Tickets to Europe are more affordable than they’ve ever been. This is great for taking that vacation you always wanted, but a lot of these flights include long layovers. Some airlines are even including “stopovers”, planned overnight stays in a layover location instead of spending 8 miserable hours in an airport.
On my most recent trip to Mallorca, Spain, I was faced with a decision… 8 hrs in Heathrow or my own planned stopover in London. To me, it was a no-brainer. I scheduled my flights to have exactly 48 hours in London, arriving at 2:30 pm on a Sunday and leaving at 2:35 pm on a Tuesday. The flight saved me a couple hundred dollars that I used to have an amazing whirlwind adventure in London (total cost: $437 – $216 on activities and $222 on the hotel).
London is such a common layover destination that anyone can plan this 48-hour stopover trip the next time they fly across the pond. I was able to do everything I set out to do from attending a local Guy Fawkes Night (Bonfire Night) fireworks festival to visiting the Olympic Park to pub hopping and tasting frangipane tarts (no soggy bottoms allowed). I’d never been to London before, so everything was a new experience. And, unlike most of my travels, Mike was on his own adventure in Vegas and unable to join me this time, so it was a unique solo-travel experience as well.
Here’s a downloadable itinerary of 48 hours in London – you really can see it all! Keep reading for all the details – including cost of each of these activities.
First off, where to stay: I stayed near an underground stop because I knew I’d be taking it across London during my adventures, including my final adventure of going to the airport.
Arrive 2:30 pm Sunday at London City Airport
Purchase Single Day Travel Card at London City Airport ($16.57)
There are plenty of signs that guide you to the station where you can buy a day pass to travel through London on public transit via underground railroad, trains, and busses. There is absolutely no reason you should need a cab or Uber because this is affordable and easy to use. It took about 45 minutes to get from London City Airport to my hotel. Note: prices are increasing February 2019.
Check in at hotel and head out (4:00 pm)
I quickly checked into the hotel and dropped off my bags. The Guy Fawkes Festival was on the other side of the city, so I knew I had to get back onto the underground to make it before the fireworks went off.
TIP: At this point, I had been traveling for most of the day and was super hungry but wanted to get to the festival as quickly as possible. I always pack water, snacks, and protein bars for travel days like this. I highly recommend packing enough food so that you could skip a meal and be fine.
Attend Guy Fawkes Night at Victoria Park (free)
I had no idea what Bonfire Night/Guy Fawkes Night was until I had dinner with my British friend shortly before leaving for Europe. I told her the dates that I would be in London (total coincidence that I had booked these dates). Side note: hotels were even more expensive than normal because of this event.
It was really a happy coincidence because I LOVE fireworks. There are a lot of different Bonfire Night festivals and events – I went with the most highly ranked free option, and it was awesome! The show was put on by the city of Tower Hamlets and Goldenvoice (the same people that put on Coachella). I was definitely grateful that I had left with plenty of time to get to the festival because it was crowded and hard to get a spot with a good view.
Stop at a pub while crowds died down (free)
The festival ended at 8:00 ish, and I still hadn’t had a proper meal or beer. Festival-goers flooded to the underground station, so I decided to stop at a pub before heading home. Rusty Bike Pub had a great atmosphere and amazing smelling food. I got an English beer and sat down at the community-style bench tables outdoors to do some people watching.
I had my Skyroam with me, so I was able to update my family and friends where I was and look up some activities I wanted to do the next day. I ended up talking with a couple of people at the table next to me. TIP: talk to the locals to see what’s fun to do and what areas have a lot of activities. I am the kind of person that can strike up a conversation with anyone, so for me, this is a really fun part of travel. I love meeting people everywhere I go. These guys were originally from Italy and now living in London. We talked about the differences in cultures, travel styles, and food. We had traveled to many of the same places and talked about our different experiences. It’s how we learn so many different travel tips and get inspired for future destinations!
Eat at a local British restaurant ($26.61)
After I finished my beer and conversation, I headed back to the hotel via the underground. I followed my nose to find a restaurant that smelled amazing (at this point, I would have eaten anything!). I ordered a traditional British meat pie, mash, and veggies… and some more beer at Garfunkel’s. The server was extremely nice and the restaurant had a day-trip guide on their menu, so I was able to plan for the day ahead. The food was sooooo good, warm, and filling.
Head to the underground for Day 2 at 9:30 am ($16.57)
I was supposed to have breakfast included in my hotel room, but it never came. Again, I ate the snacks I had brought for my travel day… this is seriously one of my top tips for travel because of how often I’ve used it!
I purchased a travel pass for the day and headed towards Green Park and Buckingham Palace.
Green Park & Buckingham Palace (free)
Green Park was one of my favorite (and free) things to do. The fall leaves are a rare sight to see in Arizona. As you get off the underground, take your time strolling through the park until you reach Buckingham Palace! It goes from calm to hustle and bustle in about 10 steps.
Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park ($22 1:15 pm)
I love the Olympics – especially the Summer Olympics. Most of my family are springboard divers or gymnasts, and I grew up with a strong connection to this amazing event. My grandpa even announced the springboard diving for the Olympics several times before he passed away. So, the Olympic Park was the very 1st thing I planned to visit on my 48-hour adventure. I headed there on the underground after my stroll through Green Park/Buckingham Palace.
I didn’t know what to expect, so I booked a ticket to experience the world’s longest tunnel slide, the AcelorMittal Orbit, mostly to make sure I had something to do there. It’s 584 feet long and offers never-ending views of London. It costs about $20 for one ride. Tip: Bring £1 with you as a locker deposit to store your stuff! You aren’t allowed to take anything up with you while you’re riding. But don’t worry, you can get your camera and head back up to the top after your descent.
After my trip back down to Earth, I explored all the Olympic Park had to offer while watching the sunset on the public gyms. I rented a bike share bicycle ($2.61) just outside the slide to zoom through the park since it was huge. It was great exercise and sightseeing all in one!
Westfield Stratford City ($5.87 5:00 pm)
Eventually, I got very hungry since I was only living off my granola bars all day! I couldn’t resist stopping at the nearby Doughnut Time stand for a Harry Potter themed treat – the BellaTwix Lestrange. ($5.87) These are some intense doughnuts – definitely recommend splitting them!
This area is an outdoor shopping center with several places to grab a quick bite, shop, take a break, or play some giant chess!
Millenium Bridge & Harry Potter (free)
As it was getting dark, I was inspired by my Harry Potter doughnut to head over to the Fantastic Beasts Wizarding World Wand display on Millennium Bridge (this was a temporary display). I hopped in the underground and headed off to explore more of the magical world of J.K. Rowling. I got off at the St. Paul’s stop so that I could visit the cathedral on my way. I definitely wish that I visited this during the daytime as well, but it was still beautiful at night!
Tip: I had to go to the bathroom so bad after the 40-minute underground trip. Most public restrooms require cash, which I did not have. However, McDonald’s always has free bathrooms! I stopped by what was probably the fanciest McDonald’s I’ve ever been in for a quick pee after being turned away from not-free public toilet.
I caught some live music on the opposite side of the bridge and stopped for dinner along the water. If you are looking to save money, eat somewhere else! I was so hungry at this point that it was worth the extra money at Founder’s Arms. Price: $29.81
Patisserie & Nightlife ($32)
For those of you that don’t know The Great British Bake Off, get on Netflix and watch it now! This was the top reason for me doing a 48-hour vacation in London. Mary Berry is an inspiration to us all.
Since it was my last night, I had to find somewhere to get a British baked good before my time was up. I found a Patisserie shop at a stop that was on the way back to the hotel on the underground and had my first frangipane tart. It did not disappoint!
Leicester Square – Create your own pub crawl
Little did I realize, I actually chose a really fun place to enjoy my pastry, Leicester Square. Leicester Square has pubs, restaurants, and entertainment all packed in close together. I decided to create my own little London pub crawl just to experience as many British pubs as I could on my last night!
Pub #1: The Porcupine – located directly across the street from the patisserie. This was a relaxed pub with a traditional pub atmosphere.
Pub #2: The Long Acre – this was more of a club than a pub, but it had a fun atmosphere so I stopped by. I ended up meeting a couple people that were in London for work and in the process of heading over to an Irish Pub for their mixer. I figured an Irish Pub was the perfect thing to add to my self-created pub crawl, so I tagged along. We ended up getting extremely lost, but I got a nice walking tour of Covent Garden area and Chinatown. We also added another pub on the way.
Pub #3: Silver Cross – more upscale than the previous two bars. This was our much-needed hydration stop while we figured out where O’Neill’s was located.
Pub #4: O’Neill’s Irish Pub – when we finally made it to O’Neill’s, it was definitely a unique experience! There was an Irish
soccer football game on, so it was packed and rowdy. Definitely the best way to end my London trip!
After my create-your-own pub crawl, the underground was closed (it shuts down at night). I hopped on one of the above ground busses and headed back to the hotel. What’s great about the transit cards is that they cover busses, trains, and the underground railroad! It was such a fun experience to take the double-decker bus. Make sure you do this even if you aren’t forced to like I was!
I packed my bags in the morning and headed to the underground to buy my final transit pass ($16.56) to head to Heathrow. This involved taking both the underground and above ground train.
TIP: plan way more time than you think you’ll need. I ended up just barely missing the train departure for Heathrow, which added 30 minutes to my commute.
Spending time in Heathrow is not enjoyable unless you get a lounge pass. I highly recommend buying a No. 1 Lounges pass ($50) if you have the time before your flight. The pass includes unlimited drinks, an entree, and unlimited snack food. I also signed up for a shower. It was the first time I had showered at a lounge, and it was amazing! I went into my 10-hour flight relaxed, full, and ready for the long trip home.
I hope next time you have the choice between a long layover or a stopover, you choose stopover! Even though it’s a short time, you can still do so much. 48 hours in London was a blast!
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