London, the capital of England and the United Kingdom, is a 21st-century city with history stretching back to Roman times. At its center stand the imposing Houses of Parliament, the iconic ‘Big Ben’ clock tower and Westminster Abbey, site of British monarch coronations. Across the Thames River, the London Eye observation wheel provides panoramic views of the South Bank cultural complex, and the entire city.
There’s always a lot to do in London. As soon as the sun comes out, London’s parks turn into leafy social clubs, restaurants dust off their outdoor seating and suddenly the city air is filled with alfresco theatre, music art and food scene. You can fill your days and nights with visits to incredible art exhibitions, iconic attractions, secret spots, world-beating theatre, stunning parks, Michelin Restaurants and still barely feel like you’ve scratched the surface. It’s pretty tough to pick the best things to do in London, but here’s our list of what to do if you only have four days or more.
Day 1 – Explore Westminster
If it is your first time in London and you only have few days I suggest to stay in Westminster or Victoria area because we will start first day exploring Westminster, which is the geographical, cultural, and political center of the city.
Parliament Square & Houses of Parliament
We’re going to start off our itinerary at Parliament Square which is a well known public square in Westminster that is easy to get to via public transport and is a stop on all the main sightseeing buses as well. Around the square you’ll also find the statues of a number of famous people, including Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Robert Peel, and Gandhi.
This popular square is surrounded by famous buildings, including Westminster Abbey, St. Margaret’s Church, the UK Supreme Court, and the Palace of Westminster. The Palace of Westminster, better known as the Houses of Parliament, is probably best known for its famous Big Ben Tower which sits within the iconic golden Elizabeth Tower.
The large government building is named after the former medieval palace of the same name. A few sections of the medieval palace of Westminster still remain, including the 14th century Jewel Tower which you can visit.
It is one of the most famous and impressive churches in England. It dates back to 1245 and was mostly built in the Gothic style. Inside the church are tombs and memorials to a number of the most famous British people from the past 1,000 years, including royalty, scientists, aristocrats, and artists. It has also been used for all English and British coronations since William the Conqueror in 1066 as well as being the site of numerous royal weddings, including the 2011 wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton.
Westminster Abbey is open from 09.00-15.30 on weekdays and 09.00-15.00 on Saturday and entrance fee £27 for adult and £12 for 6-17 years old. Book your ticket here.
Buckingham Palace and changing of the guard ceremony
Buckingham Palace is the most famous palace in the UK and serves as the primary London residence for the reigning sovereign of the United Kingdom. The royal palace dates back to 1703 and was originally built as a townhouse for the Duke of Buckingham, but was later acquired by King George III. Queen Victoria was the first monarch to officially reside in the palace.
The Changing of the Guard Ceremony takes place, weather permitting, at 11.00 on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday and daily in the summer at the forecourt of Buckingham Palace and lasts about 45 minutes. The detailed schedule is in the British Army Website. We are going to watch it from the Guard house which would be the starting point and also has less crowds.
We’re pretty happy to just get a look at the palace and see the Changing of the Guard, but if you have more time you can also tour the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace which open for 10 weeks in the summer from July to October. You need to book tickets in advance here.
If you can’t visit the State Rooms of Buckingham Place, you can join Buckingham Palace guided tour open year round every Friday, Saturday and Sunday except 24-25 December. Ticket price £90.00 for adult and £49.5 for 5-17 years old.
St James’ Park
Walk through St. James’ Park in the direction of Buckingham Palace for a bit of greenery. The 50-acre park is one of the city’s 8 Royal Parks and is known for its famous pelican residents. There is a café located within the park if you need a tea or coffee break or a light lunch. Or if you have a packed lunch it is a nice place for a picnic (Marks and Spencer Food is our favourite supermarket to buy provision for lunch and picnic).
Near the park is the The Guards Museum which tells the history of the British Army Guards regiments as well as St. James’s Palace, a 16th century palace that was once the main residence of the British monarch. Today the palace is still used as a residence for members of the British royal family and used also as a meeting place.
Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square
From St James park head to Piccadilly Circus en route to Trafalgar Square. Piccadilly Circus doesn’t have any clowns, but it is a famous circular road junction well-known for its neon signs and a fountain where people like to hang out. Find the well-known Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain here. From here, it is a short walk to many of London’s West End theaters (to Shaftesbury Avenue) or to London’s West End shopping area (follow Regent Street).
Trafalgar Square is one of the most popular public squares in London and is home to Nelson’s Column (a monument to Admiral Horatio Nelson) and London’s famous stone lion statues. The square also features performing street artists and contemporary art (a changing featured piece of art occupies the square’s Fourth Plinth).
