Day One | What you will see: Sightseeing bus, St. Paul’s Cathedral, The Shard, Tower Bridge, Tower of London, ending with a West End show
How about starting your three-day trip with a sightseeing bus? London is so huge that even three days isn’t enough time to see absolutely everything, so an open-top bus is great way of ticking off lots of landmarks.
The three biggest tour companies are Golden Tours, Big Bus London and Original Bus Tour. For this particular itinerary we recommend catching Golden Tour’s ‘Blue route’ from Trafalgar Square which will take you up the Strand and Fleet Street towards St. Paul’s Cathedral (allow for 20 mins).
Get off the bus and enter St. Paul’s. Allow yourself 2 hours to look around. If you don’t mind heights then visit the Whispering Gallery and try climbing to the Golden Gallery at the top of the exterior dome. Read Craig’s review of St. Paul’s
Now jump on the same sightseeing bus and ride it over London Bridge to The Shard. Allow yourself 1 hour if you want to get off and see the view from London’s tallest building. Read Craig’s review of The Shard
Now jump back on the bus and enjoy the ride over Tower Bridge. Get off again when it drives round the back of the Tower of London. We don’t recommend going inside Tower Bridge because the exhibition is rather dull, but we definitely recommend going inside the 1,000-year-old Tower of London.
You want your first day in London to end on a high, so how about seeing one of the big West End musicals? The same bus will take you all the way back to Trafalgar Square but it’s such a roundabout route that we recommend catching the District line from Tower Hill to Embankment instead (10 mins ride).
Day Two | What you will see: London Eye, Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Downing Street, Horse Guards, Trafalgar Square, National Gallery, Buckingham Palace, Piccadilly Circus
You’ve probably had your fill of buses after yesterday’s marathon tour, so today’s attractions are all within walking distance of each other.
One of the attractions that appears near the top of everyone’s bucket list is the London Eye. Not only will it give you a great view of all the places we’ll be visiting later in the day, it’s also shaky enough to give you a thrill (allow for 30 mins queuing, and 30 mins on the wheel) Read Craig’s review of the London Eye.
We’re going to spend the next 1½ hours inside Westminster Abbey. The 1,000-year-old 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). Read Craig’s review of Westminster Abbey
Now walk down Whitehall until you see the big black iron gate of No.10 Downing Street on the left. You might like to spend 10 mins peering over the shoulders of the big burly policeman to see if you can spot the Prime Minister. Read Craig’s review of Downing Street
A bit further along Whitehall is one of London’s most popular photospots: the sentry boxes outside Horse Guards. There will probably a mass of tourists all taking it in turns to snatch a photo of them standing next to a horse. Read Craig’s review of Horse Guards
At the end of the road is Trafalgar Square. Spend 20 mins walking around here taking photos of Nelson’s Column and then make your way into the National Gallery. Read Craig’s review of Trafalgar Square
The National Gallery is the finest art gallery in the country and contains works by Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, Renoir, Raphael, Titian, Turner, Vincent van Gogh and more (allow for 90 mins). Read Craig’s review of the National Gallery
When your done walk through Admiralty Arch and up The Mall towards Buckingham Palace (15 mins walk). Once you’ve taken some photos of the Queen’s home have a stroll through Green Park towards Piccadilly (10 mins walk).
A walk down Piccadilly will take you past the Royal Academy of Arts and Fortnum & Mason (you might like to have a quick look inside this shop – it’s more like a 5-star hotel), and finish under the neon lights of Piccadilly Circus. Craig has reviewed Piccadilly Circus by day and seen it by night as well.
Day Three | What you will see: Boat ride from Big Ben to Greenwich, Cutty Sark, National Maritime Museum, Royal Observatory, Old Royal Naval College
For the third day of your trip we thought you might like a nice relaxing boat ride to Greenwich. There are three different boat companies that go to Greenwich: Thames Clippers, City Cruises and TRS, but the Thames Clippers don’t have very many outside seats and the City Cruises tend to get packed out with tourists, so we recommend a TRS boat. Read Craig’s reviews of the Thames Clipper, City Cruises and TRS
It’s a 60-min ride from Westminster Pier (by Big Ben) and you’ll get a great view of the Globe, St. Paul’s and The City before passing Tower Bridge and motoring towards the skyscrapers at Canary Wharf.
When you finally pull into the pier at Greenwich you will be under the masts of the Cutty Sark, but don’t head inside just yet because you need to decide what to do with the rest of your day. There are a lots of different things to do in Greenwich and you won’t have time to see them all, so we recommend choosing just two out of the next four (or three if you don’t mind rushing them).
