Another trip to London? I rolled my eyes. Overcrowded and overpriced, London was never my favourite place to visit and had always felt so overrated to me. However, on my recent visit to London, everything changed. I wasn’t stressed out by the traffic or the people, and I didn’t feel ripped off every time I paid for something. Instead, I went to new places in the city, ate amazing food, saw a theatre show, and had a wonderful time. So, let me explain exactly how I fell in love with London in 2 days, and share our London itinerary for tips on how you can spend a wonderful two days in London, without breaking the bank!
Why I Thought I Hated London
In case you haven’t realised, I am English. More specifically, I am a Northerner. I was born and raised in Lancashire, in the north-west of England, went to University in Leeds in Yorkshire (also in the north), lived in Manchester, Liverpool, and basically spent all my life in the north of England, before I left the country to travel. I have only occasionally ventured south to visit London. Whereas some of my friends couldn’t wait to graduate University so they could go and work in “The Big Smoke” I had no desire to live in a city which was overcrowded and overpriced when there are so many other wonderful places to go in the UK. I am always frustrated and disappointed when I meet people who tell me they’ve been to England but only to London, and haven’t ventured out of the capital to see anywhere else.
I have visited London a few times but haven’t bothered with any of the ‘touristy’ things to do in London since I was there for my 18th birthday weekend. I’m now 35. So, I admit, when Wombat’s City Hostels said they were sending me to London, I wasn’t as enthusiastic as I should have been. However, I now have to eat my words and say that after just 2 days in London I was smitten.
Why This London Trip was Different
This time, my visit to London was different. Perhaps now I am a more experienced traveller I can better plan a city break. Perhaps having a travel buddy (the lovely Helene from Helene in Between) gave me the push to do things I wouldn’t normally have done. Maybe I have a more open mind after visiting countries and cities all over the world, or maybe, since being away, I have a newfound appreciation for Old Blighty. I think, in reality, it was a combination of all those things, but the end result meant that I loved every minute!
Luckily, Helene and I were on the same wavelength about what we wanted to do in London. Good food, pretty photo opportunities, and learning a bit about the history of London while we were at it. Throw in a free walking tour, kick-ass accommodation, and a night at the theatre – what’s not to love! We spent most of our time in the East End of London, as our hostel was there, and there is certainly plenty to see and do in this part of London. However, we were also a few minutes’ walk from the Underground, so could easily explore other areas of London as well.
Balancing your Budget for 2 days in London
London is the most expensive city in the UK, and one of the most expensive cities in Europe. It can be hard to enjoy London if you are counting the pennies, but we managed to combine free and budget activities with a few splurges that were definitely worth the extra cash. One of the best things about London is that many of the museums are free of charge, and there is plenty to see without having to spend a penny. That said, if you want to treat yourself then there’s no better place! It is easy to overspend though, so try to plan your budget before you get to London. Here are some more ideas from Helene for how to visit London on a budget.
Where to Stay in London
We stayed at Wombat’s London, a fabulous hostel close to Tower Bridge, and I have to say this had a massive impact on my enjoyment of London. The hostel was spotlessly clean, the staff were friendly, and the location was unbeatable. Wombat’s London is about 10 minutes’ walk from Tower Bridge, the Tower of London and Tower Hill underground station, and is walking distance from Shoreditch, Borough Market and plenty more places to see in London. I think that for the price, you would struggle to find a better option with such an amazing location. Dorm rooms are great for backpackers or visitors on a budget, or you can treat yourself to a private room for all the perks of being in a hostel, with the privacy of your own room. Book in advance for the best rates! Read my full review of Wombat’s City Hostel London, or click below to book:
Our London in 2 Days Itinerary
Helene and I had both been to London several times before, so we could pick out our favourite places to visit in London in two days. Your London itinerary will probably change depending on where you were staying, what you want to see, and if you are visiting London for the first time. This video has a few of the highlights!
