Coming up with a London itinerary can be challenging. There are so many things to do, so many places to visit, and the city is actually quite spread out so it’s normal that you don’t know where to start.
When it comes to the British capital, the more time you get to spend there, the more you get to see. However, I’d say that 5 days in London are a good amount of time to take in its most popular sights and even some of its hidden gems.
Having said so, you really can’t improvise. First of all, some attractions required advanced bookings. If you don’t get a ticket in advance you may get stuck in a line. Secondly, since it’s such a big city, you will be better off exploring by area, so that you don’t spend too much time commuting.
Since I know the city really well (I have lived and worked in London for over 8 years) I thought I’d put together a London itinerary that would help you maximize your 5 days in London. I will list daily activities, share suggestions for guided tours and point out attractions that must be booked in advance, and share a few more planning tips at the end of the post.
5 Days In London Itinerary – Summary
Here’s a quick summary of your 5 days in London itineary.
Day 1: Settle down; guided food tour; London Eye.
Day 2: A walk around Westminster, the National Gallery, Piccadilly Circus and Covent Garden
Day 3: London classics
Day 4: British Museum and other great places to visit in London
Day 5: Off-beat London
The Ultimate 5 Days In London Itinerary
Day 1 – Settle Down
If you are traveling from outside of Europe, you will likely be very tired after a long flight and you should take it easy on your first day in town. Make your way to your hotel, take a shower and a power nap, then head out for some fun activities that don’t require much energy.
Option 1: Guided food tour
Start your 5 days in London with a meal. I know, food in the United Kingdom has a reputation for being less than interesting, and while its staples are hardly internationally famous, I promise there are some interesting dishes and snacks worth trying – especially when it comes to traditional dishes.
A food tour is a great way to get to taste local specialties and get acquainted with local culture tour. One of the best food tour options around is this Secret British food tour which has 3 daily departures, so no matter what time you arrive in London, you can join. It also goes to Borough Market, one of the coolest markets in London.
Option 2: Hop-on hop-off tour
If you don’t feel like eating and would rather go exploring as soon as you arrive, you may want to opt for a hop-on hop-off tour. It’s probably the most touristy thing to do in London, but you are after all tourist, right? Besides, this is a good way to take in some of the highlights of the city and it really is a no-brainer. Just make sure to bring your camera as there will be many photo opportunities.
You have two choices for the hop-on hop-off tour. Either go for the classic bus tour which you can book here, or opt for a hop-on hop-off cruise along the river Thames for even better views – you can book it here.
Riding the giant ferris wheel (the third tallest in the world with 135 meters or about 443 feet)is certainly one of the best things to do in London, and it’s easy enough to do it on your first day in London, when you may still feel very tired.
Designed by David Marks and Julia Barfield to celebrate the new millennium, it took seven years to build it and a full week to lift it up. It was meant to be a temporary attraction, but it remained and in fact it is one of the most popular attractions in town, and for a good reason: the views of London from there are simply breathtaking!
Jump on one of the 32 pods – each can take up to 25 passengers – and enjoy the 30 minutes ride as you take in the views of the Houses of Parliament, the Big Ben and Westminster Abbey, and more!
The opening times of London Eye change depending on the season and day of visit, so check out the official site for that. Make sure to get your tickets in advance, too – you can get them on the official website here.
For more information on how to visit the London Eye, read my post 7 Easy Ways Of Getting London Eye Tickets.
Day 2 – Westminster, National Gallery, Piccadilly Circus and Covent Garden
Your London itinerary for the second day will take you to some of the city’s most iconic attractions. You’ll walk quite a bit, and you’ll need to make advanced bookings for some of the attractions too.
Download your London itinerary for day 2 here.
Houses of Parliament and Big Ben
The Houses of Parliament, seat of the British Parliament, and the Big Ben, London’s iconic clock tower, are usually seen from the outside. Most people simply stand on the bridge posing for a photo with the buildings in the background. If you go on Sundays, there are guided tours that will take you inside the main rooms of the Parliament building if you are interested.
