London is one of the world’s leading tourist destinations, drawing more than 20 million international visitors each year. Add 300 million more overnight visitors and daytrippers and you can see the enduring attraction of Britain’s capital. Faced with all the charms of London, deciding what to do can be overwhelming. So here’s our guide to the best things to see and do to make the most of your time in London. This 4 day London itinerary takes you through the capital’s greatest hits, plus fascinating options to suit your interests. We’ve added a day trip selection if you are lucky enough to be able to stay for longer.
- 1 My Perfect 4 Day London Itinerary Started Here
- 2 Day 1: London’s Traditions
- 3 Day 2: The City And the Mighty Thames
- 4 Day 3: The London of Londoners
- 5 Day 4: Museums And Markets
- 6 More Than Your 4 Day London Itinerary
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My Perfect 4 Day London Itinerary Started Here
I was born in London. Later I worked in London, living there again for a while. For years after I was a daily commuter, then a weekly work visitor. Now I’m a happy tourist, visitor and researcher. So you can see that I’ve seen the city from many different angles. I’ve done the commuter march on autopilot, the happy social times that happen when you live in the middle of everything – pretty much – that your heart could desire. And now that excitement is tempered by distance, I can appreciate all the more what the city has to offer. So what are we waiting for?
Day 1: London’s Traditions
We’re starting today early in Westminster. The poet William Wordsworth explained the view from Westminster Bridge far better than I ever could:
This City now doth, like a garment, wearThe beauty of the morning; silent, bare,Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lieOpen unto the fields, and to the sky;All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.”William Wordsworth: On Westminster Bridge
Just stop here for a moment, early, while the city still stumbles into wakefulness. And marvel at the skyline, all those familiar yet unfamiliar silhouettes along the Thames. It’s time to allow yourself a deep breath before you hurtle into the busyness that is the city and your time here. Look at the barges on the Thames, the dredgers, the pleasure boats, the traditional black cabs and red buses crossing the bridge.
Palace of Westminster and Westminster Abbey
These moments are for appreciating the Palace of Westminster, surely one of the most beautiful and ornate parliamentary buildings in the world. And the Elizabeth Tower, hosting the bell Big Ben. At the moment repairs are hiding it from the world. But the chimes still echo clear on the morning air. There’s plenty of time to find your best angles for the pictures that will capture those memories.
Wander along and take a peep at Downing Street. You’ll spot the policeman at the door of Number 10, and maybe even the legendary cats in residence. Larry the brown and white tabby is Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office. He even boasts an unofficial Twitter account. Then there’s Palmerston from the Foreign Office. Relations between the two have not always been cordial.
Make sure you are ready in the queue before 9.30am for the opening of Westminster Abbey. Here rest many of the great and good of Britain in wonderfully splendid surroundings. This is a World Heritage Site with over a thousand years of history. You can enter the building earlier if you wish to attend a service, details of which are shown on the website daily.
Changing The Guard At Buckingham Palace
Leave time for the eight minute walk to Buckingham Palace via Buckingham Gate. Try to arrive by 10.45 (or 10.15 for the best spots) because at 11am it’s time to see the Changing of the Guard. This is a fascinating sight, full of pomp and tradition and ceremony. We’ve sprinted here many times with young family members in tow, especially on their first visits to London. The website gives you details of the regiments involved each day and also the regimental bands taking part. The ceremony lasts for 45 minutes and there’s plenty to see and enjoy. You’ll find guidance on how to get the best experience for children via the website.
After the ceremony, you have time to look at Buckingham Palace in more detail. You can also book a tour of the Palace if you wish. Alternatively explore Green Park and St James’s Park. If it’s a fine day, both parks have great spots to enjoy a picnic lunch. I’ve occasionally met with a pleading paw from a squirrel or two here. Alternatively, head up The Mall to Trafalgar Square, where you’ll find many places to eat in the streets leading off the Square.
It wouldn’t be a trip to London without visiting the lions in Trafalgar Square. And remarkably tolerant lions they are too, supporting generations of visiting feet clambering over them with remarkable aplomb. Here you’ll find Nelson’s column, and a selection of statues and artworks. The Fourth Plinth has hosted changing pieces of contemporary art since 1999.
Ready yourselves for more culture after lunch, as Trafalgar Square is surrounded by so many of the places that make London the incredible city it is. There’s time here to enjoy the National Portrait Gallery, visit St Martin-in-the-Fields church or take a wander down Charing Cross Road to explore the specialist bookshops that line the street.
I’m suggesting you spend your first evening in and around Carnaby Street. You’ll have explored a lot on your first day, and everything – bars, food, entertainment – is remarkably close together in this location. Check out Kingly Court for a wide range of eating places.
