One and a half days in London

36 hours in London, 1.5 days in London, London (Photo © Reid Bramblett)
36 hours 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

13:00

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.

13:30
★★☆
St. Paul's Cathedral (Photo by Loco Steve)

Christopher Wren’s architectural Renaissance masterpiece has stupendous views from its famous dome, and famous Brits buried in the crypt.

 
15:00

Pop into the tourism information centre just south of St Paul's to gather what intel you can on London.

15:01
The new main Tourist Information Centre at St. Paul's (Photo by Oxyman)

Tourism information offices and desks in London

 
15:15

Cross the Millennium Bridge to Southwark.

15:30
★☆☆
The Millennium Bridge at St Paul's (Photo by Yuan Hsueh)

This modern pedestrian suspension bridge between the City and Southwark has quickly become a beloved landmark

 
15:30

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.

15:35
★★☆
Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, London (Photo by Diego Delso)

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

 
16:30

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.

16:35
★★☆
Olafur Eliasson's the Weather Project (2003) installation at the Tate Modern (Photo © Reid Bramblett)

Fantastic modern art museum in a massive former power plant, with blockbuster exhibitions and a fab gift shop and bookstore

 
18:00

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.

(If you are going to the Globe for a 7:30pm play, you will have just enough time to raise a glass or two; if your show is at 6pm, just come here afterwards.)

Time: An hour (more if you aren't headed to play)

18:10
★★☆
The Anchor Bankside (Photo by Ewan Munro)

Favorite Southwark pub filled with cozy snugs and literary associations just a block from Shakespeare's Globe

 
19:05

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

19:15
★★★
Groundlings pay just £5 to hear a play at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre (seats start at £15) (Photo © Reid Bramblett)

The play's the thing... to do at Shakespeare's Globe, a faithful recreation of a genuine Elizabethan theater in the round.

 

London's greatest hits

08:15

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.

08:45
★★★
The Tower of London (Photo by Duncan)

The ancient Thameside castle at the heart of London, where London began, ravens roam, and Yoeman Warders guard the Crown Jewels

 
11:00

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.

11:20
★★★
Henry VII's Lady Chapel in Westminster Abbey (Photo by Herry Lawford)

London's great Gothic abbey is packed with the tombs and monuments of British monarchs and some the world's most famous playwrights, poets, scientists, and other notables

 
12:50

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.

Transit: Walk.

13:00
★☆☆
The Palace of Westminster by the Thames at night (Photo by Maurice)

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)

 
13:03

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.

13:30
★★★
Lely's Venus and some lamassus at the British Museum (Photo by Jorge Royan)

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

 
15:30

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.)

15:50
★★★
A room at London's National Gallery (Photo by Alex)

England's greatest repository of Old Masters paintings, with works by Leonardo, Botticelli, Rembrandt, Monet, Degas, and more

 
17:30

Have an early-ish dinner, then spend the evening doing whatever floats your boat (some ideas are below)

Time: 90 min.

17:31
★★★
A dining room at Rules, London's oldest restaurant (Photo courtesy of the restaurant)

Recommended restaurants, pubs, cafes, and other dining options in London

 
19:14

For your evening plans, choose one of the following:

Sorry. Nothing fits that criteria.

19:15

Option 1: Attend a play or a show.

19:30
★★★
A play at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre (Photo © by Reid Bramblett)

London theatre, music, and other performance venues

 
19:15

Option 2: Indulge in a pub crawl (an early play may leave you time to pub-crawl a bit afterward).

19:30
★★★
Taps at a London pub (Photo by Robert S. Donovan)

Take a pub crawl through London, bending your elbow at historic and storied pubs and sampling Real Ales and London porters

 
19:15

Option 3: Just drink in the street acts and nighttime crowds milling around Leicester Square, Piccadilly, and Covent Garden.

19:30
★☆☆
A lone busker entertains the passing crowds in Leicester Square (Photo by Garry Knight)

A bustling plaza of buskers, tourists, theatre-goers, and pub crawlers at the heart of London's West End

 
What the grey and blue time bubbles mean

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.
 
Activities, walks, & excursions tours