Once capital city to the entire British Empire, London is one of the oldest metropolitan cities in the world. Being the second largest city in Europe, it is no wonder why we chose to make this the next stop on our city break tour! From art and theater to History and Science, London has been at the forefront of the modern world for centuries housing important folk like Kings, Queens and leaders through the ages. With so much to see in so little time, we gave London our best shot!
Although we live in the UK, we’ve only ever been to London to see a West-end show or passed through on the way to one of it’s many airports. This city break was our chance to experience London as both a tourist and a local to explore this city that never sleeps!
- 1 London in 48 Hours: My Itinerary
- 2 Things to See on your City Break in London
- 3 Other Activities/Things to do in London
- 4 Where to Stay in London
- 5 Where to Eat in London – Food to Try!
- 6 Price Break Down of this London City Break
London in 48 Hours: My Itinerary
I found planning my itinerary quite difficult as I wanted to do some big attractions but also to explore and discover different parts of the city and visit some of London’s hidden gems, too. How could we do both in this short space of time? Turns out planning less was the key. We picked two main attractions and two fun activities to do and left the remaining time open to do whatever we fancied at the time. This completely worked as everything in London was so convenient to get to!
Things to See on your City Break in London
What Not to Miss: The London Eye is probably THE attraction to do in London but it didn’t make my top list. I couldn’t justify paying almost £30 for a Ferris wheel ride, even if the views were incredible when I could see London from Tower Bridge or the lantern on top of St Paul’s Cathedral for a much more reasonable price. My choice was purely because I wanted to learn about London and do something that was a bit more active and fun.
The Tower of London
One top attraction I couldn’t leave without seeing was The Tower of London (not just because of my morbid fascination with the Tudors!). Originally built by William the Conqueror in the 1070’s, this monument dominated the skyline, exerting French authority over the English. Since expanded upon by Monarchs through the years, it now stands as a formidable fortress, storing a vast collection of Armour and the famous crown jewels (ooh, sparkly).
What I loved about this place was that the basic layout hasn’t really changed since the 13th Century; you enter via the same causeway folks would have back in the day. It was extremely easy to reconstruct the past in your head and imagine the fortress at a time of dominance. This place has housed Royals and their guards, held captive high status prisoners, seen the end of Queens and the torture of traitors, all while producing England’s coinage from its Royal Mint.
For history buffs, this place cannot be missed! Regular free tours by the Yeoman Warders, the guards of the Tower, are available providing a fun and amusing summary of the tower’s history. They don’t take you in any actual buildings except the chapel (otherwise inaccessible), but do show you the infamous traitor’s gate and the exact spot where Anne Boleyn was beheaded! If not for the laughs, it is worth taking that hour tour to familiarize yourself with your surroundings and decide what you do or don’t want to see.
If not such a history buff it is still worth a walk up the Southbank of the River Thames to see the Tower, alongside Tower Bridge and iconic skyscrapers of the City of London skyline.
Cost: As of 2016, £24.50 (for adult) / £12.25 with a 2 for 1 voucher from National Rail
Voucher: Available here
Guide Book: Available at the ticket desk for £5
Bike Tour of London’s Best Sights
If you’re not so bothered about ‘doing’ every attraction or simply can’t decide what you want to do, a bike tour is a quick and entertaining way to see everything London has to offer and more. With multiple tours to choose from that see different sites at different times of the day, it is easy to find one that suits you best but, I would highly recommend the grand tour of London with BrakeAway Bike Tours.
The whole experience was engaging and fun and our tour guide Heath was very professional, giving us plenty of interesting factoids and funny anecdotes about each place of interest. In our intimate group of eight, we made a lot of ground seeing influential places such as Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace where we saw the traditional ‘changing of the guards.’
Along with the highlights we also got to see perhaps less known but interesting places such as Banksy’s Tunnel and had the chance to take a break in Covent Gardens to watch the street performers and grab a delicious pie from The Pie Shop. As well as the sights we saw, the riding was just as enjoyable as you get a sense of every part of London from the busy squares to the historic cobbled streets. Trust me when I say you don’t have to be the most adventurous person or competent rider to take part in this and riding around London can be quite relaxing if you know where to go!
