With only 3 days in London, you can actually experience a lot of the culture capital. My British friend David Angel from Delve into Europe shares the perfect 3-day London itinerary.
London is one of a very small, select group that can lay claim to being a truly great world city. The capital of England and the UK has more packed into it than many whole countries do. So a 3 days London itinerary presents some challenges.
Our suggested itinerary is geared to a first-time visitor, showing you most of the main London sights, while also introducing you to some of the many different sides to the city and some of its best experiences.
London started out 2,000 years ago as a Roman provincial settlement and capital. After a period of decline it grew to become one of the biggest cities in medieval Europe, and eventually the capital of the largest empire on the planet.
It is a city with an incredible wealth of history and heritage, and has long been a true melting pot of cultures and languages – the main reason I’ve always loved it. London is home to people from every corner of the world, and is a world in itself.
Table of Contents
- 3 Days in London Itinerary
- London Itinerary Day 1: Central London
- London Itinerary Day 2: City of London
- London Itinerary Day 3: Kensington and Around
- When to Travel London
- How to Get to London
- Getting Around London
- Where to Stay in London for 3 Days
- Where to Eat in London
- What to Pack for this 3-Days London Itinerary
- Inspired? Pin it!
3 Days in London Itinerary
London Itinerary Day 1: Central London
This first day of your three day London itinerary takes you around many of the famous iconic sights of Central London, taking in the sights or Royal London, Westminster and the West End. One of the best entertainment districts in the world.
Start at Westminster
0900 Begin your 3-days London itinerary at Parliament Square, home to the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. The iconic clock tower, Big Ben, is currently clad in scaffolding (and will be until 2021) but it’s still an amazing place, with Westminster Abbey just across the square. You can also book a 3-hour Houses of Parliament tour which includes all skip-the-line entrances and guide.
0930 Get in first through the doors at Westminster Abbey, one of the most fascinating, history-packed churches in the world. It has been the venue for many royal weddings and funerals, including the 2011 marriage of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. The adult entry fee is £20, for which you get access to most of the church and a multimedia guide. Book your entrance ticket here.
There is an incredible wealth of things to see in Westminster Abbey, one of the most magnificent Gothic buildings in Europe. Many kings and queens of England are buried there, as well as many great literary figures, with Poets’ Corner centred around the tomb of Geoffrey Chaucer, author of the Canterbury Tales, the greatest work in medieval English literature.
Watch the Changing of the Guard
1040 It’s time for a walk. Head across Parliament Square, turning left onto Birdcage Walk, with Big Ben behind you. Take the next right onto Horse Guards Road, from where it’s a few minutes’ walk up to Horseguards Parade ground on the right.
This is one of two places in London where you can see the Changing of the Guard, one of the most famous royal ceremonies, free of charge. The other one takes place at the same time (1100) outside Buckingham Palace, but it’s much easier to get a spot at Horseguards than there.
The ceremony has scarcely changed since it was introduced in the 17th century, and it’s one of the best photo opportunities in London. Many visitors also photograph the mounted sentries the other side of the Household Cavalry Museum, on Whitehall.
Visit the Buckingham Palace
1130 It’s a 15-minute walk from Horseguards to the Queen’s London residence, Buckingham Palace. The State Rooms of the Palace are open for 10 weeks each summer (normally mid-July to late September). If you’re there at other times of year, it’s a very impressive sight, and the walk there – either through lovely St James’s Park or the Royal processional route, The Mall, is one of the most enjoyable in London.
I recommend booking a Changing of the Guard and Buckingham Palace tour to learn more about what you’re seeing through a guide. You’ll also get exclusive access to the state rooms in the palace. Alternatively, you can combine all the above with a Thames river cruise on this London day tour.
Wander Around Piccadilly and Trafalgar Square
1300 Continue the walk through Green Park to Piccadilly, one of the best-known streets in London. You arrive on Piccadilly at the Ritz Hotel. Cross the road and catch the number 6 bus – destination Aldwych – as far as Trafalgar Square, passing Piccadilly Circus en route.
Time for a spot of lunch in one of the best cafes in central London, the Cafe in the Crypt which sits in the corner of Trafalgar Square. The church to which the café is attached is also one of the best venues in the city for classical music concerts.
1400 Trafalgar Square is one of the great public spaces of London and the official centre of the city. Its most prominent landmark is Nelson’s Column, the figure of Lord Horatio looking down Whitehall towards Big Ben. It’s surrounded by the four bronze lions by Edwin Landseer, and at the back of the Square is your next destination.
1430 The National Gallery is one of the finest art museums in the world. The Gallery usually has over 2,000 paintings exhibited at any one time, and getting around everything could take days – I used to visit one section at a time rather than try to take it all in. However, stay around for the rest of the afternoon, no matter how far you get, it’ll be one of the best afternoons you’ll spend in your life. Book a Book a guided tour of the National Gallery.
