50 Hours in London
Updated: Sep 15, 2022
Did you know that the London Underground is the oldest metro system in the world? When you look at it alongside the humble Glasgow Subway system, you realise how vast London really is.
In 2019, there were 8.98 million people living in London, that’s more than the number living in New York. Now, I’m no Francis Bourgeois but the prospect of going to London and getting to explore on the Underground was super exciting for me!
Since the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic in 2020, holidays were very much not on the table for me. We had just visited Verona shortly before the first lockdown, but with subsequent travel restrictions being put in place and my passport expiring it just wasn’t a priority.
Fast forward two years and still being very much married to my work, I definitely felt like I could burn out – so when my Mum suggested a girlie weekend to get away from everything I positively leapt at the chance.
Like I said, my passport is pretty close to expiry and my mum’s went AWOL so we were limited to staying in the UK; but when we floated the idea of catching a show or two while on our trip, that was it pretty much decided upon.
As the blog title will suggest, we spent 50 hours in London and our travel and accommodation was pretty budget but not horrendous. We did go a little more expensive in some of the places we chose to eat and drink, but we hadn’t been away together in a long time so were happy to splurge a little.
How to Get There
Working on a budget, we knew roughly when we wanted to travel and what time of day would suit us best – we managed to find pretty good budget flights with easyJet. As with most of these things, you’ll be able to bring your costs down by being super flexible; for us this meant flying into a different airport than we’d be leaving from – not a total hassle but just something you need to bear in mind for your return to ensure you don’t head to the wrong airport on autopilot (no pun intended!).
Unfortunately, our return flight was cancelled, so this wasn’t going to be a concern for us! Instead, I managed to find us a train home for roughly the same price and honestly – I far prefer travelling by train, it’s less stressful and the time can be utilised far better.
TIP: Unless absolutely necessary, widen your search to nearby destinations to increase your chances of bagging a bargain!
We searched for all London airports that we could fly to from Glasgow Airport, and then on our return searched all of the major train stations like Victoria, Euston and Kings Cross – I’d only ever travelled from Glasgow to Euston, but by travelling Kings Cross to Glasgow Queen Street with a swap over in Edinburgh we managed to shave a chunk off the total price.
TIP: Try using websites like Skyscanner or Trainline to find the cheapest possible options.
Where to Stay
So like I said, I was away with my Mum and I’m super lucky that we’re really close which meant that rather than booking separate rooms or forking out on a deluxe/family room we just went on the hunt for a double room for the best price. It’s handy that my mum and I are both awful to share a room with – I sleep talk and grind my teeth; and my mum snores loudly enough that I used to have to go and wake her from my bedroom – on a different floor – to threaten her with violence through the night. So we were very much on the same page.
I spent a good few days trawling Hotels.com, Tripadvisor and Google Maps to find something that matched our criteria.
Close to an underground station
Less than £100/night
A private bathroom for the room
Generally decent reviews
I live by the mantra that a hotel room is somewhere to sleep and shower, so not something I feel the need to drop a small fortune on, but I appreciate that others have different viewpoints on that.
I finally settled on the Premier Inn Hub located in Spitalfields. The thing with a Premier Inn is that you always know what you’re getting in terms of comfort, cleanliness and general quality it was a bonus that we were less than a ten-minute walk from Liverpool Street Station which is a huge transport hub.
I’ll come clean in that I made a minor error and booked us a ‘Compact Room’ – and honestly it doesn’t get much more compact than this. The room was like a little self-contained capsule, the bathroom was within a frosted glass cube with the bed taking up much of the rest of the room.
Whilst being compact, the room design was really innovative – the bed was against one wall (a pain in the neck when my mum needed to climb over me to get to the loo!), but at the bottom was a desk you could pull out from the bed to give you surface space if needing to fire up your laptop whilst staying. Another really exciting addition was a tech panel above the bed that allowed you to manage the lighting and temperature within the room from the comfort of your bed which eradicates the age-old fight over who needs to get up to put the lights off.
We were able to check in early and found the hotel staff were super friendly and more than keen to assist us with any questions we had. There’s a lobby bar and restaurant, we only used this at night to take some beers up to our room but it’s super handy to have.
Another great feature of the hotel was their amenity vending machine, my mum came away without a phone charger and we were able to pick one up in this – there was also the option to purchase Covid protection kits, your usual condom selection and dental hygiene kits.
