What you will see: London Eye, Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Downing Street, Horse Guards, Churchill War Rooms, Trafalgar Square, National Gallery, Leicester Square
You want your first day in London to be exciting, so let’s begin with a ride on the London Eye. We always recommend that tourists ride this at the start of their holiday because it’s a great way of getting an overview of the city without chewing up too much time (allow for 30 mins, plus 30 mins in the queue). Read Craig’s review of the London Eye.
Spend a couple of hours inside Westminster Abbey where we hold our coronations, Royal weddings and State funerals. It also contains the tombs of some of our greatest-ever kings and queens: Edward the Confessor (saint), Henry V (Agincourt), Edward V (War of the Roses), Elizabeth I (Spanish Armada) and Charles II (Restoration). Read Craig’s review of Westminster Abbey
You’ll find Downing Street a short walk down Whitehall. If you get lucky then you might see the Prime Minister’s bullet-proof limo driving out, but you should be able to see the famous black door easy enough: it’s halfway down the street on the righthand side (the one with a policeman standing outside it). Read Craig’s review of Downing Street
Keep walking and you’ll find one of London’s most popular tourist photos: the soldiers outside Horse Guards. There’s usually a huge crowd of tourists standing around the sentry boxes trying to get a photo with the horses.
Go through the gate and walk through the central arch (there are some more soldiers standing at the side). You’ll come out into a huge parade ground where they hold parades like Trooping the Colour. Read Craig’s review of Horse Guards
If you’re interested in WWII then you might like to visit the Churchill War Rooms. You’ll find the entrance to the left of the parade ground, just past the entrance to King Charles Street. This was the underground bunker that housed Winston Churchill’s wartime government during the Blitz (allow for 2 hours). Read Craig’s review of the Churchill War Rooms
The National Gallery is one of the world’s great art galleries and contains works by Rembrandt, Renoir, Raphael, Titian, Turner, Da Vinci and Van Gogh (allow for 1½ hours). Read Craig’s review of the National Gallery
You don’t want to tire yourself out too much on your very first day, so let’s spend the evening eating and drinking nearby. Leicester Square is only 5 mins from Trafalgar Square. There are lots of good pubs and restaurants around there because that’s the centre of the West End, where all the bright lights and nightlife are.
What you will see: Tower Bridge, Tower of London, Sky Garden, Leadenhall Market, Royal Exchange, view from The Shard
The second day of the six-day itinerary is going to involve quite a bit of walking, but trust us – it will be worth it. You’re going to see some very impressive buildings today.
We don’t recommend going inside the Tower Bridge exhibition but you’ll definitely want to take a photo of the bridge. Check the scheduled lift times beforehand to see if you can catch it when the road opens. Read Craig’s review of Tower Bridge
Spend the next 2½ hours exploring the 1,000-year-old Tower of London. Try one of their hour-long Yeoman Warder Tours with one of the famous Beefeaters, and then use the remaining time to see inside the White Tower, Bloody Tower and Waterloo Barracks (where they keep the Crown Jewels). Read Craig’s reviews of the Yeoman Warder Tour and Tower of London
Now walk down Great Tower Street, Eastcheap and turn right up Philpot Lane until you find the Sky Garden. This 525-feet skyscraper has got a tropical garden at the top with jungle palms and ferns at the top – it’s a bit like the Palm House at Kew, but 35 floors up. Bear in mind that you need to book an arrival time slot on their website beforehand, which means you have to stick rigidly to the timings (allow for 1 hour). Read Craig’s review of the Sky Garden
Walk up Lime Street and you’ll see the entrance to Leadenhall Market. This very beautiful and ornate Victorian market looks like it’s been lifted straight from the pages of a Charles Dickens novel. Read Craig’s review of Leadenhall Market
Depending on which exit you come out of you might have a bit of trouble finding Cornhill, but once you’ve found it walk down there towards Bank. This busy junction makes a great photo with the impressive front facades of Mansion House and the Royal Exchange. Read about Craig’s day in The City
Walk down King William Street, past Christopher Wren’s Monument, and over London Bridge. This will give you another great shot of Tower Bridge.
