Samuel Johnson once said when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford. Johnson may have lived in the 1700s but I have no doubt that his opinion of London would remain the same today.
Fortunately, you don’t need to plan a permanent relocation to become well acquainted with one of the world’s most popular cities. 3 days in London is all you really need to hit the highlights. Of course, plan more days if you want to take some epic day trips too.
Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet London (Travel Guide)
3 Days in London – Day 1
First things first, you will want to arm yourself with the best possible resources for taking on this 3 days in London itinerary. We highly recommend that you get yourself The London Pass that includes entrance into some of London’s most famous attractions, discounts on food and some transportation options.
After you have your London Pass, consider purchasing a multi-day Hop On-Hop Off bus pass. This is hands down the best way to experience the city. It will not only take you to the best sites in London with some cheeky narrative, but also allow you to see the city while you move between them.
We like this way better than moving between places underground. You will get one day included in your London Pass, so be sure to take that into consideration if you also buy that pass. You won’t regret it, this is one of the most exciting things to do in London for a first time visitor.
Big Ben is the name of the booming bell which reverberates from Elizabeth Tower, the highest point of the Palaces of Westminster, home of the British Parliament.
Parliament has been meeting in this spot since the early 1500s and the sounds and sights of Big Ben have come to represent London itself. Go where so few tourist get to go, inside the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abby. Enjoy a tour of the inside of the Houses and Parliament and learn about British politics from a local guide.
After taking photos that only a few other tourist get to take of the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, Explore Westminster Abby. This tour a small group tour and sells out almost every tour.
Unless you’ve made arrangements to observe a Parliamentary Debate, you’ll be enjoying the sights from outside the buildings, but there’s plenty to see and enjoy. Nearby, the Houses of Parliament Gift Shop, at 12 Bridge St, is the perfect place for souvenirs.
History and politics buffs will love their books and unique themed gifts, but you can also pick up classic gifts like teddy bears, pens, English tea, and milk chocolate in the shape of Big Ben.
Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet London (Travel Guide)
A church has stood on this since for nearly 1,000 years. And what a millennium it has been! In 1066, William the Conqueror started a tradition that has been faithfully upheld – every English monarch has held coronation in Westminster. A fair number have been baptized, married, and eventually buried here as well.
The Abbey opens at 9:30AM Mon-Sat and regular admission is £20 for adults and £9 for kids. If you like going at your own pace, consider booking online during peak season and don’t forget to grab a free audio guide.
For a bit more of an in-depth experience you can take a 90 minute guided tour with the in-house staff for about £5 more. As well, London Walks, the legendary British walking tour company, offers guided walks of the area and a comprehensive tour of the Abbey.
Our top recommended tours of Westminster Abbey:
- Westminster Abbey Entrance Ticket Including Audio Guide.
- Early-Access Tower of London Tour with Afternoon Tea in Westminster Abbey
- Private Tour: Westminster Abbey and Banqueting House Walking Tour in London
Hop back on the bus and get off at the next stop, Buckingham Palace. If you arrive around 11-11:30AM you’ll be in time to see the Changing of the Guards ceremony.
Now for a moment of travel truths– the Changing of the Guards is often a bit of a disappointment. The ceremony is thrilling but the large crowds make it difficult to get a great view.
If attending the ceremony is on your life long travel bucket list, do a bit of advanced research to confirm the time (it varies by season) and arrive ahead of time to stake out a good spot. Buckingham Palace is the current residence for Her Majesty the Queen and the royal family so it is quite stately and impressive.
You can enter the Palace and tour its 19 state rooms. You can also visit the Queen’s Garden, which is dominated by a 3 acre lake that has made this spot known as the “oasis of London.”
Admission is £20 for adults and £12 for kids and a typical visit takes about 2 hours.Buckingham Palace is the current residence for Her Majesty the Queen and the royal family so it is quite stately and impressive.
You can enter the Palace and tour its 19 state rooms. You can also visit the Queen’s Garden, which is dominated by a 3 acre lake that has made this spot known as the “oasis of London.” Admission is £20 for adults and £12 for kids and a typical visit takes about 2 hours.
