London Itinerary: How to Plan the Perfect 4 Days in London
Double-decker buses, red phone booths, fish and chips, stone castles, clanging bell towers — endless iconic sights and sounds spring to mind at the mention of England’s capital city. If you’re getting ready to visit and wondering what to see and do with 4 days in London, this itinerary will help you get started.
With so many museums, palaces, parks and markets around the city, and a plethora of day trips a train ride away, it’s impossible to fit everything into a short London itinerary. But you can definitely see plenty of London in 4 days, especially if you plan ahead.
This agenda rounds up the top London landmarks for first-timers, alternating between busy days packed with sightseeing, and more flexible ones that allow for things you really enjoy, be it culture, shopping, sports or Harry Potter. Be sure to scroll down to the tips section for money-saving suggestions, ideas on where to stay, and other useful tidbits.
4 Days in London Itinerary
Day 1 — London Walking Tour and Highlights
A lap around the city of Westminster is the perfect intro to all those iconic London landmarks you’ve seen on many a postcard — Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square. Free walking tours are a great way to do this on the cheap and help you get your bearings if you’re a bit overwhelmed, but you can also DIY this approximately 3-mile route with a tourist map. With a full first day, you should have time for an interior tour of a couple of the big sites mentioned below.
Start the morning at Buckingham Palace, so you can try to snap some photos of the iron gates and Victoria Memorial in front before the masses arrive. In summer, you can tour the State Rooms of the monarch’s London residence, built in the early 1700s. Neighboring Green Park and St. James Park offer a bit of mellow in the midst of the bustle, with a lake and green lawns — the perfect place to start the morning sipping coffee and people watching from one of the sidewalk benches.
If you want a prime spot to observe the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, you’ll need to be situated along the iron railings or the steps of the Victoria Memorial by around 10 a.m. for the event, which begins an hour later. (Check this calendar for which days the ceremony takes place). To get just a taste and allow more time for other activities, you can catch some of the action by hanging out around The Mall or Marlborough Road, where the old and new guard march to and from St. James’s Palace, or along Spur Road and Birdcage Walk, where they undergo inspections and switch shifts at Wellington Barracks.
From the abbey, walk across the street toward the River Thames and you’ll bump right into the Palace of Westminster, home of the famous Big Ben. The clock tower is under scaffolds for a few years, so hearing the bells will have to wait for another visit, but you can still tour the Houses of Parliament or catch a debate in the House of Lords or House of Commons.
History buffs might want to check out the Churchill War Rooms next, where Winston Churchill and other leaders plotted and sheltered during World War II. The underground bunkers are now open to visitors and a museum about the former prime minister is here as well.
Mosey on down Horse Guards Road toward The Mall, passing 10 Downing Street (the PM’s residence) and the Horse Guards Parade. About a half-mile away, Trafalgar Square’s twin fountains and soaring monument guarded by lion statues await. There are a couple of museums around the square worthy of a visit (scroll to day two for more on those), and lots of street performers and tourists buzzing around.
A stroll along the South Bank of the river is the perfect way to end your first day in the city and there are plenty of cafes and restaurants in the area to grab dinner before or after.
Day 2 — Culture and Museums
There are dozens and dozens of galleries and museums in London. It would be nearly impossible to see even just the top ones all in a single visit, but try to pop into a couple that pique your interest, whether that’s art, natural science, war history or antiquities. Many museums in the city run on donations, so you don’t have to waste a huge admission price if you can only afford a couple of hours to look around. And some institutions stay open late one night a week, which is a good way to sneak a peek after other attractions have shuttered. If museums just aren’t your thing, there’s plenty of shopping and dining in this area, too. Or, you can opt for a day trip from London instead.
You would be remiss to skip the British Museum, a massive institution with a global collection in the millions spanning regions from Egypt and the Middle East to Greece and Rome. Just a few notable objects on display include the Rosetta Stone, sculptures from the Parthenon, samurai armor from medieval Japan, and an Easter Island statue. Admission is free, as are tours and talks throughout the week that give culture buffs a deeper look at different areas of the museum.
If you’re ready for lunch or want to do a little shopping, now’s a good time to veer a couple blocks west from the British Museum to trendy Soho, a bustling retail and dining zone that’s also full of theaters and performance venues. Oxford and Regent streets, two of the big thoroughfares here, pack in tons of stores, but wander past the traffic to Carnaby Street for pedestrian friendly browsing on brick lanes.
Sticking close by, the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery on Trafalgar Square are worthy options to round out museum day. The first packs in famous works from the likes of van Gogh, Monet, Rembrandt, Botticelli, et al. while the latter is full of paintings, sculptures and photos of noteworthy individuals throughout history. Historic St. Martin-in-the-Fields church across the street offers free lunchtime concerts on certain days and has a cafe hidden down in the crypt.
Stick to the West End this evening to partake in London’s vibrant theater scene. Many of the top venues line the streets shooting off from the busy, neon-ad filled Piccadilly Circus junction, with a concentration along Shaftesbury Avenue (including the Palace and Sondheim theaters). Check the TKTS booth at Leicester Square for discounted tickets. After dark, Soho and the Covent Garden district nearby stay lively, with restaurants, pubs and entertainment for night owls.
