Londoners will tell you that their city is the best city in the world. They’re not wrong because, in many ways, London is the center of the world (or the center of the UK, at least). The sense of pride in the United Kingdom’s capital is visible at every turn, and you’re guaranteed to be swept up with Union Jack fever as you watch the Changing of the Guard outside Buckingham Palace.
Delve into the often brutal past of the Tower of London, explore the regal and religious history of Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s Cathedral, and then spend hours perusing the exhibits of the British Museum. And once you’ve visited all the traditional London sights, that’s when the fun really begins. Spend your evenings watching musicals and stage plays in the West End, or head over to Camden Town for a night of gigs, live music, and craft beers.
There’s so much to do in the United Kingdom’s capital. From the iconic chimes of Big Ben to the lofty heights of The Shard, a few days is never enough to explore the sights of London. This is a city that you can return to time and time again and still barely scrape the surface, but our 3-day London itinerary will set you up to see the best sights if it’s your first time in the city!
If you’re still deciding where to stay then make sure to check out our article on the best boutique hotels in London!
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How to Spend a Weekend in London, England
London Weekend Itinerary – Day 1
Your weekend in London begins leisurely, with a surprisingly serene stroll through the greenery of Hyde Park. This is one of several “Royal Parks” in London, and the area was originally set aside as a hunting reserve by Henry VIII back in the 16th century. This is also your chance to take in a little fresh air before your day really begins because from here on in it’s going to be non-stop!
Day 1 of your 3 days in London will see you visiting some of London’s most iconic landmarks, with your itinerary centered around royal sights like Buckingham Palace and Westminster, where the Houses of Parliament are found. Before that, though, walk through Hyde Park and visit the Serpentine, an impressive area of open water that’s popular among swimmers.
From here, you can head on over to Kensington Gardens, another royal parkland that’s adjacent to Hyde Park. Within Kensington Gardens you’ll find Kensington Palace, a royal residence that dates back to the 17th century.
The palace was commissioned by King William III and Mary II in the late 17th century, and it remains the current residence of many of the royal family (including William and Kate, the Prince and Princess of Wales). If you’re here early, then you’ll have time for a quick tour of the stately rooms, but you’ll need to be ready to move on at 11:00 am for the first big event of the day.
You’ll need to hurry on over to Wellington Arch, which marks the entrance and exit to Hyde Park in the southeastern corner. This will bring you to Buckingham Palace, where you should be right on time to watch the Changing of the Guard Ceremony at 11:30 am (double check this time on the Changing of the Guard website, as it can sometimes change).
Full of pageantry and pomp, this colorful tradition sees the King’s soldiers marching along the Mall before ceremonially taking over duties from the old guard stationed at Buckingham Palace. Once the ceremony is over, take in the view of Buckingham Palace from the front gates. This is the King’s official residence, and unfortunately, you can’t go inside. If the Royal Standard is flying, though, this means the King is home!
Turn around, walk down The Mall, then through St James Park until you reach Westminster. Now you’ll see more famous landmarks, as this is the location of Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, and the Houses of Parliament.
Westminster Abbey is where all of England’s monarchs have been crowned since 1066, while the Houses of Parliament is where the government debates and passes its laws. You’ll have time to take a tour of one or the other, so choose wisely.
Before or after the tour, you should take the opportunity for a traditional London lunch on your first day in the city. Westminster is home to a plethora of traditional pubs, many of which have been serving patrons for centuries.
British Fish and Chips
We recommend a pit stop at the Two Chairmen, which has been serving ales and pies for over 200 years. Alternatively, pop into the Laughing Halibut, where you’ll find Westminster’s finest servings of traditional British fish and chips.
Churchill War Rooms
After lunch, you’ll be going underground, but not where you might be expecting. Hidden away below Westminster is the Churchill War Rooms, a unique attraction that’s preserved the subterranean shelters where the British government operated during the Second World War.
Venture underground, and you can explore the tunnels and bunkers where Winston Churchill made pivotal decisions that saved Britain from defeat by the armies of Nazi Germany.
Emerge again into the sunlight, and walk down toward the banks of the River Thames. Here you’ll find Westminster Bridge, while on the other side of the river is the London Eye.
Rising to a height of 135 meters (443 feet), this is Europe’s tallest revolving observation wheel, and you’ll love the panoramic views awaiting you as your glass pod ever so slowly makes its revolution.
By now, we’re sure you’re going to be exhausted. But if you’re up for one more attraction, then you can journey inside the London Dungeon, where a theatrical, gory, and very dramatic look at medieval torture awaits you (it’s like a medieval Disneyland!).
If that’s not for you, then cross back over the River Thames and head on over to Trafalgar Square. Here you’ll find the Trafalgar Square Lions and Nelson’s Column, as well as the National Gallery.
Leicester Square (with Flat Iron and The Petersham)
This evening, we recommend visiting Flat Iron, a restaurant known for its steaks; The Frenchie, for high-end Parisian fare in a London setting; or The Petersham, for elegant Italian-inspired dishes prepared using seasonal ingredients from the British countryside.
