London is a city on top of everyones bucket list – and for a good reason! The city is amazing, full of history and beauty, with famous landmarks that are must-sees as well as lesser-known gems.
But London is quite expensive as well, so long trips can be hard on your pursestrings. Sometimes a long weekend is all the time you can take. Therefore, here is my guide to a three day trip in London!
It’s always best to arrive as early as you can in a new city, no matter the transportation you choose to take. Sometimes you’ll have to sacrifice a little sleep to get in before the crowds. My father taught me this, and it has been the main reason why I’ve been able to pack so much into one day in my travels.
A note – For those taking a plane, be sure to look up what transportation you will be taking from the airport because it can get pricey. Buses and trains are the best option into the city center, but depending on time you might have to wait hours for them or choose to take an expensive taxi. Planes often get delayed in London’s airports, so have back-ups.
Day 1 (The Royal Tour)
1. Big Ben
Currently, Big Ben is covered in scaffolding but the iconic face of the clock can still be seen to a certain extent. It’ll be covered until 2021 and is costing over 60 million pounds to restore.
2. The Houses of Parliament
Connected to Big Ben, this building is also partly being renovated. The building is more ornate than one would think, you just have to get close to see the insane craftsmanship that went into the building. Up close, you can see why its true name is “The Palace of Westminster,” reminding us that it once was the main residence for the English monarch.
3. Westminster Abby
Best known for royal weddings and the coronations of all kings and queens of England, the Abby is very very popular with tourists and the line to get a ticket inside can be hours long. Try to book tickets beforehand if you can so you’re not like me who couldn’t go inside 😦
4. Number 10 Downing Street
This is the current residence of the Prime Minister and is also the headquarters for the UK government. The building is over 300 years old and was originally three different buildings that were combined into one.
5. Horses Guard Palace
If you want a picture with a guard, get it here! Guards in their traditional uniforms are all over this place, some with horses and all with stoic expressions.
6. St. James’s Park
A nice park to take a stroll in on your way to other things. Little vendors dot the streets, offering ice creams and candied nuts. Keep in mind you’ll have to pay to use the restroom though.
7. Buckingham Palace
What more can be said? This is an iconic landmark of England and is well worth the visit. However, it is very hard to get a tour inside as they are often not offered and when they are, they’re booked months in advance. If you can get a tour, DO IT!
8. Green Park
The park adjoining the palace, a nice place to rest and enjoy the area without being stuck in a throng of tourists.
9. St. James’s Palace
The old residence of the monarch, currently the home of extended royalty in the adjoining houses – Prince Charles for example is in the Clarence House.
10. The Kingsmen X Mr. Porter
A quick stop for any movie lover, the front of the store appears just as it did in the movies, sans guns.
11. Admirality Arch
Built in memory of Queen Victoria, the arch has changed ownership often over the years. From being a residence, to a government seat, and now to become a hotel. It is used in many ceremonial practices and the middle arch is reserved for royalty.
12. Trafalgar Square
If stone could talk, then this square might scream or cheer! A common site for many political demonstrations and rallies (Bloody Sunday), this square has seen it all. Day by day, it holds as a common meeting place and head point for celebrations. The National Gallery sits on the head of the square, with many statues and fountains flanking the south.
13. Piccadilly Circus
A bit like London’s Times Square, Piccadilly is a site where shopping and entertainment meet into one. It is the site for many parades and is another common meeting point for locals.
14. Pub time!
Put your feet up for a bit and get some pub food!
15. Go back home for rest
Unless you’re Zeus, then your feet are still bound to be sore. Go back to your residence and take a rest to prepare for the night.
16. Bar Crawl/Pub Crawl
Bar Crawls might not excite people of every age but anyone can appreciate a pub crawl! Experience London nightlife in any way you want, but make sure booze, greasy food, sticky counters, and TV’s with soccer/football on is involved!
Day 2 (The London Riverside)
1. Tower of London (to walk around, not to go in)
I made the mistake of not allowing for enough time for the Tower of London when I first bought the ticket. I arrived by tube but was met with the realization that I had a booked tour for later in the day that I could not miss, and the Tower usually takes 2-3 hours to get through. MAKE SURE you have enough time for this and if not, reschedule your ticket for a later date like I did. Ticket prices are around 23 pounds per, but switching it to a later date is free!
2. Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge is iconic and easy to walk over, you can go up one of the towers if you wish but it can be a long wait.
3. City Hall
Something to admire as you walk along the riverside. I think it looks like a giant alien egg that came from a metallic planet in the Star Wars universe.
4. HMS Belfast
(Below, you can see the City Hall egg building, The Shard, and part of HMS Belfast in the corner)
A former battleship in WWII and Korea, it is now moored on the Thames as a museum ship to educate others about the British navy.
5. The London Bridge
London Bridge is falling down… or, wait, is this the London Bridge? You’ve heard about this bridge from the famous nursery rhyme but in reality you’ll likely be underwhelmed, especially when compared to its neighbor the Tower Bridge. Either way, still an important bridge in history considering how long it has existed (putting aside the fact that it has been rebuilt) – since Roman and Medieval times.
6. The Shard
One of the most recognizable parts of the modern British skyline, the shard is similar to a giant, ritzy mall of sorts – with restaurants, shopping, and a hotel.
7. Borough Market
An old market dating back to the 12th century selling some of the best produce in England. You’ve probably also seen it in some famous movies, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban for instance. The taco place? One of the filming spots for the Leaky Cauldron.
8. Shakesphere’s Globe
A fan of the bard? Then this replica of his famous stage is worth a visit. With constant performances of some of his most famous work, the Globe makes sure that the toils of mad kings, vengeful princes, scheming uncles, star-crossed lovers, and meddling fairies stays relevant today.
9. The Millennium Bridge
Another filming location for the Harry Potter movies! You’ll likely recognize this bridge from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, when death eaters fly over and destroy the bridge on their way to Diagon Alley to capture Ollivander. Don’t worry, the bridge is actually very stable.
10. Southbank Book Market
A little gem hidden away under Waterloo bridge, this is a must visit for any book lover! It’s an outdoor book market and is open daily. You may even find an antique treasure!
A note – those who travel often will know that carrying books along with you can be a tricky thing. Of course, everyone needs a good book in their life but the weight of it can be tricky when dealing with hauling bags around the world. So just be cautious and maybe save your book-hunting for the end of a trip.
11. London Eye
This landmark was a toss up for me whether or not I actually wanted to venture up. It seemed a little tourist-trappy because of the high price of 20 pounds, but it does guarantee gorgeous pictures. I decided to walk by and save the ascent for my next visit.
12. – A Harry Potter Black Cab Tour –
This was a tour I took with some other traveling companions. At first we wanted to do the studio tour, but to get that you have to book wayyyyy in advance. This was still a good second option for those Harry Potter lovers out there. It was a private black cab tour where a fellow-Potterhead driver took us around to filming locations in London. For instance, the inspiration for Diagon Alley, 12 Grimmauld Place, the Leaky Cauldron, and King’s Cross Station. You also get to visit the Harry Potter store in King’s Cross!
A note – for those who aren’t big fans of the films or books, this may not be the tour for you. The locations are real and our guide showed us what they looked like in the movie, but you have to understand they use a lot of movie magic (editing) to remake the locations. The locations may not exactly look like they do in the movies and you’ll just have to appreciate the behind the scenes information the driver gives you along the way.
13. Sherlock Holmes’s Pub
This pub may seem a bit gimmicky, but it is well done. For any Sherlock lover or Cumberbabes(or bitches if you’re feeling cheeky), this is a fun stop for lunch or dinner. It’s themed for the original tale, and every inch is dedicated to the eccentric detective. The bottom floor is the pub and the top floor is the restaurant. The pub is great fun but the restaurant can be a bit slow in the service. Don’t let that put you off though! If you have the time and are looking for a good meal, this is still a good choice.
14. Trafalgar Square
This is a repeat destination but I do absolutely love Trafalgar Square. At night it reigns supreme, with tail lights flashing by so fast they appear like blurs and the soft golden light of cafes spilling out onto the sidewalks.
