If you only have a short time in London then we have the perfect three-day itinerary for your visit. Filled with iconic landmarks and top attractions all connected with a world-class public transport system, London is the perfect city to spend 72-hours exploring.
So, you’ve just landed, jetlagged but excited to explore this wonderful city. But where the heck do you even start? We get it, London is massive and can be a bit overwhelming for a first time visitor. What should you see first? How do you get around? What are the best things to do?
When we first arrived in London, uncharacteristically for us we had absolutely nothing planned and had no idea what to do first. Since then we’ve spent several weeks exploring the city, walking miles and miles and still feel like we’ve barely scratched the surface. There is just so much to do you could honestly fill 3 months let alone 3 days, and there is something to suit any type of traveller.
With so many options it can a bit a bit overwhelming to plan a short stay itinerary for London. So we’ve done the hard yards (literally) for you and written a sample three day London itinerary with our tips for what’s worth seeing, what you can wing and what you need to plan ahead of your trip.
This itinerary is perfect for the first time visitor to London, or someone returning after a while who wants to catch up on all the big sites. If you have a particular interest or get sick of the crowds at the popular attractions, drop us a comment or email and we’d be happy to recommend some alternatives – we even have some great day trips out of London that might take your fancy.
Before you arrive
First things first, London is huge and the attractions are spread out. It’s impossible to walk everywhere, well not impossible, but you’ll end up exhausted and with some first-rate blisters. London is also a busy city and it takes time to get anywhere, even on their amazing public transport. So, let’s be practical and sort a few things out before you leave.
Oyster Card for getting around
You have three options here: buy an Oyster Card from any train station on arrival, plan ahead and order a Visitors Oyster Card before you leave home, or use your contactless bank card. Depending on your plans we’ve broken down the difference for you here.
- Buy from any train station when you arrive in London
- Cost is £5, but if you return your card you get this money back
- Great for stays over a week or if ever returning to London
- Can be loaded up with Weekly / Monthly travel passes which are cheaper than a day pass
- Daily cap for zones 1 & 2 is £6.80
- Convenience of having it sent to you loaded up with credit, no need to stuff around at a train station
- Cost is £5 plus any credit you load up, you don’t get this £5 returned
- Best for short trips only (under a week) and if travel is only in zones 1 & 2 (cannot load up weekly / monthly passes on this card)
- Daily cap for zones 1 & 2 is £6.60
Contactless Bank Card
- Super convenient with no setup
- Pay as you go system with daily and weekly caps
- Non UK banks may charge currency conversion fees
- Remember to touch in and out with the same card
- Can only be used for one traveller so best for individual travel.
This app is a lifesaver for anyone new to London (or a number of other cities). Citymapper is easy to use and tells you exactly which station, train line, platform, direction, end of the train to sit in, and even an approx. cost for your journey between any two points. It works across the trains and bus networks and often provides several ways of getting from A to B. It’s especially handy with London’s Tube system and makes changing trains so much easier for people who are new to the city. You’ll leave knowing you’ve made the most of your time and being able to confidently find your way around the tube system.
Good walking shoes
Even with the Tube if you’re keen to make the most of your time seeing the sights you can’t compromise on good shoes. Trust us, your feet will thank you at the end of 3 full days exploring London – they have some seriously large museums, shops, parks and neighbourhoods to explore. We prefer ultra lightweight runners (Amazon) for travelling as they pack down to nothing, are breathable, low profile with lots of colour options and are super comfy.
The Great British Public Toilet Map
We heard about this little project after our time in London, but boy we wish we knew about it while we were there. Public toilets are hard to come by in the city and a lot of the time they cost 50p or you need to rely on buying something at a Starbucks or McDonalds to use theirs. This great website provides public toilet map and info for the whole country. Worth a bookmark for sure.
Now that you’re all set up to hit the pavement, we’ve put together our perfect three day London itinerary. Including the big sights, delicious market food finds, some beautiful art, cool buildings, and some tips and tricks to make the most out of your 3 days in London.
