How to Spend 72 Hours in London: Your Perfect Three Day London Itinerary

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Wondering how to see London in 72 hours? Let this Londoner show you around.

3 Days in London  - A 72 Hour itinerary for first timers in London as well as some local insights if you've been there before. #Travel #London

Planning to see London in 3 Days

Welcome to the country where faint praise means “awesome” and tea is an institution. This three day itinerary in London will leave you worn out but happy, having tasted one of the most exciting cities in the world.

Of course, to see everything in London would take more than 72 hours. You’d need at least a week in practical terms or a lifetime if you want to take the task seriously.

But three days or seventy-two hours is a good chunk of time to see the big hitters, while also having the chance to explore more of the unusual sides of London.

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Where to Stay in London

London zings and zangs with accommodation. Some of it resplendent, some of it decidedly shady.

Of all the options available, if you only have three days in London then look for somewhere in Zone 1 or 2 of the London Underground.

Here’s where I would recommend:

Walking towards Big Ben and Westminster - Part of the London in 3 days Itinerary
Walking towards Big Ben and Westminster for an overview of London

An Overview of London

London, you sweet, pretty, gritty city, you. With your thousands of years of history, your up to the minute design, your art, your celebrities, your Harry Potter Platform 9 ¾, and your life-saving discoveries, you.

You even have (the audacity) to measure space and time from you, marking zero degrees longitude on the Prime Meridian Line at the Greenwich Observatory. If only the stars had truly aligned to claim zero latitude as well. But that would put us at the equator and we’d never have developed our reputation for grey skies, queuing and brandishing the umbrella.

You see. Yes, I’m a Londoner. At heart, anyway.

Born here. Studied here. Worked here. Then moved abroad. Travelled a lot. Returned to another lovely (albeit very different) capital.

And it’s taken me until now to start writing itineraries about London. Why? Because there is just so much to do.

Avoid Overwhelm

So much so, that when you travel to London for the first time, the biggest obstacle is trying to work out what not to see. Negotiating how to slim down your itinerary so that exhaustion doesn’t overcome you like a Hollywood starlet caught partying too hard.

And that’s where this article comes in.

This itinerary for London in 3 days (or 72 hours in London if you prefer) lets you hit the main sights while also soaking up some of the local flavour. In a city with more than 300 languages, the most linguistically diverse in the world, you can never do it all.

But you should have time to do plenty, to start to understand London as a city, if not its full character and soul.

Map of London based around One Aldwych
A very pretty map for a very pretty city

How to Use This 3 Day London Itinerary

If you’ve arrived here by searching for 3 days in London, congratulations! You’re in the right place. I’ve deliberately kept the morning of the first day and the evening of the 3rd flexible in case you are in transit then. I’ve also included suggestions in case you’re already here and want to hit the ground running.

At the end of this 3-day London itinerary, I’ve put some suggestions for what and how you could swap things out if you have more or less time. 

So, in short. This 3 day itinerary for London can be followed as is but I’ve also made suggestions for what to skip if you don’t have the time or interest. 

It’s a full schedule but always remember that it’s supposed to be fun! If you find yourself feeling stressed or harried, then congratulations, you’re a Londoner, then skip the activities that don’t sing to your soul.

When to Visit London

Although the weather is never really extreme in London, her seasons do vary. Even in this global world, expect reduced opening times and service over winter, weekends, bank holidays and Sundays. Always check in advance before you set your heart on something. And, you know, take responsibility for your own life as I’m sure you usually do.

With all that said, there is never a bad time to visit London. I recommend you plan your London itinerary around what best suits your life.

Summer can be sticky and sweaty as few places have air conditioning. Spring is usually delightful, with wisteria and hope on every street corner. Autumn (or fall) is a fantastic time to visit as the trees turn golden brown and the roast chestnuts warm the soul. It can also be wet, windy and annoying.

And winter? Yes, you’ll find Christmas markets and sparkle but on the whole, think dark, wet and cold. Just so you know!

Getting Around London

London is big. And sprawling. Happily, though, you can take on little “villages” or pockets of London and walk between the sights there.

You will need to take buses and use the London Underground at some point, though. Fares are based on zones in London and although the system looks complicated to begin with, it’s really not that bad. Old advice included buying Oyster Cards to tap in and out but now you can achieve the same thing by using your debit or credit card directly.