Hoping to visit with London’s most famous resident, the Queen? You can actually find out if she’s in town or not by checking her official website. Bumping into the Queen would be one of the most unique things to do in London.
Our top recommended tours of the Changing of the Guard:
- Royal London Walking Tour Including Early Access to the Tower of London and Changing of The Guard
- Buckingham Palace Tour Including Changing of the Guard Ceremony and Afternoon Tea
- Royal London Sightseeing Tour Including Changing of the Guard Ceremony with Optional London Eye Upgrade
Lunch at Trafalgar Square
Walk about 20 minutes to Trafalgar Square and grab some lunch. There are a number of restaurants in the area to fit any budget. One of Trafalgar Square’s best known landmarks, St Martin In The Field Church, is home to what may be London’s best dining deal.
The church basement hosts a restaurant, the aptly named Café in the Crypt, and it serves up homemade sandwiches and light lunch fare for 5 pounds or less, as well as a choice of two full hot meals (one vegetarian, one with meat).
On any given day, you might enjoy gnocchi, eggplant, and sweet pepper cooked in a cream sauce with melted English cheddar, with sides of roasted zucchini, garlic bread, and salad for lunch.
For dinner you can expect a roast chicken with new baby potatoes, braised cabbage, and carrots – all for about £7. No matter what you order, a side of their legendary fruit crumble drowning in custard is HIGHLY recommended.
Our top recommended Trafalgar Square Tours:
- Pub Tour of London’s West End: Trafalgar Square, Covent Garden and Soho
- Private Tour: London Photography Walking Tour from Trafalgar Square to Covent Garden
London’s National Gallery may just be the best deal in town. It’s absolutely free and it’s home to one of the finest art collections in the world. You could easily spend several hours here depending on how much you like art.
If you’re watching the clock but still want to do the gallery justice, their website has a great list of different suggestions for seeing highlights in their collection in an hour. On a rainy day especially, there’s no better place to pass the time.
Our top recommended tour of the National Gallery:
Before you call it a day…
Depending on the time of year, you may be able to hop back on the bus and ride one more route. The red route features live English commentary which is great to listen to while on one of the open top buses. In the summer the buses run until 7pm and just riding around could take 3-4 hours.
Our top recommended food, pub, wine and nightlife tours in London:
- Evening Food Tour of Soho in London
- London East End Food Tour
- Small Group Tour: Historical Pub Walking Tour of London
- Small-Group Historic Pubs Walking Tour in Soho
London Itinerary – Day 2
It’s time to try the tube for the first time– that’s London’s underground subway system. Day two features attractions that are generally close together and offer easy walking but you still need to consider transportation to and from your hotel room, and also how tired you might be throughout the day. 3 days in London can be intense, so pace yourself!
A quick note on how to use the Underground: you can pay per trip (which is more expensive and starts at £4.80 per ride) or buy a pre-paid “Oyster” card. You load money onto the card at the kiosk, pay a cheaper cost per ride compared to the single use tickets, and only have to pay 3 trips per day.
The card is capped at £6.60 a day and after three, the rest are free for the day. Whether you need it depends on how often you think you’ll use it. For our itinerary, I would recommend a 2 day card that gives access to zones 1 and 2.
Breakfast at The Breakfast Club
Take the underground to London Bridge station. Just a few minutes away, battle your homesickness by having an all American breakfast at The Breakfast Club. This family run cafe is well known for its unique restaurants, all day breakfast menus, and its secret bars.
That’s right, you have to know someone in the know. Which luckily you do, so I’m going to tell you to try the inside of that fridge… but you didn’t hear it from me! Enjoy the fun atmosphere to kick the day off right.
You’re too close not to peak inside Southwark Cathedral! Take a few pictures from the outside or if you’re a lover of bright and sunny cathedrals, take the tour for £3.
London has so many famous and spectacular houses of worship; it can be overwhelming to narrow down the list. In the end, I’ve found you can’t go wrong with using location and convenience as your guide.
With every attraction visit, cast your eye around for a church. Chances are you’ll easily find one and it’s guaranteed to be a great visit.
