London needs no introduction, we’ve visited three times over the last five years, and in this post, we share our three-day itinerary to the city. The Houses of Parliament, the red double-decker buses, and the dome-helmeted policemen, to name just three of its many icons, are recognized around the world. With its two thousand years of history, from a small Roman settlement to the capital city of the largest empire the world has ever seen, London oozes history from streets big and small.
Modern skyscrapers, such as the Shard, rise from even the most historic neighborhoods to show the modern multicultural face of this city, one which manages to exude both tradition and contemporary cool in equal measure.
With a collection of museums that are the envy of the world, one of the most beautiful theatre districts, hip nightclubs, and more than 70 restaurants with Michelin star status, London offers something for everyone. Then you have the undeniable impacts on culture through film, music, and art.
But since this ever-evolving capital has so much to see and do, where should you start? We do all the hard work for you by sharing our top tips for traveling to the British capital as well as our London itinerary.
Three Day London Itinerary
Practicalities sorted, what should you do with your first hours in the British capital? Here’s our foolproof London itinerary! Feel free to mix up the order of the days, should the weather turn a little bit too, British.
Three Day London Itinerary
Day One – Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park, Westminister Abbey
Take the Tube to begin your exploration of the UK capital at Hyde Park Corner. Head in the direction of the chariot-topped Wellington Arch, built as an entrance to Buckingham Palace and later co-opted into a triumphal arch celebrating the Duke of Wellington’s victory over the French emperor Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.
While you can get up close with the bronze chariot and angel that tops it from the arch’s upper galleries, we recommend instead following Constitution Hill, dividing Green Park from the gardens of Buckingham Palace to the Queen Victoria Memorial. Here you’ll find yourself in front of Buckingham Palace in time to await the pomp of the changing of the guard at 11 am (though not every day, so check beforehand!). It’s wise to get there at least 45 minutes early for the right spot.
Once the music of the regimental brass bands has faded, explore the masterpieces held in the Queens Gallery at the palace, or head inside the palace’s state rooms (summer only). Then head beyond the Victoria Memorial into St James’ Park. Following either side of the lake, you’ll reach the Churchill War Rooms, from which much of the action of World War Two was orchestrated. Take a quick detour north, to the gates of Downing Street, the official residence of the British Prime Minister.
Then turn back and head across Parliament Square for views of Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, and Westminster Abbey. First built sometime in the seventh century, the coronation of every British monarch since 1066 has taken place in the interior, with the simple wooden throne used for this ceremony located in St George’s Chapel near the West Door.
Crossing Westminster Bridge, there are further opportunities for photos of the gothic revival masterpiece that is the Houses of Parliament, before heading towards the London Eye for extraordinary views over the capital. End your day with a bite to eat at one of the many bars or restaurants along this stretch of the River Thames.
Day Two – Tower of London, Globe Theatre, St. Paul’s Cathedral
Start at Monument Underground station to see the short expanse of Pudding Lane, from where the Great Fire of London began at a baker’s shop in 1666, and the monument designed by Christopher Wren (architect of St Paul’s Cathedral) to commemorate the conflagration. Then head the short distance east to the Tower of London. Home to the crown jewels, beefeaters, Traitors Gate, and ravens, the tower dates back to 1078 and will take up much of your morning with its historical wonders.
With any luck, you’ll catch Tower Bridge opening (which it does on average three times a day), before crossing it in the direction of London’s helmet-shaped City Hall building, the offices of the Mayor of London. Here you’ll also find HMS Belfast, and the battleship turned floating museum. Follow the river west (away from Tower Bridge) for the view from the Shard, Southwark Cathedral, and Borough food market, before you reach the reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.
Contemporary art lovers will adore the exhibition space in the Tate Modern next door, while St Paul’s Cathedral lies across from the Millennium Footbridge, on the north bank of the Thames. The present cathedral rose from the ashes of the Great Fire of London, and its 111m high dome was the tallest structure in the capital from its completion in 1710 right up until 1967.