London Transport limits the amount you’ll be charged in any given day, so tap in and out and don’t worry about it too much.

Day One: An Overview

This afternoon sees you tackle some of the big boys: the area around Westminster, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament where you’ll find many of the things that London is famous for.

But first, let me take you to one of London’s (many) green spaces and give the city a chance to breathe.

Morning: Soak in the Views of London

I’ve kept this section flexible in case you’re still travelling into London. The most central and obvious place to start is to take a ride in the London Eye. That way, you will be right where you need to be for the afternoon part of the itinerary.

But if you woke up in London, you might want to try some of the alternatives:

Primrose Hill may not make it onto tea towels and ceramics like the Royals. But she does offer an unbeatable view across the landscape of London, tapping into the local life that makes any city tick. Take the tube to Chalk Farm and walk for around 8 minutes from there to take a deep breath and see London below you.

Alternatively, head up to the Sky Garden at the Walkie Talkie or the viewing area at The Shard.

Glimpse of the London Eye in a 72 hour itinerary in London
The London Eye in Central London’s South Bank

The London Eye

Off the beaten track this is not. But South Bank, the area around, is beautiful come rain or shine, with the view of Westminster shimmering or drizzling into the mist the way Monet captured so well.

For the Eye itself, buy tickets in advance and watch the heart of UK government grow smaller beneath your feet. Oddly satisfying. Indisputably beautiful.  

Photographs from central London in the United Kingdom. Part of a 3 days in London itinerary.
Now that’s what I call a view

Afternoon: Westminster, Southbank and the West End

With comfy shoes and good weather, you can walk between each of these landmarks – and in fact that’s the best way to go to soak up the city.

Westminster Abbey is worth visiting for the architecture and the famous events that took place there (every single coronation since 1066 and over 100 Royal Weddings.) But only if that really interests you.

 If you’re short on time, visit the outside, walk past the protestors on College Green, admire Big Ben and then cross Westminster Bridge to Southbank.

Other detours from here include the Churchill War Rooms and Buckingham Palace to watch the Changing of the Guard. Both are “worthy” places to visit but if you need to streamline, then here’s where to move on.

Evening: Dine on the Thames

Cruise the Thames to see London at her finest: all dressed up in evening lights.

It’s also a way to see more of the landmarks with less of the hustle. (Think the Millennium Dome, Greenwich Observatory, James Bond’s MI6, Tower Bridge and more.)

And, shh. Just between you and me, locals do take these cruises. They just tend to use them to mark significant celebrations or work events rather than form part of the bread and butter of daily life.

You can book a lovely dinner cruise along the Thames here.

Day Two: Magic and Museums

You’ll split the day across two neighbourhoods in London: King’s Cross and Kensington.

Morning: King’s Cross

The British Library

The British Library may have an uninspiring name and an uninspiring building, but inside is a treasure box of history and literature bathed in soft, golden light.

Original drawings from Da Vinci and Michelangelo. Handwritten texts from Jane Austen and Shakespeare. Documents relating to Guy Fawkes and his plan to blow up parliament.

There’s also The Diamond Sutra (the world’s earliest dated printed book.)

Entrance is free and it’s one of my favourite places in London.

King’s Cross Station

While you’re in the area, check out the following key spots:

  • Platform 9 ¾ for Harry Potter fans
  • The staircase at the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel for instagram

Afternoon: Kensington & The Museum District

From King’s Cross, travel half way around the circle line to the other K in town. Kensington.

South Kensington is the main stop for the “museum district.” Wide avenues of learning and grand Victorian buildings lead up to the Royal Albert Hall (where I spent some of my student days.)

Lunch: Harrods in Knightsbridge

It’s just a short walk to Knightsbridge to pop in to London’s most famous department store: Harrods.

Honestly, it’s a bit of a tourist experience, but the Food Hall is a beautiful demonstration of Art Deco, history and ambition (it was founded in 1849, originally serving from a single counter.)  Shop for quail eggs, caviar and lobster, or grab a snack and picnic in neighbouring Hyde Park.

London - Natural History Musuem - Abigail King on stairs
Descending the stairs of the Natural History Museum will have you feeling like royalty

The Natural History Museum

The Natural History Museum, supporting actor in the first Paddington movie, recently replaced its iconic dinosaur skeleton in the main Hintze Hall with a 25.2 metre suspended skeleton of a blue whale, the largest creature on earth.

