BlogBrad MerrettLondon, guide

48 hours in London

BlogBrad MerrettLondon, guide
48 hours in London
 

London, then. We're all about getting away from london but sometimes there's nothing like a weekend in the smoke. so if you are coming to our fair city for 48 hours, here's our guide to how to spend your time. 

There’s so much to see and do in London that it can be a bit overwhelming for the first-time visitor. London is chaotic, posh, rich, grimy, cheap as chips, budget-bustingly pricey – so where to go and what to do when you’re only here for three nights?

Head Down

First thing to remember is that London is a BIG place. London is essentially a series of villages, connected by urban sprawl; your best bet for a hotel or somewhere to stay is to try to keep your digs within Zones 1-2 on the Tube map, and close to a Tube station. That does make things a little more pricey, so look out for chain hotels like Travelodges and Premier Inns; they’re clean and tidy (if a little soulless) and if you book in advance, won’t smash your piggy bank and run away laughing.

For example, the Travelodge Covent Garden will cost around £85 per night for a double room with breakfast; and it’s so close to everything, you can save on travel costs by walking.

If you want a more quirky / boutique hotel experience, the CitizenM London Bankside is a hotel we hear good things about. We’ve only drunk in the bar, but it has a great ambience and some cool features; rooms are available in June 2016 for £160 per night.

City view down the Thames from the Shard

City view down the Thames from the Shard

Planning Your Days

Our number one tip for travelling in London – you need to buy a Visitor Oyster card. This will give you capped-cost travel on London’s Tube, bus, train and tram network, all within the London Zone area. The cost for travelling in London’s Zones 1 and 2 (pretty much where you’ll need to be) per day is £6.50 with an Oyster card; wherever you go within the two central Zones, you won’t pay more than this. It’s indispensable, so make sure you get one of these beauties asap. The link to buy is here, and here’s a map of the London transport network too.

Check out the TFL website as well for info on travelling around town on buses. London’s bus network is comprehensive and simple to use; it’s also a great way to sightsee the city from the top deck of a red London double decker. For instance, if you hop on the No38 bus at Victoria Station, you’ll be whisked off around the back of Buckingham Palace, up along past Green Park, up to Piccadilly, and along to the British Museum. You can hop off any time you like, and it’s way cheaper than getting one of the pricey bus tours that run in most major cities.

Friday Night

Once you’ve dropped your bags, freshened up and found your feet, it’s time to head out for your first evening in town. Our advice is take it steady (you don’t want to be hungover tomorrow, do you?). Find a lovely gastro pub near your hotel and settle in there for a couple of pints. Our favourites to drink and eat at are listed below – the food here is reasonably priced and there’s a friendly atmosphere at all these boozers.

The Peasant, Clerkenwell

Lovely surroundings in a cool, studenty area; buzzy bar downstairs and a classy, nicely-priced dining room upstairs.

The Market Tavern, Shepherd Market

Quite possibly my favourite pub in London. Hidden away off Park Lane, this is a glorious, cosy spot with delicious food and a great wine list. It’s almost too good to be true.

The Chapel, Marylebone

Tucked just off traffic-heavy Marylebone Road, this is a proper gastro-pub with great food and a lively atmosphere. Nice little garden for summer-time drinks too. A heavy-rotation fave from our days working in Balcombe Street.

The Tommyfield, Kennington

If you go to the Imperial War Museum, walk 10 minutes down Kennington Lane to this restored Victorian drinking den. They do a fab fish and chips. You can stay here, too, as they have rooms upstairs (I’d never leave the bar).

Prince Of Wales, Kennington

Just around the corner from The Tommyfield is the Prince Of Wales, hidden away in the corner of beautiful Cleaver Square. You feel like you’ve stepped back in time when you drink here. Not sure about the food but worth it for a glass or two.

The Victoria, Paddington

If you’ve got time to kill before you catch a train from Paddington mainline station, or are wandering in Hyde Park, head to The Victoria on Strathearn Place for drinks and food. The whole place is a perfect Victorian boozer and the upstairs rooms are delightful – have a peek even if you’re not drinking or eating up there.