TIP: If you can afford to scrimp on floorspace you can save a pretty penny, we managed to stay here for around £89/night and honestly I would stay here again in a flash.
Where to Eat
Whilst in London my eyes were well and truly opened and – to an extent – my naivety exposed as I hadn’t appreciated just how expensive eating and drinking in London is! So we ended up spending a small fortune on food and drink, but as I said this was the first time we’ve been away together in a long time so I was quite happy to spend sensibly in nice places.
Here I’ve listed my favourite spots, what we tried and any information that you might find helpful.
This was our first stop when we arrived in London, I’m not a great traveller, especially when I’m hot and London was a tropical 19 degrees when we arrived.
We were too early to head to our hotel so decided to get to the general area and stop somewhere for a drink and grab some food to kill a little bit of time. We settled on Eataly due to being a huge venue and being pretty full, that’s always a good sign!
Honestly though, afterwards we were both pretty confused by the whole system. It was set up almost like a supermarket with different areas for different foods, but none of these sections spoke to one another. My mum headed off into the depths of the shop(/café?) to pick us up some food and I went to a huge oval counter with glass cases with cakes and every Italian sweet you can think of – along with a barista set-up there was a full bar too, however when trying to order a pink gin and an Aperol Spritz I was looked at as though I’d grown a second head and told to head to one of the other bars.
I decided ‘Bugger it’, and told my mum we’d just go somewhere for a cocktail once we’d ditched our bags.
This was really expensive for what it was; we tried a tomato and basil penne and an aubergine ravioli but the penne in particular was pretty bland and the portion size wasn’t great.
Eataly is maybe somewhere to head to if you’re looking for a specific ingredient or to grab bits and pieces for a picnic, but I don’t think I’d head back for my lunch again.
Rail House Café
On the train from London Gatwick into the city centre we scoured Google Maps and countless London-based guides to find a pre-theatre offer that would cater to my mum being vegetarian and me not eating much in the way of seafood (why are they desperate to feed me mussels?!), eventually we decided to head to the Rail House Café.
Just a short wander from Victoria Station, this was in a short street teeming with bars and restaurants – you know those spots where people are spilling out into the street and there’s a constant buzz of chatter? It’s like that.
Sitting outside, we didn’t get to fully appreciate the décor within the Café, it was quirky and genuinely stunning – I headed to the toilet after eating and it was a very modern take on what I think a steampunk train station would look like.
We opted for the set menu at £28/person which was incredible – but I mentioned I was with a vegetarian didn’t I?
We were in a rush due to booking theatre tickets – more on that later – so we went for the Express Tasting Menu which was incredible as it gave us the chance to try a whole range of dishes that we wouldn’t normally try.
We agreed that my mum could take both portions of the mac & cheese and I’d take the steak which balanced itself out nicely, but I did feel slightly guilty as I tucked into the equivalent of a small calf.
A real highlight was the black tahini butter which surprised me, it didn’t look particularly appetising but it was so good – the bread was on the hard side but palatable. The tempura broccoli was another real star within the meal, and of course, the cote de boeuf was incredible.
We also ordered a side of crispy okra as it’s one of my go-to things to order from my favourite Indian restaurant – this was coated in a spicy powder which was super hot but really tasty too.
We would have maybe opted for a dessert if we had more time, but unfortunately we were running to a tight deadline to make the theatre and so just got the bill.
In total we spent £82.13, which – as I’ve just calculated – was incorrect, unless they charge £10 per bottle of lemonade. I think our bill is out by maybe a tenner, so that’s maybe something to bear in mind.
The staff within the café were super helpful and friendly, dealing with the huge number of customers with a very cool and calm attitude. We’d been unable to charge our phones after travelling all day, and the host was only too happy to take our phones to charge them while we ate – hence no photos of our visit!
Would I return? Absolutely! This isn’t somewhere I’d go for a casual Tuesday-night dinner out, but for a nice meal before a trip to the theatre, this is ideal.
Maria’s Market Café
Located within Borough Market, Maria’s Café is a super understated spot for grabbing breakfast whilst out and about. We met up with my Mother-in-Law who stays less that half an hour away in Surrey, so that was an added bonus of our trip.
