It’s an unfortunate reality that Americans just don’t have enough vacation time. On average, U.S. workers receive 10-14 days of PTO per month – that’s just 3 weeks max if you make the most of the time you have and optimize your trips around weekends and holidays. As such, most people want to be really efficient when they plan a trip – and that may mean you’re trying to figure out if 5 days in London is enough time to see the city.
I most recently visited in September 2022 – and spent five days in London during that trip. (Admittedly, our trip was somewhat affected by a bout of food poisoning, but we still packed a lot in! Based on this recent experience, I knew I needed to update my five-day London itinerary for first-time visitors like you might be.
While five days in London might not seem like much, you can actually pack a lot in. It’s actually an ideal amount of time to see the top sights in the city, and inspire you to make return trips and dive deeper into the parts of London you discover that you love.
Read on to learn how to spend five days in London, plus some other travel tips to help you plan your trip. As always, if you have questions once you finish reading, I’m happy to help in the comments. Jolly good? Let’s get to it. Here’s how to spend 5 days in London!
This post was originally published in 2019 and was updated in November 2022 for 2023 travel.
Essential London Travel Tips
Before we jump into the itinerary, there are some important travel tips I need to share. These will help you plan so that you’re making the most of the short time you have with just five days in London.
- What should you pack for London? I’ve got a list of essentials you need to pack for London!
- When should you visit London? Personally, I think London has delightful weather year-round, but I get that rainy grey isn’t for everyone. I have a guide on the best time to visit London, and articles specific to each season and month you might want to visit.
- How do you get around London? I have a complete guide to getting around London, as well as guides for the Underground (Tube), buses, black cabs, and Santander Cycles.
- Where should you stay in London? A lot of people will advise you to stay in Central London on your first trip… but that’s a surefire way to blow your vacation budget. I have guides to different parts of London (North, South, East, and West) as well as a list of the best areas to stay in London.
Need more advice on where to stay in London? Take my quiz for a specific neighborhood suggestion:
Quick Glance: 5 Days in London
I always like to give a quick glance at the itinerary before we dive into the specifics. Here’s how I recommend spending five days in London:
|Westminster & the Southbank
|Arrival, Westminster, Houses of Parliament, Southbank, London Eye
|Royal & Historic London
|Hyde Park, Marble Arch, Green Park, St. James’ Park, Buckingham Palace, Changing of the Guard, Trafalgar Square, Covent, Garden British Museum
|Bankside & The City
|Borough Market, Bankside, The Shard, Tower Bridge, Tower of London, The Monument, St. Paul’s Cathedral
|North & East London
|Camden, London Zoo, Regent’s Park, Baker Street, Shoreditch, Brick Lane Street Art
|Living Local Before You Leave
|Sunday Roast in Richmond, Departure
Armed with this quick list, let’s dive into the specifics and how you can string all of these sights together into a five-day London itinerary.
Day 1: Arrival, Westminster & Southbank
- Main Sights: Arrival, Westminster, Houses of Parliament, Southbank, London Eye
- Tube: Start at Westminster Station (Jubilee), End at Waterloo Station (Jubilee)
- Distance on Foot: 0.7 miles (1.2km)
If you’re arriving in London from North America, I usually recommend taking your arrival day easy… But if you only have 5 days in London, you don’t have a ton of time to recover before getting out to explore.
Most flights from the U.S. and Canada arrive in the morning or midday, but you’ll be facing some serious jetlag. If you can drop your bags at your accommodation or use a left luggage app, that will help you make the most of the time you have today. Once you’ve done that, catch the Tube to Westminster station for some sightseeing of the ‘Greatest Hits.’
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.
As of 2020, part of the building is under renovation, so be prepared that it might not be the picturesque view you’re expecting (or in my pictures).
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:
When you’ve finished admiring this view, head through the dodgy tunnel on your right. It will put you out on the Southbank with a fantastic view of the London Eye and the crowds that always hang out there.
