What you will see: London Eye, Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Downing Street, Horse Guards, Churchill War Rooms, Trafalgar Square, National Gallery and Piccadilly Circus
Four days is plenty of time to see the best attractions, but not quite enough to see them all. So the difficult bit is trying to decide how many you can squeeze into your itinerary without burning yourself out. Here are some ideas about how best to spread them out without wasting too much time sitting on public transport.
Our No.1 tip is that you want your first morning to be exciting. And you don’t want to spend the entire morning doing just one thing. So we always recommend a ride on the London Eye first. This will give a you a great view of the landmarks you’ll be visiting later in the day, and it only uses up 30 mins of your day (plus 30 mins queueing – but you can reduce that by buying your tickets online in advance) Read Craig’s review of the London Eye.
You will have seen Big Ben from the top of the wheel, so you when you’re finished cross over Westminster Bridge for one of London’s best photos. Then take some more of the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey.
Everyone has different interests so we’re going to give you three different options for places to visit next. You won’t have time to visit them all, so just pick two out of the three.
Option 1:Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey is one of the most historic buildings in London and contains the tombs of Henry V (Agincourt), Edward V (War of the Roses), Elizabeth I (Spanish Armada), James VI (Gunpowder Plot) and Charles II (Restoration). Allow for 2 hours. Read Craig’s review of Westminster Abbey
Walk down Whitehall and stop at the big black gate of Downing Street. You’ll have to get lucky to see the Prime Minister, but you should be able to see the famous front door easy enough – it’s halfway down the street on the righthand side. Read Craig’s review of Downing Street
Sixty seconds further along is another one of London’s most popular photos: the horse boxes outside Horse Guards. There’s usually a big crowd of tourists crowding around them and everyone takes it in turns to go up to the horses and pose for a photo.
It’s worth walking through the central arch to have a quick look at the parade ground behind. This is where they hold big parades like Trooping the Colour. Read Craig’s review of Horse Guards
Option 2:Churchill War Rooms
If you’re interested in WWII then you’ll find the entrance to the Churchill War Rooms to the left of the parade ground. This was where Winston Churchill directed the war during the Blitz (allow for 2 hours). Read Craig’s review of the Churchill War Rooms
Option 3:National Gallery
If you’re into art then our third option is spending 2 hours inside the National Gallery. This is London’s finest art gallery and contains works by Rembrandt, Renoir, Raphael, Titian, Turner, Da Vinci and Van Gogh. Read Craig’s review of the National Gallery
It should be late afternoon by now so how about finding somewhere to eat and drink? You don’t want to pack too much into the first day of your holiday because you’ll probably still be tired from the journey, so we’ll save a theatre show for another day. If you walk through Leicester Square towards Piccadilly Circus you’ll find yourself in the heart of the West End. They are plenty of West End pubs and restaurants around here. Read Craig’s review of the West End
What you will see: Changing the Guard, Sightseeing bus around the landmarks, Tower of London, Covent Garden
The second day will include another three attractions from our London Bucket List, plus a sightseeing bus that takes in loads more landmarks that we didn’t see yesterday.
Start at Trafalgar Square and buy a sightseeing bus ticket from the Original Bus Tour shop on the corner of Cockspur Street. Don’t board the bus just yet, though, because we’re going to see Changing the Guard first.
We’ve got a bit of time to kill before the parade starts at 11.15 AM, so maybe you can take some photos in St. James’s Park? You can get a great photo of Buckingham Palace by standing on the central bridge over the lake, and if you turn around you’ll get a great shot of Horse Guards as well. Read Craig’s review of St. James’s Park
If you want a decent view of the parade then you’ll need to get there by 10 AM (or as early as 9.30 AM if you want the very best spots). Prepare yourself by reading Craig’s review of Changing the Guard, which goes into detail about the best arrival times and places to stand.
When the ceremony ends around 11.30 AM find the bus stop for the Original Bus Tour in Buckingham Gate (down the lefthand side of the palace). Then catch one of their Yellow Route buses and get your camera ready. The route will take you past Big Ben, Parliament and the London Eye again, before heading over Waterloo Bridge towards the Strand.
The Royal Courts of Justice and St. Paul’s Cathedral are obvious highlights, and the sights will just keep on coming until you roll over Tower Bridge. Get off outside the Tower of London. Read Craig’s review of the Original Bus Tour
Hopefully the entire route will have taken around 50 mins (but you can never tell with London traffic), which will give you around 2½ hours to look around the Tower of London. Ideally we’d recommend at least 3-4 hours in here, but seeing as you’re only visiting London for four days you’ll have to settle for 2½. But that’s more than enough time to see the Crown Jewels, Bloody Tower, Traitor’s Gate and Tower Green. Read Craig’s review of the Tower of London
After that catch the tube from the Tower of London to Embankment (10 mins) for an evening meal. Riding around on the London Underground is almost an attraction in itself (it even features in our bucket list!). You had a meal in the West End yesterday, so how about a meal in Covent Garden instead? Just come out of the station and walk right down the Strand, then left at Southampton Street.
