2-day Itinerary in London
Explore the best things to do in London in 2 days based on recommendations from local experts.
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Once the recreational stomping grounds for King Henry VIII, this long swath of green stretching from Kensington Palace in the west to Oxford Street in the east is now open to the public and a must-visit for travelers looking for a relaxing moment away from the city's hustle and bustle. Among Hyde Park's meandering foot and bike paths and flourishing flora and fauna, you'll find a few standout attractions that are worth exploring. Watch the swans and boats glide over the serene Serpentine Lake (or rent a vessel yourself), visit the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain or stop by the Speakers' Corner, a site for public speeches and debates since the 19th century (previously used by Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin and George Orwell). If you continue on the memorial walk you'll likely pass through Kensington Gardens where you'll find the ornate Albert Memorial, the Italian Gardens and the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Playground.
Visitors say the tranquil atmosphere of Kensington Gardens are unparalleled anywhere else in the city – and that they're beautiful no matter the weather. If you don't make a point to visit the area on your own, you'll likely visit while on a guided tour. The closest Tube stations to Kensington Gardens include Lancaster Gate and Queensway, Bayswater and High Street Kensington. Hyde Park is free to all visitors and is open year-round from 5 a.m. to midnight, while Kensington Gardens opens at 6 a.m. daily. The Tube stations that surround Hyde Park are Lancaster Gate, Marble Arch, Hyde Park Corner and Knightsbridge. To find out more about seasonal events and other parks around London, visit the Royal Parks website.15-20 minute walk
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Buckingham Palace, the London home of Queen Elizabeth II, is open for tour (except for the queen's private quarters, of course) in the summers and select dates during the winter and spring. On the tour, you'll have access to the 19 State Rooms where the queen and members of the royal family host guests for state, ceremonial and official affairs. Opulently accented with chandeliers, candelabra, paintings by Rembrandt and Rubens, and exquisite English and French furniture, these rooms display some of the most magnificent pieces from the Royal Collection. Along with the grand interiors, the State Rooms are also a witness to history. Those who followed the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton closely will recognize the Throne Room, which served as the backdrop for the official wedding photographs of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
For tours in the summer, recent travelers suggested taking advantage of the audio guide (included with admission), so that you hear a detailed history of each room at your own pace. The palace advises you set aside at least two hours to see the State Rooms (and that you wear comfortable shoes), while recent travelers advised that you use the facilities prior to the start of the tour; there are no public restrooms available until you reach the garden. Tour tickets start at 24 pounds (about $33.50) for adults; 22 pounds (about $30.75) for seniors (older than 60) and students; 13.50 pounds (about $18.90) for kids younger than 17; children younger than 5 enter for free. You can tour the palace from 9:30 a.m. to 6 or 7 p.m. depending on the month (the palace is open from late July to late September). Visitors can also spring for the Royal Day Out Ticket, which also includes entrance to the Queen's Gallery and Royal Mews, but it will cost you. If you're only hoping to quickly pass by this English institution, consider signing up for one of London's best tours – several make stops at the palace.15 minute walk; 5-10 minutes by car
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This medieval church, graced by many royal weddings and coronations, offers a magnificent peek at London's far-reaching history. Westminster Abbey is pretty much always busy – and the staff keeps you moving at a pretty swift pace – so do a little research ahead of time to avoid missing your personal must-sees. For instance, if you're a bibliophile, consider a visit to the Poets' Corner. This is the final resting place of famed authors Geoffrey Chaucer, Charles Dickens and Rudyard Kipling, among others. If you're fascinated by all the intrigue surrounding the British royalty, you might like to visit the shared tomb of enemies and half-sisters Elizabeth I and Mary Tudor.
If you prefer to see the abbey at your own pace, but still want a little guidance on the history you're encountering, take advantage of the free audio guides online. Alternatively, you can take a 90-minute Verger-led tour and see the Shrine (containing the tomb of Saint Edward the Confessor), the Royal Tombs, Poets' Corner, the Cloisters and the Nave. If you decide to take this tour, there is an extra 5 pound (around $7.30) charge added to your original admission price.15-20 minute walk; 10-15 minutes by car
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Sitting in Trafalgar Square, London's National Gallery features a labyrinth interior so large that it requires a color-coded map to navigate. The museum features paintings in the Western European tradition from the 13th to 19th centuries, including Italian Renaissance masterpieces and French Impressionist works. Among its 2,300 in-house pieces, visitors will find famed paintings, such as Botticelli's "Venus and Mars" and Van Gogh's "Sunflowers."
Recent visitors loved the variety of paintings at the National Gallery, saying that travelers may need more than a day to get a glimpse at all the masterpieces that grace its never-ending halls. They also commend the gallery's cafe. If reading placard after placard isn't necessarily your thing, you can take a free, hour-long tour, which is offered daily at 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. And if you're worried about keeping the kids entertained while you take in the collections, the National Gallery provides audio tours and maps designed especially for children, some of which come with a small extra fee.5-10 minute walk
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The portal to London's buzzy West End, Piccadilly Circus lives up to its name. Regularly compared to New York's Times Square, Piccadilly Circus is the meeting place of five busy roads and is the center of London's hustle and bustle. Whether it's businessmen and women on their way to work in the morning, shoppers en route to the department store-clad Oxford Street (just a few streets north) or lively club and bar hoppers passing through at night, Piccadilly is always thrumming with activity.