The site of the marriage of Prince Charles with Lady Diana Spencer, among other major national events over the past three centuries, the Whispering Gallery at the base of the dome is perhaps its most remarkable feature. The area also has a large number of restaurants and bars, with which to round off your second day in the British capital.
Day Three – British Museum, West End, Regent’s Park
Get to the British Museum (near Tottenham Court Road, Holborn, Russell Square, or Goodge Street tube stations) early enough to avoid the worst of the crowds and gaze upon some of the world’s most valuable treasures. Famed for its extensive collections, don’t miss the controversial Parthenon (or Elgin) Marbles, the Sutton Hoo treasures of Anglo-Saxon Britain, or the Rosetta Stone, the key to unraveling the mystery of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.
The famed West End, packed with restaurants and theatres, is not far from the British Museum, and you can join Oxford Street from Tottenham Court Road underground station. One of the country’s premier shopping streets, you’ll find all the country’s leading stores have a presence here. Turn left into Regent Street for some of London’s most well-known shops, including Liberty and Hamleys.
Continuing along Regent Street, you’ll come to the advertising wall of Piccadilly Circus and the Statue of Eros. If your stomach has started to rumble, you’re thankfully close to Chinatown, on the northern side of Leicester Square, with the welcoming China Gate leading to a plethora of authentic dining experiences. Alternatively, the restaurants of Covent Garden are just a few roads further east.
Just south of Leicester Square you’ll find another of London’s great museums, the National Gallery (with National Portrait Gallery), whose main facade faces on to Trafalgar Square and Nelson’s Column. Housing a collection of over 2000 artworks, the National Gallery includes works by JMW Turner, Leonardo da Vinci, Titian, Cezanne, and Michelangelo. The National Portrait Gallery, by contrast, houses a collection of portraits of significant British figures throughout the ages.
You can then head to Marylebone, one of London’s more elegant neighborhoods, there is also the opportunity to check out 221b Baker Street (the fictional home of Sherlock Holmes), the quirky independent stores of Marylebone High Street, or the greenery of Regent’s Park. Despite its long history, London is a city where there is always something new to experience, but you won’t go wrong using our London itinerary to see the best of what the British capital has to offer.
Forget This London Itinerary!
This itinerary knocks a lot of the classics off the list, but there is so much more to London than historical sites. It’s our least favorite parts of London. We’d rather spend time in its exciting neighborhoods like Shoreditch, Camden, Peckham, or Dalston.
The city has as an event every night, retro stores, high-end fashion, a dizzying amount of food choices, and fantastic bars/distilleries/breweries/speakeasies. London is a hip city and you should take full advantage of all that this city brings in terms of culture. Stuff you find far from the historical museums of London.
A lot of these stops are icons of the world that are well worth a visit.
How to Get A Tour Guide in London?
We love using a local guide to glean a better understanding of a destination. In London, our budget did not have the room for a tour guide, but not everyone is on our budget. You can book day tours and tour guides through Viator. They also sell tickets to some of the most popular attractions like the London Eye or the Tower of London.
How to Get Around London?
Unfold any map of London, and a first-time visitor would think it’s an endless city, but its historic heart centered around the River Thames from Tower Bridge in the east to Vauxhall Bridge further west is very walkable. It’s in this area you’ll find the majority of its museums and photo-worthy buildings, while the glorious Royal Parks and neighborhoods such as high-end Piccadilly and ultra-trendy Shoreditch extend slightly further north.
For longer distances or for when London’s notoriously rainy weather takes hold, there is a myriad of other options.
You’ll never be far from the Tube (more correctly, London Underground) station, whose iconic signs dot the city. Clean and easy-to-use buses go everywhere the Underground doesn’t, while a mainline train pulls into one of London’s termini every minute or so from greater London and beyond. To board a bus, you’ll need a pre-paid Oyster card (or activated contactless credit/debit card), available from stations and Oyster Ticket Shops for a refundable £5 ($6.50) deposit. Oyster is also the cheapest way to use the Underground and London mainline train network.
