48 hours in London: What to see, what to skip

48 hours in London: What to see, what to skip

Consider yourself extremely lucky if you have a weekend in London, one of the most famous cities in the world. Two days is a short period of time to experience everything this city has to offer. But, it can be done! Here are my London travel tips to help narrow down the list what to do, eat, and drink when you have a short window of time … and a budget.

Eat Pies at Pieminster

Looking for a British food fix, but you’d rather skip the cliched fish n’ chips? Head to Pieminster for some serious meat-pie action.

I tried the Chicken of Aragon pie, which was a classic chicken pie – and it was simply delicious. The crust was crisp and flaky. The filling was savory and lightly spiced. Served on top of mashed potatoes and chicken gravy, it was the perfect comfort food. My boyfriend, Chris, was a bit more adventurous. He got the ‘Mothership,’ a pie made of steak and ale with mashed potatoes, minty mashed peas, cheese, fried onions. The whole thing was covered in gravy. He said it was great. We chased them down with a pair of local beers.

It makes for an excellent and filling meal to welcome you to England. And it will give you the energy you need to haul ass around the rest of the city.

Cost:£22 total

See Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey is an attraction I skipped on my first visit and had serious FOMO about later. So when I planned a return trip to London, I knew it was something I had to do.

If you’re anything of a history buff, I would highly recommend visiting. Within moments of entering, you’ll pass over the graves of Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin. As you make your way through the cathedral, you pass by the tombs of England’s ancient royal family. And at the end of the visit, you stop in poet’s corner where lie the remains of some of the world’s most famous writers. Charles Dickens. T.S. Eliot. W.H. Auden. Lord Byron. Lewis Carol. The inner reading nerd in you will be so tickled. The building is cool, too.

Cost: £20 per adult

Hours: 9:30-15:30 Monday through Friday, 9:30-13:30 Saturday, closed Sunday

Pro-tips: Go for the second half of the day on Saturday to hear the choir start to sing as the abbey closes for visitors. It’s incredible.

Eat Indian food at Dishoom

This restaurant came highly recommended from my friend, Jaimee. Because she works for Expedia, I expect that she’s got the inside scoop on travel hot spots. She warned me that there would be a line at Dishoom, but said the hour wait would go faster than it seemed – especially with the hot mint tea and sherry shots the staff brings out to keep you warm and happy. She was right!

The food is delicious. The decor is cool – very Bombay retro. And the all-you-can-drink chai is AMAZING.

Once we got in, we were first directed to the downstairs bar for a drink. And within 15 or so minutes, brought upstairs to a table. The food was excellent. In my opinion, we under ordered. We should have gotten more. We had a curry and a rice/meat dish with a side of naan and sauce. I thought the curry would be a large dish for sharing, but it was small enough for one person. My suggestion is to take their advice, and order a small plate and a large plate per person. That way, you will be even more satisfied than we were!

Cost: £15-20

Here’s the menu so you can check it out for yourself.

See the Tower of London

I mistakenly thought this was going to be an actual tower. It’s not. It’s a Medieval castle in the middle of London dating back 1,000 years. Throughout the centuries, it’s been a castle, a prison, a zoo, and a torture chamber. Now, you can tour the grounds for £25 to see the crown jewels and learn about its history.

I did not go inside because it wasn’t on my itinerary. Someone told me it takes about two hours to explore. However, I did enjoy the view from the area just outside of the tower, and would definitely recommend stopping by to take some pictures.

London on the River Thames

Drink a beer on the PS Tattershall Castle

I loved sitting on the PS Tattershall Castle, a floating pub on the River Thames. You can sit and sip a pint of pale ale on the deck. It’s a great spot for a photo op of the London Eye and Big Ben without the massive crowds you usually find in this area. And if it’s too cold outside, you can always go back down to the enclosed bar area that’s warm.

Cost: £5-6 per pint

Eat a donut at Bread Ahead

The donuts from Bread Ahead are REALLY good. I got a vanilla-filled donut, and Chris got one with chocolate filling. My advice would be to share. Those things were enormous and heavy, and gave me a serious blood sugar spike that lasted for hours.

The prices are bit steep compared to what I’m used to in Spain (£2.50 vs. €.90) but they were a really nice treat to have for ‘brunch’ as we walked around Covent Garden market.