Guided tours of the Houses of Parliament run on Saturdays and can be booked via the official website here. As there is limited availability, make sure to book your visit well in advance.
The closest metro station to the Houses of Parliament is Westminster.
Westminster Abbey is the most impressive church in London. It was founded in 960 AD and other than the gorgeous architecture, inside you get to see beautiful frescoes and religious pantings.
The church has an important political value too, since this is where where most coronations and royal weddings have been taking place since 1066. Buried inside the church there are some notable British people – the most famous would be Isaac Newton.
The Abbey is open to visitors from 9:30 am to 3:00 pm, Monday to Saturday (it’s only open for services on Sundays). It will take you between one and two hours to visit. It’s better to get tickets in advance. You can do that here.
If you want to visit both the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey, you can book a guided tour that goes to both, but it’s only available on Sundays. It lasts 4 hours, so factor that in against the rest of the day. You can book your tour here.
Churchill War Rooms
This is one of the most places to visit in London for history buffs, especially those having an interest with the facts of WWII. Actually made up of two museums, Churchill War Rooms has a strong focus on the life of the most famous British Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill.
Upon visiting, you also get to see the Cabinet War Rooms. These were actually a bunker where the prime minister sought refuge during the London Blitz and from where he directed the war efforts.
A guided tour is probably a good idea to appreciate this museum. I recommend this WWII Westminster Walking Tour and Churchill War Rooms. There are two tours available every day. You could opt for the one that starts at 2:00 pm so that you have enough time to explore the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey before.
Churchill War Rooms are open daily from 9:30 am to 6:00 pm. For more information, visit the official website of the museum here.
National Gallery and Trafalgar Square
It will take you 10 minutes to walk from Churchill War Rooms to Trafalgar Square, where the National Gallery is located. The square itself is a pleasant place to hang out and get particularly busy with locals and tourists alike in the spring and summer months.
The National Gallery is one of the best (and free) museums in London. It opened in its current location in 1838 (it used to be housed in Pall Mall before) and has an impressive collection that runs from medieval religious art to impressionism. There often are special exhibits that make the visit even more interesting.
You won’t really have much time to visit the National Gallery unless you happen to be there on a Friday, but I recommend popping in anyways as it’s an impressive building! You may still have time to check one or two collections, anyways.
The National Gallery is free to visit and is open every day from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm, except on Fridays when it closes at 9:00 pm. The official website of the National Gallery is the best place to find information about special exhibits which may require separate bookings and / or a fee.
For more museums in London, read my post 22 Best Museums In London.
You will likely happen to walk past Piccadilly Circus a few times during your 5 days in London. The small square (it’s actually smaller than you may imagine) is a popular meeting point especially for tourists, and a major metro and bus junction in the city.
If you follow my London itinerary, on this day you will get there in the evening. Depending on the season and how long you have spent in the National Gallery, you will be there just in time to catch the flashy lights of all the advertising signs.
Another truly easy addition to this London itinerary is London’s former nightlife hotspot. Home to the Hyppodrome and Equinox, two very popular clubs in the 1990s, Leicester Square can be easily reached on foot from Piccadilly Circus.
It’s surrounded by movie theaters and touristy restaurants, but there also is a nice small garden in the center where you can stop for a few moments. There also are ticket booths selling tickets to the best shows in town, but beware of touts and unofficial resellers.
The last stop of your London itinerary for the day is Covent Garden, within easy walking distance from Leicester Square. Once a beautiful covered flower market, the area now includes a covered market, known as Apple Market, and the Jubilee Market, which mostly sells souvenirs.
About 5 minutes walk from Leicester Square, Covent Garden once was a beautiful flower market. Today, you will find a covered market (Apple Market), the Jubilee Market (where you can shop for classic souvenirs), and lots of nice shops. Also in Covent Garden there’s the interesting London Transport Museum, in case you arrive while it is still open.