You can probably guess what’s coming next: we’re going to climb to the top of the 1,016-feet Shard. This is easily the highest observation point in London and you definitely need a good head for heights. It has floor to ceiling windows so you can put your toes right up against the edge, and the top floor has even got a few spaces that are open to the sky (allow for 1 hour). Read Craig’s review of The Shard
What you will see: Kensington Palace, Natural History Museum, Science Museum, Victoria & Albert Museum, Harrods
We’ve got something a bit more sedate planned for the third day: catch the tube to Queensway or High St. Kensington and then walk across to Kensington Palace. Most tourists know it as Princess Diana’s former home, or the home of Prince Harry, William and Kate, but it’s better known over here as where the young Victoria lived (allow for 2 hours). Read Craig’s review of Kensington Palace
You have a choice of three different museums now, but you’ve only really got time for one (or two if you don’t mind rushing). You can find all three at the end of Exhibition Road.
Option 1:Natural History Museum
Think of the Natural History Museum as a dead version of London Zoo – it has just as many animals inside, but all of them are stuffed. They’ve got every animal you can imagine from lions, tigers, zebras and elephants, to monkeys, gorillas, birds, fish and insects. They also have a great collection of dinosaur skeletons (allow for 2½ hours). Read Craig’s review of the Natural History Museum
Option 2:Science Museum
The Science Museum showcases everything from computers, clocks and cars to planes, trains and spaceships. Famous vehicles include Stephenson’s Rocket and a full-size model of the Eagle lander from the Apollo moon mission. They’ve also got a 3D IMAX cinema and some flight simulators (allow for 2½ hours). Read Craig’s review of the Science Museum
Option 3:Victoria & Albert Museum
The Victoria & Albert Museum is a good choice for people interested in the history of art and design. It contains old furniture, fashions and jewellery, and artworks by the likes of Turner and Raphael. The Cast Room contains full-size models of the world’s greatest monuments and statues (allow for 2½ hours). Read Craig’s review of the Victoria & Albert Museum
When you’re finished walk up Brompton Road until you reach Harrods – the most luxurious (and expensive!) department store in the world. It’s worth a quick look inside simply to see the decor inside the Food Halls (allow for 45 mins). Read Craig’s review of Harrods
What you will see: London Dungeon, London Aquarium, walk along the Southbank to the Globe Theatre or Tate Modern, followed by St. Paul’s Cathedral
We’re going to give you four different options for today’s itinerary, but you’ll only have time for two (because we’re visiting St. Paul’s straight after).
Craig absolutely hates the London Dungeon (read his review) – but that’s probably just him. The tourists seem to love it because there’s always a huge queue outside the door. They do have an annoying habit of selling you a timed ticket during busy periods, though, which means you might have to return later in the day, so make sure you buy your ticket online in advance (allow for 30 mins queuing, and 1½ hours inside).
Option 2:London Aquarium
By comparison, absolutely everyone loves the London Aquarium because not only have they got the usual tropical fish, piranhas and sharks, they’ve also got a nice collection of other animals including some crocodiles and a North Pole snow scene full of penguins (allow for 1½-2 hours). Read Craig’s review of the London Aquarium
After those two attractions we recommend walking along the river for 15 mins until you reach the next ones. Don’t bother catching the bus – it’s quite a nice walk along the Southbank.
Option 3:Globe Theatre
The Globe Theatre is a perfect reconstruction of William Shakespeare’s Elizabethan playhouse which stood on this site in the 16th-century. There are two ways of getting inside: on a guided tour or watching a play. If you book a ticket for a play then obviously you’ll have to switch the attractions around to accommodate it because it will take up an entire afternoon, but if you go for the tour then you’ll be in and out inside 1½ hours. Read Craig’s reviews of the guided tour and watching a play
Option 4:Tate Modern
Your fourth choice is the Tate Modern. This modern art gallery is one of the most popular tourist attractions in London, and contains works by the likes of Rothko, Pollock, Picasso, Dali and Matisse (allow for 1½ hours). Read Craig’s review of Tate Modern
Now cross over the Millennium Bridge and head towards St. Paul’s Cathedral.
We nearly made this option No.5, but decided to make it compulsory because you can’t come to London and not visit Christopher Wren’s masterpiece. After you’ve seen the spectacular interior try climbing up to the Whispering Gallery. If you’re feeling brave then you can go up another 199 steps to the outside of the dome. And if you’re feeling totally nuts then you can climb a further 152 steps to the very top of the dome (allow for 2 hours). Read Craig’s review of St. Paul’s Cathedral
What you will see: Boat ride to Greenwich, Old Royal Naval College, Cutty Sark, National Maritime Museum and Royal Observatory
There are plenty more things to see and do outside of the central touristy areas, so that’s what day five is all about: we’re going to catch a sightseeing boat to Greenwich. The three big boat companies are Thames Clippers, City Cruises and TRS, but we always recommend TRS to tourists because Thames Clippers don’t have very many outside seats and City Cruises tend to be extremely busy, which reduces the fun. But they are also the same boats they give away with the London Pass, so if you bought one of them then stick with City Cruises. Read Craig’s reviews of the City Cruises and TRS
Get your camera ready because the enjoyable boat ride will take you past lots of landmarks including Cleopatra’s Needle, St. Paul’s, the Globe Theatre, HMS Belfast and the Tower of London, before passing straight under Tower Bridge and motoring up to Canary Wharf (allow for 60 mins).
