How to Make the Most of a Short Stopover in London

Photo by Camilo Rueda López via Flickr

Photo by Camilo Rueda López via Flickr

London may be England's largest city, but that doesn't mean you can't conquer it in a day -- or a day and a half. Sure, there are quality things to do around every corner, but instead of viewing a limited amount of time to absorb it all in as flat-out overwhelming, we like to see it as opportunity. And thanks to an ever-efficient subway system (locals call it "The Tube"), you'll be able to zip around in no time -- ust be sure to check out our guide on the different fares.

So whether you've got a quick stopover, long layover, or just a day trip to London planned, we've got you covered with the perfect itinerary below. 

Afternoon, Day One: Walk Along the Thames and Drink a Pint

Photo by PapaPiper via Flickr

Photo by PapaPiper via Flickr

Get the "tourist" out of your system with a walk along the Thames. Start at Westminster Abbey and stroll by Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament before heading across the Westminster Bridge. Once across, you'll probably want to head toward the London Eye and follow the path along the water. Over the course of an hour's walk, you'll pass a reconstructed version of Shakespeare's Globe Theater, the London Bridge, and a picture-worthy scene at Tower Bridge. 

If it's the weekend and you're hungry (or just fancy a wander for your eyes and nose), swing by the Maltby Street Market at the LASSCO Ropewalk where a collection of food vendors serve up local bites. There are also plenty of places to pop in for a drink, but we recommend holding out until you reach The Mayflower, a 16th-century pub overlooking the water, and (as history would have it) the original mooring dock for the Mayflower -- yes, that Mayflower. Raise a pint to the oldest riverfront pub in London.  

Evening, Day One: Grab Dinner and a Show in the West End

Photo by Steve Collis via Flickr

Photo by Steve Collis via Flickr

Since Central London is home to the stellar theater productions of London's West End (equivalent to Broadway in New York City), this is a musn't-miss for theater lovers. Popular shows often sell out far in advance, but you can sometimes get last-minute discounted tickets on the day-of through venders, like TKTS off Leicester Square. Plays or other productions often star famous, well-known actors and actresses, so it's worth a gamble if you haven't heard of the production, but recognize a name. 

Central London is a restaurant mecca; Mayfair is home to more Michelin-starred spots than anywhere else in London, and great pre-theater menu options can be found all over Covent Garden. It's also the city's hub for authentic Asian food, and since you're in a hurry to make your show, we suggest heading over to the multi-story Wong Kei on Wardour Street in Leicester Square (a five-minute walk from the TKTS counter), where the bristly staff is just as much part of the experience as the tasty bang-for-your-buck dishes. 

Nighttime, Day One: Dance Off the Dumplings and Sip a Nightcap at New Heights

Photo by Michael Shehan Obeysekera via Flickr

Photo by Michael Shehan Obeysekera via Flickr

Congratulations! You're already in one of the city's best nightlife spots thanks to your theater stop, so you don't have to go far. You can find your choice of dive bars, English pubs (beware, some still close before midnight), dance clubs, LGBT clubs, and cocktail bars throughout Central London. Dance off those dumplings at Tiger Tiger, be seen with a fancy cocktail at the trendy Dirty Martini, and grab a nightcap at the 24-hour, 40-story-high Duck and Waffle before jumping in a traditional black cab back to your hotel.  

Morning, Day Two: Try a Full English and Check Out the City's Best Museums

Photo by G =] via Flickr

Photo by G =] via Flickr

Snagging yourself a proper, full English breakfast -- fried toast, grilled tomatoes, fried mushrooms, fried eggs, sausage, bacon rashers, and baked beans -- may not be good for your heart, but its a delicious, English way to warm the soul. You can get your hands on one of these at almost any corner pub or restaurant, but we say the greasier the spoon, the better. After you've gorged yourself on the national brekkie, set your sights for the Victoria & Albert Museum. It's not the Tate or the National Gallery, but most locals worth their weight in steak pies will tell you that this smaller museum -- which has hosted exhibits featuring Alexander McQueen, Chihuly, and other decorative arts from the ages -- is where it's at. 

Leave yourself enough time to poke around next door at London's fabulous Natural History Museum. The best part? Admission to both museums is free. 

Afternoon, Day Two: Sip Afternoon Tea, Climb Primrose Hill, and Get Lost in Camden Market

Photo by simon.hedge via Flickr

Photo by simon.hedge via Flickr

Head toward Marylebone's Pantry 108 for a tipple of afternoon tea. You'll get a refillable, triple-tiered selection of tea sandwiches, baked goods, and desserts, plus a personal pot of brew. Hosted in the upscale Marylebone Hotel, this spot calls for "smart-casual" attire as you participate in the traditional English activity. 

Next, walk off some of the scones by talking a stroll through the nearby Regent's Park, up to Primrose Hill. Take a breather (and maybe some pics) while you look out over the city skyline before heading over to the craziness of Camden Lock's indoor/outdoor market. We doubt you'll be hungry, but if you are, there are plenty of food stalls to grab a snack at while you weave through the zigzagging paths of the market stalls, selling everything from spices to handbags to art. 

Evening, Day Two: Ride a Canal Boat to Little Venice and Eat Your Heart Out

Photo by Sana Khan via Flickr

Photo by Sana Khan via Flickr

If you can find your way out of Camden Lock Market, we suggest heading to the water and jumping on a London Water Bus boat tour to Little Venice. You'll float past the backend of the London Zoo and along Regent's Canal before you get dropped off among the many narrow boats docked in Little Venice. Once you're there, grab a coffee from the Canal Cafe and take a short, picturesque walk along the water. If you've got time, learn more about the canals at the quirky London Canal Museum or just scope out some canal-side places to snag dinner. 

Nighttime, Day Two: Drink a Final Pint and Zoom to Heathrow From Paddington Station

Photo by The Aurora Hunter via Flickr

Photo by The Aurora Hunter via Flickr

Once you've tucked away your last meal in London, it's about time for a goodbye pint. There are tons of bars and pubs within a 15-minute walk of Little Venice, so pick one with the best farewell vibe, order a pint (or two), and savor the moment. Don't stray too far in your search because you'll need to head back to Paddington Station in order to catch a train to the airport. Luckily, the Heathrow Express only takes about 15 minutes, so you'll be able to maximize your last few hours in London. Just be sure to grab a seat -- the last train leaves at 11:23pm. 

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