This past weekend, a few friends (ex-coworkers from my Deloitte days) visited me in London. I love hosting friends, because it also gives me a perfect excuse to explore my own city. My biggest regret while living in DC and NYC was not taking advantage of the amazing attractions both cities offered. I tried too hard to be a cool, jaded local and avoided "tourist traps" whenever possible. I vow to not make the same mistake with London. As long as I call this city home, I hope to never lose the sense of excitement and adventure that visitors have when exploring a new locale.
I've created a rough 2.5 day itinerary based on our weekend. Why 2.5? Assuming you take a day off work, most flights from the US depart Thursday evening and arrive first thing in the morning on Friday. To make the most of the weekend, you will then likely take a red-eye flight back on Sunday night. If you're not a masochistic traveler, consider extending your trip for a day...or three. Additionally, many people connect through London before traveling throughout continental Europe.
Obviously, you will need much more than 2 days to explore all of London. These are just a few ideas to help you get started. Click on the points-of-interest in the map or read further below to learn more about each stop!
A. Black Truffle: After a long, trans-atlantic flight, you will probably be craving a bite to eat. Black Truffle perfectly fits the bill because the food is filling yet not too indulgent. You can't go wrong with one of the daily, toasted sandwiches. The deli is on a cute street in Belsize Park*, so grab an outdoor seat if available. *If you're not staying in the neighborhood (with me!) this location may not make as much sense..
B. Primrose Hill Park: If the weather is nice, head up to the top of Primrose Hill Park, where you will be greeted by unbeatable views of the London skyline. The neighborhood just north of the park has tons of character. Time permitting, walk up Regent's Park Road towards Chalk Farm tube station to check out some of the local shops.
C. Westminster Abbey: Take the tube from Chalk Farm down to Westminster. This will put you right on the doorsteps of Parliament, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. Join the long but fast moving queue to visit the abbey. The high entrance fee is definitely worth it. The free audio tour guides you through the church, which is perhaps one of the best representations of the country's long history. Countless famous figures are buried at Westminster Abbey.
D. Somerset House: From Westminster, take a very quick tube ride up to Temple. Walk west on Victoria Embankment until you reach the riverside entrance of Somerset House. You can check out the various rotating exhibitions that are housed here at any given time. Otherwise, head towards the massive courtyard or terraced restaurant. In the courtyard, find a table outside and grab some food, coffee and a bottle of wine at Fernandez & Wells.
E. London Zoo Lates: During the summer, The London Zoo stays open every Friday evening for Zoo Lates. As silly as it sounds, the event is highly recommended as the zoo is filled with food stalls, bars, outdoor performances and activities. It's oddly fun staring at a monkey while downing a pint. Note that tickets MUST be purchased in advance as the event always sells out. You can choose to take a waterbus from Camden Lock to the zoo, which is a relaxing way to see the canal en route.
F. The Pembroke: Zoo Lates ends at 10:00 PM. At this point, you have likely already consumed a few drinks. For another pint (or 2), head up to The Pembroke. This pub offers a fun yet relaxing environment including a great outdoor patio/garden.
G: Borough Market: On Saturday, head down south to Borough Market - one of the most popular and busiest outdoor markets in London. If you get there a bit earlier, you can avoid the massive crowds. However, no matter how large the crowds, you typically don't have to wait very long at any of the food stalls. Before you dive into the market itself, energize yourself by grabbing a coffee outside at Monmouth Coffee. In the market, take your time exploring all the stalls. For something more filling, I'd recommend the chicken wrap at the Wyndham House Poultry stall. While there, you should also pick up some cheese, charcuterie, fresh bread and wine to go.
H. Tate Modern: From Borough Market, walk down the South Bank towards Tate Modern - an imposing figure along the Thames. The museum is free and houses a good permanent collection as well as some interesting exhibitions. For those less inclined to explore the museum, find a spot right outside on the grass lawn. You can order a jug of Pimm's at the outdoor bar while grazing on your cheese and charcuteries from Borough Market.
I. Allpress Espresso Roastery: Time for a change of scenery! Head east to Shoreditch, or as my friend, Anabelle, would call it: The Williamsburg of London. After a busy (and boozy) morning, you're going to need a pick-me-up. Allpress is one of my favorite cafes and coffee roasters in London.
J. Dishoom: Before grabbing dinner, walk around the neighborhood as there are some great shops off the Shoreditch High Street Overground station. Laibor & Wait on Redchurch street is one of my favorites. For dinner, head to the Shoreditch outpost of Dishoom. The restaurant oozes character, and the modern Indian menu is inventive and diverse. For alternative itineraries, you can grab breakfast here or at the Covent Garden location. You can't go wrong with the Bacon Naan Roll.
K. Ace Hotel Shoreditch: Following dinner, head over to the new Ace Hotel off Shoreditch High Street. Like the New York Flatiron location, the hotel initially seems a bit too cool for it's own good. However, the lobby is surprisingly inviting and casual. Check out the lobby bar in the back for some inventive cocktails. If you have a short attention span and like to move locations frequently, you can head over to The Boundary Hotel, which has a great rooftop bar.
L. The Delaunay: A classic English breakfast is the perfect cure after a long night out. 2 of London's most famous breakfast institutions are The Wolseley and The Delaunay. Don't hesitate to stuff yourself on pastries, pancakes and a full English breakfast (eggs, beans, black pudding, sausage, toast).
M. Paul Smith Floral Street: London offers some great shopping, but you don't want to waste too much time on Regents Street at global flagships like Burberry. While Paul Smith can easily be found outside the UK as well, its flagship stores (including the Floral Street and Albermarle locations) are fun to visit. They have a great selection of men's suits and accessories.
N. Seven Dials: While in Covent Garden, I would recommend avoiding Covent Garden Market and Long Acre. The market and street are way too crowded and filled with chain stores like Gap and Muji. Instead, head up to Seven Dials, which is one of my favorite areas in the city centre. The name comes from the 7 streets (or "spokes") that extend out from the roundabout. There are tons of cool shops, restaurants and cafes in this area.
O. magMA: One of my favorite shops in the area is magMA books. This includes both the bookshop on 8 Earlham Street as well as the gift shop right around the corner on 16 Earlham Street. Both stores are stocked with some great art book, design magazines, gifts and accessories.
P. TAP No. 193: If you can't tell by now, I'm always up for a coffee pit stop. After exploring Covent Garden, head into the Soho neighborhood. Soho is perhaps best known for its nightlife, but the area also houses sound great independent shops, cafes and Michelin-starred restaurants. TAP No. 193 is one of my favorite coffee shops in the area. After walking around t all morning, you'll likely need to cool off a bit. Grab a cold brew iced coffee and take a short break from the heat.
Q. Liberty London: For some last minute shopping, head to Liberty London. You can easily spend hours here, so consider going earlier if you're a serious shopper. In addition to some standard international labels, Liberty also sells lesser known brands and their own in-house collection of printed fabrics. Even if you don't buy anything, the store itself is really unique with an all wood interior.