Last Updated on 12th August 2020 by Sophie Nadeau
Bustling, busy and ever humming with the constant buzz of city life, London is a city which is ever changing and always worth a visit. Here’s your ultimate guide and complete itinerary for spending three days in London, including travel tips, hacks, and things to know before you go!
Side note: I lived in the UK capital on and off for five years, which is probably why it’s taken me a couple of years to even decide what should go into a 72 hour London guide, let alone how to go about crafting one. So this itinerary is all about London from a local’s perspective…
Each day is based on a theme. Day 1 in London is ticking off those ‘essential must-see’ bucket list London items. Day 2 in London is all about getting a feel for the heart of the city (i.e. where it all began as Londinium), as well as exploring the culture and history of the capital’s rich past. Day 3 in London is based on learning about a few of London’s cutest districts on a local level and experiencing some of its prettiest areas.
Day 1 in London: Get a feel for the city
Day one of your three days in London is your crash course to life in the UK and it’s all about getting up to speed on those ‘must-see iconic’ London attractions. Much of the day will be spent wandering around Westminster, admiring the Houses of Parliament and catching an up-close and personal view of the London Eye.
Wander along Oxford Street and Regent’s Street
Of course, no London itinerary would be complete without a quick mention of the UK’s most famous shopping street! Wander along Oxford street, meander through Regen’s Street and perhaps check out some iconic shops along the way (Hamley’s Toy store is just one store which springs to mind).
At the end of Regent’s Street, you’ll find Piccadilly Circus, which is famous the world over for its non-stop coca cola advert and hub of central London life. Piccadilly Circus is also one of the top Harry Potter filming locations for wizarding fans! A little on from Piccadilly Circus, you’ll stumble across Leicester Square- which is where all the major film openings take place in London. If you’re lucky, you may even spot a star!
Snap a photo of a Red Telephone Box
Around the World, the UK is known for its red telephone boxes and red post boxes- they’re almost as iconic as fish and chips or the Houses of Parliament! So, of course, no trip to London would be complete without snapping at least a quick picture or two of these must-see British sights.
While phone boxes can be found throughout the city, one of the most iconic locations can be found just a short five-minute walk from the Houses of Parliament. For more photography inspiration, check out my guide to the best and most Instagrammable spots in London.
‘See’ Big Ben, Westminster
Of course, you can’t really see Big Ben. After all, Ben is just the nickname for the largest bell at the Palace of Westminster. Instead, you can see the Elizabeth Tower, which houses Big Ben! At the same time, marvel at the gothic architecture of the Houses of Parliament, aka the Palace of Westminster. If you’re a UK resident, then it’s a little-known fact that it’s even possible to go up the Elizabeth Tower (more details here).
Stroll Along the River Thames
See London in all its glory from along the Thames. A wander along the Thames will guarantee you the chance to catch a glimpse of nearly every major London attraction. From the OXO tower to the Shard, to the elusive MI5 headquarters, you can spot all these sights and more on a quick walk down the iconic river. For more London inspiration, check out this free and self-guided London walking tour.
Enjoy the view from the London Eye
If you want to see the must-see tourist attractions of the city during your three days in London, then you might consider booking tickets to ride the Ferris Wheel that is the London Eye. Even if you don’t make it up to the top, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t see it at least once, if only from a distance.
Once the world’s tallest Ferris wheel, it can be seen from miles around and the London Eye welcomes over 3.75 million visitors annually! Purchase your forty-minute London Eye ticket in advance here.
Visit Tower Bridge
Of all London Bridges (and there are a fair few), Tower Bridge must be the most iconic. And so it makes the list of things you must do during your first 24 hours of three days in London. If you’re looking to learn more about the Victorian engineering behind this impressive bridge (as well as a quirky London viewpoint from inside), then a visit to the bridge interior is an absolute must. Buy your Tower Bridge tickets here in advance.
So iconic is this bridge that once upon a time (okay, okay, it was only in the 1970s), a wealthy American thought he was buying the magnificent feat of Victorian engineering that is Tower Bridge. In actual fact, he ended up buying and shipping London Bridge to the USA (not the same thing), rather than the two pretty towers he was expecting!
Be amazed by the Tower of London
The medley of buildings that form the Tower of London is just one of many royal palaces dotted throughout the city. That being said, there is no doubt that at one time, the Tower of London was arguably the most strategically important of all royal residences, of which there were many (including Hampton Court Palace and the lost Palace of Richmond).
