What you will see: Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, No.10 Downing Street, Horse Guards, Trafalgar Square, National Gallery, Sightseeing bus, The Shard, Borough Market, London Eye
If this is your first stay in London then you’ll probably want to spend the first day visiting some of our most famous landmarks. So let’s start off in Parliament Square and take some photos of Big Ben and Parliament.
Westminster Abbey is England’s version of the Valley of the Kings and contains the tombs of Edward the Confessor, 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
Now walk down Whitehall and stop when you reach Downing Street on the left. You’ll have to get lucky to catch a glimpse of the Prime Minister, but you should at least be able to see the famous front door down the righthand side. Read Craig’s review of Downing Street
Further along is one of the most popular photos in London: the soldiers outside Horse Guards. You’ll probably see a big crowd of tourists crowding around the horses and taking it in turns to pose for a photo.
Have a walk through the central arch and into the parade ground behind. This is where they hold big military parades like Trooping the Colour. Read Craig’s review of Horse Guards
You might like to spend 2 hours looking around the National Gallery on the north-side of the square. This is London’s best gallery and contains works by Rembrandt, Renoir, Raphael, Titian, Turner, Da Vinci and Van Gogh. Read Craig’s review of the National Gallery
We’re going to continue our tour of London’s landmarks on the top-deck of a sightseeing bus. The three biggest bus companies are Golden Tours, Big Bus London and Original Bus Tour, but for this particular itinerary we recommend catching Golden Tour’s ‘Blue route’ outside the National Gallery.
When the bus drives over London Bridge get off at The Shard. This is London’s tallest building by far, and the view from the top is the best in the city (allow for 1 hour). Read Craig’s review of The Shard
While you’re here you might like to have quick look around Borough Market. It’s an undercover food market selling arty breads, meats, cheeses and sweets. It’s quite a nice place to have something to eat. Read Craig’s review of Borough Market
Now jump back on the sightseeing bus and enjoy the ride over Tower Bridge and past the 1,000-year-old Tower of London. It will then cross over Southwark Bridge and eventually end up by the Southbank Centre.
You want the first day of your holiday to end on a high, so how about a ride on the London Eye?
The great thing about the London Eye is that it stays open quite late so you should still have loads of time left (there’s nothing worse than having to rush around on your first day when you’re already knackered from the flight). Allow for 30 mins on the wheel and 30-45 mins queueing (but less if you buy your tickets online in advance). Read Craig’s review of the London Eye.
What you will see: Tower Bridge, Tower of London, The Monument, Sky Garden, Royal Exchange, St. Paul’s Cathedral
The second day of your holiday will give you a closer look at some of those places we saw on the sightseeing bus. Let’s start at Tower Bridge. We don’t recommend going inside because the exhibition is a bit bland, but you might want to check the scheduled lift times to see if you can catch it when the drawbridge opens. Read Craig’s review of Tower Bridge
Spend the next 2½ hours at the Tower of London. Normally we’d suggest at least 3-4 hours for this, but you’ve got a lot of great places to visit today. Maybe you could try an hour-long Yeoman Warder Tour with one of the Beefeaters first, and then nip inside the White Tower and Waterloo Barracks to see the Crown Jewels. Read Craig’s reviews of the Yeoman Warder Tour and Tower of London
We’re going to give you a choice of two different attractions now – they’re both tall towers so there’s not much point doing both.