We’re a confusing food order, my MIL is gluten-free and my mum’s veggie so it’s not always super easy to find somewhere that can accommodate us all! We decided on Maria’s Café as they do enormous breakfast rolls guaranteed to soak up the copious amounts of cocktails we planned on downing. It isn’t just rolls you can pick up from the café, but I can assure you they’re absolutely cracking, you know those really large floury rolls that cover everything in a light dusting of powder?
I’d also like to share an honourable mention for the hash browns, literally the best I’ve ever eaten.
Maria’s Market Café is open Wednesday to Saturday and is the perfect unassuming spot to grab some food whilst having an enthusiastic catch up with loved ones.
I spent around £24 in here on three rolls, a diet coke, a pot of tea and a coffee – so in my books that’s a bargain.
Brick Lane Coffee Shop
This was an accidental find on our part, on our way back to the hotel later on Friday night we were looking for somewhere we could grab something as wee hadn’t eaten dinner. The smell from the café hit us first as we passed by, they sell waffles and crepes and the melted chocolate was intoxicating!
We managed to dive in just in time and were the final orders of the evening, while the café isn’t decked out to the nines and is pretty modest, the food is delicious.
We both ordered pesto, mozzarella and tomato paninis to take back to our hotel and eat in bed, but the staff couldn’t have been friendlier while we waited, the counters were full to the brim with stunning-looking home bakes, from cakes to brownies and pastries – they have it all!
The following morning we popped in for breakfast after checking out from our hotel and my mum ordered a veggie breakfast, everything came with one of my major nemesis’ – beans or mushrooms – so instead I had a pain au chocolate which if I’m honest, I’m still thinking about.
If you’re looking for quality and taste over aesthetics, Brick Lane Coffee Shop is somewhere you need to check out if you’re in the area. It’s just round the corner from Fashion Street – the irony of this was not lost on me as I wandered up and down – and a couple of minutes from the more upmarket and pricier Spitalfields Market.
Another accidental find, we had trudged by Spitalfields Market en-route to the hotel, laden with bags and with me complaining already about my sore feet and I spotted the swathes of artificial flowers and vowed we’d head back this way for a nosy.
After checking in, changing into something more comfy and applying more SPF (!), we headed back up towards Spitalfields Market – I’ll cover the market in more detail, but this is one of the bars we could grab a seat outdoors to enjoy some of the sun that’s all too rare in Glasgow.
Whilst popular for it’s food, we were very much just on the hunt for some cocktails and looking to celebrate our wee trip away. Remember when I said that we found some pretty expensive spots? Stay tuned.
Between us we tried:
We were around £56 for four cocktails, as each drink was £12/13 – back in Glasgow I’d have boked at the suggestion of paying that and I don’t even have the excuse of ‘Oh but Euros aren’t the same as pounds!’, by the end of the month I was cursing my scattercash ways. But do you know what, we really enjoyed it.
The place looks brilliant and we loved our drinks, we sat in the sun and we has a proper catch up as this was our first drink of the holiday.
Whilst here we got chatting to a couple of other tables – which I know is more down to individuals rather than the venue – but it just made our experience so much nicer.
This was pretty equidistant between Liverpool Street Station and the Premier Inn we’d been staying in, so it’s a really handy location and definitely worth popping into for one of their cocktails.
What to Do
Let's be honest, even without my suggestions; you'll never be short of things to do. I still have a list as long as my arm of things that I'm really keen still to do!
Okay, so when in London, heading to a show is a total must. I say this, but have been to London for work a few times and have spent my journey home lamenting no having seen one of the current performances.
Before booking our travel down to London I’d been keeping an eye on tickets to see Hamilton, I’ve been obsessed since it dropped on Disney Plus and for the longest time the only tickets available were with restricted view, but around three weeks before, a whole host of £20 tickets became available.
Yes, we were sat up in the gods and no, I couldn’t pick Alexander Hamilton out of a line-up, but getting to see such an iconic show for just £20 each was a real blessing.
On the other hand, whilst sat in Maria’s Café I was tasked with finding us a show for that evening. I was keen to see 2:22 after seeing so much hype surrounding it, but my mum isn’t keen on spooky or scary things so vetoed that, similarly I dashed her hopes of seeing Grease as I hate the film. We also decided not to see something either of us had already seen – this was more my mum’s choice, I’d go see Wicked again in a heartbeat!