The Three Johns, Islington

The spot in Angel to go to people watch, enjoy craft beers and maybe a white pizza or two. Very funky crowd chilling in the red-brick surroundings. 

The Cock Tavern, Oxford Street

Tucked behind Oxford Street and a little away from the shopped-out masses, The Cock does a great line of beer and cider, and has a nice little restaurant upstairs too. 

Saturday Morning

So much choice awaits you. With that in mind, we’ve split things into three here. One itinerary if you want to go to museums; one if you want to see famous buildings; and one if you want to go shopping. We’ve tried to keep things in close proximity as well, so if you want to mix and match, you shouldn’t have too far to travel from one place to another.

Plus, we’ve added in a little bonus – a smaller, lesser known place for you to pop into if you have time. Just to spice things up a bit.

Museum Madness

There’s really only one place to go for museums for your first time in London and that’s South Kensington. Head there as soon as you can because you’ve got three world-class museums – The V&A, the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum – within spitting distance of each other.

Handily, South Ken tube has a long, featureless tunnel that leads to all of them – simply exit the tube, turn right and follow this echoey tiled corridor until you get to the museum you want to see.

They are all so good and so different. The V&A has incredible collections of fashion, art, furniture. Jewellery, photography and design. It’s a treasure house of taste and also usually has on some fascinating exhibitions. Highly recommended.

The Science Museum is more specialised – wheels and space, rockets, trains, molecules – but again, is a spot where you can easily spend hours reading about how clocks work or why we get colds. It’s that sort of place. Also usually has on at least one fascinating extra exhibition.

The Natural History Museum is basically stuffed to bursting with incredible animals, plants, insects, fossils, bones… Plus, it is such an incredible building, complete with grand halls, wood panelling and sweeping staircases, you feel like you’ve stepped back into a Victorian philanthropist’s fantasy.

Top tip! If you get a bit tired of all the museums, then take a wander up to Kensington High Street and across to Holland Park. This is quite the prettiest park in London, especially if you head into the Kyoto Garden. This is a little Japanese oasis in the middle of the city; usually serene and peaceful. Calm your mind here before you head back to raid another one of the city’s treasure-houses of thought.

Japanese Garden in Holland park

Japanese Garden in Holland park

Posh Places

If it’s royalty and posh people you want, you’ve come to the right place. Buckingham Palace has to be on everyone’s ‘to-see’ list when they come to London (even though, in our opinion, it’s pretty dull).

Once you’ve gawped through the gates at the wedding-cake palace, and unless you want to hang around for the Changing of the Guard (11.30 most days in summer – see the schedule here), turn around so you have your back to the Queen’s house and look up the Mall. It’s a beautiful sight, but we recommend you turn to your right a little and head into St James’ Park for a slow meander past the lake and up across to Downing Street (again, you can only peep down the street, past gates and armed police to see the famous front door).

Head a little way up Whitehall to see the Cenotaph and Horse Guards  – the mounted Life Guards are usually on duty on horseback here, and you can actually see the Changing of the Life Guards most days at 11am. Check out the schedule here.

Top tip! The Changing of the Life Guards is actually loads better than the Guards down at Buck Palace in our opinion – you’re closer to the soldiers, it’s less busy, and there are horses involved, which is always awesome.

Head back down Whitehall, passing Churchill’s War Rooms – we recommend visiting here if you have time, it’s a cool underground bunker from where our great war leader directed much of WW2 – and have another good gawp at the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. You can only visit here if you’ve been sponsored by your MP, so unless you’ve been organised in this regard, turn so your back is to the famous bell tower and walk across to Westminster Abbey.

You can easily spend a few hours in the Abbey and to really get to know it, you have to. It’s huge and there’s endless tombs, memorials and incredible architecture to admire. Plus you have to pay to go in, so to make sure you get your money’s worth, do take in as much of the ecclesiastical goodness as you can. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, in the Nave, is unbearably moving and silencing in its sadness.