But, to me, there’s a deeper draw.  The striking Romanesque architecture was designed as a “cathedral dedicated to nature.” And it provides a fascinating insight into the era when collecting natural specimens from around the world was in vogue, and the idea of evolution was about to emerge.

It’s also worth a quick stop, if you have time, in the nearby Science Museum.

A Different Afternoon Tea

London is famous for its Afternoon Tea but rather than joining the tourist crowds at the Ritz or the Savoy, seek out a different experience instead. The Ampersand offers a science-based Afternoon Tea to fit in with its place in London’s museum district.

Sport & Antiques

If you’re a museum lover, this itinerary will fill your day. If not, either head to Stamford Bridge in Fulham for the Chelsea Football Ground if you’re a sports fan or Notting Hill to rummage through antiques (and bric-a-brac) at the Portobello Road Market (and look out for Hugh Grant’s infamous “blue door” at 280 Westbourne Park Road. )

Walking in London part of 3 days in London
Emerging at Piccadilly Circus

Evening: The West End

To feel the pulse of London’s nightlife, head back to the area between Piccadilly Circus, Covent Garden and Leicester Square, with a side trip into London’s Chinatown.

Here’s the place to pick up a West End Show (with many restaurants offering early dinner-theatre packages) but even without tickets, it’s a place to feel London at large.

Day Three: Your Money or Your Life

Today, let’s take you to the financial district and the home of the crown jewels.

Take the tube to Tower Hill Station for the Tower of London.

The Tower of London

Beefeaters, the Crown Jewels and century upon century of bloodlust. The Tower of London on the bank of the Thames has been at the heart of England’s adventures and misadventures for nearly one thousand years.

William the Conqueror started it all after his invasion in 1066 and it’s been a symbol of power, punishment and prestige ever since. It functioned as a prison right up to 1952 with the Kray Twins, and former inmates included Anne Boleyn and Guy Fawkes.

I would highly recommend buying a skip-the-line ticket in advance. You can also book VIP access to the Tower of London so that you can enter before the crowds arrive. It’s a little more expensive but you’ll have a much richer experience as a result.

Tower Bridge

No matter how many times you’ve seen it, there’s something about standing in front of icon and seeing it with your very own eyes to get your heart thumping.

Tower Bridge is the famous bridge (not to be confused with London bridge, which was sold to an American by mistake.)

Finished in 1894, 40 000 Londoners cross it every single day. You can walk across for free or buy a ticket to the exhibition and engine rooms and head up on high to look down on the traffic through glass.

Victorian arcade in the City of London at Leadenhall Market
Lunch in Leadenhall Market in the City of London

Walk The Square Mile

From the Tower, walk the Square Mile to Leadenhall market for lunch before heading on to another two of London’s landmarks.

The Square Mile (not actually square and just over a mile) of the City of London is another one of London’s nicknames.

It’s a mix of sky high skyscrapers with salaries to match, with Victorian coffeehouses and tiny churches. Look up to see The Gherkin and the Walkie Talkie, both examples of London still trying to stand out from the crowd.

Touch Gold at The Bank of England

While you’re here, it’s interesting to pop in and discover the history of  how money developed here and let your fingers linger on a real-life gold bar.

UK - England - St Paul's and Red Bus
It doesn’t get much more quintessentially London than a red bus driving past St Paul’s

Gaze at the Ceiling at St Paul’s Cathedral

St Paul’s stands as a major symbol of the rebuild following the catastrophic Great Fire of London and an integral part of the State. Architect Sir Christopher Wren was at pains to avoid looking like he was following the Renaissance of Catholic Rome (and thereby avoid a painful death for heresy) and so it’s an intriguingly plain yet grand stony affair.

Several notable events took place here, from Sir Winston Churchill’s funeral to the anti-capitalist movement Occupy London.

Unlike many of London’s museums, however, entrance is not free. It helps to buy your ticket to St Paul’s in advance here.

From St Paul’s, cross the (wobbly) Millennium Bridge to the South side of the River Thames.

Did you know: London’s north-south divide runs opposite to the rest of the country. The North is seen as wealthy and intelligent and the south poor and stupid (or snobby vs normal, depending on which side you’re on!)

