If you’re limited to 3 days in London, you’ll want to maximize your time to see and do as much as possible. There’s no way you’ll cover everything, but you’ll still be able to hit the top sights and get a taste of the city. When I travel, I tend to move at a pretty fast pace, so you’ll be packing in a lot of activities into a short amount of time.
For the purposes of this 3-day London itinerary 1-2-3, but there’s no reason you can’t switch them up based on opening times and your own travel schedule. As some of the attractions included have different operating hours on different days, you may need to swap days around out of necessity. I’ve tried to group places by their location so you’re not criss-crossing London every day. I’d also highly recommend using the London Pass for a fast-paced trip like this as it will save you money if you plan to hit all of these spots. I also encourage you to get as early a start as possible because lines are typically shorter early in the morning and if you want to see as much as you can of London in 3 days, you’re not going to be able to sleep in til noon.
For our quick trip to London, we stayed in an hotel right across from Victoria Station. This set us up for a super easy airport transfer from Heathrow and put us steps away from a major transport hub. It also pleased my mom because that’s her name.
Day One in London
Tower Bridge | Tower of London | British Museum
Kick off your 3 fantastic days in London by hitting some of the most iconic spots. The Tower Bridge is one of the most famous of London’s 35 bridges spanning the Thames and in my humble opinion, the prettiest. It’s also by far the most fun because you get to visit the upper level and walk on glass walkways suspended over the water far below. (Don’t worry if you don’t think you can handle this – there are solid bypasses along each side so you don’t actually have to venture out onto the glass if you don’t want to.) You can either walk up the stairs or ride an elevator to the top, though the elevator line can cause you to have longer waits. Along the stairs you have a small amount of signage about the construction of the bridge, but you won’t be missing a ton if you opt for the elevator. I’d allocate roughly an hour for this attraction and the requisite photos of the bridge. Head to the east side before your tour for the best morning lighting for photography.
Once you finish with the Tower Bridge, you’ll be perfectly positioned for the Tower of London. Don’t let their names fool you – they’re two separate attractions and very different. The Tower of London is a large historic site right along the bank of the Thames that dates back to 1066 AD. You’ll probably want to spend the rest of the morning exploring the various sections of the complex. I’d head straight to the queue for the Crown Jewels because at peak season it can get very long. The day we went, the line didn’t even extend outside of the building and we still waited almost half an hour. Once you’re inside, there are other things to look at along the way, but I would not want to be stuck in the outdoor queue in the hot sun or rain. Other things to do in the Tower of London include visiting the White Tower – full of suits of armor belonging to past kings, and taking a Yeoman Warder tour. There are also some scheduled shows where reenactors put on performances or tell historic tales.
After you finish here, grab some lunch. There are a couple tasty but overpriced fish & chips stands right next to the Tower of London entrance, but I’d head out toward your next stop – the famous British Museum – first for better options.
If you’re lucky and your three days in London include a Friday night, you can take advantage of evening hours at the British Museum. The place was still very busy, but going later in the day allowed us to use our time more efficiently and hit other spots in the afternoon that weren’t open later. You can easily spend an entire day or more at the British Museum, but if you only have 3 days in London, you won’t have that much time to dedicate to one place. We were very pleased that the guide map had a route laid out that took you to the most prominent works in the museum so you could hit the highlights. We did browse through a few more rooms that caught our interest, so we didn’t stick strictly to the route, but it does help you find the biggest things. The top thing to see for me – and plenty of other visitors – is the Rosetta Stone. It’s located on the first floor fairly close to the main entrance, so it should be easy to find if you don’t have a lot of time. And the best part is that the British Museum is free, which makes it a very budget-friendly way to spend an afternoon (or evening).
Day Two in London
Churchill War Rooms | Westminster Abbey | Palace of Westminster (Parliament) |Buckingham Palace
Start your second day in London at the Churchill War Rooms. This isn’t one of the most famous spots in the city, but it was one of my favorite stops that we made. I put it first thing in the morning because the line gets long very fast, and the way the entrance and beginning of the museum are structured causes it to move very slowly. I would highly, highly recommend pre-booking timed tickets for this, though it’s not an option if you’re using the London Pass. This museum is housed in the actual underground rooms Winston Churchill and his top advisors used for much of WWII. It wasn’t exactly a bunker, though it was reinforced during the war. You can see the actual living and working quarters of many of the staffers and visit an extensive exhibit about Churchill himself. There’s also an underground mess and (of course) gift shop along the way.
The Churchill War Rooms are within walking distance of iconic Westminster Abbey, so as soon as you’re done with the museum, you can walk a few blocks down to visit one of the most famous churches in the world. Your visit comes with an audio guide that explains the significance of several of the prominent memorials and historic areas of the abbey. As you walk down the side during the first part of the tour, don’t forget to look down as you’ll see the names of several prominent English figures, including Stephen Hawking who was a very recent addition. The Grave of the Unknown Warrior is a particularly poignant part of Westminster Abbey, and the inscription on it is quite beautiful. Once you make your way to the very back of the church, you’ll be wowed by the intricate carvings of the Lady Chapel.
