London is an overload for the senses: from world-leading museums to iconic landmarks, exceptional cuisine, cutting-edge culture, beautiful parks and much, much more, there’s nowhere on earth quite like the English capital. But with so much to do and see, it can be difficult to plan a trip to the city on the Thames. Whilst it’s impossible to do everything on a single visit, we’ve put together a 3 day itinerary that will help you see many of the city's highlights in 72 hours. It’s an intensive itinerary, so feel free to pick and choose the sights that fit your interests!
Day 1: Westminster, Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery and Soho
To begin your three day adventure in the English capital, we recommend you head straight to the heart of Westminster, London’s city within a city. The City of Westminster is the political, cultural and geographical heart of London, and is home to many of the city’s most important institutions and landmarks. Start things off by making your way to Parliament Square (easily reached via the Underground - head for the Westminster stop); as soon as you emerge from the tube, you’ll spy a number of iconic monuments: Big Ben towering over the Thames and the endless neo-gothic facade of the Houses of Parliament on the river’s edge are just the most famous.
Then make your way to nearby Westminster Abbey, London’s most spectacular church which has presided over some of the most important events in English history over the past 8 centuries. The extraordinary Gothic edifice, with its pinnacles, turrets and fan vaults, was built in the 13th century during the reign of King Henry III, and has played hosts to countless royal coronations, weddings and funerals ever since. It’s also the final resting place of luminaries such as Sir Isaac Newton and Geoffrey Chaucer, not to mention the powerful cousin queens and implacable rivals Elizabeth 1st and Mary Queen of Scots.
After leaving the Cathedral, make the stroll through beautiful and leafy St James Park (look out for the pelicans!) and onwards to Buckingham Palace, the official home of the British monarch since 1837. If you find yourself outside the palace at 11 AM then you’ll be lucky enough to see the Changing of the Guard, when the palace guard changes shifts in a memorable ceremony.
From here make your way along the Mall, the ceremonial street leading from Buckingham Palace to Trafalgar Square. Take a detour through the heart of the British political machine in Whitehall, passing 10 Downing Street and the Cenotaph War Memorial. World War II buffs should consider a visit to the Churchill War Rooms, the underground bunker from which Winston Churchill directed war efforts during the global conflict.
Back on route, head north to sweeping Trafalgar Square - London’s largest and most important public square named in honour of a famous English naval victory over Napoleon in 1805. At the centre rises Nelson’s Column, a 52 metre monument to Britain’s most famous admiral, who perished during the battle.
On the north side of the square is the massive form of the National Gallery: a must-visit when in London and one of the world’s finest art galleries, the magnificent museum is home to a peerless Renaissance collection in the Sainsbury wing which runs the gamut from 13th-century altarpieces to heavy-hitters by Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli and Titian, not to mention Jan van Eyck’s mind-bendingly complex Arnolfini Wedding.
Baroque art is nearly as well represented, with Caravaggio’s Supper at Emmaus and Velazquez’s Rokeby Venus hanging alongside stunning self-portraits of Rembrandt and a series of canvases by Rubens the showstoppers. If modern art is more your thing, then the National Gallery’s superb Impressionist and post-Impressionist collection (Monet features heavily) will be sure to impress.
When you’ve had your fill of wandering, make the short walk to buzzing Soho to experience London’s nightlife at its best. From historic Victorian boozers like the Lyric or the Old Coffee House to alternative bars like the French house (from which Charles de Gaulle ran the French resistance in WWII and where modern master Francis Bacon whiled away his days drinking and sketching) and hip hangouts such as the Blind Pig, whatever your style there’s a perfect pre-dinner spot for a drink or two in Soho’s dense grid of streets.
