Updated: Nov 16
London's calling but you have no idea where to start. With just a few days, you can easily visit the top sites in London, so why not fancy a stopover?
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Taking a London Stopover
In my experience London is best seen as a few days stopover en route to somewhere else. Easily accessed from all over the globe you can fly into Gatwick (LGW) or Heathrow (LHR) and then onward to just about anywhere, especially if you include low-budget flights from London's Stanstead airport as well.
With just a few days in London you have to be choosy about what to see. I recommend making a home base in one of the two tube stop areas below and exploring it completely.
Trust me, there will always be another trip to London. All roads may lead to Rome, but for some reason they keep leading me to London too! With direct routes from either airport, read on for two easy itineraries for 2 or 3 nights in London.
London in 2 Nights
Recommended time: 2 nights
Transportation: From London Gatwick the Thameslink is the most direct route and takes about 35 minutes.
Where to Start: London Bridge Underground
The London Bridge area is a perfect starting off point and home base if you fly into Gatwick. Housing a lot of the Hilton's and Marriott's of the world (read: free nights on points) it is near some of the bigger attractions in the London area without being overwhelmed with tourists. Offering river strolls, good eats, a bustling marketplace and of course two major landmarks of London, this area is surely going to hit the spot for a quick stopover in London.
Tower of London
First thing in the morning, the Tower of London is a must. Get tickets online in advance to avoid the line and pick an early start time. Spend an hour or two visiting each of the tower's buildings within the complex before moving on to Borough Market.
The Borough Market
Feeling peckish mid-morning? Take a food tasting tour of the London Bridge area. The Borough Market is back across the river and a unique stop for the foodie or market lover.
Offering the typical farmer's market wares, you can easily spend an hour roaming the booths and sampling local products.
Tower Tandoori is a low-key spot a few roads back from the river. I found this because it was close to our hotel, but boy oh boy it hits the spot on a rainy or chilly London day.
Mercato Metropolitano is a hip food court with many options, also set back a bit from the river.
You're probably jet lagged, and you are on vacation. Rest!
It's 5 O'Clock Somewhere
Have a drink at the HMS Belfast bar on a sunny day.
Visit the 214 Bermondsey gin bar and speakeasy if you are a gin lover. Each gin flight comes with custom pairing sheets that can only be revealed after you have done your initial tasting. Such a fun concept (and delicious too)! You can read more here: https://www.designmynight.com/london/bars/london-bridge/214-bermondsey
Want something a little spooky to fill your night? Take a Jack the Ripper Tour with projected streets scenes using "rippervision" on this highly rated tour.
London in 3 Nights
Recommended time: 3 nights
Transportation: From London Heathrow the Heathrow Express is the most direct route and takes about 20 minutes.
Where to Start: Paddington Station Underground
Arriving directly from London's Heathrow airport, Paddington Station offers travelers an option of staying in Notting Hill, Hyde Park or Regent's Park, without much wear and tear on the walking shoes. Centrally located to many of London's classic sights, first-time London visitors may enjoy starting here. Thrown together below in blips of chaos, choose your area and piece together the order of operations based on your preferences.
A Walk Through Notting Hill
Obviously famous for Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts' fun romantic movie, this area is also popularly showcased in the Paddington movies with Sally Hawkins and Hugh Boneville. Cute row homes and antique stores are plentiful here, as are adorable lunching spots like:
Portobello Garden Caffe
Princess of Wales Pub Primrose Hill
Don't forget to visit the Portobello Road market on Saturdays (http://shopportobello.co.uk/) while you are there.
Take in Bohemia at Camden Locks
Camden Market, in my opinion, is one of the coolest spots in London. Full of endless rows of bohemian scarves, handbags and jewelry, the outer market leads to even more booths of candles, soaps and other typical market wares.
Gritty and crowded, you'll feel like a local as you browse the shops leading to the outer courtyard with the food stalls. Follow your nose to hawkers selling sausages, cheese, and other typical food truck flavorings.
Outside the chaotic buzz of the market you can find the famous Camden Locks, a lock system that can be enjoyed by the sidelines as boats come in, or you can hop on a site seeing boat. One boat even takes you straight to the back door of the nearby London Zoo if you have the time! Inquire at the dock for information on tickets.
A modest stroll away from the market area will bring you to Camden High Street, where I recommend having a hearty lunch at La Patagonia for some great Argentinian food.
Need a Quick Harry Potter Fix?
If you are just leaving lunch at Patagonia, keep walking towards King's Cross station where you can see Platform 9 3/4 for yourself, or take this Harry Potter walking tour, which often sells out!
Is the platform not good enough and you need to see more? Check out Warner Bros studios where the magic happened yourself on this amazing tour for Harry Potter fans.
London Museums Can Be Fun Too
Just south of Regent's Park you can find a rainy day's worth of museums and then some. I recommend the British Museum for everyone, but treat it like the Louvre. You just can't see it all in one day. Plan what you want to see in advance. For me, it's the Egyptian and mummy section. It is truly outstanding!
Free, the British Museum is open daily from 10am-5pm with later hours on Fridays.
The Sherlock Holmes Museum at Baker Street is an option if you love a good caper.
Kids will love Madame Tussauds Wax Museum and enjoy taking selfies with all the famous stars.
How About Theater and a Drink?
Years ago I saw Wicked at the Apollo Theatre - doesn't that sound so cosmopolitan - and the area near Chinatown and Picadilly Circus is chock full of other show options as well.
Check for pre-theater menus at restaurants in the area and make a night of it.
Afterwards, consider a nice stroll towards the river at Charring Cross and Embankment tube stops. My recommendations are:
Le Beaujolais wine bar
Draped in cuteness, have a bite or a drink and relax.
Gordon's wine bar
A hidden gem like no other - Gordon's offers visitors a cave-like cellar for wine and cheese infused date nights. Candles drip wax on aging oak tables and bistro-dwellers hit the bar for a bottle of wine and personally curated cheese and charcuterie platters. If there is one thing you do (sans kids) in London, this is it.
If you feel like walking more, head across the river to The Queen's Walk for some beautiful evening views of the landmarks. You may even run into an evening market along your stroll.
Some Touristy Things Won't Hurt
Exhausting to write down, it's exhausting to think there could potentially be MORE to do in the Paddington Station area, but sure enough there is. If you're feeling like your legs might give out, it's tourist day so you may as well flag down a black cab. They're a little pricey compared to hoofing it or taking the tube, but worth it. Or, there of course is the quintessential big bus hop-on-hop-off tour. A classic.
On the hit list today:
I've always just walked up to the gate to take photos and see the guards with their fluffy hats. If that seems worth it to you, add it to the list!
I highly recommend planning for a visit while the choir singers are performing daily.
Churchill War Rooms
History buffs shouldn't miss this super enjoyable and well put together museum.
It's a big clock. Take pics and move on.
Run, Don't Walk! You Need This in Your Belly
If at any point you come across a Wagamama or a Nando's, just do yourself a favor and stop in for a delicious fast service lunch. These are UK staples that I drool over every visit. Hint hint: both of these are also in the terminal at Gatwick! Nando's serves up a stellar chicken or a full English breakfast, and Wagamama doles out delicious bowls of noodles starting lunch time.
How To Get To And From London
Newsflash! London is a huge International hub. Just about every airline on the globe flies through there, but if you are budget-minded, here are some of my recommendations:
Or come by train! Check out Rail Europe for more information on routes and timetables.
With so much to see and do in London, it's important to take it in in micro-doses. Knowing your starting point or home base is the best way to begin your planning, and having easy in, easy out access to the must see sites is going to make your stay a lot more pleasant.