My secret tip for tonight? Head over to Kingly Street, where you’ll find a bar called Ain’t Nothin’ But. This blues bar has a live acoustic set early evening, and another (chargeable but reasonably priced) set later. It’s a good natured, friendly crowd, reminding you that London still has a chilled and happy vibe that embraces visitors.
Day 2: The City And the Mighty Thames
The Thames brings lifeblood to London. It’s there for pleasure – walks, boat trips, amphibious craft and views – but also for the things that keep the city functioning: watercraft bringing goods, commuting, even rubbish disposal. So today’s part of your 4 day London itinerary is focused on the Thames and its role in city life. Start off at London Bridge station (via rail or Tube). From here, take the Tooley Street exit and walk past Hays Galleria. In fact, why not pop in? There are plenty of spots here to bag some breakfast. And take time to admire the fantasy that is the kinetic sculpture here: Viking longship and mysterious beast all in one.
The Shard And Shad Thames
Turn left into More London following the line of the tiny watercourse cut out in the slabs underfoot. Then turn round. You’ll see The Shard, perfectly framed by the buildings surrounding you. In fact, there’s a clear line of sight from The Shard to the river. You might want to pop back later to enjoy afternoon tea or a drink from on high at The Shard to see London from its highest viewing platform.
For now, walk onwards to the riverbank. And then take a deep breath, because so many of the main sights of London are laid out before you. To your right is Tower Bridge, one of the iconic sights of London. You can see its ornate bascules, ready to be lifted for tall ships.
Now look ahead. In front of you is the Gherkin, St Mary Axe. It’s surprisingly green in some weather conditions. You’ve got the Walkie Talkie (20 Fenchurch Street), home to the Sky Garden and one of your other choices to see London from on high. Entry here is free, but you do need to book. To the left, you’ll see the glorious dome of St Paul’s Cathedral. And also in front of you is the majesty of the Tower of London, stoutly fortified and glowing white.
Head along past Tower Bridge briefly. Here you’ll find the London of traders and merchants and clipper ships. The streets of Shad Thames bear witness to the cargoes that satisfied the city of London: silks, spices, luxuries. You’ll spot bridges overhead linking the old warehouses. And there are some small treasures to see including a little passage through to the river called Maggie Blake’s Cause. This was designed to maintain access to the river for local residents when the area was being developed. You can read more about exploring Shad Thames and the Tower Bridge area here.
Tower Bridge and the Tower Of London
Turn back to Tower Bridge, and it’s time to investigate the exhibition there, and then cross the bridge. Don’t forget to check if you’ll need to wait for the bascules to be raised and closed via the Tower Bridge timetable. Currently the sailing barges Lady Daphne and Will are keeping the bridge staff busy, along with the paddle steamer Dixie Queen. Then it’s time to see the Tower of London. You’ll need to make your booking ahead of time. There are the legendary ravens to see, and the Yeoman Guard (Beefeaters) to meet while checking out the Crown Jewels.
River Cruise To Greenwich
Now it’s time to take to the river. City Cruises run their fleet of boats along the Thames from Westminster to the London Eye, Tower Bridge, and Greenwich. Boat trips have a lively and engaging commentary, and this is a great way to take you to our next stop for the day: the World Heritage Site of Greenwich.
Greenwich has a lot to offer, so you may need to make some tough choices between the various attractions. Here, of course, you’ll find the Greenwich Meridian and the home of Greenwich Mean Time. You can explore the historic surroundings of the Royal Naval College (another example of Sir Christopher Wren’s work). Then there’s beautiful Greenwich Park, with its wide ranging views and wilderness deer park. The elegant sailing ship the Cutty Sark sits alongside the entrance to the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, the only pedestrian crossing to make its way under the river. It’s no surprise that the National Maritime Museum is here too.
My secret tip for tonight? You’re hopefully bursting with energy after all you’ve seen and experienced. So why not make your return to the centre of London via a dinner cruise where you can eat and enjoy while taking more iconic pictures of the city at night.
Day 3: The London of Londoners
So far we’ve seen a lot of the places visited by visitors. Today on our 4 day London itinerary, we’re headed out to see London as experienced by people who live here. For many people, that might mean a visit to Notting Hill or Hampstead, both of which are beautiful and well worth your time. But instead we’re heading out to explore the elegant Marylebone High Street and the surrounding area.
Marylebone High Street
I’ve chosen this area for its ability to show you what it might be like to live in London. It’s London but on a village scale, complete with local shops, bars, restaurants, and apartments you can imagine living in. You could buy your groceries here, get your shoes repaired, and pop out to dinner where you’ll be among friends. But importantly, it’s a place that makes London seem real.
Wander along from Baker Street tube, and Marylebone High Street opens up with residential streets lined with window boxes in bloom. Shops begin to appear, from local supermarkets to more specialist choices. You can’t fail to notice Daunt Books, home to an Instagram paradise of well stocked shelves in architectural splendor. But importantly it’s also home to a great collection of books, journals, posters and other delights, all sold by charming and knowledgeable staff.