What to see in London in 2 Days
Tower Bridge is London’s most famous bridge, and one of the most recognisable landmarks in the city. Something that I hadn’t done before was climb up the towers and walk across the top level of the bridge, so as it was round the corner from our hostel it seemed foolish not to do it! As well as offering fabulous views of the city, the bridge walkway is filled with interesting facts and stories about Tower Bridge, including details of how the bridge was built, how many people cross in a year, and how a London bus once jumped across the bridge as it was opening! There is also a glass-bottom section of the walkway, so you can see the cars passing below you. We were also lucky to be on the bridge when the bottom section opened which was another new experience! Buy tickets in advance here, or when you arrive at Tower Bridge.
Free Walking Tour
A free walking tour is a great way to get an introduction to any city. I’ve done free walking tours in Mexico City, Cesky Krumlov and various other cities and enjoy them as you see the highlights of the area with a knowledgeable guide who shares facts and stories as you walk around the city. We took a walking tour of London Landmarks East with Strawberry Tours from Wombat’s, or you can sign up for the tour online and meet by Tower Hill underground station. Strawberry Tours also have free walking tours of West London, graffiti tours, Harry Potter Tours and food tours too. Check the full details here.
St Paul’s Cathedral & Millennium Bridge
These are also icons of London, both classic and modern. We ended our walking tour quite close to St Paul’s Cathedral, so we walked back to take some more photographs (and found a phone box to play with too!). You can pay to go inside the Cathedral, but at £18 per person, it is a little pricey. We decided to skip the entry, but next time I’m in London I plan to go back for Evensong which is free. Nearby Millennium Bridge was first opened in 2000 but soon closed to make some structural changes. It re-opened in 2002 and has since been featured in films like Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and Guardians of the Galaxy (as part of Xandar). From the bridge, you get one of the best views in London of St Paul’s, especially first thing in the morning when it is quiet or at night.
A British Food Tour
I love food tours and try to take one everywhere I go. From a market tour in Bogota to a food tour in Prague and chocolate making in Belize, you know I love anything food-related! London was no exception, apart from the fact I am more familiar with British food. I hate that English & British food has such a bad reputation, it is totally unjustified! We tasted some of the very best British produce and dishes on our Secret Food Tour in London, and I would definitely recommend the tour to any food fans no matter where you’re from. The food tour started at 3pm near Borough Market, which meant we had a light lunch, and skipped dinner completely, so it turned out to be great value for money at £59 per person. Book here.
Check out other food tours in London with GetYourGuide:
Explore Notting Hill
I’d never been to Notting Hill before, so was thrilled when Helene suggested heading over there to explore the area and take some fab photos. Notting Hill is probably the most beautiful places to live in London (and one of the most expensive!) as all the streets have really well-maintained homes on leafy avenues, and in most cases brightly coloured walls, doors and flowers. It is Instagram heaven, but if you are taking photos of people’s homes please remember to be respectful – I’m sure they must get annoyed with all the people posing in front of their houses!
Also in Notting Hill is Portabello Road which is famous for its market, and especially on Saturday is a great place to hunt for a bargain. If this is your first visit to London, you might prefer to go and see Big Ben, the London Eye & the Houses of Parliament instead of Notting Hill – the choice is yours.
The Natural History Museum
This was my favourite museum in London when I was a child and couldn’t wait to go back. The museum is huge and filled with exhibits about everything you can imagine in the natural world, from dinosaurs to rock samples and a huge Sequoia tree which was 1335 years when it was felled. It is a fab museum for kids and adults alike, the only downside is that it is so big you could easily spend several hours here and not be able to see it all. We just popped in to see the dinosaur exhibit, as I have a bit of an obsession with Chris Pratt and Jurassic World!
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Shop ‘Til You Drop
London is a mecca for shoppers, and even if you don’t have the cash to spend you can still window-shop, spot some London buses and re-live your childhood in Hamleys of London. We popped into Hamleys on Regent Street (which according to a plaque outside has been the Finest Toy Shop in the World for over 250 years) and channelled our inner stormtrooper, just because! (It’s important to have fun whatever you end up doing in London.) Off Regent Street is Carnaby Street which has more independent fashion boutiques, compared to the high-end designer shops on Regent Street and Oxford Street.
