Planning a trip to London – especially if it’s your first visit – can be overwhelming. With dozens of world-class museums, more than a handful of sprawling green spaces, famous and historic monuments, vibrant markets, and plenty of opportunities for luxury and vintage shopping, it can be difficult to know where to start.
For travellers visiting the British capital for a week or two, it can slightly easier to formulate an itinerary. With more time, you can allow yourself some wiggle room to improvise, crafting and re-crafting your plan based on your mood, people you meet, the weather and obscure recommendations from locals.
Unfortunately, the reality is, not all of us have several weeks to leisurely explore. With work commitments, family, and school, a 3-day trip is often all people (especially parents!) can manage.
Of course, that shouldn’t stop you from making the trip to London and exploring as much of this diverse, cosmopolitan city as you can.
Bearing in mind that we’re all different – some of us being history buffs and others being foodies – we’ve put together this 3-day itinerary, taking care to include something for everyone and ensuring that, should you follow this guide, you’ll get a taste of several London boroughs, from posh Paddington to trendy Shoreditch.
BEFORE YOU VISIT LONDON
First things first (and before diving into our carefully planned 72-hour itinerary for touring London) let’s make sure you have the basics sorted.
When to Visit
Despite what you may have heard about London being grey and rainy, there genuinely is no bad time to visit.
In the winter, it will be chillier, but you’ll enjoy sparkling lights and feel a palpable glee throughout the city, especially in December. The spring does experience some showers, but the temperatures are mild and the days are longer. This is also an ideal time to take advantage of London hotel offers, especially around April when hotels like Montcalm Royal London House tend to offer themed package deals in the spirit of bank holidays like Easter.
As you might imagine, summer is one of the more popular times to visit London, with temperatures at their peak and children off school for several weeks. And – finally – autumn, with its crisp weather and seasonal events, it remains a wonderful time to visit the city.
As we said, there is no bad time.
Where to Stay
If you’re limited on time, it’s important you choose accommodation in London that suits your purpose. If you’re travelling with toddlers in tow, it would make the most sense to look out for luxury hotels for families in the city, close to major public transport links for easy access to all the major sights.
If you’re in town with friends for a birthday or hen do, you might be better off booking into a luxury hotel like The Montcalm Brewery Hotel which puts you (quite literally) next door to some of the city’s most fashionable bars and eateries.
Now that you’ve booked a room (or two or three) for the duration of your stay, let’s (finally) go through everything there is to see and do in London.
Settle In and Head Out
After settling into your hotel – whether it be Montcalm Royal London House or another – you should get your bearings. Use your phone, a map, or the help of a concierge to locate the nearest public transport links and plot your journey through the city.
We’ve put together this guide using our Montcalm at the Brewery location as the base.
As these days are quite packed in terms of back-to-back sightseeing, we recommend you back a tote or rucksack with the essentials: a bottle of water (or two), an external charger, a map or guidebook if you’ve got one, your camera, and anything you might need for your children, if you’re travelling as a family. Of course, you’ll need cash or a card, too, as well as confirmation information for any tickets you may have booked in advance.
Ready, let’s go!
Start on the Embankment
From the Montcalm London City, it’s a pleasant walk to the River Thames. (Or, if you’d rather not walk, hop on the Circle Line from Moorgate to the Embankment Station).
Not only is this famous river steeped in history, but it’s banks are packed with shops, restaurants, food trucks, pop-up markets and museums to explore, making it the perfect jumping off point for your trip. This is also where locals hang out, so you’ll get a real sense of the city’s culture.
Skip the double-decker bus tours, and instead go for a river sightseeing cruise. There are dozens of companies offering different packages to tourists, so it’s up to you to find which suits your fancy. But, no matter which you choose, you can rest assured this tour by water will give you a new perspective on the city. Instead of being within it, you’ll see it from the outside. Towering, modern buildings mix with romantic architecture from centuries ago. It’s at once old and new and, especially on a warm summer day, it feels like the best city in the world.
Imagine this river cruise as a sampling platter – you’ll pass by all the major sights, get a brief history of each, and you can use this introduction as a guide to inform the rest of your trip.
In general, cruises depart from and return to the same place, most often Embankment Pier. From there, you’ll be in the perfect position to explore some of the city’s most famous sights and attractions. For a bird’s eye view of the city, hop on the London Eye. While a ride in one of the glass pods does guarantee a great photo opportunity, you should expect long queues and booking in advance is generally required.