Here you’ll also find two of London top art museums, the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery. The galleries include world-class art from artists such as Picasso, Turner, Titian, and Monet. If you love art, plan to spend some time at one or both of these museums. Entry is free and they open daily from 10.00-16.00 and until 21.00 on Friday.
Walk down Whitehall, which is the street running south from Trafalgar Square towards Parliament Square. Whitehall is so named for the Palace of Whitehall, a large medieval royal palace complex that stood here until it was destroyed by fire in 1698. It was the largest palace in the world at one time with over 1,500 rooms! A small well-preserved section of the Whitehall palace complex, the Banqueting Hall, can still be visited today. The Banqueting House was designed by Inigo Jones and features a beautiful ceiling painted by Peter Paul Reubens.
Today Whitehall is still the center of the UK Government and you’ll pass a dress number of government buildings along your walk. You’ll also pass the The Household Calvary Museum, a small museum dedicated to the history of the Household Cavalry which is located in the 18th century stables of the Horse Guards. In the middle of the street, you’ll also see The Cenotaph, the UK’s national war memorial.
You’ll also pass by the entrance to Downing Street which is where the Prime Minister (at 10 Downing Street) and other UK government ministers reside. The street is gated and guarded, but you can peek through and should be able to get a glimpse 10 Downing Street, which is the headquarters of the UK government and official residence of the UK Prime Minister.
Churchill War Rooms
The Churchill War Rooms is made up of two connected museums: the Cabinet War Rooms and the Churchill Museum. The Cabinet War Rooms allows you to explore the huge underground secret bunker where the majority of the World War 2 effort was directed from 1939 to 1945. An audioguide and interpretive exhibits help visitors understand the maze of underground rooms and what happened here.
The Churchill Museum is a large room dedicated to the life of Winston Churchill. It provides information on his life from his early years to his death in 1965, with a focus on his long political career. Entrance fee £30 for adult and £15 for 5-15 years old. Opening time 9:30am to 6pm daily, last entry at 5pm. Book your tickets online in advance here.
As we continue our walk, we returned to Parliament Square where we started this morning and cross the Westminster bridge. From the bridge, you will have a fantastic view back of the Houses of Parliament and the River Thames.
London Eye and London Dungeon
London Eye is Europe’s tallest observation wheel and a great place to get some nice views over London and the Thames. Visitors stand in large enclosed glass pods on this giant ferris wheel like attraction and it spins very slowly to give visitors expansive views. You can also get a private pod for your group.
The London Eye is open late making it a great last stop or even after dinner visit. Around sunset is a nice time to do this ride. You can save money (and time) by purchasing your tickets in advance here.
If you still time and stamina you can visit The London Dungeon. Otherwise you can visit on your next day. Just next door to London Eye, a popular interactive walkthrough attraction that uses costumed actors, special effects, and rides to share some of London’s darker and more gory history and provide some laughs and screams along the way. The educational and historical part of the experience here is a bit questionable, but if you enjoy amusement parks and haunted houses, you’ll probably enjoy this. Not recommended for young children or those with a nervous disposition.
Next to the London Dungeon are two family-oriented attractions, the Sea Life London Aquarium and DreamWorks Tours: Shrek’s Adventure.
Not far from London Eye we reached Southbank Center, beside the Thames river where we end today’s itinerary. South Bank is a dynamic area at the heart of London’s cultural scene. The Southbank Centre, National Theatre, and BFI film theatre are all world-class arts venues. The riverside walkway is lined with trees, restaurants and historic pubs, and is the site of frequent fairs and events.
Day 2 – Explore City of London
The City of London is another “city within a city” like Westminster. It is home to the city’s financial and banking services, and is also the oldest part of the city.
Tower of London
The Tower of London is a 900-year-old castle and fortress in central London that is notable for housing the crown jewels and for holding many famous and infamous prisoners. Throughout its history, the tower has served many purposes: it housed the royal mint (until the early 19th century), a menagerie (which left in 1835), a records office, an armory and barracks for troops. Until the 17th century, it was also used as a royal residence. Today is it a UNESCO world heritage site and it is famous for serving as a prison and execution site of famous people like Queen Anne Boleyn and Lady Jane Grey, and for housing the Crown Jewels. If you watch Sherlock Holmes BBC series, there was a story about the crown jewel hosted inside the Tower.
The Tower of London is open Tuesday to Saturday from 9:00 am to 5:30 pm and Sunday and Monday from 10:00 am to 5:30 pm. Entrance fee: £29.90 for adult and £14.90 for children. Book your ticket here.