Marylebone High Street continues with more specialist shops, many of which are independent or part of small chains. There are rare (for the UK) branches of Anthropologie and Fresh. In short, there are many opportunities to browse and buy. You have a choice of eating places. If you want to chill and relax in beautiful surroundings, I highly recommend The Golden Eagle. It’s a small, street corner pub, typical of so many in London. It’s so well maintained it almost shimmers, and is a great place to consider your next steps.
This afternoon is for easy pleasures. It’s time to enjoy the London’s cultural treasures through a matinee theatre production. Whether your taste is for something highbrow, a fun musical or another performance, you can use our guide to find theatre tickets on a budget. Don’t forget Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, truly the moshpit of the theatre world and an entirely fascinating experience.
If you are in Soho for a show, try to make time to stop off at the iconic department store, Libertys. It’s especially charming at Christmas. Not too far away you can also investigate Fortnum and Masons. This treasury of wonderful food in a stunning setting is great for gift shopping, or for treating yourselves to a rather exquisite picnic to be enjoyed in the park next door. Just don’t let the squirrels persuade you to part with it.
Themed Walking Tours
Secret tip for tonight: Take a free walking tour. Depending on your schedule and interests, you can focus on so many different aspects of London life. Free Tours By Foot will take you to see street art and graffiti, London’s rock’n’roll locations, the dark side of the city including a visit to Clink prison and even on the trail of Jack the Ripper.
Day 4: Museums And Markets
Our last day of this 4 day London itinerary takes us to Kensington. Here you have choices of museums to explore, including the atmospheric Natural History Museum and the vibrant, exciting Science Museum. If you are a fan of the Paddington film, you’ll have a little frisson when you enter the beautiful main hall of the Naturall History Museum. The Science Museum with its engaging interactive exhibits is a great place for plenty of family or friends teamwork. Stuffy and staid it’s not. If design makes your heart happy, then the Victoria and Albert is for you. The V&A has been captivating the arty among us for decades.
For more shopping pleasures, this is the land of Harrods. Once memorably called by my stepfather in search of a basset hound, this bastion of shopping opportunities is legendary. As is Selfridges on Oxford Street if you want to spend more time checking out British style and more of the High Street stores.
For something a little more London, I’d suggest exploring a market of your choosing. Bear in mind that many markets both start and finish early. If this is your choice, you might want to turn today around and visit the markets first. One of my favourite spots is Leadenhall, with its wonderfully ornate architecture and strong sense of tradition. Then there’s Spitalfields, large and airy and full of corners in which to chill and eat. Finally, if eating is what’s called for, you need to head to Borough Market: home to all kinds of interesting, ecclectic and even artisan food. Bring your best appetite.
Secret tip for tonight: Why not investigate some of London’s traditional pubs? You’ll find some choices off the tourist trail in our guide. Some even offer authentic food and snacks from pork pies to Scotch eggs. Interested to try more great British eats? We’ve searched out a full day’s menu of traditional British food choices here.
More Than Your 4 Day London Itinerary
Have you got more time to spend? Congratulations! There are so many things that can be done with more time in London. Were there experiences that couldn’t be squeezed into those four days we’ve just spent? We missed out the British Museum and Library, the London Eye, climbing the O2, Camden, Regents Canal, Little Venice, Hampstead Heath and so many more places to see.
Day Trips From London
Or do you want to go exploring a little further afield? I’ve got you covered for a selection of alternative day trips from London. For a journey time of no more than 2 hours each way using the train, you could explore the beauty of the New Forest, walk the waterfront and arcades of the Welsh capital city of Cardiff, take on the South Downs National Park, or enjoy the cathedral city of Canterbury.
Then there’s the conundrum that is the arty, Regency, seaside charm of all the things to do in Brighton, including the elegant Royal Pavilion and the fun of the Palace Pier. You could even experience another country entirely by taking the Eurostar on a day trip to Brussels or Paris. Ir’s not far to the prettiest villages of the Cotswolds, for a look at rural British life.
Your Full UK Itinerary
If your London trip is just the start of a longer stay in the UK, why not check out our 10 day itinerary for the United Kingdom. I’ve given you six choices here to maximise your time to enjoy the best Britain has to offer. If you want to get a better understanding of we Brits, then go and explore our collection of cool and unusual essentially English experiences, as described by a vibrant group of travel writers.
What To Pack For Your 4 Day London Itinerary
Wandering what to bring for your London trip? Our packing guide for the UK gives you information on the weather, suitable choices for your trip, and insider tips on what not to bring. Whatever choices you make, I hope you really enjoy your 4 day London itinerary. She’s a beautiful, capricious and magical city with so many different moods. There’s something in London for everyone.
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