Cost: Free for window shopping, or it could be dangerous with a credit card!
Have an Afternoon Tea
An absolutely delicious English activity, there are hundreds of afternoon teas to choose from in London. After sampling some of the best afternoon teas in York, I was keen to do the same in London and was excited to find a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory themed afternoon tea at One Aldwych, which was voted the best afternoon tea in London by Bookatable in 2017. The food was delicious and plentiful, and soooo pretty! We really enjoyed trying all the different flavours of savoury snacks and sandwiches, and the sweet delights too. We booked our table for 3.30pm, so we could go to the theatre that evening and not worry about dinner. As we skipped dinner, we didn’t feel at all bad about splashing out £45 each on this very cool experience! Book here.
Explore Covent Garden
This was another new experience for me, and we actually planned this afternoon really well. After the afternoon tea, we were going to go to the theatre, so had a couple of hours to explore Covent Garden before the show started. Covent Garden is the area where most of London’s theatres are, as well as Covent Garden market. There are lots of cool shops and market stalls here where you can buy souvenirs as well as restaurants, pubs and bars. The whole area was filled with floral displays and flags and walking around in the sunshine helped to digest our afternoon tea very pleasantly indeed!
See a Show
London is one of the best places in the world to watch a live production, and every night of the week you can take your pick from dramas, comedies, musicals and more. We chose the Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre as I had been dying to watch it for years, and adore the Disney film. We booked our tickets through Wombat’s London, and although I was worried about the seats at first (we were on the back row of the Royal Circle), the Lyceum is a small theatre and we could still see almost everything from there. There was just a couple of short parts when characters appeared higher up on the sides of the stage which we struggled to see, but for the cost of the tickets, it was excellent value. We both laughed and cried through the performance, and this was one of the highlights of my 2 days in London.
BUDGET TIP: According to the Lyceum Theatre website, there are a limited number of £20 tickets which go on sale at 10am the morning of the performance, presumably to fill up any empty seats, so if you are backpacking London on a budget this could be a great saving for you!
What We Missed off our London Itinerary
As I said, trying to see the whole of London in 2 days is impossible. First-time visitors might prefer to spend some more time in the West of London, go to Buckingham Palace, see Big Ben and the London Eye, or walk around St James’ Park. We also didn’t have time to go to Greenwich for wonderful views of London or do 1001 other things to do in London – for your trip you need to decide what is most important for you. Something to bear in mind though, when we visited in June, Big Ben was undergoing renovations, so was covered in scaffolding. It is still worth a visit if you have never been to London before, but don’t get your hopes up for a classic Big Ben photo until August 2021 when renovations are due to be completed. One big attraction we missed off our itinerary was the Tower of London, which, despite being walking distance from the hostel we just didn’t have time to do.
The next time I came to London I did go to the Tower of London, and spent several hours there but still didn’t manage to see everything in the Tower. Although it is an iconic place to visit and gives you a chance to see the Crown Jewels, if you are only have a weekend in London you would have to sacrifice some of the other things to do in order to spend enough time there. If you do go, be sure to take one of the Yeoman Warder Beefeater Tours which are fab!
Dining Out & Nightlife in London
We actually didn’t eat out very much, after a good breakfast at the hostel our main meals were the food tour and the afternoon tea. There are thousands of restaurants in London to choose from, and some will certainly stretch your budget if you fancy a splurge. For cheaper eats, head to Borough Market for tasty, fresh produce and plenty of free samples from the stalls! Wombat’s London also has a fully equipped kitchen (including an oven) so if you stay there you can cook your own meals.
We were staying in a hostel with a bar, so instead of going out to some swanky (overpriced) bars, we opted to spend our evenings at the Wombar in Wombat’s London. The drinks were very reasonably priced for London, and with a free drink voucher included in your stay, it would be rude not to at least pop in! The hostel also arranges various events during the week, so you can meet fellow travellers, play pool or table football, or just chill out on the terrace. I was also pleasantly surprised that despite the late-night revelry downstairs, I couldn’t hear a thing from my room.