Once you leave the Tower of London, walk to your left and get on Tower Bridge, one of London’s most famous landmarks. Tower Bridge has a long and fascinating history. Built between 1886 and 1894, the Bridge has spent more than a century as London’s defining landmark, an icon of London and the United Kingdom. The bridge crosses the River Thames close to the Tower of London and has become a world-famous symbol of London. Not to be confused with London Bridge, Tower Bridge is a more beautiful bridge than London Bridge. The London Bridge that still stands today dates from 1973. So, despite the fact London Bridge has existed here the longest, the actual bridge standing today is one of the more modern bridges over the Thames in London.
The best place to take the picture of Tower Bridge is from St Katharine Docks Marina, a nice area lined with restaurants, cafes and shops. You can stop here for lunch.
HMS Belfast is a Royal Navy light cruiser ship that served in both World Wars and Korea. Under the auspices of the Imperial War Museum. It is permanently stationed on the River Thames and open to public daily from 10am to 5pm (last entry at 4pm). Ticket cost £26 for adult, £13 for 5-15 years old.
If you have young boys and even teenager this museum is a must see. They can see the ship’s intriguing history as well as the greater history of Britain’s battles in the twentieth century. Visitors can climb the same ladders and hatches used throughout the HMS Belfast’s long service and experience what it was like for soldiers on board over 9 decks of history on the Thames.
The Shard is a modern pyramidal shaped skyscraper that is home to several restaurants, a hotel, offices, shops, and a viewing gallery. It was completed in 2012 and is currently the tallest building in Western Europe at 1,017 feet (309 meters) with 87 floors. The viewing gallery, called The View from the Shard, is the highest public viewing gallery in London located on floors 68, 69, and 72. The building offers spectacular 360 degree views over central London and you can see just about all of the city’s major landmarks. On a clear day they say you can see up to 40 miles away, and it definitely offers the most expansive views over London.
The View from the Shard is open daily from 10:00 am to 10:00 pm in the summer time, and from 10:00 to 7:00 pm Sunday to Wednesday and from 10:00 am to 10:00 pm Thursday to Saturday in the winter time. £32/person (or £28 if you book 4 days before). Ticket can booked here.
Alternative from The Shard to see a good city view is Sky Garden, London’s highest public garden – a vibrant social space with 360-degree views of the city’s iconic skyline. Here, you can experience London from a spectacular viewpoint and enjoy the lush greenery, exquisitely landscaped gardens, observation decks, and an open-air terrace.
Sky Garden is open Mondays to Fridays from 10:00 am to 9:00 pm; Saturdays from 11:00 am to 10:00 pm and Sundays from 11:00 am to 9:00 pm. Although admission is free, you need to book a time slot for your visit as space is limited. You can do it here.
London Bridge and Borough Market
A short walk from HMS Belfast you will find eateries stall and a handful of Restaurants along the Thames river. By mid Nov the place is already decorated for Christmas. You can have early dinner here and turn left to London Bridge Tube or continue to Borough Market.
Borough Market located at the end of Southwark, best known and one of the oldest markets in the UK. It is believed that a market has been in this area since around 1014. The market is normally open from 10am to 5pm and is closed on most Sundays during the year. Today the market is filled with fresh produce, fresh meats and fish, baked goods, cheeses, flowers, wines, spices, and other food stuff. There are also cafes, demonstration kitchens, and restaurants that are part of the market as well as many food stalls selling ready-to-eat foods, including sandwiches and all kinds of street foods from Ethiopian wraps to Galloway beef stew to vegetarian pastries. This is a great place to rest your feet and go for a snack or early dinner.
If you still have time and it is not dark yet, across the Millennium Bridge, a steel pedestrian suspension bridge, to the other side of the Thames you can see Shakespeare’s Globe.This is not the original Globe Theatre used by William Shakespeare, but it is as faithful of a modern construction as could be produced of the open-air theatre where Shakespeare staged many of his famous plays. The Globe is located near where the original would have stood. The original Globe Theatre stood about 200 meters away and you can go see the site and it is marked by a plaque. The reconstruction of The Globe was the dream project of American actor/director Sam Wanamaker. If you want to see the inside of the theatre, you can visit the museum exhibition, learn how it was constructed, and do a guided tour of the open-air Globe where you get to see the stage and seating areas. You can also enjoy open-air performances here in the summer or at the indoor candle-lit Jacobean style Sam Wanamaker Playhouse year-round. A great venue to see a Shakespeare play in London. Just be sure to book your performance ticket in advance.
Now that you have seen top highlights of London in your first two days, on the third day our suggestion is to explore Notting Hill and Portobello market (if it falls on Saturday), have lunch there and make your way to Oxford Circus and end your day watching a play or musical at West End Theatre.