Top tip! If you don’t fancy paying to go in, then keep on strolling down Victoria Street until you come across Westminster Cathedral. This is really one of London’s great secrets – a beautiful cathedral church, 10 mins walk from the Abbey, with a fantastic viewing tower. Pay £6 and climb 64 metres for the best view of London. The good news is, it’s usually pretty quiet up here – everyone else is too busy messing about in the Abbey, so you might have the place to yourselves!

Final recommendation – hop on a No38 bus from Victoria Station (just a few minutes on from the Cathedral) and sail back up round Wellington Arch and along Piccadilly to Piccadilly Circus, where you can start thinking about dinner – once you’ve had a wander through Leicester Square and up into Chinatown, which is great when it’s just starting to get dark and all the lights are starting to fizz into brilliance.

Splash The Cash

London is second to none when it comes to spending money. You can fire up your wallet and really buy anything you want in this city – but for those of us who aren’t Russian oligarchs, what’s to be done?

We recommend staying out of Harrods –and venturing into a lesser-known area or two as listed below for some decent shopping experiences.

You have to start off in Oxford Street, just because it’s one of those places where, if you’ve never been, you have to go. If you can, start at the Marble Arch end and walk down – you’re closer to Selfridges, which is an incredible palace of consumerism – and the giant Primark (which will be unbearable on a Saturday). John Lewis and Forever 21 are here, too. Just about every shop you can name is positioned on this road – but there’s nothing unusual about Oxford Street. It’s the British High Street writ large, plus it’s crowded, choked with bus fumes and not very pleasant to wander along.

So once you’ve sated yourself with the big brands, head up Vere Street, past MeatLiquor  (is it too early for lunch?) and on to Marylebone Lane/Marylebone High Street. This is one of the prettiest shopping streets in central London, I think – lots of cute, quirky places to spend your money, one of the best bookshops in the UK, and plenty of happy places to sit and have a cuppa and enjoy some people watching.

Top Tip! Pop into the incredible Wallace Collection on Manchester Square on your way to Marylebone High Street. It’s a free, charming collection of ephemera and has a beautiful restaurant in the atrium too – perfect for a coffee and a chance to rest your weary feet.

Or if you want to splash your cash on books, go to Daunt Books on Marylebone High St. It’s the loveliest spot to browse – check out the wooden panelled atrium at the back.

If you want to have lunch here, we’d recommend it – The Marylebone Pub is excellent. Or grab sandwiches from the Waitrose on MHS and walk through to Paddington Street Gardens which is a quiet spot to eat in peace and sit on the grass for a rest.

If you can’t face walking back to Oxford Street, head north for 5 minutes and hop on the Tube at Baker Street to take a ride on the Bakerloo Line back to Piccadilly Circus. Walk through Leicester Square, cross Charing Cross Road and then turn left into Upper St Martin’s Lane, which will take you up to Seven Dials and on to Covent Garden.

There are plenty of lovely places to shop around Seven Dials but for the big guns, head down on Neal Street and in the Covent Garden Piazza itself. Again, this is likely to be swarming with people, but there are lots of big name shops here, and it is has a nicer vibe than Oxford Street.

Top Tip! There’s also a terrific fish and chip shop here – Rock & Sole Plaice on Endell Street – which is a great stop if you want some grub at this point. Plus Timberyard Coffee on Seven Dials is also highly recommended as a stop-off if needed!

Are you tired of looking at shops yet? If you are, find a nice pub around Covent Garden and settle down for a rest. The Lamb & Flag on Rose Street is a good place as it’s quirky and ancient – it’s just usually busy but it’s worth a look, for the fact Dickens drank there if nothing else.

If you’re not totally spent up, let’s head back to Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus and then on to Regent’s Street – the slightly posher, shorter sister of Oxford Street. You’ll find higher-end brands here – Anthropologie, Apple Store – as well as kiddie fave, Hamleys. We’d suggest walking up to Great Marlborough Street and spending time in the beautiful Liberty, before checking out Carnaby Street (not quite as cool as it was in the 60s…) for a final end to your shopping excursion.

Top Tip! Now you can have a rest. Head to the amazing Courthouse Hotel on Great Marlborough Street and enjoy a cocktail either on their roof terrace (if it’s open and it’s not raining) or in The Bar, where you can sip some expensive drinks in an old jail cell (the hotel used to be a magistrate’s court).