If you wish, you can pay a few pounds extra to visit the Queen’s Jubilee Galleries, an area on an upper level that was only opened to the public in 2018. In addition to the unique views you’ll get of the rest of Westminster Abbey below, you’ll also get to see one of the few existing copies of the Magna Carta among other historic artifacts. You’ll also find the marriage license of Prince William and Kate Middleton, whose wedding took place in the Abbey in 2011, tucked away in a random corner.
Once you finish up at Westminster Abbey, you may be ready for lunch. You’ll find some pubs in the vicinity – we had a pretty good lunch in the basement of the Westminster Arms a couple blocks away. If you’re not hungry yet, keep going to pay a visit to Westminster Palace.
As the home of Parliament, the Palace of Westminster is the seat of the British government. It’s also one of the most beautiful buildings in London. Unfortunately, when I was there, Big Ben (only the name of the bell inside the clock tower, but colloquially used by almost everyone, myself included) aka the Elizabeth Tower was covered up by scaffolding and all that was visible was on clockface. It was disappointing to say the least, and renovations are scheduled to last until 2021 so be prepared for that if you’re visiting between now and then. It is possible to arrange tours of Parliament if you plan ahead, but we just wandered around the outside of the building and took photos. There is a nice little park on the south side of the building that gives you a nice view, but the best angle for photos is actually across the river. If you have time, you can take a quick walk across to snap a few shots.
Once you’ve enjoyed Westminster, hop the transportation of your choice over to Buckingham Palace. Home to the Queen and tons of history, most visitors just snap photos in front of the iconic front entrance. If you’re lucky enough to visit during the Queen’s summer holidays, you can also take a tour through the staterooms inside. There was a special exhibition on Queen Victoria that was very interesting, but the ornately decorated rooms themselves are worth seeing. If you have some extra time to kill, take a walk through the adjacent Victoria Tower Gardens. We quite enjoyed our walk across as we enjoyed some ice cream cones from a shop near where we entered.
If you really want to see the Changing of the Guard, you’ll have to alter this itinerary a bit to end up at Buckingham Palace at the right time. Note that it does not take place every day, which is surprising to many. Be sure to check the schedule ahead of time to avoid disappointment. It may involve a little extra travel if you have to go back and forth between different attractions to make it work, but it wouldn’t be anything unmanageable. Be sure to arrive early to get a spot where you can see and come prepared for lots of crowds.
Day Three in London
Hyde Park | Harry Potter Studios
I’d plan on spending a large chunk of the day at the Harry Potter Studios, but since it’s open in the evening, spend at least part of your morning exploring the Hyde Park area. This enormous park offers loads of walking trails and other recreation options. You can take a boat out on The Serpentine (a manmade lake), go for a swim at the beach, enjoy the rose garden, rent a deck chair (in spring, summer, and fall), or visit the historic Speaker’s Corner known for its political debates. If you get an early start and have later tickets for Harry Potter (or have a rainy day you’d rather spend indoors), you may also be able to squeeze in a visit to nearby Kensington Palace.
I’d be lying if I said that the Harry Potter Studio Tour wasn’t one of the highlights of London for me. I was originally going to fly over a day early by myself just to be able to visit it before my mom decided that she wanted to join me. Instead, she came on the same flight as me and my dad was the one who had to fly by himself a day later. Anyone who loves the books and/or movies will love stepping onto the sets and learning about the special effects and props that were used to bring the wizarding world to life. You can even try some butterbeer. Read my Harry Potter Studios post for more info about what to expect.
Other things to do in 3 days in London
As I mentioned before, I like to pack my days as full as possible when traveling. That means hitting places that have evening hours in the evening so I can visit museums and other spots that close early during the daytime. Here are a few other activities you can add in if you prefer to swap out one of the things I mentioned or add in some evening bonus time.
- The Shard – This somewhat divisive building definitely stands out in the skyline. You can ride up to the observation deck for a panoramic view of London or have dinner at one of the restaurants high above the city.London Eye – We skipped this because it was super expensive, but there’s no denying that it’s an iconic part of the London landscape. And since it’s open later in the evening, it’s a great thing to do after dark.
- Shakespeares’ Globe Theatre – Even though the original Globe burned down, you can still visit this modern reconstruction. You can also purchase tickets for performances of different plays. An evening showing of a Shakespeare play in the Globe would be a great way to spend an evening in London. Check out the schedule here.
- West End plays – If you want to see high-caliber performance, head to the theater district for an evening performance. If there’s a particular show you really want to see, I’d recommend buying tickets as soon as possible, or you can wait and see if you can snag a deal on something at the last minute.
- Kings Cross – This perfectly normal train station was turned into a tourist attraction by the Harry Potter books. Even though Platform 9 3/4 doesn’t really exist, you can have your photo taken outside the Harry Potter store. There’s even a selection of wands and Hogwarts house scarves – plus a scarf tosser so you can get that perfect illusion of motion with your picture. There’s an official photographer there taking photos you can purchase, but you’re also welcome to use your own camera.
- River Cruise – There are numerous options for cruises down the Thames. We took the standard one included as part of our London Pass. There are afternoon tea cruises, evening dinner cruises, jazz cruises, and lunch cruises offered by various companies.
- Piccadilly Circus – This lively shopping and dining area was positively hopping on Friday night in the late summer. The streets were packed and entertainers were out, and the whole area had an energetic buzz.
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