After all, in its nearly nine hundred years worth of history, it has seen plenty of prisoners, feuds, and it now houses the Crown Jewels. Of course, if you’re short on time and have to choose between a visit to the Tower of London and Tower Bridge, then the Tower of London is the clear winner! Purchase your skip-the-line Tower of London tickets in advance here.
Day 2: History and Culture of London
No trip to London would be complete without a delve into its historic past and day two in this three days in London city guide is all about learning the history and culture of the capital. And, of course, all about the people who created the London we all know and love today.
The morning of day two in the Big Smoke will be based in and around the City of London: the cultural and historical heart of London. In the afternoon, I have selected a number of museums and galleries which are close by one another (after wandering around the City of London in the morning, you’ll only have the energy/ time to choose one of the museum options).
Morning: To the Romans and Beyond- Exploring the City of London
Museum of London, City of London
This quirky museum is dedicated to all things London related. Head here to learn all about the history of London, as well as see artefacts from three millennia worth of history. Some particular highlights of the City of London Museum include the Roman exhibition (a look at what life was really like during the Roman era) and a look at what the area was like before London. The museum is free to visit and well worth a trip, if only for an hour or so!
St Dunstan’s in the East
Built in the 16th-Century, St Dunstan’s in the East is one of those hidden gems of the city that even the locals don’t know about. Located in the very heart of the City of London, and set amongst towering skyscrapers, this Christopher Wren creation was badly damaged during the Blitz of WWII.
Following the war, the decision was taken to leave the ruins of the church as they were, and transform the space into a green garden. Today, it’s a lovely space to chill out and take a quick breather. Nearby, there are plenty of other London hidden gems worth visiting, such as the Temple of Mithraeum and Leadenhall Market.
Monument to the Great Fire of London
The Monument to the Great Fire of London offers one of the best views of the city you can find for under a fiver and is a great introduction to the history of the Great Fire of London. Often referred to as just ‘the Monument’, it’s located right next to a tube station of the same name, Monument. After climbing the 311 spiral steps, you’ll be greeted with 360-degree panoramic views of the city.
See the Sky Garden
As the highest public green space in London, you’ll want to make sure you head to the Sky Garden for some of the best views of the city you can find anywhere in London. If you do want to visit the Sky Garden, just make sure to book your tickets in advance!
If you miss the boat on the Sky Garden tickets and simply found out about the need to book in advance too late, then the nearby Garden at 120 is free to visit and doesn’t require the need to book in advance. Providing 360-degree views of the city, another viewpoint worth considering is the view from The Shard.
Visit St Paul’s Cathedral
Iconic Christopher Wren at his finest, St Paul’s Cathedral is easily the most iconic church in London. Located on Ludgate Hill, it’s all opulent architecture and is easily one of the best things to do in the City of London. Nearby, you’ll also find Millennium Bridge, and if you cross the Bridge, you’ll end up at the Tate Modern Gallery. Purchase your St Paul’s Cathedral fast-track discounted entry ticket here.
Afternoon: Get some culture/ London Museums
One of the most interesting aspects of London is the sheer volume of galleries and museums dotted around the city. Day two in London is dedicated to spending at least a little time getting to know these cultural hotspots. Options for various galleries are listed as you obviously won’t have time to see them all. Each option includes galleries or museums which are close to one another and make a good pairing.
a) National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery
Situated in Trafalgar Square, some of the Nation’s very best paintings can be found in the National Gallery. Think: Vermeer, Titian, and Cézanne to name but a few. While in Trafalgar Square, make sure to check out the Smallest Police Station in England, which sits in a rather neglected corner of the square. A visit to the National Gallery can easily be combined with a trip to the National Portrait Gallery which is conveniently located next door. Both are free to visit!
b) Sir John Soane’s Museum and British Museum (as well as Petrie Museum and Grant Museum of Zoology)
Your second option for the day is to see the Sir John Soane’s Museum and the British Museum. The Sir John Soane’s Museum is a quirky house museum created by an architect, while the British Museum houses treasures from around the world. I won’t tell you any more in advance as I don’t want to spoil the surprise!
Nearby, on the UCL campus, you’ll also find the Petrie Museum (dedicated to Egyptology) and the Grant Museum of Zoology. In the UCL main building, you’ll also find the auto-icon of Jeremy Bentham. Close by to the Sir John Soane’s Museum, you’ll also find the Old Curiosity Shop, a store which is thought to have been visited by Charles Dickens.
c) Wellcome Collection and British Library
Many people think that the British Library is simply a massive place where books are stored. And while it’s true that it holds over 150 million artefacts and texts from around the world, it also houses gems like the Magna Carta (a 13th-century document which is heralded as one of the most important documents in history.