Notting Hill and Portobello Market
Notting Hill is dotted with eclectic bookshops, beautiful pastel-painted buildings, quaint cobblestone streets lined with tubs of flowers and a walking distance to Portobello Road, one of the most famous street markets in the world and is home to one of the UK’s most diverse communities. It has a rich history dating back to the 19th century with millions of visitors visiting the market each year. Every Saturday Portobello Trade market opens and its stalls stretch for a mile all the way down Portobello Road and round the corner into Golborne Road. Whether you are just out for a stroll, people watch, looking for a bargain or out to grab a bite to eat, Portobello Road is a great place to spend your time exploring.
Oxford Street is Europe’s busiest shopping street. It has around 300 shops and welcomes more than 200 million visitors a year. At one end of Oxford Street is Tottenham Court Road station, at the other is Marble Arch. If you have shopping errand to do, Selfridges department store is the best place to do it. Their skincare shopping area on ground floor is a long time favourite by visitor. If you are into sport, stop by at Nike Town, the largest Nike’s flagship store in the world. Niketown London now covers approximately 42,000 square feet over four floors.
Set in London’s West End, 500 meter from Trafalgar square, Covent Garden is a major draw for visitors and Londoners who enjoy its many attractions, including shopping, theatre, restaurants, bars, history and culture. Things to see in and around Covent Garden include the London Transport Museum, the Royal Opera House, Somerset House and Covent Garden Market.
There are several smaller areas within Covent Garden that are worth exploring such as the The Opera Quarter, St Martin’s Courtyard, Seven Dials, Neal’s Yard and Floral Street. My favourite quarter is the colourful Neal’s Yard, one of London’s prettiest streets. It’s easy to miss, but it would be unfortunate if you did. Inside this little enclave, you can get everything from pizza to pedicure, and every business is committed to sustainable and ethical commercial practices. Neal’s Yard Remedies, a favorite store of mine to shop essential oil and natural skincare and remedies is also located here.
We felt that a fantastic way to end your day 3 itinerary is by seeing a West End theater performance. The West End is one of the most world-renown places in the world, along with New York City’s Broadway, for professional theatre. Over 30 theaters can be found in the West End offering a wide variety of musicals and plays.
You can see what is on and book tickets here in advance before your trip (recommended if there is a specific performance you want to see) or try to find a deal once you are in London if you are flexible in what you see.
If you are a Harry Potter’s fan don’t miss Harry Potter and Cursed Child Play at Palace Theatre. Beware that there are 2 parts of the play: Part 1 plays at 13.00 and Part 2 at 18.00. You can buy only one part or both parts either on the same day or separate day. Book your ticket here in advance.
Before watching your play, stroll thru Chinatown, located on the northern border of Leicester Square in the West End. If there’s one thing you must do when in Chinatown, that is tucked into some of London’s best Chinese food! Wander the streets and let your nose guide you to the nearest empty table.
Now that you have seen top highlights of London in your first three days, our suggestion is to visit Kensington Palace and explore London’s high affluent area in Chelsea and Kensington and in the afternoon you can visit Greenwich Village or Camden Market if you prefer to shop more.
From the outside, Kensington Palace seems like a deserted building, perched on the edge of Kensington Park. But inside the palace there is a treasure trove of royal rooms, items, paintings and even wardrobes that any royal enthusiast will appreciate. Kensington Palace has been a royal residence for almost 300 years, and today it serves as the official London residence for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, along with their two children Prince George and Princess Charlotte.
If you choose to take a tour of Kensington Palace, there are four different “routes” which are included in your admission ticket. These routes include “Victoria Revealed” (an exhibition on the life of Queen Victoria), the King’s State Apartments (which educate visitors on the Hanoverian court), The Queen’s State Apartments (which focuses on the palace’s many royal residences like William and Mary, and George I), and “Fashion Rules” (an exhibition on the wardrobes of Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Margaret and Princess Diana).
In recent years the Kensington Palace State Rooms underwent a massive renovation, and as a result the majority of the rooms inside the palace look as if they’ve changed very little since the 17th century. Some of the many highlights inside the palace include The King’s Staircase, The King’s Gallery (the largest of the state apartments inside Kensington Palace), and The Privy Chamber (where Queen Caroline used to entertain guests). Make sure you spend some extra time in Queen Victoria’s residence so you can read personal letters between her and Prince Albert, and even see her children’s toys and clothes.
