How To Explore London in 36 Hours

Two weeks ago my cousin and her boyfriend took the 24 hour journey from Australia to come visit us in the UK. They were arriving at Heathrow and rather than go straight to family time in the Midlands we decided to kick off their two months of travel with a quick jaunt around London Town.

With a little one’s birthday party coming up we only had 36 hours in which to enjoy the capital city. Not very long at all if you know London at all.

You see, I’m a Londoner. I was born in Greenwich, and spent at least a third of my life living there not to mention a lifetime of visiting family on a regular basis. So I am somewhat familiar with London.

That being said, like most Brits, I am guilty of ignoring the travel opportunities on my doorstep and so there are still plenty of places in London that I have yet to visit. {Confession: I still haven’t been inside the Tower of London.} When living in the city I was generally more interested in seeking out the more unknown secret parts of London. I made time for pop-ups, unusual exhibitions, new foodie opportunities and more. Sure, it was fun to take the bus to my part-time job in the West End. You never get bored of crossing the Thames – what a view. And walking from Charing Cross to Soho every morning to my office job was a real treat. I knew I was a lucky girl indeed.

And so, when planning our mini trip to London with our visitors I had to think carefully about how we used our time. Sure, it would be fun to show them the more unusual sights on London and I will get to that. But I knew that my visitors from Australia were super excited to see London, a city world famous for it’s historical significance, interesting architecture and pretty rad bridges. With that in mind we decided to approach our London outing from a total newcomer tourist perspective.

We wanted to show our visitors as much of a taste of London as we could in one short day and a half.

In order to do so we took the best option we could find – an open-top bus tour. A sure fire way to see as much of central London as possible in just a day.

Yey!

OK, before we get into the tour let’s start at the beginning.

Arriving in London

We arrived in London on the hottest and stickiest day of the year. It was scorchio! Just a short walk from Euston train station, we arrived at our hostel for the following couple of nights. We had picked to stay at Generator Hostel having had some recommendations on the tinterwebs (although, I’m afraid to say it might have been somewhat hyped as we probably wouldn’t rave about it quite so much). It was well locate in Bloomsbury so we jumped on the Piccadilly Line down to Heathrow to pick up the Australians.

Senate House ULUthe team

Once the emotional reunion in arrivals had been had we made our way back to the hostel, the Australians freshened up and we all trundled off down to Soho for dinner and a swift half. It was a relatively tame first night as our guests were pretty jetlagged and tired.

You can see the first part of our trip in video number 1:

After very little sleep that night we jumped out of bed pretty early to grab a rather tasty pastry and coffee for breakfast at the gorgeous Fork Deli on Marchmont Street.

Fully caffeinated we made our way down to Picaddilly and the short walk down Haymarket to the offices of The Original Tour London.

There we picked up our 24 hour tickets to go on any of their 6 bus routes as well as a city cruise boat ride and any of their 3 free walking tours. How anyone manages all of those in 24 hours I don’t know. There’s so much to do!

We chose to take the Yellow route which is the Original Tour route and comes with a live commentary. It covers most of the traditional landmarks that you’d hope to see in London and offered us a chance to show our guests a real taste of London.

We loved it!

On an Original London TourSt James PalaceSt Pauls CathedralLondon Skyscrapers

Despite the occasional drizzle (we did receive some complimentary ponchos, check out the video to watch Jason struggle with his!) we sat on the open-top deck at the top so we could get a great view of the city including all the landmarks such as Trafalgar Square, St James Palace, Marble Arch, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Westminster Bridge, St Paul’s Cathedral, The Shard, Tower Bridge … and so much more.

We spent a good couple of hours on the bus, enjoying the sights and listening to the interesting commentary before we jumped off the bus at the Tower of London.

As we were pushed for time we didn’t go inside the attraction but instead walked straight down to the pier to catch the City Cruise back up the river to Westminster.

Team LondonTraitors GateTate ModernCleopatras Needle

We also had another commentary on the boat as we went up the river and it was HILARIOUS! I laughed so much. The guy shared so many facts about London landmarks along the river and had a real British/Cockney sense of humour that was mostly lost of the other (foreign – sorry) tourists but caused me to laugh out loud for most of the journey. It was a lot of fun.

Once docked at Westminster we hotfooted it up to Green Park via the underground as we had a booked at the first ever Hard Rock Cafe on Piccadilly.

Now, I’ve never been to a Hard Rock Cafe before so I didn’t really know what to expect. Understandably, it’s incredibly popular with the tourists (hence why we chose to go there) but I never really understood why. UNTIL NOW!

The Hard Rock Cafe was one of the first places in London to offer American-style food in the UK back in 1971. Nowadays it’s something we are somewhat accustomed to, but back then it was something very new. They say it was one of the first places where social classes frequented the same restaurant, and I guess that might be believable given that music also transcends class.