Definitely, consider giving this tour a go as it was an extremely fun and active way to experience London with the wind in your hair (or helmet).
Cost: As of 2016, £20 (for adults) / £17 (for ages 8-17, over 60s and students with I.D
Jack the Ripper Tour
This tour was completely different to anything I have ever done! I was extremely excited the whole day leading up to it and somehow left after the tour even more so. The Jack the Ripper Tour takes you through the narrow alleyways and Victorian streets of White chapel to the exact murder sites of Ripper’s victims and other significant sites in the sequence that they occurred.
At each site, you are then given an account of the events that happened and are shown images to help you re-create what the surroundings would have looked like and of course the gruesome murder scene! Although no special effects, the backdrop of London’s back streets in the twilight hours are more than enough to create the atmosphere for a real-life ghost story which you will follow as if you are investigating the Ripper yourself.
Our tour guide, Lindsey, was phenomenal! She made the whole tour for me. She was informative and engaging with just the right dose of theatrics. I genuinely found myself captivated with everything she was saying. What I loved most about her was that she had a passion for this subject, to the extent that she showed us her own personal research that hadn’t even been published yet!
(Yes, I’m a bit of a geek) I found myself leaving every spot feeling like I’d just watched a gripping TV episode that had ended on a cliffhanger and I had to wait a week (or in this case, a couple of minutes) to find out what happened next. If you want to do something different and have a bit of an eerie night out, then you should absolutely do this tour as you journey through the infamous Jack the Ripper murder spree.
Cost: As of 2016, £10
Your Own Awesome London Tour
Whether that’s a walk down the Thames or creating your own tube-tour of London (yes that’s the technical term) why not do London like a (insert accent here) ‘proper Londoner?’. We made the most of our day travel-passes (£12 / £8 with UK railcard) by hopping on and off to see sites such as 221B Baker Street and the Marble Arch. If you’re traveling with your family, take a look at this things to do in London with kids guide.
Other Activities/Things to do in London
- London Dungeons – £28.90 (adult) or £19.95 if you book online, for the experience of live actors acting out the major gory historical events of London. We actually did this and felt quite underwhelmed at the end. The suspense you create yourself was the scariest part, however, two small rides and a free drink at the end are included in the price so not so bad.
- London Bridge Experience – £19.95 for a scary re-enactment of London’s gruesome history, even far back than the dungeons. Possibly a cheaper alternative and a scarier experience too?
- The Shard – £25.95 (adult) or £20.95 (student) to see 360° views of London from its highest viewing platforms 244m above the ground. Types of ticket vary depending on if you want to see the view in the day or night and if you want a glass of champagne.
- London Duck Tour – yep it’s real. £24 (adult) can get you a land and water tour of London all in one!
- Up at the O2 – You can actually climb the domed roof of London’s O2 Arena! Prices vary depending on whether you want to do a day climb (£28), sunset climb or twilight climb (£35) but definitely check it out!
Where to Stay in London
As you can imagine, hotels in London are pretty darn expensive. Unless you are willing to bunk in a hostel (which even those can be pricey!), there is no getting around the prices.
Maximizing on the popularity of apartment rentals, we opted to rent an apartment through Airbnb for both ease and location. There is a generous range of options for apartments in London however originally, I was nervous about them as they looked far away from the city center. My advice is to not worry about this at all! Ignore what the map looks like and look at their nearest underground station.
We stayed in a lovely 2 bed apartment in Kensington and Chelsea Borough, which was a 10 to 20 minute tube ride to everything. Trust me when I say that in London, you are never too far out from the center (unless your in zone 6+, sorry guys). The apartment was equipped with a kitchen, living room, 2 bedrooms and a bathroom, and wifi. All while having close proximity to the underground, convenience stores and the pub. What more could you want right? Renting an apartment rather than staying in a hotel was also better for our budget as we didn’t have to spend on small things like tea or coffee!