What you will see: St. Paul’s Cathedral, Tate Modern, Globe Theatre or The Shard, Borough Market and a West End show
Day three of the itinerary begins with St. Paul’s Cathedral. After you’ve walked around Christopher Wren’s spectacular interior and seen the tombs of Nelson and Wellington in the crypt, try climbing to the top of the dome for a fantastic view of London’s skyline (allow for 2 hours). Read Craig’s review of St. Paul’s Cathedral
We’re going to give you a choice of three different attractions now, but you’ll only have time for two. All three of them are across the other side of the river so come out of the cathedral and cross over the Millennium Bridge.
Option 1:Tate Modern
Tate Modern is one of the most visited attractions in London, and is home to the country’s largest collection of contemporary and modern art. It won’t be to everyone’s taste, but if you’re into the likes of Rothko, Pollock, Picasso, Dali and Matisse then give it a try (allow for 1½ hours). Read Craig’s review of Tate Modern
Option 2:Globe Theatre
Next-door to the Tate is option two: Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. There are two ways of sneaking a peek inside: on a guided tour or watching a play. Unfortunately it’s an open-air theatre which means they only hold the plays during the sunny months, so unless you come during the summer then you’ll have to settle for a tour. They’ve also got an interesting museum underneath which explores the life and times of William Shakespeare (allow for 1½ hours for 1 tour, and 3 hours for a play). Read Craig’s reviews of the guided tour and watching a play
Option 3:The Shard
You can see the whole of London from up here and it’s amazing how small everything seems. You probably thought that St. Paul’s was high when you climbed it this morning, but from the top of the Shard it looks tiny! (allow for 1½ hours) Read Craig’s review of The Shard
If you choose The Shard then you might like to pop into Borough Market as well. It’s just a food market really but they have lots of very nice gourmet food stalls selling arty breads, meats and cheeses. It’s quite a nice place to stop for something to eat. Read Craig’s review of Borough Market
Now catch the RV1 bus from Southwark Street or Borough High Street and ride it all the way back to Covent Garden. You should be familiar with the West End by now so find a nice pub or restaurant and spend the evening watching a West End show.
Most of the big shows start at 7 PM or 7.30 PM and the theatres should be within walking distance from here. Most of them are down Shaftesbury Avenue or the Strand. Other ones are down Haymarket, Aldwych or Drury Lane. It’s best to buy your tickets online in advance. If you leave it late then try one of the ticket seller shops around Leicester Square. If you want the cheapest theatre tickets then try the discount TKTS booth on the south-side of Leicester Square.
What you will see: Sightseeing boat to Greenwich, Old Royal Naval College, Cutty Sark, National Maritime Museum or Royal Observatory
Day four takes you away from central London for a change of scenery. Tourists are always quick to add a sightseeing bus to their itinerary but they rarely think of trying a sightseeing boat, so how about a boat ride from Big Ben to Greenwich? Thames Clippers, City Cruises and TRS all go to Greenwich but we recommend TRS because City Cruises are always packed solid and Thames Clippers don’t have very many outside seats. Read Craig’s reviews of the Thames Clipper, City Cruises and TRS
Get your camera ready because the 60-min ride will take you past lots of landmarks including Cleopatra’s Needle, St. Paul’s, Shakespeare’s Globe, the Tower of London and HMS Belfast. It will then pass straight under Tower Bridge and head towards the skyscrapers at Canary Wharf.
When you pull into Greenwich pier the first thing you will see is the tall mast of the Cutty Sark and the front facade of the Old Royal Naval College, but don’t rush over to them just yet because you have some choices to make. There are several attractions in Greenwich that are worth visiting and you won’t have time for them all, so we recommend choosing two out of the following four (or three if you don’t mind rushing them).
Option 1:Old Royal Naval College
Christopher Wren’s Old Royal Naval College is one of the most beautiful buildings in London. Tourists can only enter two rooms of it – but what rooms! The famous Painted Hall is one of the most stunning rooms in the country – it’s London’s Sistine Chapel (allow for 45-60 mins in total). Read Craig’s review of the Old Royal Naval College
Option 2:Cutty Sark
The Cutty Sark is an old clipper ship that used to carry cargos of tea back and forth from China in record speeds. The hull has been suspended in mid-air so you can walk underneath it and then explore all of the cargo decks and the crew’s living quarters (allow for 1½ hours). Read Craig’s review of the Cutty Sark
Option 3:National Maritime Museum and Queen’s House
If you’re interested in boats then you might like to visit the National Maritime Museum. This tells the story of the navy from the days of the British Empire right up to the present day. One of the best exhibits is the bullet-ridden jacket that Admiral Nelson was wearing on HMS Victory when he got shot during the Battle of Trafalgar. Read Craig’s review of the National Maritime Museum
Option 4:Royal Observatory
The final choice is the Royal Observatory on top of Greenwich Hill. Inside you’ll find a museum full of old clocks and telescopes and you can explore the 16th-century house where the original Astronomer Royals used to live. There’s also a planetarium next-door with a 360-degree movie dome (allow for 3 hours in total). Read Craig’s review of the Royal Observatory
Bear in mind that your return boat might leave as early as 4 PM or as late as 9 PM depending on the date and which company you choose. Or you can catch the tube from Cutty Sark to Westminster.
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