrance requirements, opening times etc.
London in 2 Days
Like this post? Please use this image to save and share on Pinterest
All photos are all rights reserved. Please do not reproduce these photos without prior written permission