Explore the Southbank
London’s Southbank is like Paris‘ left bank: a cool place where sightseeing, art, and food combine. Today you’ll find London’s Southbank full of food trucks, stalls, and markets punctuated by buskers and street performers. You can browse the books at one of the outdoor bookshops under a bridge and make your way through the hordes of tourists. Oh, and you can’t miss the London Eye.
Ride the London Eye
On a 30-minute ride aboard the London Eye, you’ll get epic views of the entire city – it’s honestly one of my favorite city views and worth the lines and cost despite the touristy cheese-ball factor. One of the common questions I get about sightseeing in London is: “is the London Eye worth it?”
Back in the day, the London Eye had different hours; this made it great if you wanted to ride around sunset to see London by day and after dark. Now, the Eye closes quite early – usually around 6pm. As such, the best time to ride is the last time-slot of the day (usually 5:45pm). During the summer months, long days mean you won’t get the magic experience of seeing the city light up as the sun goes down, but it’s still the best time to admire the city views on the Eye.
Day 2: Central London & the Parks
- Main Sights: Hyde Park, Marble Arch, Green Park, St. James’ Park, Buckingham Palace, Changing of the Guard, Trafalgar Square, Covent Garden, British Museum
- Tube: Start at Queensway (Central), End at Russell Square (Piccadilly)
- Distance on Foot: 4.7 miles (7.6km)
Today is the longest walking day of the itinerary, so I hope you’re rested up and full of energy! Put on your best walking shoes…
Discover London’s Parks
London is full of wonderful parks, most of which exist due to the royal family. This morning is all about exploring those parks, including a walk through Hyde Park, Green Park, and St. James’s Park. These massive green spaces are a wonderful reprieve from the bustle of the city.
Start in Hyde Park, where you can walk past Kensington Palace (where the young royals live) and see the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain. Then, walk past/under Marble Arch and cross into Green Park.
Green Park is another former royal garden now open to the public. The park was enclosed in the 16th century and landscaped in the 1820s; now it’s a great spot for a stroll or to catch some sun on a nice day in London. You can walk through Green Park on the southern border along Constitution Hill toward Buckingham Palace and St. James’s Park. Once you visit Buckingham Palace, you can stroll along the west border of St. James’s Park to continue this itinerary.
Visit Royalty at Buckingham Palace
As you arrive at the southeast end of Green Park, you’ll see Buckingham Palace. You can pay to go inside but this isn’t necessary to admire the view and opulence. There are always crowds outside the gate, and it’s a beautiful facade for photos. If you time it right, you can visit Buckingham Palace and time your visit to see the Changing of the Guard, which occurs at 11am each day.
🎟 Suggested Tour: Changing of the Guard & Buckingham Palace Tour
Discover Central London
From Buckingham, walk down The Mall to the Admiralty Arch and Trafalgar Square. To me, Trafalgar Square has always felt a bit like the heart of London, the epicenter from which all streets move out in spokes. Trafalgar Square is great for people-watching – there’s always something going on in the Square!
From Trafalgar Square, make your way northeast in the direction of the British Museum (use a maps app to navigate). This area you’ll pass through is Covent Garden. There are loads of great theatres and restaurants here, and it’s easy to get a bit lost exploring the small streets and alleyways.
Explore the British Museum
As you’ll notice, there aren’t many museums on my suggested 5-day London itinerary. This is because I’m not a huge museum traveler, and I think that for your first trip to London, there are plenty of other sights to see.
However, despite recent (rightful) controversy about how the British Museum came into possession of many of its artifacts, the British Museum is still a must-see. The Museum still holds many of the world’s significant artifacts – at least until some of them are returned to their original cultures.
One of the most popular is the Rosetta Stone. You’ve probably heard of this stone but might not know its significance: after its discovery in 1799, the Rosetta Stone helped historians learn to translate ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. There’s also a fantastic exhibit on ancient Egypt and others about first nations tribes in the American and Africa, as well as countless other cultures and destinations across the globe. It’s definitely a place you could spend a whole day if you have it.
The British Museum is also free to visit (donations suggested) which will make you love it even if you don’t normally do museums.