Catch a West End Show
1730 Dinner in Chinatown. This area is only a few minutes’ walk up Charing Cross Road, and is packed with great restaurants from all over Asia. Many places in Chinatown and neighbouring Covent Garden and Soho have pre-show dinner offers at special rates.
1930 Seeing a West End show is one of the best things to do in London. You can book tickets in advance, but when we lived there we tended to use the ticket booth on Leicester Square which usually was a good way to find a bargain.
There are over 50 theatres in the West End of London, most of which are centred around Shaftesbury Avenue, Soho and Covent Garden. You can see everything from long-running musicals to theatre productions – check the latest listings here.
London Itinerary Day 2: City of London
Today you’ll explore the City of London, home to more of the great sights of London and much of the UK’s finance industry.
Admire St Paul’s Cathedral
0900 St Paul’s Cathedral is one of the most familiar and enduring sights of London, and by far and away the finest Baroque church in the UK. It was designed and built by Sir Christopher Wren after the 1666 Great Fire of London destroyed much of the medieval city, including its great cathedral.
Inside, it’s a golden, glittering masterpiece, one of the most impressive church interiors I’ve ever seen. You can also climb up to the dome for some outstanding views of London. Book here for discounted, fast-track entrance.
See the Tower Bridge
1100 It’s worth taking the next stage of your journey on foot, as you pass through the City of London to look up at the ever-changing skyline. Each of the new skyscrapers that has sprung up seems to have a nickname, with recent ones including the Gherkin, The Cheese Grater and the Walkie-Talkie.
Continue along Cannon Street as far as Monument Tube station – from here, cross London Bridge, with great views along the river and a better perspective of the City skyline. To your left is Tower Bridge, one of the most recognisable in the world. And soaring over 300 metres above is the Shard, currently the tallest skyscraper in Europe.
Pig Out at Borough Market
1230 Borough Market is one of the biggest draws in London, one of London’s biggest fresh food markets with a whole host of pop-up street food stalls, restaurants and bars clustered nearby. It’s fully open Wednesdays to Saturdays, with partial opening Mondays and Tuesdays. I recommend joining a food tour to learn more about London’s culinary culture and try the best stalls in the market.
There are lots of great spots for lunch along here, and it’s also worth looking around Southwark Cathedral next door. The Refectory behind the Cathedral is another nice spot for lunch or afternoon tea.
Head to the Top of the Shard or Tower of London
1400 It’s decision time. If the weather’s clear it may be worth considering a trip up the Shard for an amazing elevated view over London. If the weather’s not so good, the view is nowhere near as good, and your money is better spent visiting either the Tower of London or its near neighbour, Tower Bridge and the Tower Bridge Experience. Both are fascinating.
The Tower of London would probably win my vote, but it would be a close-run thing. If you’re looking for photo opportunities, the Tower is home to the Beefeaters, or Yeoman Warders, whose distinctive uniforms are another great London icon.
Enjoy a Pint and Pub Food
1700 If you’re there on a week day, stop by at one of the many City of London pubs for a drink. It’s the best part of this 3-days London itinerary! The Hung, Drawn and Quartered is one of many, and the closest to the Tower of London itself.
1800 Head to Shoreditch, on the fringe of London’s East End, for your evening out. I can remember this area being quite sorry and neglected 15 years or so ago, but a whole range of start-ups have changed it completely and livened it up – there are now plenty of restaurants and clubs, and it’s one of London’s best areas for nightlife.
London Itinerary Day 3: Kensington and Around
Visit Kensington’s Museums
1000 Start your day in South Kensington by visiting one (or even more) of the suburb’s amazing museums. The Science Museum is brilliant for hands-on discovery and a favourite with families, as is the Natural History Museum next door. If you’re traveling London with kids, it might be a good idea to book this Natural History Museum family tour for them to learn some interesting facts!
The iconic diplodocus dinosaur cast that dominated the entrance hall for so long has gone on a tour of the UK for a few years, but this is still one of the best museums of its kind in the world, covering the natural world from the dawn of prehistory to the present day. It also hosts the Wildlife Photographer of the Year event each year.
1200 Just across the road from the Natural History and Science Museums is the third world-class Kensington Museum, the V&A, or Victoria & Albert. It’s one of the world’s leading decorative arts and design museums, covering paintings, ceramics, furniture, clothing and much more.
Entry to the V&A is free, with paid ticket access to some temporary exhibitions – the David Bowie one a few years ago was brilliant, and a Frida Kahlo exhibition has just opened, running for the next three months. Grab a snack at one of the cafes in the Museum – you won’t want to eat too much at this stage.