Our top recommended tour of Southwark:
If the wait’s not too long and you’re having good weather, pop over to the Shard, which is just a few minutes away. The Shard is a 95 story glass skyscraper with a great view over London. Entrance tickets are £25 if you buy in advance or £30 if you buy day of – once again, a little advanced planning can help you save a lot of money.
Once in, the ride to the top is fairly quick and there’s a 360 degree viewing platform at the top where you can spot familiar landmarks.
If you’re looking for great views and an ever better price, the nearby Sky Garden is like a tropical oasis in the sky and has free admission (though you do have to reserve your spot in advance).
Our top recommended tours of the Shard:
- The View from The Shard Entrance Ticket with Optional Champagne
- The View from The Shard Dual Entry Day and Night Experience Tickets
Just a 15 minute walk away is the famous Tower Bridge, which will transport you to the next site! There is an additional walkway above that you can tour for £11 per person but mostly this bridge is just nice to walk across.
Tower of London
Though your eyes may glaze over the grim facade of the Tower of London, the inside is certainly bustling with activity – and happily, none of it has to do with royal executions.
The Tower’s most famous prisoner was Queen Anne Boleyn, but scores of nobles and common men alike were held within the Tower’s walls and they’ve left behind centuries of fascinating graffiti.
The Beefeaters or Yeoman Wardens, are the ceremonial guards of the fortress who not only live in the Tower but also give jovial guided walks where you learn about the history and tales of the Tower.
You can also see the crown jewels and the armory, and then just explore on your own. Grab an easy lunch at the cafe there and enjoy one of the best historical things to do in London.
Admission is £25 for adults or £11 for children. London Walks also does their comprehensive tour program here, and if you hold a “frequent walker” card, the combined cost of their tour and their discounted admission ticket is within a pound or so of the Tower’s regular admission price. Plan to spend about 1 ½ -3 hours here.
Looking for the best tours of the Tower of London? Save time by booking your tour in advance so you don’t have to spend time waiting in lines or locating a place to purchase the tour. If you don’t book in advance you will be sitting in lines.
Our top recommended tours of the Tower of London:
- Tower of London and Thames River Sightseeing Cruise
- London City Sightseeing Tour Including Tower of London and City of London
- Private Guided Tour: Tower of London
- Private Tour: London Walking Tour of the Tower of London and Tower Bridge
Walk along South Bank
When you’re done exploring the Tower of London, take a lovely walk along the South Bank from Waterloo to the Millennium Bridge, crossing over the Southwark Bridge. It should only take about 20-25 minutes.
Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre
Turn right onto Bankside and you will pass a painstakingly faithful reproduction of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, built on the site of the original theatre. Take the photo opportunity or opt for the cool tour inside of the active, open air theatre for £16 a person.
Tours depart every 30 minutes until 5:30 PM and is a must for Shakespeare lovers. Or if you didn’t make it for a tour, book a performance! Budget travelers will be thrilled to learn that standing tickets in the “yard” (the ground surrounding the stage) are a mere 5 pounds, a price that hasn’t changed in decades.
Just like the peasants of Shakespeare’s time, you can pay a pittance to watch the performance while standing up. Slightly more refined travelers can purchase seats in the galleries for between 20 and 45 pounds.
Looking for the best tours of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London? Save time by booking your tour in advance so you don’t have to spend time waiting in lines or locating a place to purchase the tour.
Our top recommended tours of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater:
- Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre Tour and Exhibition with Optional Afternoon Tea
- Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre Tour with Thames River Cruise in London
- Shakespeare Walking Tour in London
Is modern art more your scene? View the works of Dalí and Picasso inside this re-purposed power plant. Depending on how much you love art you could spend from 45 minutes to several hours here admiring the collections.
Admission is free. There is also a restaurant on level 6 that offers stunning views of St Paul’s Cathedral across the river. A word of warning – or perhaps encouragement, depending on your point of view.
The Tate Modern can stretch the boundaries of what you think art is or should be. And that’s a fantastic thing. Expect quirky and thought provoking work.
Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet London (Travel Guide)
Head across the Millennium Bridge and walk straight to St. Paul’s Cathedral. A symbol of resilience and resistance in World War II, St Paul’s is a delight of history, art, and spirituality.