Nowadays, Covent Garden is mostly place for street performers and musicians (there is always someone playing on the corner of the ground floor) and you will find some good pubs and restaurants too. It’s great at Christmas time when the decorations are up – but beware it can be extremely crowded.
The surrounding area is packed with good restaurants (some actually quite expensive) and nice boutiques. There’s also the London Transport Museum, but by the time you get there it’ll likely be closed already.
To discover the many attractions in Covent Garden read my post 11 Best Things To Do In Covent Garden.
Make sure to also check out my post The Best Christmas Markets In Europe.
Day 3 – London Classics
The third of your 5 days in London is all about the most famous attractions.
Download a map today’s London itinerary here.
St. James Park
This is one of the nicest parks in London, and right by Buckingham Palace! It’s nice any time of year, but if you visit in the spring and summer months it’s a particularly pleasant place where you can sit for a while, perhaps reading a book and relaxing. It’s a favorite of families with children.
If you are taking the tube, the best station to get off is Green Park, but you can also get off at Hyde Park Corner.
The residence of the Royal Family, Buckingham Palace is one of the unmissable places to visit in London – at least you need to take a peak from the outside! It’s a quite impressive building, and its history and the private aura that surround it make it all the more special.
Most tourists head there to see the changing of the guard, which takes place at 10:45 am. You must be there in advance though, as it can get very crowded.
However, it’s a good idea to visit the palace inside – which can only be done on guided tours. Below are some recommendations for the best tours of Buckingham Palace:
Changing of the Guard and Buckingham Palace tour – the best overall option, it starts at 10:15 which means you have some time to make your way through St. James Park before you head to the meeting point. Your guide will also follow you for the Changing of the Guard Ceremony.
Buckingham Palace tickets with Royal walking tour – a good tour that starts at 1:30 pm, but actually not a good option for the purpose of this London itinerary, given its starting time.
Buckingham Palace: The State Room entrance tickets – The most budget friendly option but the only offered time slots are 3:15 and 4:00 pm, so again it doesn’t really fit in this London itinerary.
St. Paul’s Cathedral
After the Great London Fire completely destroyed it in 1666, St. Paul’s Cathedral was rebuilt following a design by Sir Christopher Wren. The highlight of visiting is actually the dome – it’s so big you can see it from far away – there is a separate fee to go up, and there may be a line too. The views from up there are actually stunning.
Once inside you can also explore the crypt. Other than that, I find the church quite bare compared to Westminster Abbey.
St. Paul’s Cathedral is open Mondays to Saturdays from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm (it opens at 10:00 am on Wednesdays). You have to pay a fee to enter. You can get tickets in advance here.
The nearest metro station is St. Paul’s. To get there from Buckingham Palace, head to Green Park metro station. You will need a northbound Victoria Line train. Get off at Oxford Circus (just one stop), and hop on an eastbound Central Line train, then get off at St. Paul’s.
Tower of London
With 5 days in London, you really have no excuse not to visit the Tower of London – it really is one of the best places to visit there!
This impressive building was built upon orders of William the Conqueror in the 11th century. Once a royal palace, its use changed many times throughout history. In fact, it was used as a political prison and this is where Anne Boleyn, wife of Henry VIII, was beheaded on 19 May 1536. It is also where Guy Fawkes was executed, on 31 January 1606.
The last executions here took place during WWII – more precisely, the last one was that of Josef Jakobs, a German spy who was executed in 1941.
There is quite a bit to see inside the Tower of London. Most visitors are astounded by the Crown Jewels, but make sure not to miss the Beauchamp and Salt Towers, where you can spot prisoners’ graffiti; the Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula, which is near the famous execution site; and the Norman Chapel of St John’s, in the White Tower wall.