Food for thought!

We reckon you shouldn’t waste too much time on lunch today. Find a Pret A Manger or an M&S and grab a sarnie; if the weather’s good, you can even eat it outside (but don’t count on it). Or if you’re in one of the museums, try their cafe – the V&A’s restaurant is a lovely space for a quick bite to eat, for example. Find a nearby pub and enjoy a quick pint and a toastie – if you can wander off the beaten track a bit, you can no doubt find a less touristy place for a cheeky wine and a plate of decent scran.

Saturday Evening

Dinnertime! We love these places to eat – they’re all special enough to feel luxe, but not so pricey that they’ll mean you have to be penniless on Sunday.

Brasserie Zedel, Piccadilly

Have a drink in the glam Bar Américain before heading into the main dining room and revelling in the art deco decor and incredibly well-priced French food. Reservations are limited, so you might have to queue for a table, but if you get there early enough, it’s well worth it. Upstairs is a smaller café, which is great for a lunchtime stop if you’re in Piccadilly.

Terroirs, Charing Cross

My favourite restaurant in London – amazing small plates of French food and wine, all served up in a buzzy, chic wine bar atmosphere. Try and sit upstairs to people watch, or snuggle up in the cellar downstairs for a more romantic dinner. You can’t book, so get to William IV Street early.

Pizza Pilgrims, Soho

The best pizza in London, bar none. This is just simply amazing dough, sauce, cheese and toppings – the pie with nduja sausage on it is incredible. The Dean St branch is the one we usually go to. Plus they serve Aperol – there’s nothing here not to like.

Andrew Edmunds, Soho

When I got my first job in London, my new boss took me here for a celebratory lunch. Talk about setting the bar high. Andrew Edmunds is the most incredible little spot in Soho, tucked down Lexington Street in an 18th-century townhouse. The food and atmosphere is perfect. One for special occasions… and you can drink at The Sun And 13 Cantons pub afterwards if you like.

The Seashell, Marylebone

The poshest fish and chips in London. Lots of people claim to serve the ‘best’ fish and chips in town but nowhere does it like The Seashell. They also do loads of great starters, excellent fish dishes and have a good wine list, too.

Ippudo, Soho

We'd have to recommend one Japanese place. Ippudo is the best ramen in London and it's in a good central spot too. The ramen has wonderful flavours and they do great cocktails, too. 

Sunday Morning

How are your heads? If you’re feeling okay, it’s time to head out east for a morning of marketeering.

We really like the gritty, popular Brick Lane market which combines touts and tourists, goods spread out on the pavement, stalls selling street food and trendy / hipster life vying with trad London. It’s a great place for a wander and a gawp. Loads of curry houses here too, so if you fancy that for your Sunday lunch, take your pick – we’ve eaten here lots of times and never had a bad Indian! The restaurant guys will hail you as you walk past, so literally take your pick from what’s on offer.

Old Spitalfields market is just across from Brick Lane as well, so if you fancy a more ‘sanitised’ shopping experience, this is the one for you – it’s a lovely old market space revamped with plenty of cool shops, chain restaurants like Leon and a nice vibe.

Top Tip! Once you’ve tooled around (or before) the markets, head into Beigel Bake on Brick Lane for the freshest, warmest, chewiest bagels with smoked salmon or salt beef and a cup of tea. This is a real London institution – everyone remembers their first ‘beigel’.

Sunday Afternoon

If you’re not going for a curry on Brick Lane, then it’s time to take a wander south of the river. If you want to work up an appetite for your lunch, then stroll down from Spitalfields towards Monument, crossing through Aldgate on your way. This is a great walk because you can stroll by some lovely old churches on your way towards the river, and also stop off at two of our favourite spots in the city – St Dunstan In The East churchyard garden, and Monument – which is, aptly, the monument to the destruction wrought by the Great Fire of London is 1666.