Immerse in the Greenery of Kensington Gardens
1330 Turn right out of the V&A and walk up Exhibition Road for ten minutes until you reach Hyde Park. On your left, you’ll see the Royal Albert Hall, one of the finest concert venues in the UK and home of the iconic Last Night of the Proms concert.
Cross into the Park, passing the Albert Memorial on your left, continuing towards the Serpentine lake. The area to the left is known as Kensington Gardens, and is home to the Serpentine Gallery and Kensington Palace. Just before the lake, on the right, is the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain. Click to find more parks in West London.
Visit London’s Exclusive Harrods
1430 Now retrace your steps or head through the back streets towards Knightsbridge, where you’ll soon see one of the most recognisable store exteriors in the world. Harrod’s is one of London’s most exclusive department stores, and it’s well worth a peek inside to see the lavish interior and displays.
1600 Jump on board the number 14 bus for the short ride (in distance terms) to Hyde Park Corner, alighting two stops later opposite Green Park Tube station and your next destination.
Enjoy a Traditional Afternoon Tea
1630 Afternoon tea at the Ritz is one of the ultimate London indulgences. It’s one of the great British traditions, and you sit in the grandeur of the Palm Court, enjoying a selection of finger sandwiches, scones and delicious cakes and pastries.
You are required to dress in a manner befitting the elegant architecture of your surroundings, so no jeans and sportswear for either gender, and gentlemen are required to wear a jacket and tie. Prices start at £57 per adult. It is one of the most enjoyable splurges you will ever have, something you’ll always remember.
See a Classical Concert
1830 Slowly make your way back to Kensington and the Royal Albert Hall. It’s an incredible venue with some of the best acoustics I’ve heard anywhere in the world. It’s renowned for its classical concerts, but also hosts many mainstream pop acts.
Check the venue website to find who or what’s on – a concert there is one of the best London experiences. Last time we went there for a classical concert paying a walk-up fee of £10 per ticket. Soon after the start a member of staff kindly suggested we move to more expensive seats with a better view which weren’t occupied. We greatly appreciated that.
When to Travel London
London can be visited at any time of year – it can be wonderful in all seasons. The parks are magnificent in spring, with the flower beds full and trees in blossom. In summer, the weather is balmy, the evenings long, and you can sit at some of the rooftop bars and enjoy amazing views over the city long into the evening.
Autumn is lovely too, and a great time to catch a show at one of the many theatres in the West End. And winter can be magical, as the city is lit up for those long evenings, and there are so many great places to eat out or enjoy some amazing entertainment.
How to Get to London
The national airline in the UK is British Airways and they are one of the best airlines in the world in terms of service and punctuality. You can get really good deals when flying from New York to London for as cheap as $400 return. Flights from anywhere in Europe to London are very affordable, usually no more than $100 return if you book in advance.
If you’re flying to London from outside of Europe, you’ll arrive at Heathrow or Gatwick International Airports. Heathrow is closer to London than Gatwick, though both have excellent links with central London. The Heathrow Express train takes just 15 minutes to whisk you to London Paddington station. Alternatively, the Piccadilly Line – part of the Tube, or Underground train network – takes an hour from Heathrow to the centre of London.
To get from Gatwick to the city, book the Gatwick Express train which takes 15 minutes to get to London Victoria station. A cheaper option is the bus transfer from Gatwick to your hotel, which can take up to 1.5 hours. For more comfort and speed, book a shared from the airport to your hotel.
If you’re traveling from continental Europe, there’s a high chance you’ll be arriving at Stansted or Luton airports, which are busy hubs for the budget carriers including easyjet and Ryanair. Stansted is 45 minutes from Liverpool Street on the Stansted Express train. Cheaper options include bus transfers which take up to 1.5 hours or mini-van shared transfers.
You also arrive at St Pancras International if you’re travelling from continental Europe by train – a very convenient option from the likes of Paris and Amsterdam. Rail travellers from within the UK will find frequent services to London from all over the country. Fares within the UK, especially walk-up ones, can be very high, so it pays to book as far in advance as possible to get the best deals.
Victoria Coach Station, a few minutes’ walk from Victoria railway station, is the busy arrival point for coaches from across Europe and all over the UK. Coach travel within the UK is generally much cheaper than rail travel, so if you plan to travel around the UK after your time in London, it’s well worth looking at National Express and Megabus offers.
Getting Around London
Whatever you do in London, do not attempt to drive. Instead, make use of the excellent public transport system in London, which includes the Tube (underground trains), Overground rail, buses and River Buses along the Thames.
