Let’s be honest, you will never see all the sights of London in two days. So we start with the premise, that this is just one 2-day London itinerary out of perhaps thousands – created from a desire to be a sophisticated traveler (but really just ended up fulfilling a few literature-theater-geek high school fantasies of mine), all within the confines of my $200 USD budget.
Let me also state right up front that the cost of a hotel room in London can cost almost $200 itself, so what made this Two Day trip possible what that my hotel room was paid for with points. Being loyal to a brand has its benefits, not the least of which include earning points to redeem for free stays!
So, now that that is all settled, come join me as I wander through the streets of London!
Day 1 in London
Paddington Station / Little Venice / Waterside Café
London W2 6NE
I like the area around Paddington Station and have stayed there on two separate trips. It’s super convenient if you’re taking the Heathrow Express from the airport, as it takes you right there. You can of course also take the metro to save money but if you’re short on time – or in my case since I was just getting off an international flight and wanted to get to the hotel to unpack – the Heathrow Express is super convenient.
My friend Anisa of Two Traveling Texans has a great blog post on How to Get to London from the Heathrow Airport!
Just outside the train station you can take a walk along the canals and go “gongoozling”. It’s a thing – really! It means to sit and watch the colorful boats and activity on the canals in the UK. And that’s just what I did.
I found a cute little café docked alongside the canal and stopped here for breakfast. I enjoyed an omelet and latte, plus bought bottled water to carry with me for the day. One cool thing, as I was sitting there having breakfast and gongoozling, a family came and sat at a table nearby. They ordered their water and coffees, then all three of them the mother, father, and daughter pulled out their books and started to read. They were not on their phones, they all had books – all three of them! Isn’t it funny how that’s such an unexpected sight these days?
There is an area called “Little Venice” nearby where the Regent’s Canal joins the Grand Union Canal. Robert Browning, who once lived in the area, coined the name (… or, Lord Byron did, depending on which scholar you believe). Other famous residents of the area include Sigmund Freud, who stayed at the Colonnade House in 1938, and code-breaker Alan Turing who was born at that same house in 1912.
Iconic Sights on a Walk in London
Buckingham Palace / Big Ben / Westminster Abbey / Palace of Westminster (Parliament) / Red Phone Booths / St. James Park
There are so many iconic sights in London. I spent a morning just walking through the city and seeing all of the buildings I’ve seen in movies and TV shows for years: Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, and Palace of Westminster (Parliament), Buckingham Palace, Household Calvary Museum. And of course, the infamous red phone booths!
Unfortunately, I missed the big Changing of the Guard ceremony the day I was there, but if you have a chance to see it, it is FREE or for a few pounds, you can join a walking tour if you want some insight from a local guide as to what’s happening when and where.
Right next to Buckingham Palace is St. James Park and I really enjoyed walking thru here! It was so pretty and quiet. It’s the perfect place for a morning stroll! (Look, you can see The London Eye peeking above the treetops in the first photo!)
(aka Paramount Lebanese Kitchen Paddington)
26 London St.
Paddington London W2 1HH
Just outside of Paddington Station I found the best lunch – chicken kabob, rice, falafel, salad, pita, and a bottle of water – for only £10!
96 Euston Road
London NW 12DB
Almost all of the museums in London are free, so cultural experiences abound here. But one place you might not think to go is to the Library – and if you’re into literature, music, world religion, or old books, this is absolutely the place to go!
In the center of the library is The King’s Library – this is the collection of George III (who reigned from 1760-1820) and includes almost 85,000 books and pamphlets from the mid-15th to early 19th centuries. This collection includes the first edition of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales! Fun side note: I had to learn the prologue in Old English in high school and can still rattle it off occasionally with my fellow Humanities alumnae! And yes, I may have recited it quietly to myself while I was there…
While most of the books from this collection can be requested for viewing in the Rare Books and Reading Music room, some are also permanently displayed in the “Treasures of the British Library” exhibit. And this is where I really geeked out!
There are so many amazing books and items on display here! And, there is a very strict No Photography rule, so I didn’t take any pictures. But in a way, that was better because I just put my phone away and walked amongst the display cases.
It may sound weird but seeing all of these things was very moving! So many beautiful works and personal writings from people I’ve heard and read about all my life. Reading Emma or Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen is one thing, seeing a letter written to her brother in her handwriting is something else!