DAY 1 – The Ultimate Self Guided Walking Tour of London
Start the day by getting your bearings, shaking off that pesky jetlag and drinking in some of the biggest sights in London. Beginning at Westminster Abbey, Parliament and Big Ben*, our advice is to arrive early as this hotspot becomes loaded with people as the day goes along. Appreciate these beautiful buildings in the morning sun as you cross Westminster Bridge heading south across the river.
*Note: Unfortunately Big Ben is covered by scaffolding for a few years due to maintenance, it’s scheduled to be revealed again in 2021.
Walking east along Southbank following the River Thames you can take in the view across the water of Parliament, Big Ben and walk right underneath the London Eye. There is always a huge line for the London Eye so if you’re going to ride it plan ahead for tickets. As you meander along the river, take note of the waterline, you might notice some boats stranded on the silt if it’s low tide. This was quite an interesting thing to witness as we didn’t realise just how dramatic the tidal shifts were on the Thames. The river rises and falls twice a day and the height difference can be up to 7m depending on the season.
Now that you’ve learnt a handy fact for the day keep on walking until you see the Millennium Bridge (you may recognise this from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1) and the Tate Modern. One of the first things we love to do when we get to a new city is to get high up to see the lay of the land. Head on into the Tate Modern and beeline to the top observation deck for a free 360-degree view of the city featuring a great view directly across the river at St Paul’s Cathedral. While you’re at it stop for awhile to appreciate the enormity of the central hall which was once a turbine hall for the old power station. If you’re a fan of modern art some of the galleries are free and the gift shop is awesome too – none of the cheap crap you’ll find in tourist shops, we find museums and galleries often have the best gift shops pretty much everywhere we’ve been. Alternatively, for all literature lovers, keep walking a little further and you’ll find yourself right in front of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.
By now you’ve ticked off some major landmarks, taken in a view of the city skyline and maybe some modern art, so it’s time for a serious coffee and some lunch to refuel. Luckily you’re right next door to the Borough Market, arguably the best food market in London if not the UK. Weaving its way under the iconic green pillars supporting the bustling train lines running overhead, it’s a very cool a grungy setting for a bite to eat. Our favourite stall has to be Bread Ahead for their ridiculously delicious doughnuts.
After sampling some of the delights on offer at the market continue along the river making sure to look up at The Shard and ending up at Tower Bridge, the coolest bridge in London. Wandering across this magnificent icon you’ll find yourself right in front of the Tower of London. It’s well worth spending a few hours in here if you’re interested in its bloody history and to see the Crown Jewels on display. If you choose to spend the afternoon at the Tower of London, that will probably be the end of the day for you so skip ahead.
If you skip the Tower and are still hungry, the Leadenhall Market isn’t far away, a perfect to stop for a snack and worth checking out anyway for its beautiful vaulted ceiling, lovely preserved buildings and cobbled streets. Plus for all Harry Potter fans, it was used as a filming location in the first movie.
Right about now you’re probably ready for a rest and maybe a cheeky beer or cocktail. Walk past the Monument to the Great Fire of London and to the Walkie Talkie building, which is home to the Sky Garden on its uppermost floors. This is one thing that is worth booking before you get to London, read all about it in our Best Free View of London post. Drink in the fabulous view over London’s famous skyline as the sun sets while sipping on a fancy cocktail in a lush sky-high garden setting. Grab a quick bite to eat nearby before jumping on the tube back to your hotel for a well-earned sleep jet lag now totally forgotten.
DAY 2 – Museums and Monarchs
Start your day at the British Museum, like most galleries and museums in London it’s free but donations are encouraged. Housed in one of the most beautiful buildings we’ve seen, the museum has a truly remarkable collection. Get there early as the line for security checking can get long, it usually runs through pretty quickly though if you get stuck in the queue. The museum is huge and it’s impossible to see it all in a day, so buy a map and choose a few key areas to focus on. The Egyptian section gets really busy as it’s home to the Rosetta Stone, so tick this area off early before it gets too packed to see anything.
If the British Museum isn’t too your taste, pick any one of the other incredible free galleries or museums to fill your morning with. The Natural History Museum or Victoria and Albert Museum are other great options that will easily soak up a couple of hours.