🎟 Suggested Tour: British Museum Guided Tour
Day 3: Bankside & the City
- Main Sights: Borough Market, Bankside, The Shard, Tower Bridge, Tower of London, The Monument, St. Paul’s Cathedral
- Tube: Start at London Bridge (Jubilee), End at St. Paul’s (Central)
- Distance on Foot: 2.5 miles (4.0km)
If you’re a little footsore from yesterday’s adventures, today should help. There’s a bit of walking but nowhere near as much – and plenty of spots to stop and rest your feet.
Explore Bankside & Borough Market
The neighborhood south of the City of London is called Bankside. This neighborhood has come up a lot in the last decade, and there are some notable spots to stop and enjoy. The first is Borough Market, the foodie’s market. Located near London Bridge station, this one is great for brunch. The market opens at 10am, and most of the food vendors are open by no later than 11am for the lunch rush. My favorite one is Scotchtails, who sell the best Scotch Eggs in London.
🎟 Suggested Tour: Borough Market Early Morning Guided Food Tour
While I’ve never been, consider taking in the from View from the Shard. I’ve never been, but I’ve seen the pics on Insta and it looks pretty stunning!
Once you’ve finished exploring Bankside, make your way toward the Thames and walk east along the river. This walk is called the Queen’s Walk, and the view is dominated by the iconic Tower Bridge.
Experience Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge was built between 1886 and 1894 during the reign of Queen Victoria. You can walk across the bridge, or purchase admission to climb the two bridge towers and cross the span above street level. You can learn about the history of the tower and engineering feats that make it possible.
Once you’re on the north side of the Thames, turn west and into the Tower of London. The Tower of London is another one of those you-only-need-to-do-it-once-but-you-gotta-do-it sights in London. The Tower of London dates back to 1066 and the Norman Conquest of England; you can visit the Tower of London to learn about the history of London, get a tour from one of the famous Beefeaters, or see the Crown Jewels on display.
Visit Wren’s Works: The Monument & St. Paul’s Cathedral
Within the City of London, you’ll find two of my favorite sights in London, both designed by Sir Christopher Wren: The Monument and St. Paul’s Cathedral.
The Monument is named for its role commemorating the Great Fire of London in 1666, which started about 200 feet from this monument and leveled most of the city. You can pay a small fee to climb the 311 steps of the Monument. At the top, you’ll have good views of the City of London and London Bridge (though admittedly not as impressive as other viewpoints). I recommend it for a different perspective and a quick history lesson.
St. Paul’s Cathedral is my most favorite building in London, which is my most favorite city on earth. That sets a pretty high bar, eh? There’s an admission fee to enter the cathedral, which includes access to climb the dome. I highly recommend this if you’re able to ascend the 528 steps to the top, as it gives several stunning views of London along the way, and you’ll be able to see the dome up close.
Day 4: North & East London
- Main Sights: Camden, London Zoo, Regent’s Park, Baker Street, Shoreditch, Brick Lane Street Art
- Tube: Start at Mornington Crescent (Northern), Transfer from Baker Street (Bakerloo) to Old Street (Northern), End at Aldgate East (Hammersmith & City/District)
- Distance on Foot: 3.5 miles (4.6km)
On your last full day in London, there’s more walking again – but plenty of fun, pop-culture sights to see that make it all worth it.
Shop in Camden
Camden isn’t typically a place I push people to visit on their first trip to London – it’s a great destination if you are visiting London again or have more time (like 7 days–10 days in London). But, for this itinerary, it’s a good spot to pass through once you get off the tube at Mornington Crescent.
Camden is known for its alternative and edgy shops, and its massive market. If you’re looking for a souvenir that has roots in London’s punk scene, this is the place to find it!
Explore the Zoo & Regent’s Park
Regent’s Park was historically one of the royal hunting grounds around the capital city (hence its name). This massive 197-hectare green space is located in the northwest part of London and is crisscrossed by walking paths. It’s a great way to spend part of the day with a coffee in hand strolling among the greenery.