One of the few manuscripts of Beowulf c 1000 (the longest epic poem in Old English) is here. And, the only surviving manuscript of Sir Gawain & The Green Night c 1400 (another favorite of mine from high school Humanities). The color of the illustrations after 600 years is stunning!
(^^This image is offered on the British Library Flickr account, where they posted over 1,000,000 images into the public domain. You can see them all at https://www.flickr.com/photos/britishlibrary.)
One of Shakespeare’s First Folios from 1623, the earliest surviving edition of Hamlet (1603), a first edition his sonnets from 1609, and a collection of his poems from 1640 are on display here!
There is a page of instructions from Leonardo de Vinci on how to create a heated bath. And there’s a letter from Michelangelo to his nephew offering advice on what to look for in a wife.
Is music more your thing? There’s an entire display case for The Beatles, including lyrics for “A Hard Day’s Night” that John Lennon penned on the back of his son Julien’s 1st Birthday card and the envelope on which Paul McCartney wrote some of the lyrics for “Michelle”.
There are manuscripts representing almost every religion including Jewish Torahs, Islamic Korans, Christian Bibles (including an illuminated Montpellier Bible from the early 1100s), Hindi, and Buddhist texts. There is also a Gutenberg Bible, one of only 180 copies printed in the mid-1400s.
There are maps representing different eras that show the evolution of our geographic knowledge (or lack thereof) of our world.
There is an entire room dedicated to the Magna Carta and the multitude of documents around that. There’s even a draft of Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence!
As you can tell, I was pretty excited about my visit here! I really need to plan my next visit back…
Wallace Collection & Tea
London W1U 3BN
Cost: FREE for Collection / $27 for Tea
This is the former residence of the Marquises of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace (believed to be the illegitimate son of the 4th Marquis) houses a vast collection of art from the 12th to the 19th centuries, including paintings, statues, arms, and armor. There happened to be a choir practicing in the large sitting room upstairs while we were there which was fun to see!
Afternoon tea here was a mixed bag. The tea and cakes were fine, and the room was lovely. However, the service left a little to be desired. I made a reservation for 4 pm, the last reservation available for the day, as my friend and I were going to have it as an early dinner. However, what we weren’t aware of was that when the museum and restaurant closed, they closed immediately. There was no waiting for the customers to finish. So when we went to ask for additional hot water we were instead told that we had to leave, even though we still had half of our tea left! They were so eager to get us out that security came around a second time telling us to leave even though the servers hadn’t brought us our check yet to pay! So I guess my advice to you would be… the tea is fine and reasonably priced, maybe just make your reservation for earlier in the day, especially if you are with a friend and want to have time to talk and catch up!
Day 2 in London
Sky Garden Observation Deck
20 Fenchurch Street
London EC3M 8AF
Cost: FREE admission + $8 Breakfast Roll/Water from Cafe
If you want to get a great panoramic view of the city and skyline, but don’t want to spend a lot of money, then I suggest you head to the Sky Garden Observation Deck. Located on the 35th floor, the Sky Garden is three stories tall and offers a 360-degree view of London.
Admission is free, but there are only a limited number of tickets offered each day. Tickets are offered approximately 3 weeks in advance and go quickly.
However, here’s a secret not many people know about yet: they offer a few walk-in spaces in the morning (10:00-11:30 am) and afternoon (2:00-4:30 pm) during the week! Now, it’s a bit of a gamble as they might run out of walk-in spots and you might need to be flexible with your schedule to come back and try another time if you don’t get in but it’s an option if you were like me and didn’t realize you needed to book this ahead of time, I got there first thing in the morning and was able to walk right in!
The views are gorgeous and it’s fun to walk thru all the greenery. Plus there is a small bar offering coffee & treats in the morning and bar service in the afternoon so you can have a small ‘happy hour’ any time you choose to go!
St. Dunstan in the East Church Garden
St. Dunstan’s Hill
London EC3R 5DD
A few blocks away is a unique park built on the ruins of an ancient church. Originally built 1100, St. Dunstan was renovated in 1391 and again in 1631. THEN it was damaged in the Great Fire of London in 1666 and had more renovations done between 1668-1671. Sir Christopher Wren later added steeple and tower around 1700. During the Blitz of 1941, St. Dunstan was severely damaged and sat that way for almost two decades. In the late 1960s, they turned the remains into the public garden you see today. For sitting square in the middle of the city, it’s quite stunning to see the ruins of a church that is almost 1,000 years old!