See London’s darker side

We took the Grim Reaper tour through Sandeman’s, and I really enjoyed it. The tour lasted about 2.5 hours, and took us around The City of London area and along the edge of the East End to see where some of the city’s greatest atrocities happened. Beheadings, tortures, illnesses that ravaged the city, and – of course – the victims of Jack the Ripper.

I learned a lot from the tour. For example, that Jack the Ripper was never found. And that to this day, there are ‘ripperologists’ who study the crimes, hoping to break the case wide open. My one complaint is that the tour guide felt obligated to make it macabre, focusing on the grotesque side of the story. At times I would have preferred a little less gore and a little more lore. But it was a nice way to pass an evening and get some sightseeing out of the way.

Cost: £12 per person

Drink beers at the Pride of Spitalfield

Another perk of the Grim Reaper tour is that the bartender recommended this pub, the Pride of Spitalfield. It’s a proper English pub in the Brick Lane neighborhood and I never would have found it if it otherwise. You have to turn off the well-lit street into a dark alley to reach this unassuming ‘boozer.’ But once you’re inside, it’s super cozy with red carpet on the floor, a piano in the corner and a bar cat to keep you company.

We stayed for a couple of hours, drinking pints, as we warmed up from the walking tour. It was exactly what we hoped to find in a British bar!

Cost: £4-6 per pint

Statues from the Parthenon at the British Museum

See the British Museum

If you want to see the remains of Cleopatra, statues from the Parthenon, sphinx from Egypt, or the Rosetta Stone, I recommend hitting up the British Museum. It’s like seeing history come to life. If you’re short on time, you will need to be disciplined. There are so many things to look at in this place that you can easily lose an hour looking around.

Cost: free

Visit Camden Town

On the last day of my trip last year, I snuck in a trip to Camden Town. It’s known for having a punk scene, but I recommend checking it out for the awesome menagerie of international food. There’s a huge market where you can get whatever you want from any cuisine in the world. If you’re feeling especially touristy, you can head down to the canal to take a boat ride through the locks.

If you’re feeling especially touristy, you can head down to the canal to take a boat ride through the locks. If your money is burning in your pocket, there are loads of shops around the market where you can buy clothes, trinkets, or souvenirs.

Skip the London Eye

A lot of people told me it was worth it. That taking a spin on the London Eye was the best way to see London. I’m sure it is, but it’s not the best when you’re short on time or money.

You wait for a long time in the queue to take a single spin around the world’s largest observation wheel. And while I’m sure the views are undoubtedly spectacular, I got the feeling that I would be fighting off other passengers to snag some good pics of the city by air. And there are other ways to do this for less.

Cost: £22 online, £25 in person (I believe)

Check out Duck and Waffle

If you want to kill two birds with one stone (and eat the U.K.’s take on chicken and waffles), I’d suggest you check out the Duck and Waffle instead. It’s a restaurant on the 40th floor of a skyscraper. You can look for reservation openings here, but both times I’ve looked, it’s booked up months in advance. One loophole is the late-night dining option. After 11:30 p.m., you can hop in the queue to head up to the swanky bar and restaurant.

The downside is that you will probably have to wait in a line to go in. We waited for about 15 to 20 minutes outside before taking the elevator up to the restaurant. And once we got to the reception desk, they told us it would be a two-hour wait for a table. We could have stuck around and grabbed a drink at the bar, but decided instead to take off and get a falafel on the way back to our hostel.

Upside: You get to see London from 40 stories up via a glass elevator up that’s so fast it makes your ears pop.

Cost: Free for the elevator ride!

Skip the changing of the guards

I know this is one of the most famous tourist attractions in London, but I think it’s overrated. Unless you arrive far in advance of the ceremony, which isn’t ideal when you’ve only got a 48-hour window,  you’re going to be stuck in a giant crowd. You’ll be elbowing your way to the front so you can take the same pictures as the rest of the people there. Needless to say, it was a little disenchanting for me.

There are police yelling at you to get out of the way, and it’s difficult to enjoy the view.

Cost: Free

Skip the Covent Garden market

It may be highlighted in your Guide to London book, but with so many markets in London to choose from, don’t go out of your way for this one. The surrounding neighborhood is worth meandering through – it’s packed with unique restaurants, shops, and beautiful buildings – but the market at the center of it all is busy, crowded, and touristy.

If you want to check out a market while you’re there, Camden or Spitalfield will have what you’re looking for.

Two days is a short time to really experience London. But you can absolutely make the most of 48 hours in one of the biggest cities in the world when you know what’s worth seeing and what’s just hyped up.