One and a half days in London
How to make the most of a day and a half in London
This itinerary assumes you are, as are many visitors, just arriving in London (on an overnight flight, or a train or car from somewhere else in Britain), so it picks up after lunch on the afternoon of the first day. You could easily swap most of those afternoon activities to become morning activities on Day 2 if your 36 hours have you leaving London midday on Day 2 to go elsewhere.
From modern masters to Shakespeare's stage
Spend the morning landing, getting though customs and immigration (takes forever at Heathrow), getting downtown, and checking into your hotel. Resist the urge to nap! Splash water on your face, change out of your grungy travel clothes, and head out to grab some lunch and explore.
Since we are starting in The City today—and there are precious few good lunch spots there—go ahead and grab lunch near your hotel.
Then head for St Paul's Cathedral. Be sure to visit the tomb in the basement, and climb the dome for splendiferous views over London.
Time: 90 min.
Transit: Circle to St Paul's, or Circle/District to Mansion House.
Pop into the tourism information centre just south of St Paul's to gather what intel you can on London.
Cross the Millennium Bridge to Southwark.
Walk just east of the bridge to the famous Shakepeare's Globe Theatre, a delighfully accurate replica of an Elizabethan-era performance space. Spend 20 minutes or so perusing the museum exhibition on the history of the Globe and of London theatre while you wait to join the next tour around the theater itself.
TIP: If there is a play on tonight (usually at 6pm or 7:30pm), I highly recommend arranging for tickets ahead of time (or you can play it by ear and see if there are any left when you stop in). Then plan to return to the Globe for the show after you visit the Tate, which is next.
Time: 60 min.
Even if you can't attend a performance, this painstaking replica of an Elizabethan theater in the round is worth a visit just to see it and learn more about the history of British theatre
Retrace your steps back to the foot of the Millennium Bridge and the Tate Modern, a fabulous museum of modern and contemporary art in an old power station. Make sure you save time for the excellent museum shop (good spot for gifts).
Time: 85 min.
Time to turn around yet again and walk back past the Globe to enjoy a drink (and maybe dinner) in The Anchor Bankside, an historic pub where Shakespeare himself once got sloshed and many other famed Londoners have enjoyed a tipple.
Time: An hour (more if you aren't headed to play)
A play's the thing! Take in a play as the bard intended it to be heard Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. (As mentioned above, some shows start at 6pm, so adjust accordingly.)
Time: 2–3 hours
London's greatest hits
Get up early and be at the Tower of London before it opens 9am (it helps to buy skip-the-line tickets ahead of time) so you can get on the first Yeoman Warder tour of this bastion of London's Middle Ages.
Time: 110 min. (The tour lasts an hour. Budget another 30 minutes to tour the White Tower, and 20 minutes for the Crown Jewels.)
Transit: District or Circle to Tower Hill.
Head to the famed Westminster Abbey to pay homage to the British monarchs, English poets, and other notables buried inside.
Just before or after your visit (depending on how hungry you are), grab some lunch on the go. I recommend a quick sandwich at the kiosk by the Abbey's West Towers, though if you need a sit-down break, take 30 minutes to dine in the Abbey's Cellarium.
Time: 90 min. (70 min. for the Abbey, 20 min. for lunch. Not really enough time in Westminster, but we have a lot to do today.)
Transit: District or Circle to Westminster.
Make sure you hop the Tube at Westminster station so you have a chance to see the iconic Elizabeth Tower of the Parliament building—which most people call "Big Ben" (technically, that's just the name of one of the bells inside the tower). Stick around long enough to hear it to ring the hour with its famous Cambridge Chimes tune.
Time: 10 min.
London's iconic exclamation point, the clock tower housing Big Ben, sprouts from the honey-hued complex of be-spired 1840 buildings where British Parliament meets (and you can attend sessions)
Make your way to the British Museum. You'll only have time for the highlights—Rosetta Stone, Egyptian mummies, Elgin Marbles, etc.
Time: 105 min. (Budget 75 minutes for the collections, and another 15 minutes at the awesome museum shop.)
Transit: District or Circle to Embankment, then Northern to Tottenham Court Road.
One of the greatest museums on the planet, a repository of astounding artifacts from throughout human history all around the globe, from the Rosetta Stone to the Parthenon Marbles to an Easter Island moai and much, much, much more
Walk through the Covent Garden neighborhood to the north side of Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery, filled with Old Master paintings.
Time: 90 min.
Transit: Walk. (You could take the Tube—Northern to Charing Cross—bit it's not far, and you really should see some of London's streets.)
Have an early-ish dinner, then spend the evening doing whatever floats your boat (some ideas are below)
Time: 90 min.
For your evening plans, choose one of the following:
Sorry. Nothing fits that criteria.
Option 1: Attend a play or a show.
Option 2: Indulge in a pub crawl (an early play may leave you time to pub-crawl a bit afterward).
Option 3: Just drink in the street acts and nighttime crowds milling around Leicester Square, Piccadilly, and Covent Garden.
Since this itinerary takes into account travel time (walking, taking the Tube, driving, whatever):
- The times in grey circles are the times by which you need to start moving in order to go to the next stop.
- The times in blue circles are the times by which you should arrive at that stop to begin the fun.