How To Spend 36 Hours In London

Thursday, July 05, 2018
By Azamara

English writer Samuel Johnson once wisely said, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” London offers travelers the alluring mix of old and new, high and low. It’s a city of castles, churches, and museums, as well as pubs, shops, and galleries.

London makes a perfect embarkation or debarkation port for a cruise, and many guests enjoy extending their vacations by spending a few days in “The Old Smoke”. After all, you’ll never tire of this grand city!

To help you make the most of your time in London, we’ve put together two 36-hour itineraries: one for a first-time visitor, and one for returnees.

36 Hours In London: For The First Time

During your first visit to London, you’re bound to spend a lot of time in the ancient City of London and Westminster, two of London’s central areas. The City of London is about a square mile in size, and the part of the city within the ancient walls dating back to Roman times. Unlike Westminster, the City of London is not technically a borough. However, both areas maintain City status. Though the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge are not technically in the City of London, they are strongly associated with the area. Westminster is home to landmarks like Buckingham Palace, Abbey Road Studio, Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey.

Day One: Morning

Begin your day at the iconic Tower Bridge. You can purchase tickets to explore the bridge’s Victorian Engine Rooms and modern Tower Bridge Exhibition with its glass-bottomed walkway.

Nearby, you’ll see the impressive Tower of London. This historic castle boasts 22 towers and a grisly, fascinating history. Depending on your interest level, you could spend anywhere from one to three hours here. Plan for at least one hour, with stops at the Crown Jewels, the White Tower, and the Medieval Palace.

Next, head away from the River Thames to Leadenhall Market. It’s only a 10-15 minute walk from the Tower of London and a great place to do some shopping and have lunch. Harry Potter fans might recognize the beautiful Victorian-era covered market as the Wizard shopping center “Diagon Alley” in the film Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

Day One: Afternoon

After lunch, take a taxi or the Tube to Trafalgar Square in Westminster. Museums, galleries, cafes, and more surround this famous, lively square in the heart of London. Spend your afternoon visiting two museums here: the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery.

Photo Source: David Iliff, Wikimedia Commons

Well over 2,000 European paintings are on display at the National Gallery, including works by Michelangelo, da Vinci, Renoir, and Van Gogh. Avoid getting overwhelmed by purchasing an audio guide or joining a free hour-long tour at 2:30 p.m.

Then, get up close and personal with famous faces at the National Portrait Gallery. Subjects include royalty, scientists, celebrities, and even artists themselves.

Plan to spend a few hours at both museums before taking a pre-dinner stroll through one of London’s most photogenic neighborhoods.

Leave Trafalgar Square and walk down The Mall, through St. James Park. This 57-acre park is the oldest Royal Park in London. Spend some time admiring the meticulously cared for ground and visiting the nearby landmarks of 10 Downing Street, St. James’ Palace, and Buckingham Palace.

Day One: Evening

Leave the park and stroll towards the River Thames, to Big Ben. This iconic clock tower will be a sight at dusk. After snapping a few photos and admiring the historic monument, cross the river to visit a more modern landmark: the London Eye.

This giant Ferris wheel has become one of London’s most famous landmarks and offers incredible city views. (Check the opening hours before you visit, and consider booking your time and date in advance.) During high season, the London Eye is open until 8:30 p.m. The evening view of London will take your breath away. 

Finish off your evening by grabbing a bite to eat and a cold pint of beer or cider at a classic British pub. Don’t be afraid to venture off the beaten path a bit, or ask a local for a recommendation!

Day Two: Morning

Begin your second day in London back in Westminster. Find a cozy breakfast spot to enjoy a full English breakfast – after all, you shouldn’t leave London without having one! A traditional full breakfast usually includes bacon, sausages, eggs, baked beans, fried tomato, mushrooms, and toast. The art deco Regency Café, open since 1946, is only a 15-minute walk from your next destination: Westminster Abbey.

Westminster Abbey is one of the most famous churches in the world and is widely considered to be the best example of Early English Gothic architecture. Every British monarch since William the Conqueror has been crowned at Westminster Abbey, with the exception of Edward V (who was murdered before he was crowned) and Edward VIII (who abdicated before he was crowned).

