London, the capital of England and the United Kingdom, is a 21st-century city with history stretching back to Roman times. At its center stand the imposing Houses of Parliament, the iconic ‘Big Ben’ clock tower and Westminster Abbey, site of British monarch coronations. Across the Thames River, the London Eye observation wheel provides panoramic views of the South Bank cultural complex, and the entire city.
It’s pretty tough to pick the best things to do in London, let alone trying to do it in two days. Here’s our itinerary for our 2 days exploring London.
Changing of the Guard in Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace is the most famous palace in the UK and serves as the primary London residence for the reigning sovereign of the United Kingdom. The royal palace dates back to 1703 and was originally built as a townhouse for the Duke of Buckingham, but was later acquired by King George III. Queen Victoria was the first monarch to officially reside in the palace.
After breakfast in our Hotel in Victoria area, we walked to Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the Guard. There is always a large crowd waiting for this so we need to be there early before 11am. The Changing of the Guard Ceremony takes place, weather permitting, at 11.00 on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday and daily in the summer at the forecourt of Buckingham Palace and lasts about 45 minutes. The detailed schedule is in the British Army Website. We are going to watch it from the Guard house which would be the starting point and also has less crowds.
Parliament Square and Trafalgar Square
From Buckingham Palace we strolled thru St James Park which was just across. St James Park is the oldest Royal Park in London and is surrounded by three palaces. The most ancient is Westminster, which has now become the Houses of Parliament, St James’s Palace and of course, the best known, Buckingham Palace. The park is also a tranquil place to simply relax in a deckchair and watch the world go by. The flower beds and shrubberies are enjoyed by visitors all the year round.
Parliament Square is located across St James Park, opposite end of Buckingham Palance. It is a well known public square in Westminster that is easy to get to via public transport and is a stop on all the main sightseeing buses as well. Around the square you could find the statues of a number of famous people, including Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Robert Peel, and Gandhi.
This popular square is surrounded by famous buildings, such as Westminster Abbey, St. Margaret’s Church, the UK Supreme Court, and the Palace of Westminster. The Palace of Westminster, better known as the Houses of Parliament, is probably best know for its famous Big Ben bell which sits within the iconic golden Elizabeth Tower.
The South Bank and London Eye
The London Eye, or the Millennium Wheel, is a cantilevered observation wheel on the South Bank of the River Thames in London. It is Europe’s tallest cantilevered observation wheel, and is the most popular paid tourist attraction in the United Kingdom with over 3 million visitors annually.
Beside the River Thames, the South Bank is a dynamic area at the heart of London’s cultural scene. The Southbank Centre, National Theatre, and BFI film theatre are all world-class arts venues. The riverside walkway is lined with trees, restaurants and historic pubs, and is the site of frequent fairs and events.
South Bank at Dust
Museum Day – Sherlock Holmes and Madame Tussaud
Sari and I were both big fans of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman’s Sherlock Holmes in BBC. So going to Sherlock Holmes museum at Baker street and taking picture at the Baker Street Tube Station is a must to do list.
Madame Tussaud museum
London was running a promotion of Pay 1 for 2 for many attractions if you have train tickets traveling to/from London. As we were taking a train from Ascot to London we were eligible for the promotion. I have printed the vouchers before coming in to London so we only paid 1 for 2 to enter the Madame Tussaud museum.
Take a picture at Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross stations
If you are Harry Potter’s fan this is a must do activity! You would find the Platform 9 3/4 at the Train Station at Kings Cross. They have set up a specific photo spot and props for all the tourist to take pictures. They also offer photographed service for a fee.
How to get to London Center from Airport
London has six major international airports so you need to knows this when booking a flight to London. They are: London City, London Gatwick, London Heathrow, London Luton, London Stansted and London Southend. Heathrow Airport in London is the UK’s largest and busiest airport as well as being the busiest airport in Europe and the seventh busiest in the world based on passenger traffic. We will outlay here how to get to London center from Heathrow and Gatwick airport
From Heathrow Airport
By Coach service
National Express coach services operate out of the Heathrow Airport Central Bus Station, to and from central London (Victoria), and destinations all over the UK. The central bus station is located between Terminals 2 and 3, is open 24 hours and is well sign-posted. It is a few minutes walk from the terminals via underground walkways. From Terminal 4 and 5 you can catch a free Heathrow Connect or Heathrow Express service to the Central Bus Station. The travel center at the Central Bus Station opens from 06:00 to 22:30 and provides full details of all services.
National Express is the only direct connection between Heathrow and other airports and runs 100 services a day. They also operate a Hotel Hoppa which serves 21 hotels around Heathrow Airport for just £5 each way door to door, from all terminals and the Central Bus Station.
Heathrow Express offers the fastest route into London from Heathrow Airport. The train runs every 15 minutes and take you to Paddington Station in around 15 minutes journey time. Train prices for the Heathrow Express to Paddington will depend on how far in advance you purchase your ticket. When you buy your Heathrow Express ticket at least 90 days in advance, you can save up to 75%, with an Advanced Single costing just £5.50. Tickets purchased on the day will be £25 for an Anytime Day Single on our Express Service, and £32 for an Anytime Day Single to travel Business First Class on Heathrow Express.