When hunger hits, options are similarly vast. Whether you’re looking for an artisan wood-fired pizza (seek out Pizza Pilgrims), phenomenal Michelin-starred tapas (that would be Barrafina) or classy modern English fare (Quo Vadis, one-time brothel and home of Karl Marx, or the inimitable Andrew Edmunds), you’ll find it in Soho. Dim sum or bau buns? That would be Yauatcha, Wun’s Tea Room or the ever-popular Bao. If you’re on the hunt for a top burger, meanwhile, then head to Patty and Bun on Old Compton Street.
Day 2: Regent’s Park, Bloomsbury, the British Museum and the West End
Start your second day in London with a morning stroll through stunning Regent’s Park, arguably the city’s most charming green space. If you’re here in summer then make a beeline for Queen Mary’s gardens near the southern entrance for a spectacular display of blooming roses. If waxworks are your thing, then you won’t want to miss nearby Madame Tussaud’s, but be sure to book ahead.
Otherwise, head south through the beautiful Marylebone neighbourhood, stopping off at the boutiques and bookshops (Daunt Books is regularly voted one of the world’s best) on Marylebone High Street as you go, before reaching the Wallace Collection on Manchester Square. This free art gallery housed in a magnificent townhouse is one of London’s great hidden gems, and is home to paintings by luminaries such as Titian, Rembrandt, Frans Hals, Canaletto, Gainsborough and many others. Antique furniture, a large collection of historic armour, and a wonderful courtyard cafe complete the picture. A stop here for mid-morning tea and cake is obligatory.
Leaving the gallery, take the short walk south to Oxford Street, London’s vital central artery and most important shopping boulevard. Take a peek into the iconic (and truly massive) department store Selfridges before hopping on the tube at Bond Street. Get off at Tottenham Court Road and walk along Great Russell Street until you spy the imposing bulk of the British Museum on your left. This is our next stop!
The British Museum can stake a strong claim to being the world’s finest museum, home to a bewildering array of artefacts and artworks from across the globe. Just entering the museum through Norman Foster’s awe-inspiring Great Court is a jaw-dropping experience, and the collections will be sure to leave you speechless. For ancient history buffs the Parthenon marbles and the Rosetta stone might be the greatest draw, or perhaps the museum’s collection of Egyptian mummies and Pharaoh sculptures.
Delve deeper and you’ll come across Maya carvings and medieval chessmen, Benin bronzes and so much more. You could easily spend days lost in the collections, which is why we recommend taking a private tour of the British Museum to make sure you don’t miss a thing!
Leaving the museum, it’s time for a relaxing wander through the picturesque leafy streets and squares of Bloomsbury. A literary and intellectual hotspot, you’ll be walking in the footsteps of writers like Virginia Wolfe and Charles Dickens (if you are a fan, then make sure to pencil in a visit to the Charles Dickens museum, where the author wrote Oliver Twist) as you traverse the neighbourhood they once called home. Stop off for a coffee at one of the independent cafes on Judd Street before heading south towards Covent Garden and the West End for the Evening.
Evening: Covent Garden and the West End
London’s West End comes alive in the evening. For us the most unmissable spot is Covent Garden Piazza, centred around the city’s historic fruit and vegetable market. These days the square is one of London’s premier meeting points, with an array of shops, cafes and restaurants hiding amidst the arches of the colonnaded Apple Market. Expect live music and street performers to enliven the scene. Head a short distance west and you’ll find yourself in the heart of London’s theatreland before reaching Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus - an obligatory point of reference on any London night out.
For sustenance, try the mouthwatering Indian vegetarian fare at Dishoom on Upper St. Martin’s Lane (be prepared to queue) or fantastic, affordable French cuisine at spectacular art deco Brasserie Zedel.
Day 3: South Bank, the Tower of London and the East End
Begin your day on the south bank of the river Thames by taking a morning ride on the London Eye - a massive ferris wheel that offers commanding views over London from its passenger pods. Then it’s time for a lovely river-side stroll east along the Thames through the area known as South Bank - a neighbourhood rich in art galleries, theatres, food markets and much more, many housed in dramatic modernist buildings.