Top Tips to Visit London in 2 days
Stay in a Great Location
In London, location really is everything. Bearing in mind the size of London, you want to stay somewhere central so you don’t spend half your time travelling around. I loved staying around Tower Bridge as it really was close to everything, and on the circle line and district line underground route, so super easy to get to Victoria, Kings Cross and Paddington stations as well as key places to see in London like Tower Bridge, St Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster & Big Ben.
Choose Your London Accommodation Wisely
Aside from location, you really need to be careful about choosing your accommodation in London. Hotels and hostels in London can be horrendously expensive, and you could end up in some fleapit miles away from the nearest underground station. As I said, we stayed at Wombat’s London near Tower Bridge which was great value for the location, and I highly recommend that for anyone looking for a hostel in London, or a budget hotel in London as Wombat’s has aspects of both. You can read my full review of the hostel here.
Use Public Transport
Although flagging down a London cab is a cool experience, if you are visiting London on a budget, using the underground or bus system is a much cheaper (and usually quicker) way to get around. You can purchase an Oyster Card to use while you’re in London, or if you have a contactless credit card you can just swipe that every time you come in and out of the underground so there is no need to buy a separate London underground pass. The cost of journeys is the same for a contactless card as it is with an Oyster Card, and I was surprised how little money I spent on underground tickets while I was in London. The highest charge on my credit card was just £6.80 for a whole day, when we took several different trips in Zones 1 & 2. More information about the Visitor Oyster Card.
Hope for Nice Weather
Unfortunately, you can never guarantee the weather in London, but spring and summer have slightly better odds of getting sunny days than autumn and winter. We were very lucky and had a glorious sunny day and an overcast day. We visited London in June, when the roses were in bloom which gave us some wonderful photograph opportunities in London City, around St Paul’s Cathedral and Notting Hill. If it does rain (which is quite likely), grab an umbrella and don’t let the damp weather dampen your enjoyment of London – there is still plenty to do inside, getting rained on is a typically British experience!
Take Your Time
London is so huge it can take a long time to get around, so take your time and don’t rush. It’s a good idea to have a plan of what to do, but don’t try to squeeze too much in. If you are only in London for 2 days it is impossible to see and do everything, so don’t feel pressured into doing too much, just pick out a few of your favourite things to do in London which you can fit into two days, and enjoy.
Do What You Love
I love food. And pretty places. And seeing a live performance. So I loved eating afternoon tea, taking a food tour, and seeing the Lion King at the theatre. The great thing about London is there is something for everyone, so decide what you love to do and see what you can find that matches your likes while you are there. Love live music? Check gig listings. Love art? Take a street art tour or visit the Tate Modern. Craving a Royal fix? Visit Buckingham Palace or Windsor Castle and imagine you’re Meghan Markle for a day. It is impossible to do everything in London in just two days, so you have to be selective; there is no point wasting your time on things you won’t enjoy just to tick them off your list.
Look Around You
Something I had never considered before was actually how beautiful London is. There are red phone boxes and double-decker buses everywhere, flags flying and floral displays, not to mention the architecture. London effortlessly blends old and new, so no matter where you are in London City you can find something beautiful to admire. Take time to appreciate the city, take a stroll along the Thames and take every chance you get to admire the skyline.
After spending two days in London exploring the city exactly how I wanted, without the pressure of seeing everything, I really enjoyed my time here. This trip changed my opinion of London, and although I still urge visitors to see more of England outside London, I will no longer roll my eyes when people tell me they only have time for the city. Because London is London, and you simply can’t miss it! There is so much to do here you could easily spend a week in London and still not see everything you wanted. But two days are enough to fall in love with London, which surely will make you want to return and see more.
How would you explore London in 2 days? Is there anything I missed? Would you recommend any other things to do in London for my next trip!
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This post was brought to you as a result of the #wombatsTraveller blog trip, created and managed by iambassador in partnership with wombat’s CITY HOSTELS. However, as always, all opinions are my own and I maintain full editorial control of the content published here on Tales of a Backpacker.
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