The ‘Great Charter’ established that everyone is subject to the law, even the king). The Wellcome Collection is a quirky and hands-on science museum with ever-changing interactive displays and a fantastic café serving tasty treats on the ground floor.
d) V&A and Natural History Museum and Science Museum
Located along Exhibition road, you’ll find the most famous museums in the entire city. Here, you’ll find the Science Museum, Natural History Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum, a museum dedicated to design, architecture, art and fashion.
These are the largest museums in London and they are all free to visit. Head to the Science Museum if you want some hands-on displays, the V&A museum if you love art and the Natural History Museum if you love geology, fossils and the dinosaurs!
The smallest police station in England is located in the corner of Trafalgar Square.
Day 3: Cute, Pretty and ‘Instagrammable’ London Destinations
Your final day in the city is all about vintage shopping, quirky city life and pretty streets. (Come on, I know you’ve already been checking out the cutest, London Mews Streets on Instagram!) It’s also here that you’ll find some of the cutest cafés in London, and some of the best wisteria spots (if you’re heading to London in the late spring).
Morning: Notting Hill and Surrounds
Meander around Notting Hill
Notting Hill is easily one of the prettiest districts you’ll find in London. It’s here you’ll find the likes of Notting Hill Filming Locations, and some of the best cafés the city has to offer! Head to Notting Hill if you want to visit the Farm Girl Café (which serves some of the best speciality coffees in London), or Biscuiteers. Just be sure to bring your camera- this London district comes complete with oodles of photo opportunities!
Portobello Road Market
All vintage shops and pretty streets, no trip to Notting Hill would be complete without a visit to Portobello Road Market, one of the largest antique markets in the world. Exit the Tube at Notting Hill Gate and follow the signs to Portobello Road. Here, you’ll find dozens of stalls and antique shops selling everything from antique clocks to vintage golf balls.
Afternoon: Exploring Kensington and Chelsea
Visit Kensington Roof Gardens
Pretty and themed, the Kensington Roof Gardens are one of those hidden London gems that even the locals haven’t heard of… And even fewer people visit! Founded on the roof of what was once a department store in the 1930s, they really are an oasis of green in the heart of the city. Oh, and the gardens are completely free to visit and open to the public!
Wander around Hyde Park
Grab a sandwich or easy to eat salad from one of the many shops and eateries dotted around Kensington and head to Hyde Park. This is the largest of the four Royal Parks in central London and it’s here you’ll find activities such as boating on the Serpentine, rose gardens, and plenty of green space!
Check out some Mews Streets
Of all the things you should do during your three days in London, make it a trip to see some of the mews streets. These little London streets bring new definition to the word ‘cute’ and no trip to the UK capital would be complete without a quick meander down some of these cobbled lanes.
Once home to horses and groomsmen from a time when the capital ran on horsepower, today these alleys and passages are now home to some of the most exclusive real estate in the city. Easily some of the best spots to enjoy the fall foliage in London, some of my favourite mews streets include Kynance Mews and St Luke’s Mews.
Where to stay in London
In order to truly make the most of the UK capital, I highly recommend dedicating at least a long weekend in order to really get a feel for the city and start to uncover some of the many hidden gems London has on offer. Although London can be a pricey place to stay, there are a range of options on offer:
Budget accommodation in London
Astor Hyde Park Hostel
I’ve stayed in the Astor Hyde Park Hostel on many occasions while visiting the city. There’s a range of different dorms on offer here, including female-only options. The basement is home to a huge kitchen and dining area while the WiFi is pretty speedy which makes it a great budget option for your London stay! Check prices and availability here.
Mid-range accommodation in London
This four-star hotel is more budget than some of the other options out there thanks to the fact that the Nadler has done away with many of the extras which you probably wouldn’t use anyway. There’s no bar, restaurant, or gym. Instead, there’s great attention to detail and the rooms are clean, comfortable, and friendly. Check prices and availability here.
Luxury accommodation in London
St Pancras Renaissance
This luxury hotel is located minutes away from King’s Cross and St Pancras International, making it a great base from which to explore the rest of the city. Within this luxurious accommodation, you’ll find a pool, impressive staircase that’s been featured in many a film, fast Wi-Fi and a whole host of other amenities you would expect from a 5-star hotel. Check prices and availability here.
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