The Tower of London is open Tuesday to Saturday from 9:00 am to 4:30 pm and Sunday and Monday from 10:00 am to 4:30 pm. You need to get tickets in advance here.
The nearest metro station is Tower Hill on the District and Circle Line.
For more information on this attraction, you should read my post How To Get Tower Of London Tickets.
Right outside the Tower of London, Tower Bridge is the most photographed bridge in London. Take a moment to admire it, and perhaps cross it for the best photo opportunities (the photo above was taken from the South Bank). If you want to walk the glass walkway, suspended at 40 meters (131 feet) from the ground, you’ll have to buy tickets for the Tower Bridge Exhibit,
The Tower Bridge Exhibit is open from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm. To get tickets, click here.
Your last attraction for the day is the Sky Garden, a wonderful recent addition to the list of fabulous attractions in London, and from where you can appreciate great views (especially at sunset). This London itinerary actually has a strong focus on view, but this one is truly special, and since it is free to get in, why not?
Keep in mind that if you go after sunset there is a dress code so you may want to bring a pretty accessory (ie a shawl or a dressier shirt) to walk in.
The Sky Garden is open on Mondays from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm; Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 10:00 am to 11:00 pm; Thursdays from 10:00 am to 12:00 am; Fridays from 10:00 am to 2:00 am; Saturdays from 8:30 am to 2:00 am and Sundays from 8:30 am to 11:00 pm. To visit, book your time slot here or reserve a table at the bar or restaurant (mind you, they are expensive).
Day 4 – British Museum + Great Places To Visit In London
Pick between the two options for an incredible day. At the end, you can go see a show.
This is your map for your London itinerary for today, if you decide to go for option 1. Take the metro to commute from the British Museum to Borough Market.
There are many reasons to visit the British Museum, and with 5 days in London you really should make it a point to go. This will be your chance to admire the groundbreaking Rosetta’s Stone; browse through the mummies of ancient Egypt; admire statues brought over directly from the Acropolis in Athens.
The collection is massive, and it takes a full day (if not more!) to take it all in, so you may want to focus just on the exhibit rooms that interest you most.
Visiting is actually free (there may be a fee for special exhibits) but you must book a time slot for your visit on official site here. Grab an audio-guide to help you exploring, or consider joining a guided tour. The ones below are the best options:
The British Museum Tour: the ideas that made our world – you can join the 10:00 am tour (there is also one departing at 2:00 pm, and one at 5:00 pm on Fridays only) to go through the best of the collection. The tour lasts 2.5 hours.
British Museum guided tour – this tour lasts 2 hours and starts you have the option of joining at 10:00 am or 2:00 pm.
The British Museum is open every day from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. It closes at 8:30 pm on Fridays. The nearest metro stations are Tottenham Court Road, Holborn, Russell Square and Goodge Street.
Ask me what my favorite food market in London and I will have no doubts: it’s Borough Market. This is where I used to shop pretty much every weekend when I lived in London. I’d literally go there with a backpack that I’d fill up as I explored the many stalls. I shall warn you it’s actually quite a popular place to visit now, and it can get particularly busy on Fridays and Saturdays.
The market is open from Monday to Saturday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm.
For more markets in London, check out my post 20 Best Sunday Markets In London.
Feel free to skip this market if you have already visited during your London food tour on day 1.
The views from the Shard are actually quite similar to that you get from the London Eye, except you go much higher. Indeed, the viewing platform, located on the 72nd floor and first opened in 2013, is the highest viewing platform in Western Europe. Britain’s tallest building was designed by Renzo Piano and first opened in 2012. It measures a whopping 300 meters (1,000 feet).
The Shard opening times vary depending on the day of the week and the season – check the official website for more information. Make sure to book your visit in advance either via the official website or here (the price is the same).
You should also read my post Where To Get The Best Views Of London.