After visiting the palace you should check out the palace garden, which is famous in its own right. Nearby there are a handful of museums such as Victoria & Albert Museum (one of the World’s leading museums of art, design and performance. Open daily 10.00-17.45 and Friday until 22.00) and Natural History Museum.
Greenwich is a borough in London which sits on the banks of the River Thames and is known for its maritime history. Greenwich is a home to the Cutty Sark, a restored 19th-century ship, the huge National Maritime Museum, and the classical buildings of the Old Royal Naval College. Greenwich is also famous for its Royal Observatory, the site of the Greenwich meridian line. You can easily spend a full day here but as you only have half day you need to chose what you want to see such as:
- Cutty Sark is the world’s sole-surviving tea clipper – a legendary 19th-century ship that used to bring tea back from China at record-breaking speeds. Now the ship takes pride of place in the heart of Greenwich. You can explore every part of the ship, from the glorious views of the main deck to the rich delights of the lower hold. The adventure ends beneath the ship itself, as you walk through the dry dock with the gleaming copper hull above your head.
- Ice skating in the Queen’s House Ice Rink (if you come in winter) set in the beautiful grounds of Royal Museums Greenwich. The rink is surrounded by iconic architecture, with views of Greenwich Park to the south and the glittering lights of Canary Wharf to the north, providing a backdrop of some of the best views in London.
- Walk in famous footsteps at the Queen’s House. If you’re a fan of Bridgerton or The Crown, the Queen’s House might already feel very familiar. The classic building has become a popular filming location thanks to its sweeping views and stunning architecture. However the Queen’s House is so much more than a film set. It hosts great works by world-famous artists grace the walls, from J.M.W. Turner and Canaletto to Turner Prize winner Richard Wright. The building too is an artwork in its own right, designed by the architect Inigo Jones as the first classical building in Britain. The jewel in the Queen’s House crown is the iconic Armada Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I, taking pride of place in the Queen’s Presence Chamber.
- Stand on the Prime Meridian Line. Take a hike through Greenwich Park to the Royal Observatory, and travel through space and time. Commissioned by King Charles II, the site incorporates the Christopher Wren-designed Flamsteed House – historic home to Britain’s Astronomers Royal – as well as London’s Planetarium. Stand astride the historic Prime Meridian Line, where east meets west, uncover the history of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), and see clocks and timepieces that have changed the world
- Travel the world at the National Maritime Museum. Discover epic stories of exploration and endeavour that have shaped our world today at the National Maritime Museum. Permanent galleries take visitors on a journey around the globe, from the diverse cultures of the Pacific to the changing climate of the Arctic and Antarctic. Temporary exhibitions take you even further: visit Astronomy Photographer of the Year for dazzling space photography.
If you choose to see Windsor Palace, you can take the train from Paddington Station and get off in Slough Station and take a bus. Journey time between 1 hour to 1.5 hours. Read more here.
Another place you can visit if you would like to see another market is Camden. This now iconic famous market started life as a cluster of craft workshops by the Regent’s Canal and has evolved to become one of London’s most important nerve center of artisan creativity and trading. The Market is packed to the gunnels with stalls trading in handmade clothes and jewellery, music memorabilia, objects from ages past and authentic food from far flung locations. A haven of counter culture, the area is popular with tourists, teenagers and punks. The thriving nightlife scene includes live music in alternative clubs and old-school pubs, and major stars playing at the Jazz Cafe and the Roundhouse. Cafes bustle during the day.
This ends your 4 days itinerary in London. But if you’re lucky and have more days to spend in the UK here’s our suggestions:
If you have specific interest here’s what you can do. Alternatively you can also replace your Day 4 itinerary with below
- Arsenal Emirates Stadium if you’re a soccer fan (or watch a game if you’re lucky!). See our post here.
- Book Harry Potter Warner bros studio Tour in Leavesden and take a picture of yourself at platform 9 3/4 in Kings Cross Station. Read our post here.
- Visit Madame Tussaud Wax Museum
- Visit Sherlock Holmes Museum in Baker Street
- Shopping in Harrods and Hamleys (The world’s oldest toy store)
- Take a train to do Factory Outlet Shopping in Bicester Village
Day 6 and 7
For your last two days, let’s explore cities beyond London (which I will write in my next post). Here’s our suggestion on where you can go as a day trip from London:
- Stratford upon Avon
You can chose to take a tour which combines some of the towns above such as Stonehenge and Bath or Cotswold with Oxford and Stratford upon Avon. Or do a day trip yourself by train in a more leisure pace, one town a day.
If you have more than 2 days our suggestion if you like nature is to take a train up to Lake District and spend few days there or if you are more into cultural activity you can take the train to Edinburgh and spend few days exploring Scotland.