London is a versatile, bustling metropolis that manages to meld together the old with the new seamlessly. There are a lot of preconceived notions about the British capital, but once there you’ll find that it’s a rather charming city full of beauty and adventure at every turn.
As there is so much to do, however, it can feel overwhelming trying to plan a comprehensive itinerary. Not to worry though, as we have you covered with our expert London 5-day itinerary!
Day 1: Arrive in London, Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour, the London Eye
Whether you’re arriving by plane or train, you may very likely arrive in the morning. If you’re coming from across the pond, you may feel tempted to take a nap once you arrive at your hotel but we strongly recommend it! Just stop by one of the many cafes around, grab a coffee, and start walking around.
If the sun doesn’t wake you up, the morning breeze sure will! Once you get into London proper, grab a hop-on hop-off bus tour. A lot of times these can be tourist traps, but when it comes to London, it is one of the best ways to get acquainted with the city and doesn’t require a lot of energy for those struggling with jet-lag!
There are many different companies and tour options, with some even including added excursions like river rides. Don’t take on too much too soon. For today, just grab a standard 24-hour ticket that takes you past Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Buckingham Palace, and the River Thames. An even better way is to take a guided tour of London to hit all the highlights.
Hop off the bus here at the London Eye. Yes, this is prime “tourist” activity, but who cares? It’s fun, it offers a breathtaking view of the Thames, Parliament building, and over the entire city, in general. Honestly, it’s a much better view than what you’re probably thinking it offers. At least, it sure exceeded our expectations!
By now, you’re probably ready for dinnertime. We recommend hopping back on the bus and grabbing something to eat close to your hotel. If you elect a restaurant close to the London Eye, you can expect elevated prices.
That doesn’t mean the food is bad – there are fantastic restaurants around – just that you may pay more for the same dish you could get for much cheaper further away from the city center.
Having dinner on the Thames River is a great option. You can enjoy a few hours on the river while and enjoy the sights from the water.
Day 2 – Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, and More
Day 2 and it’s time to really delve into some of the hottest tourist attractions! The UNESCO-listed Palace of Westminster is home of the House of Commons and House of Lords, and as you can imagine is prime for learning some British history.
Countless royal weddings and English monarch coronations have taken place here, along with the funeral of Princess Diana. Constructed between 1245 and 1517, it features elaborate detail and fascinating architectural design.
You’ll start out in the magnificent Westminster Hall – one of the few portions that managed to survive the 1834 fire. Try to book tickets with as much advance notice as possible, as they do tend to sell out.
Churchill War Rooms
If you are a history buff and have some time, we highly recommend exploring the Churchill War Rooms, which you may recognize from the film ‘The Darkest Hour’. Located right on the Clive Steps at King Charles Street in Westminster.
If you don’t mind missing the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, head here before (you can always check out the apt alternative of the Horse Guards Parade anyway).
The exhibits are immersive and you’ll learn so much – even if you think you know everything there is to know about WWII already.
Head to Whitehall, where you’ll find a ton of different restaurants. If you’d like to eat later in the day, check out Bon Gusto or Buckingham Arms!
Take an approximately 15-minute walk through the park from Westminster to Buckingham Palace. You likely won’t spend much time here, as you’re only able to tour inside Buckingham Palace during August and September. However, if you time it right, you can witness the Changing of the Guard at 11 am every-other day (unless it’s during the summer, which often happens on a daily basis).
Keep on walking towards Big Ben, which is pretty hard to miss! One of the best ways to view the iconic tower is by strolling across Westminster Bridge and looking back towards Parliament gazing out over the Thames.
While tours of Big Ben aren’t always available, touring Parliament or even catching a case in action is usually possible.
Continue heading north to Trafalgar Square, which is one of the city’s most popular. Formerly known as “Charing Cross”, it’s named for Britain’s victory in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 and is known to be the site of many protests, rallies, victory parades, and demonstrations.
Benjamin Franklin’s House
Yes, he lived in London for 16 years and his home is now a museum. If you’re interested in his history, it’s worth a visit!
