Itineraries

9 Days in London: How to Plan a Perfect, PTO-Maximizing Itinerary

Nine days. It’s more than just a late 90s/early 2000s band with a really catching single (“Story of a Girl,” you remember it right??). It’s also the pretty much perfect length of time to spend visiting London.

Think about it: having nine days you can fly out from your home country on a Friday night, spend 9 days in London, and return home by the end of Sunday the following weekend. With only five days of PTO, you can spend nine days in London!

If you’re wise enough to have worked this out for yourself and are now just trying to determine how best to spend those nine days, you’re in luck. This 9-day London itinerary was written specifically for those people who know how to maximize their vacation days and their time on the ground in one of the world’s greatest cities.

This London itinerary doesn’t cover 8 days, nor does it cover 10 days – it’s Goldilocks’ just right for you. Read on to learn how I recommend spending your time in London – as well as a few adventures a little bit beyond the city bounds.

Quick Glance: 9 Days in London

9 Days in London - V at Parliament View Square

Before diving headlong into the nitty-gritty details of my suggested nine-day London itinerary, an overview is helpful. Here are the basics of this itinerary for you to consider:

DayActivities
1Westminster & the Southbank
2The City & Tower of London
3Day Trip from London (Greenwich, Windsor, or Brighton)
4Borough Market, Bankside & The Shard
5Royal London: Westminster, Buckingham & Kensington
6East London: Shoreditch & Brick Lane
7Explore Harry Potter’s London
8Day at the Museum(s)
9North London: Camden, Regent’s Park & Baker Street

If that all sounds interesting and you want to learn more, read on to discover the details of each full day of your nine-day London trip.

Day 1: Westminster & the Southbank

We’ll start day one by visiting Westminster and Southbank, two of London’s most famous areas. The areas are home to some of London’s finest buildings and sights that make perfect postcard pictures. 

Westminster

Nine days in London is quite a good number to soak up the beautiful city. However, that’s no excuse to rest on your laurels. Grab your bag, and let’s go!

Westminster is the first area you’ll explore on this trip, which is home to some of the most iconic buildings in the city. You can take the Circle, District, and Jubilee lines, depending on where you’re, and get off at Westminster tube station. 

Once you’re in Westminster, you only have to step out of the station to see The Houses of Parliament. If this name doesn’t ring a bell, it is most likely because you know it as Big Ben. Funny though, Big Ben is actually the name of the bell living inside the Elizabethan Tower. Besides being an architectural masterpiece, this building is where the heart of British democracy resides. You can admire the facade or buy a ticket to explore the interiors. Just make sure you check the dates for tours as they depend on the parliamentary sessions. 

Southbank 

Southbank, your second stop of the day, is only a bridge away from Westminster. All you have to do is cross Westminster Bridge on the western side of the road to get there. Before you do anything else, you’ll walk to the London Eye and purchase your tickets. While you take a spin on the wheel at the end of the day, you want to ensure you book your tickets in advance and that your ride starts 45-60 minutes before sunset. I know this sounds picky, but booking around this time allows you to see London by day and night. 

Once you get your ticket, you’re free to wander through Southbank as much as possible. There are many things to do and see as Southbank lies in the heart of the London cultural scene. Like most of the city, Southbank has undergone an amazing metamorphosis from a marshy slum to London’s cultural heart. 

London Eye

Christmas Lights in London - Eye

Don’t forget to buy your tickets in advance! As the day comes to an end, make sure you check out your watch. You need to board the London Eye pod 45-60 minutes before sunset. The London Eye ride lasts thirty minutes, giving you enough time to snap pictures of the Westminster Palace and the lively surroundings of the Southbank. 

What a way to finish your first day of the London 9-day itinerary! From here, You can choose to have dinner in one of Southbank’s eateries or go back to your hotel and grab a bite there.  

Day 2: The City & Tower of London

I hope you’ve had a good night’s sleep, for your second day is a long one! Today, you’ll focus on the City of London and Tower Bridge. 