London Weekend Itinerary – Day 2
Your 3-day London vacation continues with an action-packed itinerary merging history with contemporary culture. You’ll be looking forward to a great day of sightseeing, eating, and cultural events as you explore Tower Hamlets, the City of London, and Southwark.
Tower of London
The day begins at the Tower of London, which you’ll find overlooking the River Thames in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. This mighty fortress sits on Tower Hill, and we recommend taking a tour (led by the famous “Beefeaters” who guard the tower) to learn more about the bloody and barbarous history that’s occurred within its walls.
The Tower of London’s original keep (the White Tower) was built on the orders of William the Conqueror, who invaded England in 1066. Over the next centuries, the Tower of London became not just a symbol of royal authority but a place where traitors would meet a grizzly end. The Tower of London is home to the royal Crown Jewels, which you can see in all their glory in the “Jewell House.”
From the Tower of London, you’ll now walk over Tower Bridge, which you’ll instantly recognize as one of the city’s most iconic landmarks. Built in the late 19th century, the bridge is not only elegantly ornate but a marvelous example of Victorian engineering.
You can see more by booking tickets to the upper walkways, where you’ll have spectacular views across the Thames and get an insider look at the Victorian engine rooms that raise and lower the bridge for passing boats.
You’ll then follow Queen’s Walk along the Southbank of the River Thames, passing the domineering form of HMS Belfast (an old navy destroyer turned museum that’s moored in the Thames) before turning inland to visit The Shard. Take the elevator to the top floor of this monstrously tall skyscraper, where you’ll have incredible vistas from the observation deck of London’s tallest building.
We expect you’re getting peckish. Good, because your next stop is Borough Market. Located in Southwark, the market has been in action for a thousand years.
There’s no letting up today, and you’ll be spoiled for choice as you browse through the food stalls. Fish and chips, mac and cheese, Sri Lankan curries, and Malaysian laksa – you name it, you’ll find it at Borough Market.
Monument to the Great Fire of London
Suitably replenished, cross over London Bridge to get back to the other side of the River Thames. Now you’re in the historical City of London, a one-square-mile area that was originally built up by the Romans.
There’s much to see this afternoon, including the Monument to the Great Fire of London, the overgrown ruins of St Dunstan in the East, the beautiful indoor greenery of “Sky Garden,” and the majestic architecture of Leadenhall Market (the inspiration for Harry Potter‘s Diagon Alley).
St Paul’s Cathedral
Finally, make your way to St Paul’s Cathedral, where you can take a tour of London’s most important religious building.
Go back to your hotel and freshen up, then catch the Tube over to Camden Town, where you can spend an evening touring through pubs and listening to live music. There are some great, casual restaurants to kick things off, including The Cheese Bar and Burger and Beyond.
London Weekend Itinerary – Day 3
Homemade Jalapeño Cornbread
Your 3-day trip to London ends with another jam-packed itinerary. Day 3 is all about the museums, and you’ll want to start with a big, big breakfast at the Brompton Food Market, where the homemade jalapeño cornbread is almost as great as the breakfast burrito.
Natural History Museum
The Brompton Food Market is just a short stroll away from the Natural History Museum, which will be your first sightseeing stop of the day. The museum is home to one of the finest collections of natural history in the world, and with a history dating back to the 1700s, you can find a wealth of specimens collected by famous naturalists, including Charles Darwin.
It’s estimated that there are some 80 million items in the care of the Natural History Museum, so you’ve no chance of seeing them all even in a lifetime! You will see a comprehensive selection of exhibits displayed across the galleries, which are divided into five sections based on zoology, botany, entomology, mineralogy, and paleontology. This means there will be animals, plants, bugs, minerals, and dinosaurs.
The Natural History Museum is located on Exhibition Road, which you’ll find is also home to two other excellent London museums. Once you’ve had your fair fill of dinosaur fossils and meteorites, you can visit either the Science Museum or the Victoria and Albert Museum.
The Science Museum needs very little introduction. It’s dedicated to all things scientific, and with an impressive array of hands-on exhibitions to get stuck into, it’s a great place to take kids. The Victoria and Albert Museum is a little different. The “V&A” dates back to 1853, and it’s dedicated to art and design.
Victoria and Albert Museum
This broad remit means that the museum is home to upwards of 2 million items collected from different communities, eras, and locations across the world. You’ll find Roman sculptures, African art, and ancient jewelry. You’ll also find galleries dedicated to photography, textiles, and furniture. It’s this diversity that really makes the Victoria and Albert Museum fascinating.
Next, walk over to nearby Knightsbridge, where you can enjoy a very classy lunch break at Harrods. This is London’s iconic department store, and it’s where the rich and famous shop for everything from groceries to winter clothing.
The food court at Harrods is superb (if pricey), and you can enjoy a spot of caviar and a glass of champagne to fortify you for the afternoon.