Honour the Bard at Shakespeare’s Globe

Speaking of the Great Fire, Shakespeare’s original Globe Theatre was lost in the flames. Today in Southwark, you can tour a reproduction (and watch a performance there as well.)

Book your tickets to a guided tour of Shakespeare’s Globe here.

Stimulate Your Senses at the Tate Modern

As one of the largest museums of modern and contemporary art in the world, the Tate Modern might entice you in if you’re in the right mood. Admission is free, except for the temporary exhibitions, and you can walk between art from 1900s to the present day in the not-so-pretty former Bankside Power Station.

England - London - The Shard Looking Up at the Exterior
The Shard pierces the sky and has a lovely restaurant at the top

Hit the Sky at The Shard

As evidence that London doesn’t sit steeped in the past, meet the Shard. Finally completed in November 2012, this building reaches just over 1000 feet in the air, making it the tallest building in the UK and the whole of the European Union.

Indulge with delicate pastries and tea at ground level and then zip up to the rooftop garden and peer across the chimney tops of the city.

Evening: Shard Glamour or Backstreet Bermondsey

Dine at the Shard for a glamorous last night or head up to the Sky Garden at the Walkie Talkie for cocktails. Or, for a completely different experience, head into reinvented Bermondsey by foot for art boutiques and cosy pubs, the more local way to grab a final bite in London.

Iconic red London bus and Abigail
I’ve got a flight to catch!

More Than Three Days in London

More than 72 hours in London? Great!

Aha, where to begin? Seek out the more unusual sides of London, like those listed here.

Take time to explore London’s neighbourhoods and villages.

Perfect the art of not looking anyone in the eye and striding purposefully about (especially on escalators underground.)

Visit Baker Street and reminisce about Sherlock Holmes. Go to Fitzrovia and wax lyrical about Dylan Thomas and his time here. Pose for a zebra crossing photo like the Beatles did on Abbey Road.

Head to Greenwich and visit the observatory, Selfridges for the chocolate and the East End for the jellied eels.

Check out the Barbican for its edgy performances and Shoreditch for a hipster hangout vibe. Visit the classics at the National Gallery and stand among the pigeons in Trafalgar Square.

Wander round the pretty little spot of Belgravia or immerse yourself in yet more culture at the British Museum or the Victoria & Albert Museum.

How to spend one or two days in London?

With only one or two days in London, the clock is ticking. Strip out the visits to the parks and don’t queue to get into attractions unless you’re utterly passionate about them. The Tower of London is probably the one exception to this.

Take a tour (by cool Mini Cooper or hop-on hop-off bus) to sweep past many of the main sights on the land. Then take a trip on the Thames to see many more by water.

For a third view: take a helicopter tour over London. Extraordinary

Travel Tips for London

  • In some places, you’ll need to show ID so carry an ID card or passport with you.
  • Many museums or attractions won’t allow big backpacks (or even small ones.) Try to keep your daypack as light as possible.
  • Use Google Maps for directions and don’t be afraid to take the bus. Simply tap in as you get on (no need to tap out) and enjoy the views of London at street level instead of deep underground.

Final Thoughts on London in 3 Days

Research any itinerary to London, read about London or talk about London and you’ll soon come up against the following quote:

‘When a  man is tired of London, he is tired of life.’

Samuel Johnson

It’s oft-quoted because it’s true.

London is a city that belongs to the world. That beats with a pulse that captures a thread from every industry, interest or nationality around the world.

The Romans. The Beatles. The Blitz.

Through war and peace, invention and inquisition, the people, palaces and prisons of London have made their mark on the world, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer.

3 day itinerary in London Cover Image

More on Travel in London

3 thoughts on “How to Spend 72 Hours in London: Your Perfect Three Day London Itinerary”

  1. London has many things to offer to tourists. Going for 3 days may seem a bit short. Your program is ideal for anyone who visits a few days London and wants to discover as many places as possible.

    • Hey Lucian – Yes, I’d agree you need MUCH more time to see the whole city (and actually, I don’t think that’s possible. It’s so big and so diverse.) But for first timers, it might be worth heading to Brighton, Bath, Oxford or Cambridge if you have a week on your hands and just keep to this 72 hour itinerary for London.

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