Recent travelers highly recommend a visit to Piccadilly Circus for its proximity to restaurants, shops and nightlife spots and the energy and excitement it exudes. For the best ambience, some suggest you visit Piccadilly at night, when the neon lights of the billboards reflect off the Edwardian-era buildings and the Eros statue. A quick disclaimer – Piccadilly Circus is not an actual circus, as some travelers have expected; rather, the name refers to the circle (circus), off which a handful of major roads spoke. Access to the area is free. Several of London's best tours include a stop at Piccadilly Circus.
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The British Museum is both an architectural beauty and a trove of some of the world's most noted antiquities. In fact, many travelers it's the best museum in all of London. What's more, it's free to visit. From the Rosetta Stone to the Elgin Marbles to the Lindow Man, the British Museum is a history buff's dream containing artifacts in the millions. The immense collection can make an initial museum visit seem overwhelming: Pick the exhibits that most interest you, and plan return trips if you feel so inclined.
If you want a little help navigating the museum's 8 million objects, consider tagging along on a guided tour. Several, including the daily eye-opener tours and weekly lunchtime gallery talks and Friday evening spotlight tours are free. You can also book a highlights and special early morning tour for 14 pounds (around $20) and 30 pounds (less than $45), respectively. Audio guides, which cost 7 pounds (less than $10), are also available to rent daily.20 minutes by Tube; 10-15 minutes by car
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Besides Westminster Abbey, St. Paul's Cathedral is arguably the second must-see church in London. With its imposing dome, one of the largest in the world, St. Paul's forms a predominant spot along London's skyline. It's also a survivor: Although an older incarnation burnt during the Great Fire of London, Sir Christopher Wren's dome (completed in 1711) survived numerous World War II bombings.
Though some reviewers are put off by the pricey admission, most recent travelers agreed that a peek inside is well worth the extra coin. To make the most of your visit, reviewers highly recommended climbing to the top of the dome to the Golden Gallery. You'll have to hike up 528 steps, but after catching your breath you'll enjoy far-reaching views of the River Thames, the Tate Modern, and Shakespeare's Globe theater. And once you've seen the top, head below ground to the crypt (the largest in Europe), which now houses a restaurant and cafe.15-20 minutes by Tube; 20 minute walk
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Although its exterior might be grim and even unimpressive (especially when compared to stately Buckingham Palace), the Tower of London's interior is always bustling with activity. The tower, which actually comprises multiple towers – 12 of which can be explored by the public – offers something for everyone. If you're enchanted with the history of the monarch, don't miss the famous crown jewels exhibition. Among the items you'll see is the Imperial State Crown – which is still worn by the queen for each State Opening of Parliament – and the Sovereign's Sceptre with Cross. If you have more than an hour to spend here, take an entertaining tour led by the Yeoman Warders (tower guards). During the hour-long excursion (included in your admission ticket), the guards will regale you with tales of the tower's bloody past. Lastly, don't forget to visit the White Tower, an iconic symbol of London's heritage and one of the world's most famous castles. Inside, you'll find the 350-year-old exhibition, "Line of Kings," along with artifacts from Henry VIII, Charles I and James II.
The majority of travelers say the Tower of London's high admission price and long lines are worth every pence. And some recent visitors strongly recommend attending the free tour put on by the Yeoman Warders.5 minute walk
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Along with Parliament and Big Ben, Tower Bridge is London's next must-see architectural marvel, not to mention the most famous bridge that crosses the Thames. Construction on the bridge started in 1886, which means it's practically modern by London standards, but Tower Bridge stands out for its stunning detail and moveable roadways that lift up when large ships need to pass through. The views from the bridge are an added bonus. From the elevated sidewalks visitors get a prime view of the Tower of London, St. Paul's Cathedral's iconic dome and one of the newest additions to London's skyline, The Shard.
If you're interested in viewing the city from a higher vantage point (about 137 feet), consider a tour of the Tower Bridge Exhibition. This exhibit will take you to the top of the bridge, equipped with a glass floor, as well as to the bottom to the bridge's engine rooms. However, recent visitors say that those who are afraid of heights might want to forgo the tour because of the glass floor. Adults pay 9.80 pounds (about $13.75), youths ages 5 to 15 pay 4.20 pounds (about $6), while children younger than 5 get in for free. If you have a London Pass, entry to the exhibition is included. Check the website for opening times. Keep in mind, most recent travelers recommend only doing this if you have time to kill or are extremely interested; a walk across the bridge is free and nearly as impressive. Or, for a different approach, consider a bike tour across the bridge. Hop off the Tube at Tower Hill to stroll across the Tower Bridge. You can also take bus routes nos. 15, 42, 78,100 and RV1.
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