Walk in the Direction of Westminster
Nearby are the London Dungeons and SEA Life, perfect stop-offs for those travelling with kids (or the young at heart!). Again, we recommend booking tickets for both in advance and, if you’re keen to visit several popular attractions like this, you may be best off booking a tourist pass like London Pass or something similar.
By now, you’ll likely have worked up an appetite. Fortunately, you’ll find yourself surrounded by different restaurants and food trucks. Grab something on-the-go or grab a table on the river to while away an hour or so as you rest your feet.
After you’ve refuelled, continue walking towards Westminster. Suddenly, the landscape will change. Taco trucks and jumble book sales will be replaced by stately structures and the scene will resemble something like a postcard.
On the north side of the bank, you’ll see all the places and sights that have made London so famous for tourists around the world. Big Ben will tower above you with the Palace of Westminster just a bit further down. By walking slightly further into the city, you’ll find Westminster Abbey, Parliament Square, The Guards Museum, Churchill War Rooms, Buckingham Palace and a handful of monuments dedicated to the city’s history.
Bear in mind, it’ll be difficult to stop off and tour every single one of these without eating away the rest of your afternoon and evening. Instead, pick and choose what’s most important for you.
If you’re itching for another panoramic view of the city, head up to the top of Big Ben. Although, please note that it’s currently under construction and do check online before you make plans to avoid any disappointment.
For history buffs, set aside a few hours to queue up for and watch the Changing the Guards ceremony and explore memorabilia at The Guards Museum. If you’d like to see how the Queen lives, book tickets for a summer tour of Buckingham Palace and if you’re dying to see where big decisions are made, wander around Parliament Square.
With that, it’s probably best to head back to your hotel in Shoreditch or another borough. For guests of The Montcalm Royal London House, we recommend a leisurely walk through St. James Park back towards your accommodation where you can grab a bite to eat or a drink at the hotel’s restaurant or rooftop bar. Tired? Take your food back up to your room and eat in bed. After all, it’s your holiday!
We imagine after your miniature tour de London the day before that your legs may ache. With that in mind, why not have a leisurely morning. Grab a croissant or Full English at the hotel, sip coffee or tea in bed, and slowly wake up as you plot your movements.
While yesterday was meant to introduce you to the city and cover London’s most iconic tourist attractions, Day 2 is more about exploring like a local.
With that in mind….
Make Your Way to Borough Market
From The Montcalm Royal London House, start walking south towards the river. To make the most of your stroll, we recommend cutting through Finsbury Square, going around Finsbury Circus Garden, and walking up past Bank and Monument Stations to eventually land at the foot of London Bridge.
If you didn’t get your fix of historic sights yesterday, this is a great opportunity for you to stop off and tour the Tower of London and it’s stunning surrounding grounds. If not, keep walking and cross over the bridge (after taking a photo with the River Thames as your backdrop) and, on the south end of London Bridge, you’ll run into Borough Market.
Borough Market is – in many ways – the perfect representation of London. This bustling market is diverse, crowded, and a historic. Not only is it a foodie’s paradise, but it’s also a prime spot for people watching and is just a hop, skip, and a jump from the embankment.
A walk through the market guarantees that you’ll pass by stalls selling French cheese, rare truffles, vegan cakes, fresh olives, Thai curries and pie and mash. You can grab something to eat on-the-go or to put in your bag for later or if you’d rather sit down for lunch or a libation, there are plenty of restaurants around the back of the market with outdoor seating.
Think to-die-for mussels and champagne, creamy ice cream, and traditional English fare.
Explore Trendy Shoredtich
Instead of heading back down to the River (been there, done that!), top off at The Shard for another bird’s eye view of the city and then head back towards your hotel to spend the rest of your day getting to know Shoreditch, one of the coolest boroughs in London.
Your options are almost limitless. If you’re keen to dig for vintage treasures, head down Brick Lane for more second-hand garments than you’ll know what to do with. In between trying on clothes, grab a salt beef bagel from one of the famous (and very old) shops with lines out the door 24 hours a day.
If you happen to be in town on a Sunday, you’ll notice the narrow streets are packed with street food vendors, buskers, and pop-up shops selling everything from electric cables to picture frames. This – of course – is the famous Brick Lane Market. You could easily spend hours here, poking around shops, eating and people watch-watching, but there’s more to see.