I know when people read they can visit the City of London, they think it’s an obvious statement. You specifically booked a flight to London, right? Well, it turns out there are two Londons: the City of London, which is the tiny historic heart and central business hub, and Greater London, which is the city’s capital and surrounds the City. 

The City of London, or “the Square Mile,” is home to many iconic landmarks that you’ll visit today. Let’s go with the first one. 

St. Paul’s Cathedral

An Anglican cathedral, St. Paul’s Cathedral, is my favorite building in London. The cathedral has its own tube station, St. Paul’s station, which you can reach by taking the Central Line. 

Designed by Sir Christopher Wren, the cathedral dates back to the 17th century and is an architectural treasure. You can easily spend an entire morning appreciating the building’s exquisite details, but I advise you only to spend 60-90 minutes if you want to have enough time for the rest of the locations. You can also explore the interior; just make sure you book the tickets in advance. 

For a different viewpoint of the cathedral, head across the street to One New Change, where you’ll find Madison Rooftop Bar & Restaurant. Order a quick bite and enjoy it with a fantastic view of St. Paul’s – one of the best free views in London!

The Monument

Next up is The Monument. You can reach it in a few minutes, just head east on Watling St and turn right to find Cannon Street. Then, continue straight until you reach Monument Tube station, turn left on King William Street, and right on Monument Street.

The Monument is another of many landmarks that Sir Christopher Wren designed. It is a fluted Doric column that commemorates the Great Fire of London in 1666. You can choose to make it a quick stop or pay the £5 fee to climb up to the top of the building (it’s free if you have the London Pass.) As a heads up, you’ll have to climb 311 steps to reach the top. 

Tower of London

Once you’ve descended from the Monument, you’ll head back to Monument station and continue east on Eastcheap to find the Tower of London.

The Tower of London raises different opinions among travelers. Some argue it’s enough to see it from afar, whereas others claim a visit to its interior is well worth it. If you ask me, you have to take a tour of the Tower of London. Not just to admire its architecture, but to understand the city’s historical background. The Tower has been on the scene since 1066 and has served many purposes throughout the years. Today, it’s famous for housing the gorgeous Crown Jewels of England. Also, the tour is highly engaging with authentic Beefeaters as the tour guides,  

Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge sits a few blocks away from the Tower of London, so there’s a high chance you’ll see it during your tour. 

Like our previous stop, you can choose how much of Tower Bridge you want to explore. The first and more superficial option is to walk across the bridge while you glance at the magnificent structure. The second is to purchase a ticket and visit the Victorian Engine Rooms, where the engineering feat occurs. 

Day 3: Take a Day Trip from London

One of the benefits of visiting London is that the city has excellent connections to other parts of the UK and mainland Europe. So why not take advantage and devote one day of your 9-day London itinerary for a quick getaway? 

There are tons of options when it comes to day trips from London. Here are a few ones I think you might find interesting. 

Greenwich

Greenwich is perfect for travelers who aren’t keen on spending a few hours on a train. Technically, Greenwich is within London, and it takes only thirty minutes by train to reach it. Still, this city has its own personality and is quite different from London. Its most famous spot is the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, which stands on the Prime Meridian. You can also have a picnic in Greenwich Park and visit the Cutty Sark ship museum.

Windsor 

If you’re in love with Britain’s monarchy and visiting the royal buildings in London isn’t enough to satiate your curiosity about the royal family, then Windsor is the right day trip.

Here you will visit Windsor Castle, one of the Queen’s 1,000-year-old official residences – she spends most of her private weekends here. Other attractions include St. George’s Chapel and the Windsor Guildhall, where Prince Charles celebrated his marriage to Camilla Parker-Bowles. 

Oxford

Oxford is one of the most popular day trips, and it’s only 65 minutes from London by train. The historic city is home to one of the UK’s most prestigious universities, and most landmarks are college buildings. You can also visit many museums, with The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology on Beaumont Street as the most important one. 