As per June 2022, Now Transport for London has confirmed the Elizabeth Line will begin serving the station. The line, constructed under the name Crossrail, will run two trains an hour to Terminal 4 from London Paddington railway station. The Elizabeth line currently runs four trains per hour from Paddington station to Heathrow Terminals 2 & 3 all day. Two run to Heathrow Terminal 5, and the other two terminate at Heathrow Terminals 2 & 3. Timetable can be seen here.
By Metro/London Underground
Heathrow has three stations on London Underground’s Piccadilly Line, one for Terminals 2 & 3, one for Terminal 4 and Terminal 5. The station for Heathrow Terminals 2 and 3 is located between the terminals, only a few minutes’ walk via underground walkways. Terminal 4 and Terminal 5 stations are situated in the basements of the terminal buildings.
The average journey time to central London is about 50 – 60 minutes. Tubes run every five minutes at peak times and every nine minutes at off-peak times and weekends. It takes an additional five minutes to reach Terminals 2 & 3. During the night, the Night Bus “N9” connects Heathrow with central London every 30 minutes, so you don’t need to worry if you land at night time.
Full details of timetables and fares are available from Transport for London. The stations for Heathrow Terminals 2 and 3 are in the central area between the terminals and a few minutes’ walk from them via underground walkways. Terminal 4 and Terminal 5 stations are in the basements of the terminal buildings. All stations are in Travelcard Zone 6.
London Underground (TFL): 0343 222 1234
Taxis are a great, hassle-free and convenient way to get to the airport especially you have suitcases and travelling with children. There are over 600 taxi companies serving Heathrow airport and the surrounding areas, many of which specialize in airport taxis and can offer great rates if you book in advance. Example of such service that I have used is Addison Lee.
From Gatwick Airport
By Coach Service
National Express offer coach routes to and from Gatwick Airport from many locations around the UK, including between other major airports! When arriving at Gatwick Airport, look for a National Express sign outside the arrivals hall of your terminal.
You can also catch a bus from as low as £2 with EasyBus. This low-cost London airport transfers service runs direct services between Gatwick Airport and London Victoria Coach Station, Earls Court and West Brompton. If you are using South Terminal, there’s even a service to London Waterloo.
While EasyBus offer some seats at less than £2, they only have a very limited amount of seats available online at this price and once they are sold they will move to a higher price until they reach their top rate. You will need to book online and as early as possible to get hold of a cheaper ticket. EasyBus run a non-stop service every 15 minutes taking 1 hour and 10 minutes to get you between Gatwick and Central London. The best thing is that they also run from 4am to 1am, so you will nearly always have a bus ready to board, this is very helpful especially if you’re getting in early in the morning!
You will need to take your luggage into consideration if you’re planning to travel with easyBus; passengers are only allowed one piece of hand luggage and one hold case. They also have a policy in place which states that large items such as skis and non-folding pushchairs are prohibited, and this also includes animals. If you have additional luggage to the above, you can purchase an extra seat, but it’s always best to check that your luggage will be permitted before booking.
Gatwick Express is a non-stop service between London Victoria Station (Central London) and London Gatwick Airport which runs every 15 minutes. The journey takes 30 minutes and prices start from just £18.50 for a single ticket and £36.80 for an open return. To book, visit Gatwick Express or call them on 0345 850 1530.
Southern railway runs a train from Victoria station to Gatwick airport and the journey average time is 33 minutes. The first train from London Victoria to Gatwick Airport depart at 00:02 and the last train at 23:35. You can buy the ticket online from their website here. Ticket starts from £18.30 and there is train every 15 minutes. We took this train to get to Gatwick as our flight to Nice leave from that airport. It takes longer than Gatwick airport and is not a specific train for airport so it can get crowded and it doesn’t have a designated place to store suitcases. But we’re happy and if are flying to Gatwick again we will use the Southern train again.
If you have a lot of luggage that you don’t want to deal with on public transport, this is a great option. You will be better off booking in advance as there’s no guarantee that a taxi will be available at your required time, and it will nearly always be cheaper to do it this way.
Our Accommodation in London
Cherry Court Hotel where we stayed in London was very close with Victoria train, coach and underground station, we could easily drag our heavy suitcases from hotel to the train station. We arrived by train from Ascot and left London by train to Gatwick airport hence we wanted to stay close to the train station.
We also could walk from hotel to Buckingham palace and started our sightseeing from there. The hotel gave fruits in the basket which was nice and we brought them when we go every morning. The owners were also nice and friendly. I asked for room on ground floor because we need to leave early morning on our last day and we didn’t want to carry our suitcases thru the stairs.
Room and bathroom is on the small side but we have been expecting that, London is an expensive city, so no issue. The 2 of us could still juggle with our suitcases. Our room was actually a triple room, but I don’t recommend 3 people to stay because there won’t be enough space for 3 suitcases. The sink in the bathroom was too small so I washed my face in the shower. The sink was only good for brushing your teeth. The only downside of the hotel was it didn’t have an elevator. But I saw the hotel staff was helping people carried their stuff to and from their room.