Photo Source: Tebbets, Wikimedia Commons

Parts of Westminster Abbey, including the Cloister and the historic College Garden, are free to visitors. Make the most of your visit by downloading the Abbey’s audio tour from the app store prior to your trip. 90-minute led tours are available, though times vary.

From Westminster Abbey, walk fifteen minutes to Buckingham Palace. If you’ve timed your morning well, you’ll arrive in time for the 11:30 a.m. Changing of the Guards ceremony. However, you should expect crowds at this popular event. (The Changing of the Guard occurs daily from April to October, and every other day the rest of the year.)

During summer months (July 22 to October 1, 2017) the monarch’s official London residence is open for tours. The lavish State Rooms boast incredible antique furniture, sculptures, and paintings that should not be missed. In 2017, a special exhibit will feature official gifts received by the Queen.

After the 40-minute-long Changing of the Guard, find a café or restaurant in the area for a light lunch. (You likely won’t be very hungry after your substantial English breakfast!)

Day Two: Afternoon

If you’re visiting London in the summer and want to tour Buckingham Palace, plan to spend between two and three hours there. Otherwise, spend the rest of your day in Kensington.

Begin by leaving Buckingham Palace and strolling through Hyde Park. It’s about a 40-minute walk from one palace to the other, but a beautiful one. At over 350 acres, Hyde Park is London’s biggest open space.

Begin at Hyde Corner, on South Carriage Drive. Throughout the park, don’t miss the Rose Garden, the Holocaust Memorial Gardens, and the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain. If time allows, consider renting a pedal or rowing boat on the Serpentine, London’s oldest boating lake.

Exit Hyde Park and explore the adjacent Kensington Gardens. The immaculately manicured gardens are home to the Italian Gardens, a gift from Prince Albert to Victoria, the Albert Memorial, and the Diana Memorial Playground. At the edge of the gardens is Kensington Palace, where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (commonly known as Prince William and his wife, Kate) and Prince Harry often reside. You can purchase tickets to tour parts of the palace, like Queen Victoria’s former apartments, in advance.

Day Two: Evening

Spend the rest of your evening exploring posh Kensington. Browse the boutiques along High Street, stop into Harrods for a souvenir, and enjoy your last dinner in London at one of the neighborhood’s trendy restaurants.

36 Hours In London: Off The Beaten Track

If you’ve been to London before, chances are you’ve been to major landmarks like Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, and the Tower of London. But the city is so large, and has so much to offer, that there are always new nooks and crannies to discover.

Day One: Morning

Westminster Abbey isn’t London’s only breathtaking cathedral. After grabbing breakfast in The City, make your way to St. Paul’s Cathedral. It’s often cited as one of London’s most beautiful buildings.

Photo Source: Zeisterre, Wikimedia Commons

The Anglican cathedral is located on Ludgate Hill, the highest point in the city. Take some time to appreciate the church’s exterior and interior beauty, and climb to the Golden Gallery for stunning city views. 

Once you’re finished at St. Paul’s, cross the Millennium Bridge to find Shakespeare’s Globe – it’s only a ten-minute walk. Open since 1997, Shakespeare’s Globe is a reconstruction of the Elizabethan Globe Theatre. It’s certainly worth a look, and tours usually operate every half-hour.

For lunch, pay a visit to the delectable Borough Market. Britain’s most famous food market has existed, at least in some form, for over 1,000 years. Explore the best of British local food, and pick up souvenirs for your foodie friends (or treat yourself) before settling on a café or restaurant for a bite to eat.

Day One: Afternoon

After lunch, walk back along the Thames and past Shakespeare’s Globe, to the Tate Modern.

With so much history in London, it could be easy to overlook a museum of modern art. But it’s one of the city’s top attractions. The museum is housed in the redesigned industrial Bankside Power Station, and was expanded in 2016. The building itself is almost as impressive as the collection of modern art inside.

Photo Source: Christine Matthews, Wikimedia Commons

Day One: Evening

After you’ve finished at the Tate Modern, walk along the River Thames and explore the charming South Bank area. Then, visit either the National Theatre Complex or the British Film Institute Southbank, depending on your interests.