Day 4: Borough Market, Bankside & The Shard

Unlike other days in this itinerary, you won’t be hopping from one place to another today. Day four only includes three stops: a flavorful one, a historic one, and a modern one. Without further ado, let’s start!

Borough Market

Day four of your 9 days in London will be an explosion of flavor because you’re going to Borough Market. The market dates back to the 12th Century, and like many other buildings, it has experienced its fair share of changes throughout history. Today, it’s the foodie’s market par excellence and is full of stalls selling coffee, cheese, hams, meat, and drinks from every corner of the world. You can easily spend the whole morning looking around and sampling! Since you’re going for breakfast, I recommend trying Maria’s Market Cafe, which arguably serves the best English breakfast in town. 

Bankside

Today, our next stop is Bankside, a neighborhood near Borough Market and south of the Thames. The quirky neighborhood stretches between Blackfriars and Southwark Bridges and is a nice spot to get views of the Thames. While interesting shops and sights pop out in every corner, I suggest heading to Bermondsey Street. Once the hub of London’s tanning industry, the incredible street now concentrates the best pubs, restaurants, and art studios in the area.

If you’d like to explore the area’s past and how the leather processing and trade shaped this part of London, you can visit the old London Leather Hide & Wool Exchange. If you need to recharge your batteries, head out to Fuckoffee for an invigorating espresso and visit the Fashion & Textile Museum or explore White Cube Gallery.

The Shard

Once again, you’ll finish your day with panoramic views of London. The Shard is a 72-floor glass skyscraper with a jagged peak. While the building primarily has offices, its 69th and 72nd floors are open to the public and offer stunning views of London. Like with the London Eye, you can choose to visit around sunset and experience the city light up.

The admission fee is quite pricey– £39 booking in advance via the Shard website, but don’t let that deter you. You can also book in advance from Tuesday to Thursday and find cheaper tickets (£25.) A visit to The Shard is free with the London Pass.

Day 5: Royal London: Westminster, Buckingham & Kensington

Is there anything more British than the monarchy? Okay, I’m sure there are many other customs associated with the British, but the royalty is undoubtedly symbolic of the UK and its people. 

Even more interesting is that people worldwide without any connection to the Royal family love them and follow their exact steps religiously. Whether you’re one of these or not, visiting the Royal buildings is a must, which is why day five of your nine days in London is all about them!

Westminster Abbey

Get up early and head to the Westminster tube station. Three lines take you there: Jubilee, District, or Circle lines; which one you choose depends on where you’re staying in London. Once you reach the tube station, head south on Parliament Street. 

Westminster Abbey is the royal church by excellence and has played host to coronations and other ceremonies. It’s also home to the burials of thirty English monarchs and many Prime Ministers. However, most of you will recognize the building as the Anglican church where Prince William and Princess Kate married in 2011.

Besides its rich history, the church boasts magnificent architecture, with a High Gothic style that resembled contemporary French cathedral architecture. Inside, the architecture leaves behind the French influence and shows English design, which is apparent through the polished Purbeck marble columns, elaborate moldings of the main arches, and sculptural decoration. The Abbey is also home to the highest Gothic vault in England (nearly 102 feet). Should you choose to explore the Abbey’s interior, there’s a £5.00 admission, or you can use your London Pass to access Westminster Abbey for free.

Buckingham Palace

You’ll walk fourteen minutes to your next destination, Buckingham Palace. First, find Tothill Street on the west; then turn right onto Spur Road. 

One of London’s icons, Buckingham Palace, is nothing less than the Queen’s 775-room home. Well, at least for a few months. No matter the time of the year, you can explore the marvelous and imposing building’s facade. You can only visit the interior when the Queen’s gone to Balmoral Castle during the summer months.

Buckingham Palace also hosts the Changing of Guards, a military tradition taking place every day around 11:30 am. If you’d like a taste of British protocols, make sure you plan to witness the ceremony accordingly. 