Other City Break Accommodation Options
Budget: Venture Hostel £35/night (Hostels range £28-40)
Splurge: The Lanesborough £490/night (4/5 Star Hotels range £120-1,000)
Editor’s Note: If you’re looking for more options, check out our full article on where to stay in London
Where to Eat in London – Food to Try!
London is full of pubs that provide quick food and drink that will satisfy the tummy rumbles. The Camel and Artichoke and Blackbird to mention a few, however, these guys hold the crown for their particular style of dining.
Brunch: The Attendant
Housed in a converted Victorian Toilet, The Attendant has made handy use of the former urinals as a place to gather and relax with good company and even better food. If this doesn’t scream quirky, then the atmosphere and choice of treats will. My first impression on finding this place was ‘wow this is so cool’ followed quickly by ‘huh this place must be good’ as a queue quickly formed five minutes before opening time.
As we descended underground to this cozy little space, the café was soon bustling but surprisingly, not at all noisy. It was the perfect place to relax and have some brunch on a Sunday morning before setting off on our busy day. With very hospitable staff and food that looks and tastes great, I really didn’t want to leave.
Approximately £8 for brunch. We recommend:
- Three bean chilli breakfast
- Toasted banana bread
Tip: Menus are subject to change every season due to their nightly picker at New Covent Garden Market
Bar Grub: The Back Room
Tucked away in a little ol’ side street in Mayfair is one of the coolest hangouts to grab a drink (or two) and some good food whilst listening to your favorite rock classics. An extension of the Hard Rock Café, The Back Room is kitted out with iconic rock items and vintage decor providing an intimate haven. This was a much-needed place for us after our busy site-seeing day as we needed to get our geek off and our cool on. With a couple of drinks and pizzas, that’s exactly what we did.
We loved this place, it felt very private with just us for a little while and our trusty bar-man Ed (who could whip up an amazing Long-island Iced Tea). He was very friendly, often asking if we wanted a top up with our drinks or if we had any requests for music.
- The Tuscan Pizza (£9.55)
- The Chorizo, Chilli and Shrimp Pizza (£9.55)
- Long Island Iced Tea (£9.15)
- Heineken (£4.55 – bottle)
Fine Dining: Mestizo
One of my favorite cuisines is Mexican food and Mestizo is the best place I’ve ever eaten it. From a Spanish/Aztec word meaning fusion, in this case of Mexico and London, this independent restaurant in Camden really blew me away. With complimentary nachos, and an extensive menu of authentic dishes, wines, and tequilas, as well as a cool traffic light system to order (meaning you’re neither rushed nor left waiting). The incredibly friendly staff helped us kick off our London experience perfectly!
We had a three-course meal and each course proved to be the definition of delicious – it was soon no surprise why from 6 pm this place was heaving with a constant turnover of customers ranging from couples and groups of friends or colleagues on working dinners. This is probably due to extensive facilities offered here including a purpose built function room downstairs which works as a conference room, overflow for the main restaurant and club for an authentic Mexican night out.
- Starters – Pescadillas (£5.60) and Empanadas (£7.80)
- Mains – Enchiladas Cancun (£12.50) and Mole Poblano (£14.00)
- Desserts – Pastel 3 Leches (£4.20) and Buñuelos (£3.20)
- Wine – Tempranillo Rosado (£16.00)
Price Break Down of this London City Break
Unlike Rome, the transport costs of London were reasonable, it was the drinks that killed us! As well as the attractions.
- Accommodation – You can find places in Roomarama that range from £35-150 a night! Definitely more affordable than regular hotels.
- Food & Drink – £100
- Transport for weekend – £40 (£20 metro passes, £20 return train to Birmingham)
- Sight seeing – £60
Approximately £200 (not including accommodations) for a weekend.
Another mini adventure down, we thoroughly enjoyed exploring London in all its glory. Although slightly sad that it’s over, I am comforted by the thought of our next city break and all the ones to come!