For more privacy, hail a black cab. A 10-minute journey will cost approximately £10 ($13), while Uber also operates in the city. Should the weather hold, don’t forget about London’s bike hire schemes. Official Santander Cycle Hire bikes have the most extensive network, followed by dock-free Ofo and Mobike. No one in their right mind drives in London, but should you opt to hire a car, you’ll need to remember to pay the Congestion Charge. Its zone is marked, and payment is by phone.
Best time to visit London?
London has a mild climate compared to continental Europe or North America, meaning it can be visited at pretty much any time of year. The summer months of June to August offer the warmest temperatures and least rain, but also the biggest crowds. Late spring and early autumn are probably the periods most-beloved of Londoners themselves, with mild temperatures and beautiful blue skies, at least most of the time.
Although the winter months of November to February see only short hours of daylight and the worst of the weather, it also covers the bonfires of Guy Fawkes Night (on November 5), the window displays of Christmas, and the fireworks of New Year.
What to Budget for London?
It’s fair to say that London isn’t the cheapest destination around, and expenses can soon mount up if you intend to see a couple of West End shows or make extensive use of the capital’s fleet of black cabs. The good news is that the majority of London’s most significant museums and art galleries, including the British Museum, Tate Modern, and the National Gallery, are all free to enter. Some of London’s other main attractions, such as the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, also have no charge, and the city boasts a vast amount of green space in which to relax. Public transport is also very reasonable, with a bus ride costing just £1.50 ($2) whatever its length, and a Tube journey across the capital costing roughly £3 ($4).
For a hotel in the city center, you can expect to pay anywhere from £150 ($200) upwards, with prices falling further out of the center you travel. Croydon, for instance, is just 20 minutes from central London by train but has hotel prices which are half those in the center. You can get a hostel bed for around $30 per night. A meal in a standard restaurant will cost about $20 per person excluding drinks, and it requires a similar amount for a visit to attractions such as the crown jewels at the Tower of London or the state rooms at Buckingham Palace.
How to Stay Connected in London?
It’s well worth checking whether your home network covers you for free UK roaming, as is becoming increasingly more common. London also has plenty of free to use WiFi hotspots to make use of in both public (such as railway stations) and private spaces. However, should you need a local SIM, the UK has one of the most competitive cell phone markets in Europe, giving you plenty of choices.
All the big carriers have high-street stores and sell trio SIMs that fit nano, micro, and standard SIM card slots. Cards are also for sale in newsagents and souvenir shops. There’s no massive difference in service between any of the big networks, and you shouldn’t have any problem with using Three, Vodafone, O2 or EE. A basic SMS/calls/data package will cost around £10 and last 30 days.
What to Pack For London?
It should go without saying that London is known for its gloomy weather. You have two options for style of rain jackets. The first one we recommend is a classic outdoor rain jacket that is a solid choice for outdoor adventurers.
The fleece sweater is a perfect layer when combined with an outer shell to keep you warm. We purchased wool sweaters from independent retailers in London, but good ones weren’t easy to find. For those with less time a little bit of online shopping for wool sweaters will suffice. Start here!
There is a lot of walking in this London Itinerary. It’s pretty common with any major city to walk a lot. In these sorts of destinations, we opt for a comfortable travel shoe that can handle long days. We have a post on women’s and men’s with stylish options that will make your feet happy.
Travel Water Bottle
Plastic pollution is a problem everywhere so it’s best not to contribute to the problem buying plastic water bottles everywhere – plus the water from the taps in Scotland is perfectly safe to drink. We’ve shifted to using an insulated aluminum water bottle as it handles the hot sun well. However, we also love filtered water bottles in areas we’re uncertain of the water supply. Read more about the favorite water bottle for travel in our post.
We don’t travel without travel insurance and neither should you. You never know what can happen in a foreign country and it’s best to be prepared. World Nomads provides good short term coverage.
Remember that Scotland uses the three-prong British plug. Make sure you have a universal travel adaptor like we have before landing!
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