After grabbing a restorative coffee and pastry from a riverside cafe (we recommend taking advantage of the seats outside the South Bank centre), continue your stroll until you reach Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre - an exact replica of the original wooden theatre that William Shakespeare had first built here to stage his plays in 1599. It’s well worth taking a tour of the theatre if you arrive in the morning, or come back in the afternoon or evening to take in a play. If modern art is more your thing, then you can’t miss the nearby Tate Modern, whose fantastic collection is housed in the remains of a former power station.
Continue eastward along the river bank until you reach the Golden Hind, a replica of Sir Francis Drake’s famous galleon in which he circumnavigated the world, and from there duck inland towards Southwark Cathedral and the extraordinary Borough Market. This incredible Victorian covered market is home to organic and artisan food producers from across the country selling their delicious wares, as well as countless street food stalls offering something for every palate. It’s a perfect stop for lunch.
Refreshed, head back to the riverside and pass the imposing HMS Belfast, one of Britain’s largest WWII warships, as well as the soaring Shard - western Europe’s tallest building. A short walk leads you to Tower Bridge, London’s most iconic river crossing. The neo-gothic construction is a triumph of Victorian engineering, and the central section of the bridge swings open each day to allow ships to pass.
Tower Bridge leads across the river, predictably enough, to the Tower of London - a must-visit on any London tour. The forbidding hilltop tower was built by William the Conqueror to establish his hegemony after invading England in 1066, and has stood as an uncompromising monument to the absolute power of the monarch ever since. At the heart of the complex is the White Tower - London’s oldest building, for hundreds of years the tower doubled as a luxurious royal residence and dungeon for enemies of the state awaiting execution. When visiting the Tower of London make sure to take the time to gaze on the opulent Crown Jewels, which have been held here under armed guard since the 17th century.
You could easily spend a half day exploring all there is to see at the Tower of London, but if you’ve still got some time on your hands and some energy left in the tank, then this is the perfect opportunity to take a spin through the City of London just to the west of Tower Hill. Known as the Square Mile for its diminutive size, the City is the most historic neighbourhood in the English capital - once constituting the ancient Roman settlement of Londinium - and is chock-full of must-see monuments.
Take a peek into the peaceful garden of St. Dunstan in the East, built into the ruins of a magnificent church largely destroyed in WWII, before heading through the skyscraper-studded streets of London’s financial district. If stunning panoramic views are your thing then make sure to book a (free) ticket to the Sky Garden, a terrace on the 43rd floor of the Walkie Talkie building. If you have time for one more stop then finish your day of touring at St. Paul’s cathedral, the glittering highpoint of Sir Christopher Wren’s architectural career and London’s most important church, built over the ashes of the devastating Fire of London that destroyed the city in 1666.
By this time you’ll have definitely earned a pint of ale at a traditional London pub - there’s nowhere better than the labyrinthine Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese on Fleet street, a historic watering hole that’s been pulling pints for thirsty Londoners, Charles Dickens and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle amongst them, since the 17th century.
Evening: The East End
You can’t visit London without taking a trip to the historic and ever-fascinating East End. For a taste of one of the most authentic parts of the city, hop on a tube to Liverpool Street or Whitechapel, and drink in the unique cockney spirit of the East End. Take a wander through the historic Spitalfields market or visit ethnically diverse Brick Lane for some of the best curry houses in the city, all the while walking the same streets that Jack the Ripper walked during his reign of terror in the late 1880s. The area around Hoxton and Shoreditch, meanwhile, is hipster London at its finest - think urban chic, cocktail bars and artisan BBQ restaurants. London, as you may have gathered, has many faces!
We hope you enjoyed our 3-day London itinerary! Of course, we’ve only just scratched the surface. If you’re planning a visit to London and want to get the best out of your time in the city, then be sure to check out Through Eternity’s range of private, expert-led London tours. We’ve got something for every interest, and are happy to customise our itineraries to suit you - so get in touch today to start planning your London adventure!