All Hallows By The Tower Church
London EC3R 5BJ
Cost: $2 (Donation)
Speaking of old churches, All Hallows By The Tower, London’s oldest church, is just a few blocks further. This church has been around since AD 675 – that’s almost 500 years before St. Dunstan! Unlike St. Dunstan, All Hallows was not damaged in the Great Fire in 1666.
You can step inside to view their modern space and visit the Crypt Museum on the lower level. Here you will find part of the original Saxon church and even the original Roman road it was built upon! Some original Roman and Saxon artifacts are on display. There are registers that date back to the 16th century and include entries for the baptism of William Penn in 1644 and John Quincy-Adams’ marriage to Louisa in 1797.
Years ago I read the book Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage about Ernest Shackleton’s attempt to reach the South Pole and have been fascinated by his story ever since. So you can imagine my surprise when I found the crow’s nest from the ship Quest for Sir Ernest Shackleton’s last journey! In September of 1921, Shackleton left England to explore sub-Antarctic islands. Unfortunately, he died of a heart attack (& heavy drinking) during the journey (January 1922). Somehow, the crow’s nest ended up amongst the church’s possessions and became something of a fundraising tool – the Rev. Philip “Tubby” Clayton would tour with it, using it as an attraction as he raised funds for Talbot House (a hospice for wounded, shell-shocked WWI soldiers). Not something you would expect to find in London’s oldest church, but there it is!
Fish! At Borough Market
London SE1 9AL
London’s oldest food market, it is first referenced as early as 1014 as a “great market town” in a collection of medieval Scandinavian literature. The buildings that house the current market were built in 1851. One interesting thing to note is how sustainable the current market is: almost all of the garbage generated at the market is recycled and does not go into the landfill!
Walking up to Borough Market, I passed the ruins for Winchester Palace. Originally founded in the 12th century, all that remains is this wall from the Great Hall. And, at one of the entrances to the market is this colorful mural of Shakespeare!
One of the best fish and chips in the city can be found at Fish! There’s both a restaurant and counter – I ordered mine from the counter and then sat there to people watch at the market while I ate.
Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre
21 New Globe Walk
Bankside, London SE1 9DT
Cost: $22 for Guided Tour
I have always been enthralled by the plays of Shakespeare. Whether on the page, the stage, or the screen, his stories and stories of him, have mesmerized me. So, of course, I would visit his Globe Theatre. Although I didn’t get to see a play performed here, I did get to take a tour and see the stage. It was everything this former high school theatre geek dreamed it would be! (London sure seems to be bringing up lots of memories of high school for me!!)
The current theater, built in 1997 and the passion project of Sam Wanamaker, is a reconstruction based on the original 1599 theater and the reconstructed 1614 version (built after a fire demolished the first).
31-33 Sussex Place
London W2 2TH
For dinner, I looked for a restaurant that was within walking distance of my hotel. What I thought was a simple Asian fusion (Chinese & Malaysian) café was actually a chic restaurant owned by Jimmy Choo! A little fancier (& pricier!) than I needed but the food was good, the service attentive, and the environment pretty. I had a very flavorful beef curry with rice and fried dumplings.
Best Western Plus Delmere Hotel
128-130 Sussex Gardens
London W2 1UB
Cost: $22 + Points
As I mentioned at the beginning of my post, I used points for my room in London. I stayed at the Best Western Plus Delmere Hotel. I had a cute, very cozy (read: small) single room – it was tiny, but I loved it! It was just a couple of blocks from Paddington station, which made it very easy to get trains or subways everywhere I wanted to go. It’s populated enough that I felt comfortable walking to/from the hotel and there were many stores and restaurants nearby making it very convenient.
Budget for London
My budget has been translated to USD, based on my final credit card charge and/or the ATM exchange for when I pulled out cash.
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What wonderful ideas for an inexpensive trip to London.
Thank you, Julie, glad you liked them!
This is perfect! With the Canadian dollar being low right now, I have to ration my cash on hand budget!
Those currency exchanges can make such a difference in what you can and can’t afford!
A great blog, thanks for sharing. I’ve pinned for when we visit UK next year.
Thanks, Ruth! I hope you found some ideas to help in planning your UK trip!!
Never a shortage of things to do in London. I love that you included the jaze sunset on your list! We found that on our most recent trip and really enjoyed walking along it