Admission, £18 for adults/ £8 for kids gives you access to the cathedral floor, crypt, and the three dome galleries. (You can also attend church services for free, but of course these are times for quiet reflection, not touring around the attractions.)
Make sure you take advantage of the access and climb the 500 steps to the Golden Gallery at the top of the dome to get a view of the Thames River, the Tate Modern, and the Globe Theatre.
Looking for the best tours of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London? Save time by booking your tour in advance so you don’t have to spend time waiting in lines or locating a place to purchase the tour.
Our top recommended tours of St. Paul’s Cathedral:
- Private Photography Tour: Southwark Cathedral to St Paul’s
- VIP: Exclusive Access to Tower of London and St Paul’s Cathedral
Things to Do in London – Day 3
Today is going to require more London Underground trips so the Oyster card will come in handy.
British Museum and Library
Take the tube to either Tottenham Court Road or Holborn and walk 2-5 minutes to the British Museum. This is the number one attraction in London and it’s free! Most people suggest 2 hours minimum for this expansive treasure trove of history but you could easily spend half your day here.
There are priceless artifacts from every region and culture of the world here. Highlights of the collection include the Rosetta Stone and the Elgin Marbles, just don’t mention this to any Greek friends.
The Elgin Marbles, part of the statuary to adorn Athen’s Acropolis, are a point of contention between the two countries. While you’re in the neighbourhood, consider a short walk toward King’s Cross Station.
It’s an attraction in its own right (especially for Harry Potter fans!) and it’s the next door neighbor of the British Library, which hosts priceless pieces of paper that have changed the course of history, from the Magna Carta to handwritten lyrics by the Beatles.
Are you a Harry Potter fan? Did you know London is the home of Harry Potter. Below are some of London’s best Harry Potter tours. Since Harry Potter tours are so popluar, you should buy your tour in advance or they will be sold out.
Our top recommended tours of Harry Potter:
- Harry Potter Walking Tour for Muggles in London
- London Harry Potter Walking Tour
- Private Tour: Harry Potter Black Taxi Tour of London
- Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter
Nearby North Star Fish and Chips in Bloomsbury (7 Leigh Street. Note: you want the takeaway shop, not the adjacent restaurant) is perfect for a cheap lunch.
I always order the massive fried cod fillet, which rests on top of a large cone of chips and costs about £7. It’s always hot, fresh, and delicious: a real taste of London
Related Article: Street Smart Guide: 19 Things to do in Shoreditch
Covent Garden for your shopping and foodie base
You could either walk 13 minutes or walk 9 minutes to the Russell Square Underground and take the tube 1 stop to get to Covent Garden.
Actually not a garden at all but a popular shopping district, visit this crowded walk if you’re a fan of cool shops, restaurants, and theatre!
However, if you are craving a bit of a garden experience, Covent Garden is central enough to use as the starting point to walk to many of London’s farmers markets or starting your own DIY food tour of the city’s best bakeries, cafes, delis, and food producers.
Our top recommended food tours:
- London East End Food Tour
- London Afternoon Tea at Grosvenor House
- London Food Walking Tour: London Bridge and Borough Market
The museum of your dreams
This afternoon is also the perfect time to explore one of London’s unique museums. The city has hundreds of galleries and museums, from the Jewish Museum of Art and Benjamin Franklin House to the London Transport Museum and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society Museum. Even if you’re not normally a museum fan, there will be something on the list that you love.
End your day with a sunset ride on The London Eye, a giant Ferris wheel located by the River Thames. Accessible from the Waterloo tube station, this ride is meant to be slow, giving each rider a 360 degree bird’s eye view of the river, the Houses of Parliament, and London’s South Bank.
Each capsule can hold about 30 people and it takes about half an hour to go around. The ride costs around £25 for adults and £19 for kids.
If you still have a bit of energy, head to the Times Square of London at Piccadilly Circus for an active nightlife scene! Gaze up at the neon lights and billboards and hit up the pubs for a good night out.
Alternatively, if you’re looking for a more sedate scene, this is the night to rest up with a spectacular meal (maybe one of Gordon Ramsay’s signature restaurants?)
