Itineraries

3 Days in London: A Jam-Packed Itinerary in the Best City on Earth

From the minute the plane wheels touched down at Heathrow, I was in a rush. On my very first trip back in 2011, I had 3 days in London – three short, busy days – to see as much of London as I could. And by golly, I saw a lot. In the end, I probably pushed too hard and ran myself ragged – but that trip inspired a love of London that has stuck with me throughout my life.

If you’re planning a trip to London, you too might only have three days. Maybe you’re tagging on a visit to London as part of a tour of Europe, or stopping over on your way to another destination. Maybe you live elsewhere – on the U.S. East Coast or on the continent – and can do a “city break” to explore what I consider to be the best city on earth. Whatever brings you to London, don’t worry: three days is enough to get a great taste of London, see many of the city’s top sights, and perhaps fall in love with the city as I did.

Read on to learn how to spend 3 days in London. This itinerary isn’t as exhausting as the one I designed for my own first trip, but will inspire you and make your own trip easier to plan and memorable once you arrive.

London Travel Tips

Before jumping into my suggested itinerary for 3 days in London, I want to cover a few quick travel tips. I’ve learned that this info is helpful to start, as it answers many of your top questions. You can always ask additional questions in the comments at the end of this post, if there’s anything I forgot.

Best Time to Visit London

The most popular time to visit London is summer, between May and August. This is when many travelers flock to London for nice, sunny days, and warm weather. However, this is also when flights and hotels cost the most, so plan your travel budget accordingly!

If you’re looking to visit London and avoid the crowds, the shoulder seasons of spring (late March to May) and autumn (September and October) are great times to visit too – and you’ll see blooming flowers or changing leaves depending on which season you pick.

In the event you’re planning to visit London in the winter, don’t worry. London is a year-round destination and all attractions are open in the winter; there are plenty of things to do and the city is truly magical if you happen to visit during a rare snowy time.

What to Pack for London

London is a cosmopolitan European city, which means it generally has a higher fashion standard than you might be used to back home – especially if you live in the U.S. I have a list of what to pack for London (including when the forecast calls for rain), but here are some tips:

  1. You can never go wrong using black as a base color for your wardrobe.
  2. A good trench coat will always look great and help you blend in with the locals.
  3. Sneakers are a no-go; opt for comfortable walking shoes that don’t belong in the gym.
  4. Londoners are split on using umbrellas, but if you have one, bring it – it doesn’t take up much space in your bag!
  5. Bring a day bag; you’ll want something to carry around essentials on each of your 3 days in London if you follow my itinerary.
  6. If it’s your first trip to London (which I’m guessing it is, since you found my site!), buy a London Pass. This will save a bunch on admission to various attractions across the city.

Where to Stay in London

It can be hard to know where to stay in a big city like London. Most people advise staying in Central London, but I believe there are great areas in every part of London (North, South, East, and West.) A good way to save a bit on your London travel budget is by looking on the edge of Central London in one of these directions.

I have a post about the best areas to stay in all of London coming soon, and will link it here once I publish it.

How to Get Around London

Do. not. rent. a. car. That might be rookie mistake #1, and hopefully, it didn’t even cross your mind. You don’t need a car to get around London, so don’t waste your money renting one! Instead, opt for public transit. I’ve got a guide to help you figure out how to ride the London Underground (“The Tube”) and will be sharing tips on London’s bus system soon.

3 Days in London: A Quick Glance

Before jumping into the details, I always like to give a quick glance of the 3-day London itinerary I suggest – so you’ll see that it is jam-packed but covers all the London essential experiences.

DayActivities
1Westminster, Trafalgar Square, Covent Garden, London Eye
2St. Paul’s, Tower of London, Tower Bridge, The Shard
3Choose any 2 of: Royal London, West London, the East End, Camden, the Southbank…

Ready to jump in and see how to put all these London experiences (and others) together into a single itinerary? Read on!

A Detailed, Jam-Packed 3-Day London Itinerary

Here are the details of the itinerary I shared briefly above. As you’ll see, this is a jam-packed way to visit London – but it makes the most of the short three days that you have.

Day 1: Westminster & Central London

Parliament on a Cloudy Day

Start the morning of your first day in London by taking the tube to Westminster.

Westminster is home to some of London’s most well-known sites, so be sure your camera/phone is fully charged before you get out there for some serious sightseeing. First, step off the tube to admire The Houses of Parliament (aka Westminster Hall). This building is the most iconic in London, and the most famous part of the building is Big Ben in the Elizabethan Tower.

Cross Westminster Bridge on the west side, then turn down the stairs near the gift kiosk on the opposite side of the bridge. At the bottom of the stairs, you’ll find my favorite view of Westminster (pictured above).

From Westminster, make your way past Whitehall to Trafalgar Square. This iconic square is host to public art and events, and is bordered by a number of important buildings – including the National Gallery if you want to spend time in a museum (or escape the rain!).

If you continue up Charing Cross Road from Trafalgar Square you can pop into London’s Chinatown district for lunch; there are a number of cozy restaurants with fabulous tea and dumplings to fortify you for an afternoon of exploration.