In terms of affordability this left us with few options, as much as I love going to the theatre, I don’t think I’d pay more than £45 for a ticket and certainly not on the day. I’m an uncultured swine, shoot me.
On my hunt, I managed to find the final two tickets for The Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre, I’ll be frank and say that I wasn’t pure buzzing but my mum’s wee face lit up and her excitement was contagious.
And more than anything, I’m so, so glad she got to see it in London, and I’m glad I did too as it was incredible. Honestly, it blew everything else out of the park and I’m still thinking over different aspects of the costume and staging.
TIP: If you’re willing to risk it, you can hold out until the day to book tickets to snap up a bargain, or head to Leicester Square to grab their deals.
Our train home wasn’t until around 6pm on Saturday so we were keen to find something to use our time wisely – and not spend it in the pub. My mum suggested a bus tour, she’d done one years before so was pretty ambivalent but I’ve never done a formal one in London so was keen to book if we could.
It was quickly very clear that these are really ‘spenny so we trawled Wowcher until we found Tootbus.
I think the range of different buses are probably much of a muchness, you want to look for ones that offer an audio guide and if so, include complimentary headphones – unless you have your own.
Toot Bus has two different lines you can catch and you can conveniently jump on every 15 minutes or so – we headed to Grosvenor Gardens, a stones throw from Victoria Station.
We opted for the Yellow line first, taking in sights including St Paul’s Cathedral, Tower of London, Trafalgar Street and Hyde Park. We then hopped onto the Blue line and after spending 20 minutes in a traffic jam, decided to jump off in order to dive through Victoria and into the Underground via Kings Cross.
TIP: These bus tours can be pretty pricey, so by booking in advance or taking advantage of deal sites you can save some cash.
Whilst on the topic of travel, we ripped the arse out of the Circle line – much like Glasgow it’s difficult to get wrong and so we stuck to that as much as we could.
I’d highly recommend a bus to anyone that either hasn’t been to London before or hasn’t done it as some type of tour – I’ve been a handful of times but learned so much!
I mentioned that whilst here we visited Maria’s Café, a fab spot for grabbing some quick scran – but Borough Market is far more than this.
We were meeting my MIL here, so hopped onto the Underground then across London Bridge before heading down a set of stone steps to reveal the magic of the market below.
Fairy lights led the way into the cavernous market, with food stalls surrounding us and the sound of sizzling food and excited chatter filling the air. This is unlike any of your Saturday markets located around Glasgow, and is a sight to behold.
While some stalls have the equivalent of a small supermarket’s fruit and veg aisle laid out in front of you, others are selling you plastic glasses of prosecco with straws to drink as you peruse, For every stall offering up a range of pate and confits, there’s one fronted by tanks, encouraging you to select your own seafood for dinner.
Honestly, Borough Market was quite eye-opening for me – you kind of don’t think of people shopping in this way anymore – but for 11am on a Friday, the market was positively was positively buzzing with shoppers jostling each other and snapping up special offers left, right and centre.
If you’re in London and in the market for a quality fishmonger, artisan cheeses or wines from small, family-run vineyards then Borough Market is where you need to be.
Though truly, even if you’re not looking for any of this, you should drop in here anyway – it’s such an experience.
Open seven days a week, Spitalfields Market is your go-to for quirky homeware, vintage fashion and people-watching.
We had a wander round and the sheer variety of stalls was incredible. I found a small independent trader selling watches made of cork that were sustainable, I loved them but wasn’t totally sure that Simon would wear one – and I don’t like wearing a watch regularly. There were stalls that sold solely hats; bowler hats, trilby hats, cowboy hats and their stall-holder wore a different hat each time I passed.
Spitalfields – as far as I can tell – isn’t somewhere you’d head for something specific, but more for a meander, or with the intention of a quirky gift.
I’d love to see how Spitalfields Market changes with the seasons, I imagine it would be incredible over the Christmas period.
The fifty hours we spent in London were incredible, spending time together over cocktails, catching each other up on our general drama and getting to see two iconic theatre shows was exactly what I needed to decompress and recharge my batteries (I’ll say nothing about the blistered feet and subsequent recovery!)
I’d love to hear about your own London experiences, or, if you haven’t been before, let me know your top tips for making citybreaks more affordable.