Catch a Theater Performance
No trip to London is complete without taking in a theatre performance. If you’re open to a number of shows, a last minute ticket seller (there are booths in Leicester Square) can help you find the best deal of the day on any night you’re in London.
Treat yourself to a glass of classic British ale during intermission and toast yourself for exploring the heart and soul of London.
Our top recommended Theater shows:
- Wicked the Musical Theater Show
- Phantom of the Opera Theater Show
- Les Miserables Theater Show
- The Lion King Theater Show
Click to view all of London’s theater performance’s
Historical Pubs in London to Check Out
No visit to London would be complete without indulging in a pub crawl or at least visiting a few of the famous pubs in the city. There are hundreds to choose from and each one will have it’s own flare. However, some have more history than others.
No matter where you choose to spend your free time in London, you’ll be able to see the inside of some amazing historical pubs. Don’t be shy, wander in and grab a drink or two.
- The Nag’s Head: Just an arm’s length away from the shopping regions of Harrods and Knightsbridge, The Nag’s Head offers patrons the chance to go on a fun ride and whisk their sorrows away. Bumping into this whimsical and laidback pub is like Alice discovering the rabbit hole, as it’s neatly tucked down a quiet little part of town. Inside, The Nag’s Head represents a classic London pub with all the assembly of portraits, ornaments, and mugs displayed. In short, you get a taste of what it’s like partying in the olden days. Address: 53 Kinnerton Street, SW1X 8ED
- The Star Tavern: The Star Tavern quite literally stays true to its name with all the high-profile customers and visitors. Since the pub began operation in the early 19th century, among its notable patrons are ‘50s film stars Diana Dors and Peter O’Toole, as well as classic film producer and director Alexander Korda. It is most significant tale, however, lies in its role in one of the most intriguing episodes in 20th century England. Apparently, the grand upstairs room was where the Great Train Robbers devised for their 1963 attack on the Mail service. Nowadays, the only meetings taking place at The Star Tavern are over its wonderful selection of Fuller’s. Address: 6 Belgrave Mews W, SW1X 8HT
- The French House, Soho: With a rich history dating all the way back to the First World War, The French House in Soho is similar to a quaint little museum. The only difference: it serves a wide array of oh-so-good French spirits. It has a plethora of black and white photos that feature varying emotions from different personalities – giving you a glimpse of the past altogether. Another significant thing old timers appreciate at The French House is the absence of a television set, as well as an appropriate mobile phone ban. Address: 49 Dean Street, W1D 5BG
- The Grenadier: The Grenadier was initially established in 1720 as an officer’s mess for the Foot Guards regiment. Almost one whole century after, it became a certified pub where the Duke of Wellington – allegedly – used to frequent in for refreshments. There are also constant rumors swirling that the place is haunted by the ghost of a former soldier who was killed after cheating his way in a game of cards. These days, however, The Grenadier’s cozy interior welcomes the likes of pop superstar Madonna – specifically for her post-gig celebration after a London concert. Address: 18 Wilton Road, SW1X 7NR
Day Trips from London
If you are planning to spend more than 3 days in London we recommend a day trip. London has excellent transportation networks and you’re just a few hours away from the Cliffs of Dover, Stonehenge, Bath, the Harry Potter Studios, Kensington Palace Gardens, even Paris.
But for the true British experience, and to build upon all your newfound knowledge of royal history, we recommend taking a day tour for Hampton Court Palace and Windsor Castle.
Hampton Court Palace
Located in the town of East Molesey, Richmond, Hampton Court Palace usually takes about half a day to tour. You can visit the Hampton Court Gardens (touted as some of the most beautiful gardens in the world), wind your way through the Garden Maze, visit King Henry VIII’s kitchens, and explore the art gallery, the great hall, the royal chapel.
You can reach Hampton Court Palace via a 35 minute train ride from Waterloo station. Alternatively you could rent a car and drive, or you can book a bus tour with a knowledgeable guide. Admission is £16.50 for adults and £8.25 for children.
Our top recommended tours of Hampton Court Palace:
- Hampton Court Palace Priority Entrance Ticket
- Windsor Castle – Hampton Court Palace Shuttle from Windsor Castle
- Royal Palaces Pass: Kensington Palace, Hampton Court and Tower of London
- Private Tour: Hampton Court Palace Walking Tour with Historian Guide
From there you can either follow along with a dual tour or take the shuttle from Hampton Court Palace to Windsor Castle (£10 per person and £5 for kids).