The British Museum
Jump on the London Underground and make your way over to Russell Square, where your next stop of the day is The British Museum. This is one of the world’s most famous museums, with an extensive collection numbering upwards of 8 million objects. The museum was founded in 1753, making it one of the oldest museums in the world.
The British Museum is extensive. It attempts to tell the story of human history, tracing it back thousands of years to the dawn of civilization. You’ll see archeological finds dating back to the ancient Sumerians, including the world’s first examples of a written alphabet.
There are ancient Egyptian mummies and sarcophagi, Greek statues and Roman mosaics, and Viking armor and medieval weapons. It’s worth taking a short tour if you don’t want to miss bucket list exhibits like the Rosetta Stone and Elgin Marbles.
Then it’s just a short stroll to Covent Garden, where you’ll find boutique shops and street performers in one of London’s loveliest districts.
Then look out for famous streets like St Martin’s Lane and Shaftesbury Avenue as you make your way to Chinatown for a taste of the city’s multicultural makeup.
Soon enough, you’ll have reached Leicester Square, the glitzy, glamorous location where movies premiere and stars are born. Head to the box office, where you can pick up last-minute tickets for whichever West End shows are on special that night. With your evening sorted, It’s time for a pre-show dinner.
You’re in the right place because the West End is a veritable smorgasbord of restaurants. One of our favorites is Dishoom, a unique Indian-inspired restaurant offering a taste of Mumbai in London. Other options include The Garden at Corinthia, Scully St James’s, or St Martin’s House.
What to do if you have more than 3 days in London
We can’t stress this enough, but in 72 hours, you’ll just be scratching the surface of what there is to do and see in London. If you’ve got longer to spend, then perfect, because there’s much more to see in and around the capital:
Take a Harry Potter Studio Tour:
If you’re a huge Harry Potter fan, then you have to make the pilgrimage to the Warner Bros Studios in Hertfordshire. The on-set filming locations and props have been masterfully preserved, offering one of the greatest cinema experiences in the UK. Join an organized tour from London, which includes transport to and from the studios.
Marvel at Windsor Castle:
You’ve seen Buckingham Palace, so now it’s time to visit Windsor Castle. Located in Windsor, on the outskirts of London, this magnificent royal castle is almost a thousand years old. It’s also one of the royal family’s official residences.
Take a River Thames Cruise:
Take a sightseeing cruise along the mighty River Thames as you enjoy the city’s magnificent skyline from the water. If you’re in a romantic mood, you could even treat your partner to an evening dinner cruise.
One of London’s most fascinating districts is Greenwich, which you’ll find by following the Thames west. Visit markets, landscaped royal parks, the Cutty Sark, and see the Meridian Line, where Greenwich Meantime officially begins.
See the Deer at Richmond Park:
London’s largest royal park is located in the London Borough of Richmond, where you’ll find a vast herd of deer roaming through woods and fields. It’s a beautiful place where you can escape the city, and also closely situated to Hampton Court Palace, the famous residence of King Henry VIII.
Getting around London
London is one of the largest cities in the world. With an urban area that sprawls across much of southeast England, it’s easy to get lost if you’ve never been to the city before. Luckily, though, London has one of the best connected public transport systems in the world, so with a little planning, it’s also easy to get around.
We’ve tried to ensure that our London itinerary below is planned for minimal transit times between sights, and you’ll be able to walk between many of the attractions each day, or you’ll be just a few stops away on the “Tube” (officially, it’s called the London Underground). Grab yourself a Tube map as soon as you land because you’ll be using London’s iconic metro system a lot during your stay.
London has several airports you could find yourself flying into. The major transit hub is London Heathrow Airport, where many international flights arrive and depart. London Heathrow Airport is connected by bus to London Victoria station or by train and tube to major train stations, including London Paddington, which is the terminus of the rapid Heathrow Express service.
London Gatwick Airport is further out but also serves many international flights. The Gatwick Express takes you from the airport direct to London Victoria Station.
Within London, public transport is integrated and divided into different zones. You can tap on and off with a credit or debit card when you’re using the bus, underground or overground rail network.
This keeps things simple, and you’ll be charged at the end of a day based on how many journeys you’ve made and which zones you’ve crossed (a cap is put in place, so you’ll never pay more than the cost of a “day ticket” no matter how much you travel that day). Alternatively, you can purchase tickets using the machines or ticket booths available at stations.
There are also several other public transport lines, including several ferries, a cable car that crosses the River Thames (Emirates Skyline), and the Docklands Light Rail, a driverless train that heads to places like Canary Wharf and the London Excel Arena. The latest addition to the expansive public transport network is the recently opened Elizabeth Line, a cross-city underground line named in honor of the recently deceased Queen.
Driving in London isn’t recommended, not least because of the traffic, but because of the congestion charges you’ll need to pay. Ride-hailing apps like Uber and Bolt work everywhere, while the famous London taxis (Black Cabs) should be ridden at least once during your stay, even if they are expensive!