This district is great for grabbing a meal or shopping for some gifts for people back home! Neal’s Yard is a great photo op spot, with the colorful alleyways and delicious artisanal cheeses, if that’s your thing!
Evening in the West End
The West End, often referred to as “Theatreland”, is London’s answer to Broadway. With an impressive 40 playhouses, the squares are full of top-notch shows like “Wicked”, “Mamma Mia!”, “The Phantom of the Opera”, “Moulin Rouge!” and many more.
There are plenty of excellent bars and restaurants around to grab a bite to eat or a drink before or afterwards!
Day 3: Tower of London, Tower Bridge, Borough Market, Tate Modern, and More
Make sure you get in a big breakfast today, because you’re going to be doing a lot of walking and exploring!
We’re partial to De Vine, which is located practically right next to the Tower of London. This charming spot serves up traditional English breakfasts, toasties, and omelets for a full stomach and lots of energy.
Tower of London
Now, stroll on over to the tower that has served as a royal palace, fortress, a place of execution, a royal zoo, and much more for over a thousand years! This UNESCO-listed site is the place to see if you’re into history – or even just creepy stuff.
Starting hourly, there’s no excuse to not join on one of the free 45-minute Yeoman Warder tours! It’s hard to believe these are free, considering they’re absolutely incredible. The guides are a wealth of knowledge, friendly, and really bring these stories to life (make sure to tip them if you can!).
Check out the Crown Jewels, but also admire the impressive architecture. If you’d like an even more immersive tour, there are plenty of 2-3 hour tours available as well for a fee.
Not to be confused with “London Bridge”, Tower Bridge crosses right over the River Thames and is the city’s most famous bridge. This activity is always fun for children – especially if you decide to head up to the glass floor suspended in the air. From here, you can see right through down to the cars, cyclists, buses, and more as they cross the bridge!
If you’re looking for some of the best views of the city, Tower Bridge isn’t the best place, though. One of the top contenders for the best has to be The Shard. This unique structure is designed to look like a shard of glass pointing to the sky, and has the highest views overlooking London. However, the ticket is quite expensive so plan accordingly.
We recommend stopping for a bite to eat at Borough Market, located just a few minutes walking from The Shard. Here, there truly is something for everyone with a wide array of cuisines from all sorts of cultures.
Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre
Whether you’re obsessed with theater or couldn’t care less about it, we’re sure you’ll be captivated by this amazing spot. Keep in mind that the original was constructed all the way in 1599 but the more modern theater came to be in just 1997.
If you decide you’d rather skip on the theater, try heading next door to the Tate Modern. We won’t sugarcoat it – people typically either really like the museum or find it very strange. The good news is that if it’s the latter, it is free to enter so you won’t be missing out on anything.
St. Paul’s Cathedral
Dating back to the 17th century, it’s a real piece of history that’s also been the location for many recent events like the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana, the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, and the funeral of Winston Churchill.
If you’d rather not spend your cash at The Shard, the Sky Garden is actually said to have the best views of London. Oh, and it’s free, so that makes it potentially een better anyway!
Day 4: National Gallery, Greenwich, Prime Meridian, O2
Let’s start Day 4 off with the National Gallery located in Trafalgar Square, which you’ve already been acquainted with. This is the most popular gallery in London, featuring national art all the way from the 13th century to 1900. As you can imagine, it is quite a massive collection so we recommend heading to their website to see their 30 must-see pieces of art.
Piccadilly Circus/Regent Street
Head on over by foot to Piccadilly Circus, which some compare to Times Square in NYC. This place is where many main roads meet, understandably making for quite a busy junction and is perfect for people watching.
Then, walk up Regent Street which is fantastic for getting some shopping in! If you’re bringing children along, you have to stop by Hamley’s which is one of the biggest toy stores on the planet!
By now, you’ve surely worked up an appetite! You haven’t experienced London if you haven’t tried some of their Indian food, so allow us to recommend one of the local favorites: Dishoom Carnaby. It’s right there anyway, so you won’t have to go out of your way to try some delicious authentic eats.
Greenwich is actually full of activities, so try to allocate plenty of time here. The easiest way to get here is probably taking the Central Line towards Epping, getting off at Bank Station, taking DLR towards Lewisham, and getting off at Cutty Sark.