Within Regent’s Park, The London Zoo is a great option for family travelers. It’s home to penguins, lions, tigers, giraffes and more. Or, if you’re a true Harry Potter nerd, you’ll make a stop at the reptile house. (P.S. I have a whole list of Harry Potter things to do in London if you want more magical inspiration!)
⭐️ Pro Tip: Buy your London Zoo entry ticket in advance
Exit Regent’s Park at the southernmost point in the park and you’ll be right at the top of Baker Street.
Visit 221B Baker Street
Whether you love the original texts or the modern pop culture versions, Sherlock Holmes fans will consider this a must-see. While not officially connected to the fictitious character, 221B Baker Street is now a museum to commemorate London’s most famous detective.
If you want to visit the museum (£15 adults, £10 children), be prepared to queue up on the sidewalk; you don’t have to pay to access the gift shop.
🎟 Suggested Tour: Guided Sherlock Holmes Walking Tour
Once you’ve finished at 221B Baker Street, grab lunch somewhere in the area (there are plenty of options near Baker Street Station) and then catch the Tube to Old Street Station.
Get Lost in East London
From Old Street Station, you’re at the edge of Shoreditch, where you can spend the afternoon and evening. Shoreditch is a neighborhood in East London and was the first truly ‘cool’ neighborhood in East London.
It’s full of foodie hotspots and street art and plenty of cool things to do after nightfall. (I enjoyed many nights out here while living in London!) It’s hard to go wrong here: feel free to explore and get to know London in your own way – by now you’re getting familiar with what you love about the city and how to get around!
If you love street art, Brick Lane is the place to go. This street runs south through the Whitechapel neighborhood. You can see work by globally-renowned street artists; at different times there have been Banksy’s here, and my favorite artist Dal East has done work here too.
🎟 Suggested Tour: Alternative London 2-Hour Street Art Walking Tour
For dinner, you have tons of options. Brick Lane is best known for its Indian and Bangladeshi food. If you haven’t tried this aspect of British food yet (yes, British), now’s the time!
Day 5: Sunday Roast & Departure
- Main Sights: Sunday Roast in Richmond, Departure
- Tube: Start/End Richmond (District)
- Distance on Foot: n/a
It’s your last day in London – so sad! Whether you’re setting off to explore more of Europe or headed home, it’s time to put a pin in your trip and make your way to the airport. Most flights to the U.S. and Canada leave in the afternoon, so your itinerary probably ends in the late morning or midday as you head to whichever airport you’re flying out from.
My favorite thing to do is to seek out a spot that will serve you a great pub meal… ideally a Sunday roast. (So this works best if you’re departing on a Sunday, obviously!) Richmond, a neighborhood in far west London, has a totally different vibe than the rest of London and is a perfect spot to seek out your quintessential English Sunday roast experience.
I recommend googling to find a pub or restaurant that can serve you a roast, then make your way there. You may need to contact them in advance to confirm they can do the roast on the day you’re visiting. Afterward, go for a walk along the Thames to stretch your legs before heading to the airport for the long plane ride home.
Other London Itineraries to Consider
Do you actually have more or less time to spend in London? Here are other London itineraries I’ve written to help you plan:
- How to Make the Most of One Day in London
- How to Make the Most of 2 Days in London
- 3 Days in London: A Jam-Packed Itinerary in the Best City on Earth
- 4 Days in London: A Perfect Long Weekend Itinerary
- 6 Days in London: A Perfect First-Time Itinerary
- 7 Days in London: The Best Things to Do for a Week
- 8 Days in London: A Lovely Long-Week Itinerary
- 9 Days in London: How to Plan a Perfect, PTO-Maximizing Itinerary
- 10 Days in London: How to Plan Your Itinerary
- 11 Days in London: A Lovely, Leisurely U.K. Visit (+12 Day-Option)
- 2 Weeks in London: The Ultimate Itinerary for 13-14 Days
Obviously, this barely scratches the surface of what you can for five days in London. If you don’t love what you see for any given day, you can try one of these other must-see sights in London, scour my London bucket list, or check out my tips for your first London trip.
If you have other questions about visiting London, let me know in the comments or ask it in my London Travel Tips Facebook group!