When you pull into Greenwich pier you’ll see the impressive front facade of the Old Royal Naval College on your left. Poke your nose into the famous Painted Hall for 15 mins because it contains one of the most fantastic artworks in the whole of London. Read Craig’s review of the Old Royal Naval College
We’re going to give you a choice of three different attractions now, but you’ll only have time for two:
Option 1:Cutty Sark
The Cutty Sark is an old 19th-century clipper ship that used to sail to China and back in world-record times. They’ve cleverly suspended it above the floor now, so you can walk underneath the hull before exploring all of the cabins and cargo decks (allow for 1½ hours). Read Craig’s review of the Cutty Sark
Option 2:National Maritime Museum
If you’re interested in the British Navy then try the National Maritime Museum. They have a very good exhibition about the Battle of Trafalgar containing artefacts from the battle, including the actual jacket that Nelson was wearing when he got fatally shot onboard HMS Victory. Queen’s House is where they keep the museum’s collection of naval artworks (allow for 2 hours in total). Read Craig’s review of the National Maritime Museum and Queen’s House
Option 3:Royal Observatory
If you have an interest in astronomy the try the Royal Observatory – which unfortunately means climbing up Greenwich Hill! Flamsteed House still looks as it did in the 18th-century, and contains an interesting exhibition of old telescopes and clocks. Of more interest to modern astronomers will be the state-of-the-art planetarium next-door (allow for 3 hours in total). Read Craig’s review of the Royal Observatory
When it’s time for dinner there are plenty of nice pubs and restaurants in the historic town centre, but we especially recommend the Gipsy Moth pub next to the Cutty Sark.
Note: Remember to check your boat company’s timetable because the last return trip might be as early as 4 PM or as late as 9 PM. If you miss it then don’t worry – just catch a train from Cutty Sark to Westminster instead.
What you will see: Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace, posh afternoon tea at The Ritz or Fortnum & Mason, shopping, West End musical
If you’re wondering where Changing the Guard is then we’ve saved it for the very last day of your holiday – we’re going to end with something memorable. Bear in mind that you need to get there by 9.30 AM if you want a decent view (and even earlier if you want the best view), so you haven’t really got enough time to visit anywhere else beforehand – maybe you can enjoy a lie-in and a big breakfast in your hotel? Read Craig’s review of Changing the Guard
Here’s another treat for your final day in London: an afternoon tea in the Palm Court. This is the poshest tea in town and you’ll have to dress smart, but it’s the kind of thing that you can tell your friends about when you get back home (and make them jealous!).
Unfortunately you have to book it at least 2-3 months in advance to get a place, so if you can’t get one then reserve a tea at Fortnum & Mason instead. This is where Buckingham Palace buys its groceries from, which gives you a good idea about how posh it is. You only have to book about 1-2 weeks in advance for that one, and it’s sixty seconds down the road from The Ritz.
When you’ve polished off all of their finger sandwiches and jam scones keep walking down Piccadilly until you reach the neon lights at Piccadilly Circus (10 min walk). We’ve given you about 2-3 hours to do some gift shopping now (you can’t go home empty-handed!). Regent Street is where you’ll find Hamleys. Liberty is up the end by Carnaby Street. Oxford Street is better for high street shops, or chain shops, but it’s still worth a quick visit for Selfridges. If you just want some corny tourist gifts like cups and mugs and those ‘My brother went to London and all I got was this lousy t-shirt’ t-shirt, then try the tourist shops around Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square.
Your final night in London needs to be something special, so how about one of the big West End musicals like Phantom of the Opera or Les Miserables? Most of the big theatres are within walking distance of Piccadilly Circus. You’ll find them down Shaftesbury Avenue, Strand, or around Haymarket, Aldwych and Drury Lane. Make sure you buy your tickets online in advance because you’ll be stuck with a lousy seat. If you just want a cheap ticket then try the TKTS booth in Leicester Square the day before the show – that’s where they sell all the unsold seats at a discount.
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