Option 1: Cutty Sark
The first one is the famous old Cutty Sark clipper ship which used to sail to China in world record speeds. You can explore above deck and all the cargo decks, and they’ve suspended the whole thing in the air so you can even walk around underneath the hull (allow for 90 mins). Read Craig’s review of the Cutty Sark
Option 2: National Maritime Museum
If you’re interested in boats then you might like to try the National Maritime Museum as well. This tells the story of the British Navy from the days of the Empire right up to the present day. One of the highlights is the actual jacket that Nelson was wearing aboard HMS Victory during the Battle of Trafalgar (allow for 2 hours). Read Craig’s review of the National Maritime Museum
Option 3: Royal Observatory
If you don’t mind climbing up Greenwich Hill then how about a visit to the Royal Observatory? It dates from the reign of Charles II and has a collection of old clocks and telescopes. You can also see where the old Astronomer Royals used to live in Flamsteed House. There is a modern planetarium next-door with a 360-degree dome (allow for 3 hours in total). Read Craig’s review of the Royal Observatory
Option 4: Old Royal Naval College
If you enjoy beautiful buildings then have a walk around the Old Royal Naval College. This was originally built by Christopher Wren and contains a chapel and the world-famous Painted Hall – one of the most stunning rooms in London (allow for 60 mins). Read Craig’s review of the Old Royal Naval College
At some point you will want to stop for some lunch and we recommend walking into the historic town centre where you’ll find plenty of traditional old pubs and tea rooms. We particularly like Gipsy Moth pub near the Cutty Sark.
Depending on the time of year and which boat company you choose, your return boat might leave as early as 4 PM or as late as 9 PM. If you can’t make it then you can always catch a train from Cutty Sark back to Westminster.
Day One | What you will see: Trafalgar Square, Changing the Guard, Churchill War Rooms, Horse Guards, Downing Street, Parliament, Westminster Abbey, London Eye
If it’s your first visit to London then you’ll probably want to see as many landmarks as possible, but London is a huge city (far too large to walk across) and it’s not easy to squeeze them all into a three-day trip, so you need to plan out your route to avoid wasting too much time on the buses and trains. This first day collects together lots of landmarks and attractions within walking distance.
Start your day in Trafalgar Square and take some photos of Nelson’s Column. Then walk through Admiralty Arch towards Buckingham Palace (allow 15 mins in the square and 15 mins for the walk). Most tourists include Changing the Guard at the top of their London bucket list, so that’s what we’re going to do next.
The ceremony starts at 11 AM but we recommend getting there before 9.30 AM if you want the best vantage point up against the railings. Read Craig’s review before you go to get some tips about the timings.
When the ceremony ends walk across St. James’s Park and find the bridge in the middle of the lake for a great view of Horse Guards and the palace. They’ve got a cafe a bit further along if you want to stop for a coffee (allow for 30 mins). Read Craig’s review of St. James’s Park
Option 1: Churchill War Rooms
If you’re interested in WWII then you might like to visit the Churchill War Rooms at the end of the park. This was home to Winston’s wartime government during the Blitz (allow for 1½-2 hours). Read Craig’s review of the Churchill War Rooms. Note: If you decide to go inside then you won’t have time for the Houses of Parliament tour or Westminster Abbey later, so you need to choose just one out of the three.
At the eastern end of the park is Horse Guards parade ground. If you walk through the central arch then you’ll emerge into Whitehall where you can take your photo standing next to one of the mounted soldiers. This is probably the most popular photostops in the whole of London, judging by the bazillions of tourists that mill around it. Read Craig’s review of Horse Guards
Head towards Parliament Square, stopping to have a nosey look through the big black iron gates at Downing Street. This is where the Prime Minister lives. You can see the famous front door halfway up the street on the righthand side. Read Craig’s review of Downing Street
Option 2: Houses of Parliament tour
If your 3-day trip happens to be during the summer then we definitely recommend doing a guided tour around the Houses of Parliament. At other times of the year you can only do a Saturday tour (allow 90 mins for each). Read Craig’s reviews of the Summer Opening and Saturday tour
Option 3: Westminster Abbey
Now cross over Parliament Square to Westminster Abbey – the setting for the Britain’s big coronations and State funerals. It’s also the burial place of many of our greatest kings and queens. This is Britain’s equivalent of the Valley of the Kings (allow for 2 hours). Read Craig’s review of Westminster Abbey
Let’s end the day with a ride on the London Eye. Walk over Westminster Bridge and you’ll see it across the river by the County Hall. Hopefully it will be late afternoon by now and the light will be fading, so you’ll see the city start to light up (allow for 30 mins queuing, and 30 mins on the wheel). Read Craig’s review of the London Eye
Day Two | What you will see: British Museum, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Covent Garden, West End show or cinema in Leicester Square
The second day will be a bit more sedate than yesterday’s marathon walk, with a visit to a museum and a cathedral, and then ending with a nice meal and West End show.