A morning at the museum is enough to build up any appetite, so jump on the tube to Camden Market and sample some of the many delicious food stalls for lunch. It was here we discovered The Cheese Wheel with their mouth-watering fresh pasta swirled around in a giant wheel of parmesan for an extra cheesy kick. Satisfying to watch as well as devour! Explore this rabbit warren of a market some more, before continuing your walk along the peaceful Regent’s Canal, watching the riverboats cruise on by.
Follow the canal until you find yourself at a bridge crossing into Regent’s Park next to the London Zoo. Stroll through the greenery of the park and, if you’re visiting in Summer, visit Queen Mary’s Rose Garden, which is a rainbow of colour in full bloom.
From the southern end of Regent’s Park either wander along the famous Baker Street or one of the much quieter and just as pretty side streets through Marylebone. Grab a quick bite to eat then or jump on a Tube heading south to wave at the Queen outside Buckingham Palace. Go from either Warren Street to Green Park (Victoria Line, 21 mins including walking time) or Regents Park to Charing Cross Station (Bakerloo Line, 25 mins including walking time) and walk down the Mall or through St. James’ Park for an impressive view as you approach the Palace and watch the sun begin to set.
DAY 3 – Parks, Shopping and Theatre
Catch an early morning Tube out to the charming area of Notting Hill and simply enjoy strolling around the streets filled with colourful pastel houses. Eventually finding your way onto Portobello Road, home to the Portobello Market. At almost a kilometre long, you’ll be sure to find a unique souvenir from the many antique shops along the way. Notting Hill is full of great bars, pubs, cafes and independent shops to explore for brunch or a coffee.
There are two options from Notting Hill depending on whether you feel up for a big walk through parklands or a tube into the shopping districts.
Make sure to buy yourself a packed lunch from Notting Hill to eat in the park. Walk towards the north-west corner of Kensington Gardens and you will find the Diana Memorial Playground and not far away from Kensington Palace. From here you can make your way across Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park however you like, there are plenty of things to see on the way and lots of nice picnic spots. We prefer to zig-zag your way along the south side of the gardens and Hyde Park, taking in the Albert Memorial, Royal Albert Music Hall, Princess Diana Memorial Fountain and The Serpentine Lake along the way.
Jump on the Piccadilly line Tube from under Wellington Arch and head a couple of stops into the theatre district at Trafalgar and Leicester Squares.
TUBE & SHOPPING OPTION
Get straight on a Central line Tube from Notting Hill back into the city, jumping off at Marble Arch. You will find yourself at the start of the famous Oxford Street. Filled with every major retailer in the country walking along Oxford Street through Mayfair can be a bit of a circus at times, but it’s always a buzz. Take as long as you want to get to Regent Street then wander down through SoHo however you like. Let the shops and food options guide you – there are thousands of options. Eventually, you will wind up at the famous Trafalgar and Leicester Squares.
Wander around the Trafalgar and Leicester Squares area, taking in the free National Portrait Gallery, see the amazing recreations of London’s famous landmarks in the Lego Store, get sucked in by the rainbow wall at the MnM’s Store and watch the Swiss Glockenspiel come alive on the hour.
For a break from the hustle of the square pop into St. Martin in the Field’s. The church holds classical music concerts on weekends, and if you time your visit right you may just witness a rehearsal in the late afternoon for that evening’s concert, for free! We’ve stumbled upon this twice and it’s been a welcome break from a day of exploring. Grab a pre-dinner drink at the nearby Gordon’s Wine Bar, decorated in Dickensian-style decor, you’ll feel part of 19th century London in its vaulted cellar rooms and candlelit atmosphere. Cap off your epic 3-day adventure with a West End Show to farewell this wonderful city (book this before you arrive or go for last minute tickets at the Tkts booth in Leicester Square).
And there you have it! Our three-day itinerary is chockablock and not for the faint of heart. But it’s all based on actual days out we did in London and can be done if you have the endurance. If a slower pace is more your style, simply cut some stuff out and cherry pick your favourite attractions. Leave a comment below or get in touch if you have any specific interests or questions not covered – we’d be happy to help.
If you are lucky enough to be there on a weekend and you’re really into markets, we highly recommend heading east to the Columbia Road Flower Market, our favourite London Market. Stroll along the graffiti-lined alleys of Brick Lane and then wander through the Old Spitalfields Market til your market-heart is content!
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