Top Tip! Simply head down Middlesex Street from Spitalfield market to Aldgate, then turn right onto Aldgate High Street which turns into Fenchurch Street. Hang a left down Mincing Lane and St Dunstan is on your right. This beautiful garden is a lovely spot for a rest and for a chance to enjoy the ruined church walls overcome with vines and creepers. I bet you’ll have it pretty much to yourselves on a Sunday, too.

Then head along Lower Thames Street (quickly, as it’s a boring, busy road) until you arrive at Monument. Admire the graceful column designed by Sir Christopher Wren from the ground but, more excitingly, climb up the 311 steps for some cracking views across the City.

Hungry yet? If you are, then cross over London Bridge to Southwark Street and The Breakfast Club, which does a fabulous all-day brunch on weekends (think hashes, eggs benedict, pancakes…). Or if you want a more trad Sunday lunch, check out Roast in Borough Market which does all the meaty goodness you could possibly want. Roast is pricey, so maybe for special occasions only!

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Sunday Afternoon / Evening

Getting tired yet? If you are, then we recommend you take an amble along the South Bank, just admiring the views across to the north bank of the river, and maybe popping into a couple of riverfront pubs along the way. But if you want to keep up the pace, head along to Tate Modern for a hit of modern art (and if you don’t at least pop your heads into the giant Turbine Hall, you’re missing out on a piece of incredible urban architecture). Or book tickets to go on The London Eye, which is a perennial favourite with visitors and does give you great views of London (especially the Houses of Parliament) from its slowly rotating big-wheel capsules.

From the Eye, wander back across the river via Hungerford Bridge and stroll up to Trafalgar Square to take a peek at Nelson’s Column and the giant lions at its base. From there, you can take your pick of restaurants for dinner – if you’re hungry that is – maybe head over to Maiden Lane from Trafalgar Square and choose from one of the decent eateries there. There’s a great branch of Polpo here, which serves up some delicious Venetian ‘tapas’ (cicchetti), or maybe try the Thai Pot on Bedfordbury, or Shoryu Ramen at the bottom of Regent's Street. 

And then you can have a rest. You’ve seen about as much as you can see of London in 48 hours, we reckon…

*All prices correct as of March 2016

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Pop into the incredible Wallace Collection on Manchester Square on your way to Marylebone High Street. It’s a free, charming collection of ephemera and has a beautiful restaurant in the atrium too – perfect for a coffee and a chance to rest your weary feet.

Simply head down Middlesex Street from Spitalfield market to Aldgate, then turn right onto Aldgate High Street which turns into Fenchurch Street. Hang a left down Mincing Lane and St Dunstan is on your right. This beautiful garden is a lovely spot for a rest and for a chance to enjoy the ruined church walls overcome with vines and creepers. I bet you’ll have it pretty much to yourselves on a Sunday, too.

LeaveLondonBehind_secret_gardens-3.jpg

If you get a bit tired of all the museums, then take a wander up to Kensington High Street and across to Holland Park. This is quite the prettiest park in London, especially if you head into the Kyoto Garden. This is a little Japanese oasis in the middle of the city; usually serene and peaceful. Calm your mind here before you head back to raid another one of the city’s treasure-houses of thought.

If you get a bit tired of all the museums, then take a wander up to Kensington High Street and across to Holland Park. This is quite the prettiest park in London, especially if you head into the Kyoto Garden. This is a little Japanese oasis in the middle of the city; usually serene and peaceful. Calm your mind here before you head back to raid another one of the city’s treasure-houses of thought.

Look out for Leave London Behind secret garden guide

The Changing of the Life Guards is actually loads better than the Guards down at Buck Palace in our opinion – you’re closer to the soldiers, it’s less busy, and there are horses involved, which is always awesome.

Westminster Abbey: If you don’t fancy paying to go in, then keep on strolling down Victoria Street until you come across Westminster Cathedral. This is really one of London’s great secrets – a beautiful cathedral church, 10 mins walk from the Abbey, with a fantastic viewing tower. Pay £6 and climb 64 metres for the best view of London. The good news is, it’s usually pretty quiet up here – everyone else is too busy messing about in the Abbey, so you might have the place to yourselves!