The British Museum is one of the world’s great museums with an unrivalled collection of ancient artefacts from Egypt, Africa and the Orient, and beautiful statues and huge monuments by the Romans, Greeks and Persians. Highlights include the famous Rosetta Stone and controversial Parthenon Marbles (allow for 2 hours). Read Craig’s review of the British Museum
Catch the 521 bus to St. Paul’s Cathedral (15 mins ride). No London itinerary would be complete without a look at Christopher Wren’s masterpiece. After you’ve had a look round the interior and the tombs in the crypt try and climb to the Whispering Gallery. The next level up will take you outside the dome for a fantastic view of the city. The final level will take you to the very summit of the dome, 85 metres up the street (allow for 2 hours). Read Craig’s review of St. Paul’s Cathedral
Now catch the No.15 bus down Fleet Street, past the Royal Courts of Justice, and get off near Covent Garden. There are plenty of decent pubs and restaurants around the side streets. We especially recommend the Punch & Judy pub overlooking the piazza, because you can stand on the outside balcony and enjoy a bit of free street entertainment opposite the church. They usually have a few magicians, fire-eaters or acrobats dancing around. Read Craig’s review of Covent Garden
You can’t go on holiday and not see a show, so book yourself a ticket to one of the big West End shows in the evening. Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables are well-worth watching. If you’d prefer a blockbuster movie then you’ll find all the big cinemas in Leicester Square (allow 2-3 hours for each).
Day Three | What you will see: Tower of London, Tower Bridge, HMS Belfast, The Shard, Tate Modern, Globe Theatre
Day three begins with one of the London’s three World Heritage Sites: the Tower of London. This was begun by William the Conqueror in the 11th-century and is famous for Traitor’s Gate, the Bloody Tower, Tower Green (where Henry VIII beheaded his queens) and the Crown Jewels. We recommend joining one of the hour-long Yeoman Warder Tours and then spending another couple of hours exploring the towers (allow for 3 hours in total) Read Craig’s reviews of the Tower of London and Yeoman Warder Tour
When you come out take some photos of Tower Bridge from the riverside and then walk over it. We think the bridge’s exhibition is rather dull so you might want to give that a miss, but if you really want to do it then allow yourself 1 hour. They’ve installed a strip of glass floor in the top walkway now which makes it a bit more exciting. Read Craig’s review of Tower Bridge
Everybody has different interests so we’re giving you a choice of four different options now. We recommend that you just pick one, but you can probably squeeze in two if you don’t mind rushing them.
Option 1: HMS Belfast
If you’re interested in World War II then cross over the river and board the battlecruiser HMS Belfast that’s moored up alongside City Hall. You can explore every inch of it: the Admiral’s bridge, armouries, gun decks and mess halls, and even the little dentist and operating theatre (allow for 2 hours). Read Craig’s review of HMS Belfast
Option 2: The Shard
Alternatively, you could catch the RV1 bus from Tower Bridge to London Bridge and see the skyline from the top of London’s tallest skyscraper – The Shard (allow for 1-1½ hours). It will be interesting to look at St. Paul’s while you’re up there – you probably thought that the dome was really high when you climbed it yesterday, but it will look absolutely tiny from up here. Read Craig’s review of The Shard
Option 3: Tate Modern
Another option is to continue on the RV1 until you reach the Tate Modern art gallery. This is home to the country’s largest collection of contemporary and modern art, and includes works by the likes of Rothko, Pollock, Picasso, Dali and Matisse (allow for 1½ hours). Remember to visit the restaurant upstairs because it has a rather fine view of St. Paul’s out of the window. Read Craig’s review of Tate Modern
Option 4: Globe Theatre tour
The fourth option is a guided tour of the Globe Theatre. This will take you inside the re-constructed Elizabethan playhouse and give you some time to nose around the William Shakespeare museum underneath (allow for 1½ hours in total).
If you finesse this itinerary’s timings then you might be able to buy some tickets to a Shakespeare play. You’ll have to come during the summer though, because the stage is open to the sky and they don’t perform in the winter. Read Craig’s reviews of the guided tour and watching a play
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