Vast, vibrant and vivacious: London is a city that can be visited again and again. There is simply too much in England’s capital city to take in during one trip, so we don’t suggest you try — instead, we’ve planned a perfect two-day itinerary to introduce you to the best sights, sounds and flavors that define the city’s culture.
Start as close to the action as possible by booking your stay at a centrally located hotel, such as the Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star The Savoy or Four-Star One Aldwych. The Savoy exudes old London charm; its history dates back to 1889, but there have been plenty of updates since then to keep this historic establishment up-to-date with its competitors. One Aldwych is also glamorous. It’s also especially fitting for art buffs — more than 400 unique works of art are displayed throughout the property as part of the hotel’s décor.
After you’ve checked in to your room and freshened up, your first stop should be the unparalleled British Museum, home to many spoils of Britain’s wide-ranging history. Check out the Elgin Marbles, a collection amassed by Lord Elgin in the 19th century that includes sculptures from the Parthenon in Athens, and don’t miss the Rosetta Stone and the Egyptian mummies. Once you’ve had your fill of history, head to Covent Garden. Take a stroll around the cobbled piazza and pop in to BB Bakery for tea and a macaron (or two!).
Walk off your snack with a meander through Soho to Andrew Edmunds for lunch. This is old Soho at its best and the seasonal menu and notable wine list (Grüner Veltliner, Châteauneuf-du-Pape) make it a place to linger. Don’t sit still for too long, though — London never does, and there’s plenty more to see.
In Trafalgar Square, there’s often something going on, from a world food festival to a public demonstration. Take in the atmosphere and look out for the world’s smallest police station tucked away in the southeast corner of the square. Nelson’s Column guards the square here, with four golden lions (perfect for picture taking) around its base. This monument commemorates the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, and the statue of Horatio Nelson at its top looks down Whitehall toward Westminster and Big Ben — a classic London view.
As evening approaches, head east to the shimmering Shard building, officially the tallest in Western Europe. At its summit is The View From The Shard, a viewing platform best enjoyed at sunset. Get up here before darkness descends to take in everything from within a 40-mile radius, then watch the sun sink and the skyscrapers of the city and Canary Wharf light up the night.
After such a busy day, you’ll no doubt be hungry. Luckily, your base hotel will have something to satiate you. The Savoy is home to a bevy of restaurants, including Savoy Grill and Simpson’s-In-The-Strand, plus a handful of bars (we recommend grabbing a glass of champagne at Beaufort Bar). One Aldwych, on the other hand, is where you’ll find the popular Axis at One Aldwych restaurant. For a truly relaxing way to end the evening, ask the concierge about the hotel’s Film & Fizz program. You’ll enjoy a three-course dinner from Axis and champagne while you watch a blockbuster movie from a comfy leather armchair.
The next morning, head out to Westminster for an early visit to Westminster Abbey before the crowds arrive. This 700-year-old building is the coronation church (and the location of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s 2011 wedding). It also has been the burial place of numerous important British figures; look out for the graves of Sir Isaac Newton, Geoffrey Chaucer, Charles Dickens and Lord Alfred Tennyson, plus almost every monarch from Henry III to George II.
Sticking with a royal theme, venture next to Buckingham Palace, the queen’s official residence. It’s impressive enough from outside, but inside, the State Rooms are something truly special and feel like half art gallery, half museum. Here, you’ll see priceless paintings, walk the Grand Staircase and check out the Throne Room.
After two big attractions, it’s time for lunch. Go west to Kensington for a meal at the peerless Dinner by Heston Blumenthal. Located at Four-Star Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, London, this restaurant serves a unique menu of historical British dishes for lunch on weekdays from noon to 2:30 p.m. Glass walls give diners a vista of the kitchen and the quirky menu will keep you guessing with its “meat fruit” and “tipsy cake.” Don’t be afraid to ask staff for advice — the service here is second-to-none.
After lunch, spend some time soaking up Kensington’s stylish atmosphere. If you’re into shopping, you’ll love exploring Harrods department store and the temple to fashion that is Harvey Nichols. Or, you could head into Chelsea to shop the boutiques of Kings Road.
On your final evening, there’s nothing more perfectly London than dinner and a show. Head back to the West End for the pre-theater menu at The Cavendish, which changes quarterly with the seasons and can be served in a hurry before taking your seat at the hottest show to open here in years, The Book of Mormon at The Prince of Wales Theatre. Telling the tale of two Mormon missionaries sent to Africa to convert the local population, this laugh-out-loud show from Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone will get your toes tapping. And, it finishes early enough to stop by The Queen’s Head pub afterward for a proper English pint.
Photos Courtesy of Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, Visit Britain and The View From The Shard