The first thing you’ll need for travelling in London is a Visitor Oyster card, which you can order online. It only costs £5, and you can order whatever credit you think you’ll need loaded onto it. It’s a simple smart card which you top up when your credit is running low – you can do this at machines or kiosks at all stations. Fares are capped each day, so you can get around Zones 1 and 2 for as little as £6.60 a day, a real bargain.
The Tube costs the most, covers most places you would visit within three days, and the buses offer additional coverage all over the city. We always tended to use the Tube for longer journeys into the city, then buses for short hops around central London. Travelling by Tube is great, but you see much more of London on board a bus.
Where to Stay in London for 3 Days
There is an enormous range of places to stay in London, covering all budgets and tastes, from backpacker to high-end luxury.
As you’re spending three days in London, it makes sense to stay as close to central London as possible, to cut down as much as possible on your travelling time.
Luxury: Covent Garden Hotel
One of our favourite London hotels is the Covent Garden Hotel, in a quiet street close to the Seven Dials junction. It’s one of the best luxury hotels in London, and an iconic landmark of the city. With an excellent location, the hotel stands in the lively Covent Garden, at only a few minutes’ walk from many of the main sights in Leicester Square and theatre district. Check the latest rates here.
Mid-Range: Ambassadors Bloomsbury
Ambassadors Bloomsbury is another good central London option, close to Euston and St Pancras stations so ideal if you’re travelling by Eurostar. It’s very contemporary in style, in a grand red-brick Victorian building close to the heart of the University of London. It’s around a 15-minute walk from the British Museum, and the 91 bus runs direct to Trafalgar Square. Check the latest rates here.
Budget: Meininger Hotel London Hyde Park
The Meininger Hotel London Hyde Park has an unbeatable location right opposite the Natural History Museum in South Kensington. It’s a two-star budget hotel with some hostel-style dorm accommodation, in an ideal location for families taking kids to the museums or backpackers. Book your stay here!
Where to Eat in London
Many of the best places to eat in London are around the Theatreland or West End, either side of Shaftesbury Avenue.
Chinatown has a huge range of places, with many Chinese and other Asian (Japanese, Korean, Thai) restaurants covering all budgets. One of my favourites is the Baozi Inn at Newport Court, just off Charing Cross Road, which serves some great Sichuanese street food and dim sum – fantastic if you like your food spicy. Read the Tripadvisor reviews here.
Soho, across Shaftesbury Avenue from Chinatown, has a great choice of places to eat, from long-standing institutions like Maison Bertaux (a French patisserie and café on Greek Street) to new arrivals like Babaji Istanbul Pride, which serves sumptuous pide (Turkish pizza).
Another place close to Shaftesbury Avenue that I absolutely love is De Hems, the only Dutch pub in London. It has a great selection of beers in the bar, and borrelhapjes – snacks – including cheese parcels and frikadelle sausages, and a great menu of traditional pub mains. Read the Tripadvisor review here.
What to Pack for this 3-Days London Itinerary
You never quite know what weather you’re going to get in the UK, but as London is in the east of the country, it actually gets a lot less rain than the west, which gets the brunt of the Atlantic rain fronts. That said, a small travel umbrella is very useful to have in London.
The one essential item you’ll need for this 3-days London itinerary is a good pair of comfortable, low-level walking shoes – ideally already broken in for a day or two beforehand. There’s a good chance you’ll be doing a lot of walking during your three days in London, so you don’t want sore feet and blisters slowing you down.
It’s also wise to bring layers of clothes for your 3 days in London. In summer you’ll probably need a shirt or extra top layer to add if it gets cooler in the evening. Don’t forget a waterproof rain jacket for the rains that London is notorious for. In autumn, winter and even spring you’ll need more than that, including a fleece layer. Pack thermals and fleece-lined leggings for winter, especially if you’re planning on being outdoors a lot – it can get pretty cold.
And finally, stock up on memory cards for your camera. Even now, having lived there and visited hundreds of times, I still find so much to photograph there. So be prepared.
That’s the end of your 3 days in London! You should have a gotten a taste of the vibrant metropolis and soaked up some of its culture and traditions. As you can see, there is SO much to do in London that it merits a longer visit. Hope this 3-days London itinerary is enough of a teaser to get you back to the city. Please leave us comments if you have any questions!
About the Author: David Angel
David Angel is the owner and founder of three travel blogs – delveintoeurope.com, delveintoaustralia.com and travelwithlittleone.com. Since 2016, he has been dividing his time between Australia – where he lives with his wife and son – and Europe.
He has been a professional photographer and writer for twenty years, and his work has been featured by the likes of the BBC, The Guardian, The Times, The Telegraph and many more besides. Originally from Wales on the UK, he was also art director for Visit Wales, producing their photographic content for over a decade.
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