Then make your way to Covent Garden, which is a short walk from Chinatown. There are shops and cafés here, perfect for snagging souvenirs or tucking into afternoon tea – or you can just admire the buskers and street performers that typically work in this area.

As the afternoon winds down, it’s time to find dinner. Head south from Covent Garden toward the river to find somewhere to eat. If you’re up for a splurge, I ate at Cicchetti (on Wellington Street) on one recent trip to London and it was decadent. Otherwise, there are plenty of pubs and other cheaper eats.

Lastly, before the sun goes down, head to the London Eye for a 30-minute ride around the giant wheel. Try to get your reservation so that you’re on The Eye 30 minutes around sunset; this means your ticket should have a start time 45-60 minutes before sunset. Scheduling your ride around this time is the perfect way to have panoramic views of London by day and night! 

Day 2: The City & Tower of London

On your second of 3 days in London, it’s time to explore a different part of London: the City of London.

“Wait, won’t I already be in London,” you ask? Yes! There’s London, and the City of London, which are two different things. The City of London is a separate administrative district in the eastern part of Central London, home to many businesses and a few top sights that you’ll see on this day.

Start by riding the tube to St. Paul’s station on the Central Line. St. Paul’s Cathedral is my favorite building in London – and London is my most favorite city on earth. That sets a pretty high bar, eh?

St. Paul’s is the kind of place you could easily spend a few hours, but limit yourself to 60-90 minutes. You should certainly walk around the outside of the building and pay the fee to enter; if there’s a short queue or you can get a ticket, climbing the dome is also a really unique experience.

St. Paul's Panorama

For lunch, head across the street to One New Change. There are a number of restaurants in the mall, but if you can get a table at Madison Rooftop Bar & Restaurant, you’ll have a great view of St. Paul’s while you enjoy lunch.

From St. Paul’s, the easiest way to the next stop I recommend is by taking the bus; hop on an eastbound #15 and disembark at The Tower of London. This site is home to over 1,000 years of human history; the White Tower inside the Tower of London dates to 1097 CE!

If this is your first trip to London, it’s worth it to queue up for tickets and take the tour inside the Tower of London (included in your London Pass!). You’ll learn a ton about English history up through the modern era, and have a great appreciation for the history literally right under your feet. Oh – you can also see the crown jewels which are outrageous and beautiful.

Once you’ve finished at the Tower of London, you can see the next sight on my 3-day London itinerary: Tower Bridge. Make your way there and cross the bridge. This promenade is called the Queen’s Walk and is located between Lambeth Bridge and Tower Bridge, one of London’s most famous symbols. 

This remarkable drawbridge was built between 1886 and 1894 and boasts a gorgeous Victorian style. It’s well worth a visit if you love history and engineering; you can walk across the bridge, or purchase admission to climb the two bridge towers and cross the span above street level (included in the London Pass!).

Once you’ve crossed Tower Bridge, you’re on the south side of the Thames. If you have it in your budget, I recommend heading to dinner at one of the restaurants in the towering Shard building near London Bridge station. (There are a number of other restaurants at street level, but this is a good way to see one of the best views of London and enjoy a nice dinner before turning in.)

Day 3: Choose Your Own Adventure

On your final day in London, it’s time to tick off the last few must-sees on your personal London bucket list. Here are some ideas – I recommend choosing any two of these for the morning and afternoon of your third day:

  • Royal London: Visit Buckingham Palace, walk through Green Park past Wellington Arch to Hyde Park and Kensington Palace.
  • West London: Head over to the picturesque residential areas, browsing for flowers at Columbia Flower Market, seeing the tiny Instagram-worthy Kensington mews, and soaking in the color of Notting Hill.
  • The East End: Explore street art in Brick Lane, go bar-hopping or eat your way across Shoreditch, take a Jack the Ripper Walking Tour, or visit the Queen’s Barge in St. Katherine Docks.
  • Camden: Alt and edgy meets market chic – Camden is a conglomeration of record stores, one of London’s best markets, ethnic restaurants, and the chance to ride a canal boat.
  • The Southbank: Head back toward the London Eye to watch buskers, eat street food, browse outdoor book sellers, and walk past historic sites.
  • The West End: Book tickets to the theatre in London’s famous West End. Shows are always changing and you can snag a discount on day-of tickets.

Whenever I finish writing one of my London itineraries, I always think of a million other things to do – Baker Street! The London Zoo! Harry Potter sites across the city! – but to be honest: you won’t be able to fit it all in. As I mentioned, my first three-day London trip inspired me to return many times, and eventually to start this site. Don’t be surprised if you can’t complete everything on your London to-do list and want to plan a return trip. I’ll be happy to help you plan it whenever the time comes!

Other London Itineraries to Consider

10 Days in London Hero

Do you actually have more or less time to spend in London? Here are other London itineraries I’ve written to help you plan:

Have any questions about how to spend 3 days in London? Let me know in the comments!

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    Valerie fell in love with London on my first trip to the city way back in 2011. Since then, she spent a year living in London and visits as often as she can. Join her to explore my favorite city on earth and learn everything you need to discover the best London has to offer!

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