For another London market experience, stop by Spitalfields (although, by now, your hands and stomach are probably full!) to browse even more pop-up shops and food stalls.
After so much eating and shopping, the best thing to do is to stroll around and admire the street art.
Art for All
There are thousands of murals and the like around the city (and highly concentrated in Shoreditch) but if you want to see the best-of-the-best, make sure you don’t miss Rivington Street where you’ll see work by none other than the now-famous Banksy.
Great Eastern Street (near the Old Street Roundabout) is also home to some famous street art, including graffiti-covered tube trains that are haphazardly perched on top of a building. The list goes on and if you’re truly interested in the street art and graffiti culture, you can book yourself a walking tour of the area where your guide will point out all the must-see spots.
If you prefer more traditional art, we recommend heading to the Barbican Centre. This performing arts facility has a cinema with regular screenings of mainstream and indie films, a laundry list of exhibitions scheduled throughout the year, as well as a library and conservatory. Check their website to see what’s on during your visit.
From here, you’re just a short walk from both The Montcalm Brewery Hotel and Montcalm Royal London House, so it won’t be long before you can finally put your feet up.
After 48-hours of London fun, you’re probably at one exhausted and eager to make the most of your last day in the city. If you’ve followed the itinerary above for your first two days, you’ll likely have ticked off most of your London Bucket List items.
What’s Left to Do?
With that in mind, your last day should be spent visiting and seeing anything you expected to see that you haven’t yet. For Harry Potter fans, this could mean a visit to Warner Bros. Studios. For contemporary art aficionados, this could mean another stroll down the River Thames to the Tate Modern. For those seeking out a quintessentially British experience, this could mean an afternoon spent sipping tea and nibbling on cucumber finger sandwiches.
If none of these options strikes your fancy, we recommend relaxing in one of the city’s many Royal Parks, strolling through free museums and art galleries, or looking into annual or one-off events that are scheduled.
Parks, Museums and More
While – yes – London is more famous for its architecture and history that it is for its green space, the city is still home to some impressive parks.
For families, Regent’s Park is a wonderful choice, if for no other reason than the ZSL London Zoo and open-air theatre. There are also rose gardens to wander around (as they say, ‘Take time to smell the roses….), boats for hire if weather permits, and tennis courts if you fancy a bit of back-and-forth.
In Hyde Park, you’ll find even more outdoor activities, making it a prime space for a picnic, especially if you have little ones with you. If the weather is gloomy during your visit, stop by Hyde Park for the Serpentine Gallery and then head towards Paddington, Mayfair or Soho for some shopping. If Brick Lane is for vintage, these areas are for luxury and are the best places to experience London’s famous department stores like Harrods, Liberty and Selfridges.
Of course, we can’t talk about London without talking about its museums. Not only are they well and truly world-class, many of them are totally free, asking only for a donation if visitors are able.
While we mentioned visiting The Guards Museum on Day 1, there are dozens more worth exploring. Kids and adults will delight in the treasures waiting to be discovered at the Natural History Museum while those interested in all things science will enjoy exploring the Science Museum.
Also worth mentioning are The British Museum, Museum of London, Victoria and Albert Museum, The National Gallery, Design Museum and London Transport Museum. Again, it’s (unfortunately) impossible to visit every single one during a 3-day trip, but if you focus on your interests, you may be able to narrow down your options and shortlist a few.
To avoid any unfortunate delays, we recommend getting back to your accommodation in London in the early evening, allowing yourself plenty of time to pack up, eat dinner, and plan your route to the airport the following morning.
If you plan on taking public transportation, there are direct links to London’s main airports. For families travelling with young children or lots of luggage, it may be easier to get a cab or another private car.
Planning Your Next Trip
One trip is never enough.
London has an almost limitless number of things to see and do, with more popping up every day. The city is always evolving and, as a cultural hub, there are hundreds (if not thousands!) of events scheduled throughout the year. From concerts to cabarets to circuses, there is something for visitors of all ages.
With that in mind, this 3-day itinerary should be viewed as your introduction to the wonderful city, as a guide to take you to the city’s most popular spots. If (and when!) you return, it may be best to plan your trip on a more micro level.
Instead of trying to experience the whole city in just a few days, perhaps experience one borough in just a few days. Fortunately, with this, you’ll have acquainted yourself pretty well with Shoreditch, which means you can possibly move on to another. Next time, seek out the hidden gems, get to know the locals, and really immerse yourself in the culture.
See you next time!