Old Royal Naval College
This is particularly interesting if you’re into Naval history, British history, or are simply intrigued with all things that have to do with seafaring, you’re in the right place. Serving as the architectural centerpiece of Maritime Greenwich and having been the birthplace for Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, this place provides over 500 years of national history.
Don’t miss The Painted Hall, known as “Britain’s Sistine Chapel” with breathtaking paintings and décor. Skittle Alley and the Nelson Room are also fascinating, and with daily talks and tours included in the price of your ticket, you’re sure to learn all about them.
Having been used as film sets for Blockbusters like Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, The King’s Speech, The Dark Knight Rises, and more, you can expect impressive architecture – to say the least.
Royal Observatory and Prime Meridian
Ever wanted to stand on 0 degrees longitude or stand in both hemispheres at the same time? Well here, you can! The planetarium museum is also cool to see, with nice views over the Thames.
The Cutty Sark sits here as well, which was the fastest sailing ship of its time. There are various types of tours available – some where you can sit and relax while sipping on some afternoon tea, while others take a more historic or engaging approach. For example, you may learn about how to steer or rig the almost 1000-ton ship from experts on the subject.
O2 just sounds like a more adrenaline-filled experience, and it is. Here, you’l get to experience urban climbing – in this case, over the renowned roof of the O2. The 360-degree views at the top are certainly satisfying, but the journey up is a blast in itself.
You deserve a delicious dinner after all that! Luckily, the O2 itself is home to many world-class restaurants like the Gordon Ramsay Street Burger, as well as many others like Las Iguanas, Marugame Udon, Nando’s, Scarlet Rasoi, and so many more.
Day 5: British Museum, Portobello Road Market, and More
No matter who you are, you have to see the British Museum. Arguably one of the most important museums in the world, it contains an immense collection of significant artifacts. Oh, and did we mention it’s free?
Home to the Elgin Marbles (which have a bit of a dodgy-yet-interesting history of their own), the renowned Rosetta Stone, and countless other important artifacts, you could spend all day here. Though, it’s best to book a guided tour to maximize time and learn from the best.
Depending on how deep you want to delve in, you could run through the highlights in about an hour or a more immersive experience in three.
Grab some tea and pastries right at the museum before heading to either the Portobello Road Market or Charles Dickens House.
Charles Dickens House
If you’re a literary fan, make your way over to 48 Doughty Street. This 5-floor, fully-restored Georgian townhouse is quite impressive on its own but even more so when you learn about Dickens’ time here.
Portobello Road Market
If you’re not so much a fan of literature, hop on the tube and go to the Portobello Market: the world’s biggest antique market.
Think of it as an amped-up flea market full of all kinds of historic treasures by way of books, clothing, music, and more. If you’re feeling hungry, there are plenty of great places to grab lunch here.
Natural History Museum
We know we’re going a bit heavy on museums, but there are just so many incredible ones to see! The Natural History Museum is perfect for people of all ages and backgrounds.
Housed in a stunning Victorian building, when you first enter you’ll be welcomed with a massive hanging whale skeleton from the cathedral-like ceilings. As you make your way through the various floors, you’ll see T-Rex skeletons, Iguanadon, gigantic sloth, and so much more.
Whether you want to do a little pub tour of your own or sign up for a walking tour of London’s historic pubs, you’re bound to have a great time. On these tours, you’ll visit must-sees like Cheshire Cat, Iron Duke, Audley, Golden Lion, and others.
If you have time or want to get outside the city consider taking a tour of Windsor Castle. Home of royalty for 900 years. A little farther away is the UNESCO Stonehenge. Built around 3000 BC to 2000 BC. on the Salisbury Plains it is one the most famous landmarks in England.
TV Show Tours
There have been many TV shows and movies filmed in London. Probably some of the better known ones are the famous Harry Potter series of books and movies. If you are a big fan, consider a guided tour and hit all the sites. If you are into British history then you must have followed the families in Downton Abbey and experience the rich history. A tour of the various Downton Abbey sites featured is a great way to really connect with the show.