Windsor Castle is another notable royal residence, touting its own gardens and a “climb the tower” challenge that offers great aerial views.
It has lush grounds and spectacular rooms to explore (though photography is prohibited) and has something for everyone at £20.50 admission.
Our top recommended tours of Windsor Castle:
- Hampton Court and Windsor Tour from London
- Afternoon Tea Cruise from Windsor
- 2.5-Hour Windsor Dinner Cruise
General Information for Visiting London
- Pre-book to save- there’s an easy way to shave a few pounds off the cost of admission to London’s most popular attractions. Booking online will save you 5 to 20 percent and students, teachers, retirees, and other demographics might save even more when they arrive. Don’t forget your id.
- Don’t forget the tourism board- Their website is full of information to help you plan the perfect trip. Especially if you are a first time visitor to the city.
- Plan for the weather- London is a crazy mix of weather. Bring your umbrella and raincoat. When is the Best Time to Visit Europe?
- Buy a London City Pass- Discover London’s top sights for one low price with the London Pass. Choose a 1-, 2-, 3- or 6- day pass, and enjoy free entrance to more than 60 attractions plus skip-the-line access to must-sees such as Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London. The London pass also includes a hop-on hop-off bus ticket and valuable shopping and dining discounts. Buy your London pass today and thank me later!
Choosing Accommodation in London
When choosing your London accommodations, the world is your oyster. There is everything from value priced hostels to world renowned luxury – in each and every neighborhood. While the process of narrowing down your choices may seem overwhelming, a couple of handy points can help you find the best bed for you.
First, consider your itinerary. If you’re going to be primarily in one part of the city, you should try to situate yourself in the neighborhood you’re touring. The cost of transportation can quickly add up and it’s worth considering if that cost would be better spent on more convenient accommodations.
Secondly, if your time in London will take you all around the city, choose accommodations based on convenient proximity to an Underground station. If you’re going to have to ride the tube, you should be situated close to one. Sometimes it’s easier said than done, but in an ideal world you’d pick a station that serves two different color subway lines.
Two distinct routes can offer you incredible flexibility to get nearly anywhere you want to go – but more than two often signifies a major hub like Kings Cross or Victoria and the crowds and congestion can outweigh the benefits of being close to more routes.
Last but not least, consider making trade offs. Sometimes a tiny room is in the perfect location. Other times, a more distant location is well worth an extravagant breakfast. Don’t think of it as compromise – think of it as opportunity!
Read reviews and check prices for hotels in London with our Hotel Search Engine that allows you to search all hotels and compare prices for the best deals on the web.
Apartment rentals can be perfect for families or couples who like to enjoy a home away from home. Location, amenities, and decor can vary widely but there are often great deals to be had for longer visits and great perks like laundry.
Hostels aren’t just for backpackers and students anymore. All frugally minded travelers will appreciate their simple, affordable beds, budget minded travel resources, and special treats like in-house pubs and walking tours.
If you have a very early or very late flight, you’ll want to stay close to the airport. The Heathrow Yotel (yep, with a “y”) offers a cross between pod, private hostel room, and funky hotel.
If an American style huge king sized bed is what you desire (complete with a gorgeous deep soaker tub), the Kensington Hotel is your perfect destination.
If you want a great location and amazing design and you don’t mind sacrificing space, the Hoxton Holborn is the perfect hotel. Their “shoebox” and “cozy” rooms may be wee but the location and amenities more than make up for it.
For an upgrade in space (and a bit in price), the Ampersand Hotel is another beautiful choice. Finally, the Charlotte Street Hotel Fitzrovia has a lovely mix of old English country garden style with a dash of modern design – perfect if you’ve been dreaming of old fashioned gardens with fresh touches.
More on London:
- 10 Day Trips From London Worth Taking
- Best Places to Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day
- Ultimate Guide to Eurail Pass Train Travel in Europe
- Travel Insurance for Europe Vacation & Do I Need It?
- When is the Best Time to Visit Europe?
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