The National Theatre Complex houses three theaters, a learning center, a bookshop, a riverside bar, restaurants, and more. Check their schedule prior to your trip, and buy tickets online.

The British Film Institute is a four-screen cinema venue that showcases classic and contemporary films, hosts festivals, and holds educational events. You’ll find three different riverside food and drink venues here, so plan to grab dinner beforehand or a cocktail after the show.

Theatre, or film? In London, you can’t go wrong.

Day Two: Morning

Begin your second day in London in the lesser-known neighborhoods of King’s Cross and Saint Pancras. Once an industrial area ignored by tourists, today it’s a regenerated and artistic part of the city.

In the heart of this area the King’s Cross Railway Station, adjacent St. Pancras International, and underground King’s Cross St. Pancras station combine to create one of the United Kingdom’s largest and busiest transportation hubs. If you’re a Harry Potter fan and find yourself here, you’ll likely want to snap a photo at “Platform 9 ¾”, where Harry and his friends caught the magical train to Hogwarts.

Departing from King’s Cross, lovers of literature should pay a quick visit to the nearby British Library. Though the building itself isn’t particularly impressive, the library is home to such great works as Shakespeare’s first folio, the first complete text of the New Testament, Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks, and John Lennon’s handwritten Beatles song lyrics.

Spend the rest of your morning exploring Regent’s Park, only a 25-minute walk from the library. Of all London’s parks, it’s the most decorative and formal. Don’t miss Queen Mary’s Gardens, which features more than 12,000 roses of hundreds of varieties.

This 395-acre park is a favorite hangout of locals, who make use of a large sports area to play football (soccer, to Americans), rugby, cricket, and more. Regent’s Park is also home to the London Zoo, and a large open-air theater holds live performances during summer months

At the park’s boating lake, you can rent a pedal or rowboat – a delightfully romantic activity for couples!

Day Two: Afternoon

Regent’s Park makes a lovely lunch spot, as it’s home to several cafes. However, if the weather is good, consider picnicking at the nearby Primrose Hill. Partway between Regent’s Park and Primrose Hill is Melrose & Morgan, a deli famed for its delectable picnic hampers.

Settle in at Primrose Hill, a favorite park of locals, for a leisurely picnic lunch and to admire the stunning skyline views.

After lunch, explore the charming neighborhoods surrounding Regent’s Park and Primrose Hill.

    • Marylebone: This posh neighborhood includes Regent’s Park and some surrounding streets. Shop at high-end boutiques and bookshops, or stop by Baker Street and visit the quirky Sherlock Holmes Museum.

    • St. John’s Wood: Beatles’ fans should make time to stroll through this neighborhood, home to Abbey Road recording studios. Don’t forget to (carefully) snap a photo at the famous zebra crosswalk from the Abbey Road album cover. Prefer sports to music? Check out the goings-on at the Lord’s Cricket Ground instead.

    • Paddington: Most famous as a transit hub for busy commuters, Paddington is also a great neighborhood for tourists to explore. Architecture buffs will enjoy the stunning Georgian homes, grand train station, and quaint garden squares.

    • Maida Vale: The peaceful, residential neighborhood of Maida Vale is home to floating canal houseboats and gondolas, Edwardian-era mansions, and charming local bars.

Together, the neighborhoods of Paddington and Maida Vale are known as “Little Venice”. It’s a lovely place to spend your last evening in London.

Day Two: Evening

This picturesque, posh part of London gets its name thanks to its position at the convergence of Regent’s Canal, Grand Union Canal, and Paddington Basin. Regent’s Canal was originally built in 1820 to connect the massive Grand Union Canal with the River Thames. Today it is mainly used for recreation. 

See the sights from the water by taking a canal cruise, or going for a quick ride on the London Waterbus. Little Venice is home to a variety of bars and restaurants. For dinner, take your pick from classic British fare, trendy fine dining, or multicultural cuisine.

After dinner, find a pub or bar with a canal view to enjoy a pint of beer or a Prohibition Era-inspired craft cocktail. Toast to a perfect 36 hours in one of the world’s greatest cities!

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