Looking for a 3 day in London itinerary to squeeze the most out of those 72 hours in the Big Smoke? Let this Londoner show you around.
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.
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 are some tried and tested options.
Here's where I would recommend:
- The Artist's Residence - for boutique indie charm
- The Ritz - for full on retro glamour
- The Hoxton Shoreditch - for Cool Britannia East End style
- The Dorchester - for sleeping in stately history
3 Days in London: An Inside Guide
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.
Why London Belongs to the World
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.
Avoid Overwhelm in Your London Itinerary
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.
HOW TO USE THIS 3 DAY ITINERARY IN LONDON
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 Go
Although the weather is never really extreme in London, her seasons do vary and opening times and the clothes you will need change, as do the days of the week. 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 beautiful but many of the top sites and attractions live close enough to each other to walk.
You will need to take buses and 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 in London: Setting the Scene and Seeing the Sights
London is big. And sprawling. Happily, though, you can take on little “villages” or pockets of London and walk between the sights there.
This afternoon sees you tackle some of the big boys: the area around Westminster and Big Ben.
But first, let me take you to one of London’s (many) green spaces and give the city a chance to breathe.
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.
Alternatives for Park Views in London
If that’s too far, then try central Hyde Park for its monuments, green spaces and Princess Diana Memorial near Kensington Palace. Or Richmond Park further south for its hills, deer, and the spot where King Henry VIII waited while he had second wife, Anne Boleyn, killed.
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.
The only better way is to hop in a Mini Cooper, 1960s style, and whoosh around the centre with a tour guide, caps and bars of gold reminiscent of Michael Cain in The Italian Job.
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. Both are “worthy” places to visit but if you need to streamline, then here’s where to move on.
The London Eye
Off the beaten track this is not. But the area around is beautiful come rain or shine, with the view of Westminster shimmering or drizzling into the mist the way Money 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.
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.
What you can do is hop on public transport and cruise the Thames the old fashioned way.
Day Two – Magic and Museums
Follow some of the best loved stories and films to do with London and take in some of the most astonishing museum collections in the world.
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.)
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.)
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.
Inside Tip: A Different Afternoon Tea
Harrods in Knightsbridge
It’s just a sidestep 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 eat before you go and simply wander around.
Alternatives: 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. )
Evening: The West End
If you have the energy, head back into town to run the gauntlet 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 the pulse of London at large.
Day Three - Your Money or Your Life
Hit the unmissable sights in the morning before you need to get out of town.
However, if you have the whole day, delve more into the stories of gold, blood, and towering glass that take us from AD 43 right up to the present day and beyond.
The Tower of London
Beefeaters, the Crown Jewels and century upon century of bloodlust. This small area 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.
You need a ticket to enter but this is not a spot to skip.
The Square Mile (not actually square and just over a mile) of the City of London is another one of those anomalies you find in a city that’s patched itself together over millennia.
If you have time, it’s fascinating to take a tour to trace the hidden architecture and history that hides here. Victorian coffeehouses and the spread of new ideas. Tiny churches and the rules about moving the dead. The Gherkin and other new examples of both architects and London trying to stand out from the crowd.
And then there are these two…
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.
However, if you’re short on time, save your minutes for the Tower.
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.
But, for me, the best part of St Paul’s is seeing its white dome from several vantage points across London.
From St Paul’s, cross the (wobbly) Millennium Bridge to the South side of the river.
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!)
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, with enough organisation to fit it into your schedule and buy tickets in advance.)
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.
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.
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 Pubs in Bermondsey
Dine at the Shard for a glamorous last night. Or head into reinvented Bermondsey by foot for art boutiques and cosy pubs, the more local way to grab a final bite in London.
A London Itinerary for More Than Three Days
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.
And more. Lots, lots more. Watch this space for more to come for three days and beyond in London.
Only have one or two days in London?
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 uncool but useful 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
What do you think? How would you spend three days in London?
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