A 48 hour layover in London before a 2 week Europe trip gave us just enough time to sample the major attractions of London. It was a first trip for my 21 year old design student daughter, but in order to be efficient with such limited time, I applied a couple of my important rules when making a short visit to a big city! These can be helpful for anyone with a short layover, business trip or pre cruise stay in a major city.
1. Stay in the best located place you can afford, close to popular attractions and/or public transit hubs.
Being close to attractions or transport is the best way to make a short visit successful. Spend more time doing what you like and less time getting to the sites! We chose to stay at the Marriott Renaissance St Pancras (located right above the Kings Cross Underground and St Pancras International Train stations.) This was not the cheap option, but we had points to spend and chose a room without a view in a well located hotel. Cheaper options do exist in this area of London, from boutique hotels to hostels, it's close to the transportation to the sites in London, and to trains to other parts of the country and Europe, although the area isn't near the most popular attractions. You'll find hotels closest to transit hubs will be the highest priced, one trick to avoid the high price? Stay at a place near a station that is just one stop away from the hub; a lower price and only one stop away from multiple transit options. For us, St Pancras was located where we would later get the Eurostar train to Paris and trains to Cambridge and Oxford.
2. Prioritize sites you can't miss, don't try to do it all!
We knew with a half day after arrival and one full day before leaving for Paris, we would need to prioritize which sites to just "see" and which to "tour" and which to pass up till next time. Although this Europe trip was meant to focus on art museums for my designer daughter, we skipped the major museums in London in order for her to spend more time walking around the city, seeing the iconic sights and getting a feel for the city. We also skipped all the climbing. In most major cities every building with more than 5 stories offers a (paid) opportunity to climb it and it takes a long time, between standing in line and the actual climb. Pick one "birds eye view" to enjoy early in the trip to get oriented and just view the other iconic towers from the ground!
3. Pay to skip the lines It's better on a short trip to book admission ahead with line skipping priority.
There is time and there is money...it's usually tough to save both! If you ahve lots of time, you can often economize with a longer commute or waiting in the standby line. With less time, you can fit more in by spending wisely on priority tickets, or taking a taxi instead of the bus. For a few more pounds, we bought an anytime, skip the line ticket for the London Eye, which allowed us to bypass an hour long queue and gave us maximum flexibility with time since we didn't need to make sure we arrived in time for an appointment.
4.. Don't plan so much for arrival day when you will be tired from traveling.
Arriving in the morning after an overnight flight, we knew we'd be tired and planned to use a hop on hop off bus service with narration to get an overview of all the major tourist sites without having to walk them all. Arrival day is also a great time to do that orientation "elevator" climb or Ferris wheel! Relaxing in a cafe or catching a show or performance is another way to not overdo on arrival day.
For more photos and our full trip report including our 48 hour itinerary...see our London Trip Report HERE
Our 48 Hour London Itinerary
Day 1: After arriving, having lunch and checking baggage at the hotel, (starting after 12 noon) Use a Hop On Hop Off bus to explore the West End, stopping at Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace and The London Eye (ride the London Eye with an express pass) Spend the late afternoon strolling in Hyde Park, dinner in Knightsbridge.
Day 2: Start the morning touring Tower of London. Try to see the Crown Jewels early in the day, then wander around the rest of the Tower of London or join a tour with a Yeoman Warders, which leave every half hour. The groups can be huge, and they Warders often use a bit of hyperbole when serving up history at full volume! For a more personal experiences, hire a private guide before hand. After the Tower, walk across the iconic Tower Bridge and have lunch somewhere along the Queens Walk with views of London across the Thames or at Borough Market. Walk past Shakespeare's Globe theater, walk across the Millenium pedestrian bridge and tour inside St Paul's Cathedral. For dinner, dine in the West End near one of the theaters, hit up one of the last minute ticket booths for theater tickets, or book ahead before leaving home. After dinner wander around the bright lights of Covent Garden and Picadilly Circus and enjoy a coffee and pastry at a coffee shop.