Day 3 — Southwark and City of London
The old City of London is the historic core of the metro, dating back to Roman settlement in the 1st century. The Great Fire of London in 1666 desecrated the medieval town, so what you see today is a blend of the reconstruction from that era and the modern buildings of the central business district. Since you can cross the Thames on foot via a few bridges here, it’s easy to explore the nearby Southwark district, too, in one big sightseeing excursion.
From the cathedral, cross over Millennium Bridge to the opposite side of the Thames for Shakespeare’s Globe theater and the Tate Modern gallery. The art museum has free entry if you want to pop in for a quick browse, but the theater, which is a replica of a Shakespearean-era playhouse, requires a paid tour.
Just a half-mile away, Borough Market is perfect for a brief brunch break. A sort of urban farmers market, the venue offers everything from fresh-baked bread to fishmongers to an array of ready-to-eat global cuisine.
Walk along the Thames on this side to see London Bridge (but not the one from the song), the HMS Belfast warship museum and Tower Bridge, the Victorian-era structure with two turrets seen on many a postcard. It’s free to cross the bottom level by foot, but tickets are needed to see the old engine rooms and walk on the modern glass floors nearly 140-feet above the water.
About a half-mile from the castle, The Monument to the Great Fire of London offers another chance for elevated views of the city from 311 steps up, for a negligible admission. The monument pays tribute to the devastating 1666 fire and was constructed just after as the City of London rebuilt.
For free city views, you don’t want to miss Sky Garden, where a glass dome atop a skyscraper offers three levels of botanicals and panoramic vistas. Timed tickets booked online are required, but there is no admission charge.
Leadenhall Market a couple blocks north is perfect for dinnertime. The covered shopping center dates to the 1300s, with a current remodeled Victorian look.
Day 4 — Hyde Park and Kensington
After another busy day of sightseeing, consider slowing it down a little with a visit to one of London’s incredible green spaces, 250-acre Hyde Park. With classic museums and picturesque neighborhoods in surrounding blocks, you can tailor the day to suit your mood and travel crew — keep it nature-filled with biking and boating, playgrounds and picnicking, or toss in some museum visits on the surrounding blocks.
Massive Hyde Park packs in everything from monuments and memorials to sports courts to Speakers’ Corner, a historic free-speech space for soapbox orators. If you want to enjoy most of the day outdoors in the park, consider renting a bike to wander along the weaving park trails or a rowboat to explore the Serpentine. The Hyde Park Tennis and Sports Centre has tennis courts, lawn bowling, a putting course and playgrounds.
Just outside park bounds is the Royal Albert Hall, which hosts classical concerts and music festivals. The 1871 venue also offers tours during the day. A few blocks beyond along Exhibition Road are a series of free museums — the Victoria and Albert Museum for decorative arts and design, the Natural History Museum with its dinosaur collection, and the Science Museum, full of hands-on learning and family-friendly exhibits.
The iconic Harrods department store is also just a couple blocks from Hyde Park. Even if you aren’t into shopping, the food and dining halls here will win you over. Display cases brim with luxury cheeses, breads and charcuterie while a huge chocolate and confectionery area is full of sweet (and pretty) temptations.
If you have any extra time, consider hopping on the metro to the Notting Hill neighborhood for pastel row houses and antiques at the Portobello Market, trendy Shoreditch for graffiti art and the Sunday Brick Lane Market, or Camden Town for street food and eclectic shopping.
Tips for Visiting London
1. Get an Oyster card. Though you’ll certainly get some walking miles in, using public transit is a must if you’re going to maximize your 4 days in London. Plastic Oyster cards make it super simple to pay for your rides on the bus or Tube with a simple tap instead of having to buy individual tickets every time. You can purchase a card online ahead of time, but it’s simple to get one on arrival from the ticket machines at underground and rail stations. You can even grab one at Heathrow and ride the tube into central London. You’ll have to make a £5 deposit plus whatever amount you want to prepay on top of that, and when you leave, you can get the balance (including your deposit) back by returning the card.
2. Stay close to a tube station. If you’re on a budget, you might not be able to afford one of the hotels in prime districts like Chelsea or the West End, but that doesn’t mean getting around to all the sights has to be a hassle. When you’re searching for accommodations, look for one that is near a tube station, marked on Google maps by a little red circle with a blue line crossing through. If you click on it, you can see which tube routes use the stop, and you can reference this tube and rail map to see which lines you’ll be riding often.
3. Look for late hours at attractions. It can be hard to fit all of the amazing London museums into just a few days, especially when many close as early as 5 p.m. Luckily, some popular museums offer extended hours once a week, typically on Fridays. The National Gallery, Tate Modern and British Museum are among those that stay open late on Fridays, while the Science Museum offers Lates events for adults monthly on a Wednesday. Westminster Abbey, which ends tours at 3 p.m. most days opens for Wednesday Lates from 4:30 to 6 p.m. for a reduced price.
Where to Stay in London
London’s tourist sights are spread out around a few districts, so there’s lots of great places to stay by museums, shopping and dining. Plus, with a massive network of public transit, you can easily hop around no matter where you’re based.