Option 1: The Monument
Head down Great Tower Street and then Eastcheap, and turn left when you see Pudding Lane. This was where the Great Fire of London started in 1666, and The Monument was erected soon after to mark the spot. The view from the top isn’t all that amazing, if we’re being honest, but it’s certainly good exercise getting up there! (allow for 45 mins) Read Craig’s review of The Monument
Option 2: Sky Garden
If you’d rather choose somewhere with a lift then how about the Sky Garden? This skyscraper has got a tropical garden 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 a time slot on their website in advance – you can’t just turn up whenever you like. That means you’re going to have to stick rigidly to the timings in our itinerary (allow for 1 hour). Read Craig’s review of the Sky Garden
If you walk down Cheapside then you’ll end up at the rear of St. Paul’s Cathedral. If you’ve been following our advice and stuck to the timings then you should still have around 1½ hours to walk around and climb up the domes. Read Craig’s review of St. Paul’s Cathedral. If it’s already too late then don’t worry, because we heartily recommend the Evensong service at 5 PM instead. Read Craig’s review of the Evensong
It’s been a busy day and you’re probably be totally knackered from all that walking, so let’s catch the No.23 bus from the south side of the cathedral and try and find somewhere to eat. There are lots of nice pubs and restaurants around Covent Garden. Or you could stay on the bus to Trafalgar Square and then walk 5 mins to Leicester Square. This is the heart of the West End, where all the bright lights and nightlife is, and there are lots of good pubs around.
What you will see: Kensington Palace, Albert Memorial, Natural History Museum, Science Museum, Victoria & Albert Museum, Harrods
Start the day by catching the tube to Queensway or High Street Kensington and then walking over to Kensington Palace. It’s best-known these days as the former home of Princess Diana, but its historical importance lies in the fact that it was once home to William III and a young Queen Victoria (allow for 2 hours). Read Craig’s review of Kensington Palace
We’re going to give you a choice of three different museums now, but you’re only going to have time for one (or two if you don’t mind rushing). All three are next-door to each other, at the end of Exhibition Road.
Option 1: Natural History Museum
The Natural History Museum is known as the ‘dead zoo’ because its cabinets are full of stuffed animals. They’ve got everything in here from lions, tigers, zebras and elephants, to monkeys, gorillas, birds, fish and insects… everything! They also have a huge collection of dinosaur bones (allow for 2½ hours). Read Craig’s review of the Natural History Museum
Option 2: Science Museum
If you’re more interested in technology then try the Science Museum, which traces the evolution of everything from computers, clocks and cars to planes, trains and spaceships. Highlights include the Apollo moon lander and a hangar full of airplanes (allow for 2½ hours). Read Craig’s review of the Science Museum
Option 3: Victoria & Albert Museum
The Victoria & Albert Museum is good for people interested in art and design. It contains beautiful old furniture, fashions and jewellery, and artworks by the likes of Constable, Turner and Raphael. The Cast Room contains some models of the world’s greatest monuments (allow for 2½ hours). Read Craig’s review of the Victoria & Albert Museum
Now walk up Brompton Road for some shopping at the world’s most luxurious department store: Harrods. Even if you can’t afford to buy anything it’s still worth a quick look inside the Food Halls to see the splendid decor (allow for 45 mins). Read Craig’s review of Harrods
You might like to spend the evening around Sloane Square. Catch the C1 bus from Harrods and pick one of Chelsea’s pubs or restaurants.
What you will see: Boat trip to Greenwich, Old Royal Naval College, Cutty Sark, National Maritime Museum, Royal Observatory
Day four of the itinerary begins with a trip to Greenwich. Three are three sightseeing boat companies in London: Thames Clippers, City Cruises and TRS, but we recommend TRS because Thames Clippers don’t have very many outside seats (not much use on a sightseeing trip!) and the City Cruises boats always seem to be packed solid, which reduces the fun. Read Craig’s reviews of the Thames Clipper, City Cruises and TRS
The 60-min journey will take you past lots of landmarks including St. Paul’s, Shakespeare’s Globe, Tate Modern, the Tower of London and Tower Bridge, before passing the skyscrapers at Canary Wharf and the Isle of Dogs.
When you pull into Greenwich pier notice the front facade of the Old Royal Naval College on the left – that’s where you’ll be heading next.