Kensington Palace

4 Days in London - Kensington Palace

Kensington Palace is another royal residence. The two-story Jacobean mansion built in 1605 is the London residence of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (William and Kate) and several other royal family members. Unlike Buckingham Palace, you can visit Kensington Palace inside year-round. Just make sure you get your tickets in advance. Since you’re already here, explore Kensington Gardens, whose manicured lawns surround Kensington Palace.

Day 6: East London: Shoreditch & Brick Lane

Hopefully, you satiated your Royal cravings yesterday because we’ll dive into London’s cool and contemporary side today. 

Shoreditch

One of the most popular East London neighborhoods, Shoreditch, is the cradle of London’s creative and artistic scene. Throughout the 1980s, Shoreditch’s grotty surroundings attracted young British artists. During the 1990s, its walls had become the canvas of emerging street artists, who immortalized their artwork on random walls across the neighborhood. 

Shoreditch’s shabby facade isn’t there anymore and has given way to an edgy hub where hipster Londoners love to hang out. Its streets are a warren of music venues, art galleries, vintage shops, and fashionable restaurants.  

Brick Lane

Brick Lane is right in the heart of East London, running south from Swanfield Street in Bethnal Green and crossing Bethnal Green Road in Shoreditch. While it might seem contemporary, Brick Lane has over 450 years of history. If you’d like to know more about its past, you can book free walking tours. 

If you ask me, I think Brick Lane is one of the most significant examples of London’s versatility and eclecticism. In this famous street, London’s Bangladeshi community and street artists collide. The result: you find the best curry and the best graffiti in a single street. All along its  3/4 of a mile, curry houses intersperse with creative street art. There are also many vintage shops and markets selling unique bargains.

Don’t let its short length fool you; there’s so much to see you’ll spend at least an hour. You can’t leave Brick Lane without sampling hefty portions of curry. So, explore the restaurants and sit down to enjoy the Indian delight. 

Day 7: Explore Harry Potter’s London

A Harry Potter fan can’t travel to London and not visit the Harry Potter Studio in Leavesden. You might think a whole day devoted to the studio is too much, but believe me, it takes at least half a day to get a decent view of the Harry Potter studio tour. 

While this plan is mainly for die-hard HP fans, I think all travelers would enjoy the studio. Plus, it’s also an excellent way to see how much work goes behind a movie. 

First things first, though. Leavesden is one hour outside of London, and you’ll have to take a London Midlands train from Euston Station to Watford Junction station and then a transfer shuttle bus to reach the studio. Cost-wise, standard tickets are £47 for adults and £38 for children, although there’s a £150 family ticket option for two adults and two kids or one adult and three kids. You must book your ticket in advance. The studio is a highly popular destination, and people book their tours months ahead. 

As regards the tour itself, you’ll see many, many sets from the movie, including the Cupboard Under the Stairs, Dumbledore’s Office, and the Great Hall. You will also see the props, costumes, and displays about the directors and film crews behind each movie. 

The studio houses The Backlot Cafe, which makes my favorite butterbeer recipe of all the places I’ve tried it. You have other British and American comfort food to choose from on the menu. 

Day 8: Day at the Museum(s)

London is a dream for art junkies. It is home to over 170 museums, but many are free. So on Day 8, we will be exploring many of the brilliant museums that London has to offer. Let’s check out some of my favorites.

Museum of London 

Museum of London
Photo credit: Paul Hudson via Flickr

Everything about London is in the Museum of London. The city has nearly 2,000 years of history and has gone from a Roman city to a medieval town assaulted by plagues and famines to today’s cosmopolitan city. The Museum of London houses interesting objects, including Cromwell’s Death Mask, Samuel Pepys’ plate, Nelson’s Sword of Honor, and Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee Bonnet. ‘

The Modern London exhibition has recreated many of London’s surroundings, so you can experience what it was like to stroll down Victorian streets. The Museum of London is free, although I highly suggest you make a donation. 

British Museum 

If you have to choose one museum, go to the British Museum. Founded in 1753, the museum celebrates human art, culture, and history. It houses two million artifacts from every corner of the world on its five floors, and you can see Egyptian mummies, ancient Greek sculptures, and Chinese ceramics here. The museum’s building is beautiful, too, in a magnificent Greek Revival style.  The British Museum is also free.