Eric Clapton donated one of his guitars to the restaurant and so began the tradition of decorating with music memorabilia.

Hard Rock Cafe Club Sandwich

Hard Rock Cafe Vaults

The restaurant is was buzzing with people and music. We had a small booth table at the back of the restaurant where we enjoyed a fantastic slap-up meal of ribs, steak, sandwiches and burgers. All washed down with beer and milkshakes. It was tasty, good quality and super filling. We couldn’t even manage dessert. Although those milkshakes were particularly ice cream-y.

We also met the longest serving waitress who had been working at Hard Rock Cafe since 1971! How awesome is that. She’s met all sorts of famous people who have frequented the restaurant. We found out that Ringo Starr and his son had sat in our booth. Very cool lady indeed.

Inside the Hard Rock Vaults

After food we headed downstairs to the extra room to look around more of the memorabilia before we going across the street to the Hard Rock Cafe shop and ‘The Vault’ – a rock’n’roll museum housed in an old bank vault. We saw Madonna’s old costume, John Lennon’s handwritten lyrics, Jimi Hendrix’s guitar, Elvis Presley’s coat and so much more. It was fascinating.

Once fed and fulfilled we hopped back on another Original Tour bus this time on the Blue line and ended up in Knightsbridge. We crossed over the street and into one of the most famous shops in the world – Harrods. It’s a real experience within itself, even if you just visit the food hall, which is pretty much all I do every time I visit. Each room in the food hall is exquisitely decorate and filled with the very best food.

Harrods

It didn’t take long to get our Harrods fix before we decided to check out one of the many beautiful parks in London, so we walked over to Hyde Park to enjoy the last of the sunshine of the day and watch as folks enjoyed the Serpentine. A large glass of overpriced wine later and we ready for a late dinner so onwards to another part of London. This time Covent Garden where we hit up the Busaba Thai restaurant for green curry and Beer Lao. It’s one of our fave go-to restaurants in London, which is quite something for such foodies as ourselves.

You can watch the highlights from our epic day two here:

On day three we were due to head out of London and up to the Midlands to join family. But for one last bit of tourist fun we decided to get up early, check out, grab a quickie breakfast again (this time at Continental Stores) and head back down to the Original Tour offices to join the free walking tour.

Coffee Shop

To finish off our 36 hours in London we went on the Changing of the Guards walking tour. It was epic and highly recommended!

Horse Guards

Queens Guards

I won’t go into the details but the tour meant we got to see each part of the changing of the guards process instead of just going to Buckingham Palace and watching the guards stare at each other for 30 minutes. We saw the new horse guards arrive up at the aptly named HorseGuards. Then we hotfooted it down the Mall to watch the bearskin-hatted soldiers come out of St James Palace. Before quickly marching alongside them further down the Mall, taking a left turn through the bottom of St James Park and watching new guards come out of the barracks and march on to Buckingham Palace. It was epic! And so probably thought the thousands of other people that went down to see it. Honestly, I think doing the walking tour was the best way to experience and learn about the whole process. I’ll treasure that memory.

Awesome Wave

You can watch the highlights of day three here:

That’s it! Our 36 hours in London. It was a total whistlestop tour. We included as many of the best sights in as possible, sampled some incredible food, and had a hell of a lot of fun in the process.

Of course, there are a million of things we could do in London and I wish I could take my cousin to the markets, museums, villages and pop-ups. But I think that was a pretty good start.

What is YOUR favourite landmark in LONDON?

***

Many thanks to The Original Tour London and Hard Rock Cafe – as always, opinions are our own.

8 Responses

  1. Laura

    I work by St James’ Park and those buses always drive past. I’ve quite fancied going on one but have never got round to it. I love an informational tour.

    Laura x

    Reply
    • Elizabeth

      I’ll give you a wave next time we go on them. :-) It’s totally worth a go.

      Reply
  2. Caroline

    Sounds like a great 36 hours! I am going to London again on Sunday 2 days so will see how much I can cram in :-)

    Reply
  3. Mariyah

    I loved this post! Your videos are so much fun to watch and are very captivating! I’ve just moved to London a few months back, so I’m definitely still a tourist and you’ve given me quite a few good tips. I can’t wait to go out and explore as well, especially on the river cruise/tour. My husband and I got to go to the tower bridge for Valentine’s Day, and that was quite a sight!

    Hope you have an amazing time with Georgina and Jason!

    Ree x

    Reply
    • Elizabeth

      Thank you Ree, that means a lot to me. We have a lot of fun making those videos.

      Tower Bridge is a super romantic place for Valentine’s Day, how lovely.

      Reply

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