15. Hungerford Bridge
During the day it is easy to pass over this unassuming bridge. But at night, it offers a great view of London lit up. It also has a great selection of buskers and street vendors. One vendor in particular caught my eye with his handmade wire structures. One of my traveling companions asked for a wire picture-frame with her name set in it and he was able to make it in less than 5 minutes.
16. London Eye (again)
This is a repeat visit, but is absolutely gorgeous at night all lit up. If you were to pay to access the Eye, I would recommend it at sunset or night.
Day 3 (The Wrap Up)
Last day = you must wake up extra early!
1. Millennium Bridge
This is a repeat destination but this time you should walk across it! If you have trouble with heights then maybe take the Tube, but this bridge is very sturdy and fun to go people-watching on.
2. St. Paul’s Cathedral
One of the most important churches in England, this impressive building is the seat of the Bishop of England and has been the site where many prestigious people have been laid to rest – Winston Churchill for example. Jubilees, royal birthdays, weddings, services, and more occupy this space, but day by day it still exists as a church for the masses with daily services and prayer times. It is free for worshippers but costs around 16 or less pounds to get in for tourists.
3. St. Paul’s Cathedral Churchyard
For those who don’t wish to pay the price of admission but still want to see the church, the yard nearly circles the whole church and is home to some old tombs and dainty pathways. The impressive dome of the church can be seen from all angles, allowing for great pictures.
4. Tower of London
Ok, back to the Tower. THIS time I finally went in, right when it opened. I HIGHLY recommend going as early as possible (Sun-Mon, 10am and Tue-Sat, 9am). This is because the Crown Jewels are kept here and everyone wants to see them first. Go straight for the Jewels early in the morning and you should have little to no line. Go later in the evening? Good luck with that.
The Crown Jewels should not be the only reason you visit however, as the Tower itself was first built in the 1060’s-70’s and is steeped in history. It’s role in British history has changed from a prison, to a palace, to a treasury, an armory, a zoo (of sorts), etc. Now it is a tourist attraction and the home of the Crown Jewels.
History and reputation knows it best as a prison, the very image of the Tower itself striking fear into the hearts of British citizens centuries ago. But this was no prison for the common folk, it was a prison for those too valuable to hold anywhere else. Anne Boleyn and Lady Jane Grey were held captive and executed here. Queen Elizabeth I was a prisoner here until her release (before she was a queen).
You may know the Tower for its reputation of torturing prisoners, although this has been largely exaggerated. Torture did occur yes but it was to less than fifty prisoners, much smaller than what the general public thought. However, torture machines are still displayed in the tower for viewing.
Take 2-3 hours to wander around the Tower and learn about its history. Much has been restored from WWII (the White Tower was spared) and there are many little nooks and crannies to explore. One of the most fascinating things to me was the inclusion of many wire animal statues throughout the park. As you go along the castle walls, you realize that these represent the animals kept here as an “exotic” zoo of sorts – known as “The Royal Menagerie”. Another interesting find is that there are still ravens kept at the tower, partly for tourism and partly because of the superstition that the nation will fall without them.
5. The British Museum
An absolute MUST SEE and one of my favorite places I went in all of London! I’m a huge history nerd, especially in regards to Greek, Roman, and Egyptian history and myths. This museum is gigantic and contains some absolutely awe-inspiring artifacts, including the Rosetta Stone! Everything is so well preserved and organized so you can easily navigate through it.
Be sure to see the giant statues and carvings from Egypt, Greece, and Rome. Plus also the mummies from Egypt (second floor) and the pottery from Greece (also second floor). There is also a really interesting section dedicated to Korea where you can see a Hanok (a traditional house) and some delicate pottery. Plus the museum is free!
A note – At least for when I went, there was no air conditioning in the top floors and I soon became red faced and sweaty. Bring water!
6. Liverpool Street Station -> the airport
Taking the rail is the fastest and cheapest way to get to the airport. For example, I took the rail and it cost me 16 pounds and took only 45 minutes to get there. My friends took a cab and it cost them nearly 32 pounds each and it took them longer than an hour and a half to get there.
A note – In my experience, England is very lax about time and when planes actually take off verses when they’re supposed to take off. It is extremely frustrating but something you’ll have to deal with, especially if you take a cheaper plane option.
Let me know your favorite spots in London!