Natural History Museum 

Located in South Kensington, the Natural History Museum is perfect for children. However, the rare species housed there amaze adults and children alike. The museum has over 20 galleries and a collection of 80 million specimens spanning 4.5 billion years. You don’t have (or probably won’t have enough time) to cover every collection. Since the museum features four zones, you can pick one that suits your interest. Once again, the Natural History Museum is also free. 

Day 9: North London: Camden, Regent’s Park & Baker Street

On your last day in London, we’re going to explore North London, one of the oldest residential districts in London and where many magnates, actors, academics, and politicians choose to live. North London boasts a tranquil atmosphere unlike the East, yet it’s teeming with London’s most popular attractions. 

Camden Town

Camden Town is your first stop of the day, one of the most popular neighborhoods in North London. 

If Shoreditch was a haven for alternative artists, then Camden Town was it for music lovers. Even though Camden has had a strong music scene since the 19th Century, it’s primarily famous for giving birth to London’s punk music. In 1976, The Ramones stepped on the Roundhouse stage (where Pink Floyd had debuted in 1866) and changed British music history.  

While members of the punk subculture are still a common sight in the neighborhood, Camden Town has become a popular choice for everyone looking for late-night fun, with live music venues, nightclubs, and old-school pubs. During the day, Camden Market takes the spotlight and draws visitors who want to buy unique objects. 

Regent’s Park  

One of London’s royal parks, Regent’s Park, is a scenic 197-hectare green space. Before it became a popular park among Londoners, it used to be one of the royal hunting grounds around the capital city (hence its name.) The park’s nature is gorgeous, but its gardens are the most attractive feature. Queen Mary’s Garden is London’s most extensive collection of roses, with approximately 12,000 roses. 

You can also visit the London Zoo, located on the park’s northern edge. It has many animals, including lions, tigers, gorillas, and penguins, among many others.

221B Baker Street

Not all travelers are Potterheads; some are loyal fans of a different literary saga, Sherlock Holmes. As I’ve said on many occasions, London has something for everyone, including Sherlock fans. 

If you exit Regent’s Park on its southernmost point, you’ll be right at the top of Baker Street. While it’s not official, a Sherlock Holmes Museum has opened on 221B Baker Street and has recreated the detective’s residence. If you’ve ever read the book, you won’t believe how accurately the design of the flat fits the descriptions Conan Doyle gave in the book. The museum also houses a lovely gift shop, selling the most extensive Sherlock Holmes gifts and memorabilia collection.

Where to Stay in London for 9 Days

A lot of people will advise you to stay in Central London on your first trip… Normally I advise against that, but if you have ten days in London, you don’t want to spend them all on the Tube getting to and from your hotel! If you have your heart set on staying in Central London, look at neighborhoods like Hoxton or Clerkenwell. These neighborhoods are away from the crowds but within walking distance of attractions like Covent Garden, the West End, and the British Museum, which you can squeeze into this itinerary.

Otherwise, if you need to save or are open to staying in another part of town, look at:

  • West London, like KensingtonChelsea, or even Brompton, is still the poshest part of town. It’s a bit more spendy but has a more residential vibe.
  • North London, or should I say near-North London like Angel or King’s Cross, is in close proximity to Central London but often quieter and a bit cheaper.
  • East London, including Brick LaneShoreditch, and Aldgate East, is the place to be especially if you love nightlife, street food, and street art.
  • South London, like Bankside or Bermondsey, is a lesser-visited part of the city, but still has an urban feel and great public transit access (mostly bus).

I also have a list of the absolute best areas to stay in London, if you want even more choices.

Other London Itineraries to Consider

Do you actually have more (or less time) to spend in London than the 9 days you originally thought? Here are other London itineraries I’ve written to help you plan:

Have any other questions about how to spend 9 days in London? Let me know in the comments, or ask over in my London Travel Tips Facebook Community.

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    Valerie fell in love with London on her 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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