Tourists are only allowed inside two of the rooms, but the famous Painted Hall contains the most fantastic artwork in the whole of London – it’s London’s Sistine Chapel (allow for 45 mins). Read Craig’s review of the Old Royal Naval College
There are three more attractions worth visiting, but you’ll only have time for two of them:
Option 1: Cutty Sark
You will have seen the tall mast of the Cutty Sark clipper ship when you pulled into the pier. It’s now been suspended above a dry dock so you can walk underneath it and then explore all of the cargo decks and the crews’ cabins (allow for 1½ hours). Read Craig’s review of the Cutty Sark
Option 2: National Maritime Museum
The National Maritime Museum tells the story of the British navy and how it helped the Empire spread its trade networks all around the world. It also has a very good exhibition about the Battle of Trafalgar which contains the bullet-ridden jacket that Nelson was wearing onboard HMS Victory. Read Craig’s review of the National Maritime Museum
Option 3: Royal Observatory
Astronomers might like to visit the Royal Observatory on top of Greenwich Hill. The museum just contains a load of old clocks and telescopes, and the house contains furnishings from the 16th and 17th-centuries, but you’ll enjoy the movies in 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 lunch we recommend the Gipsy Moth pub next to the Cutty Sark.
Note: depending on the date and which company you choose, your return boat might leave as early as 4 PM or as late as 9 PM – so remember to check their timetable first. If you miss the boat then you can always catch a train from Cutty Sark to Westminster.
What you will see: Changing the Guard, Afternoon tea at The Ritz or Fortnum & Mason, shopping and a show in the West End
Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace was probably high up on your bucket list of things to do in London, but we’ve saved it for the final day so you can go out on a high. Read Craig’s review of Changing the Guard
You need to get there by 9.30 AM if you want a decent view, and even earlier if you want the best view, which means you don’t really have much time to do anything beforehand (most of the attractions don’t open until 10 AM) – maybe you could just take some photos around Trafalgar Square and then walk to Buckingham Palace (10-15 min walk).
Seeing as it’s your last day in London how about treating yourself to one of their famous afternoon teas in the Palm Court? You should be able to make the 1.30 PM sitting easy enough, but you’ll have to plan in advance – you need to book up at least 2-3 months in advance (seriously!). You’ll also have to dress smartly or they won’t let you in, so remember to check the details.
If you’re unable to reserve a tea at The Ritz then try the one at Fortnum & Mason instead – the second-poshest shop in London (after Harrods). This is where Buckingham Palace buys its groceries from – that’s how posh it is. You only have to book 1-2 weeks in advance for their one. You’ll find it over the road from The Ritz.
When you finish the tea at about 3 PM keep walking down Piccadilly until you reach Piccadilly Circus (10 min walk). You can spend the next 3 hours doing some gift shopping for your friends back home. Regent Street is one of London’s busiest shopping streets – that’s where you’ll find Hamleys. Liberty is up the end by Carnaby Street. You’ll find Selfridges at the Marble Arch end of Oxford Street. If you want some corny tourist gifts then try the shops around Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square (tea towels, cups and mugs and magnets – that sort of thing).
A great way to end your holiday is with a West End musical. Most of the big shows start at 7 PM or 7.30 PM and are within walking distance of Piccadilly Circus. It’s always best to buy your tickets in advance but if you want some last-minute discount tickets then try the TKTS booth in Leicester Square.
<< Drag table for the travelcard prices >>
|Cash||Oyster & Contactless||Travelcards||London Pass|
|Peak||Off-peak||Peak||Off-peak||Anytime||Off-peak||Just pass||With Oyster|
|Train (z1)||£4.90||£2.40||£2.40||£7||£7||£13.10 (z1-4)||£13.10 (z1-6)||£35.10 (z1-2)|
|Train (z1-2)||£4.90||£2.90||£2.40||£7||£7||£13.10 (z1-4)||£13.10 (z1-6)||£35.10|
Note: For Oyster and contactless ‘off peak’ is outside the hours of 6.30-9.30 AM and 4-7 PM (Mon-Fri). For travelcards it’s after 9.30 AM (Mon-Fri) and all day Sat-Sun. Prices are based on what time your journey begins – not when it ends
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