A walk along the South Bank
I love hanging out by the South Bank. The views of the city from this side of the river are incredible. If you visit London in the spring and summer months, it’s a great place to go for a walk, a drink and just spend some time appreciating the beauty of the city. There are lots of nice bars, cafés, restaurants and pubs where you can stop too.
In my many years in London, I have seen scams in a very few places and the South Bank is actually one of them. I once actually called the police to stop the the 3 cups game as lots of people were getting scammed! So, keep your eyes open.
St. Katherine’s Dock Marina
Who said that if you are only staying 5 days in London you can’t get off the beaten path a bit? St. Katherine’s Dock Marina is significantly lesser known to tourists, but it’s actually really close to all the most popular tourist attractions, so you should go. There is a nice marina, a lovely historic park, some nice restaurant and the vibe is overall very relaxed. Oh, and there are no tourist crowds.
For more hidden gems in London, you should definitely read my post 24 Best London Hidden Gems.
Harry Potter tour
If you are traveling to London with children or are a fan of Harry Potter, you will want to do this for sure. In fact, a Harry Potter tour gives you the opportunity to experience London from a totally different perspective.
There are many Harry Potter themed tours in London.
I recommend this Magical London Harry Potter tour: it is quite budget friendly and it’s also highly rated. It starts at 10:00 am and lasts about 2.5 hours. It goes to Borough Market (which I have mentioned above) and ends at the Palace Theater, from where you can easily walk to the British Museum.
The British Museum
Done with the tour? It’s a 10 minutes walk to the museum!
London shows are legendary and there is an incredible choice, so don’t miss the chance to go to one. Once you are done exploring for the day, make your way to the area of Covent Garden / Leicester Square or Charing Cross for a show.
My only recommendation is to take a look online before flying to London to see what’s on on the days of your visit, and get tickets well ahead of time.
Day 5 – Quirky Attractions In London
Your last day in London will take you to some of the off-beat places, but I promise you they are fun. You can get a map of your London itinerary for day 5 here.
Shoreditch and Brick Lake
Shoreditch is one of the most up and coming neighborhoods in London. During my recent visits I have always stayed there – I enjoy the local atmosphere, the many fantastic pubs and restaurants, and the nice shops. It’s a cool place for street art so make sure to allow yourself enough time to explore the area in search for that.
In fact, you may be better off joining a guided tour that helps you find the best and most significant pieces. Here are my recommendations:
Alternative London 2-hour street art walking tour – a cool tour that goes to all the main places that shaped this part of town historically.
Discover Shoreditch – another highly rated tour.
Brick Lane is another truly cool part of town. Known for the many Bengalese restaurants it is a very artsy area, with nice new designer shops and an easygoing vibe. Make sure to stop at Beigel Bake for a snack – that place has been open forever and it’s a real local institution!
Old Spitalfields Market
Why go to Camden Town when you can visit one of the best markets in London that still retain their local vibe? At Old Spitalfields, you can have a taste of street food from around the world, explore art galleries and shop for unique goods at antique and vintage shops. It’s a fun place to spend a few hours!
The market is open every day from 10:00 am. Closing time varies so check the official website for more information.
Jack the Ripper Walking Tour
One really cool, quirky thing to add to your London itinerary is a visit to Whitechapel with a Jack The Ripper Walking tour. These tours usually start in the late afternoon or evening, so it’s easy to fit them in your itinerary at the end of the day. They literally go to the sites where Jack the Ripper hit, and they are an interesting – if only perhaps a bit morbid – way of getting to know an important part of London’s history.
There are several Jack the Ripper tours in London, but these are the ones that I recommend the most:
Jack the Ripper walking tour – this tour lasts almost two hours and will take you back to the time Jack the Ripper terrorized the entire city. You have the option of starting at 5:30 or at 7:30.
Jack the Ripper interactive walking tour – another recommended tour; this one starts at 7:00.
Using A London Pass
For the purpose of this London itinerary, you may want to get a London Pass. I have grouped all the mainstream attractions in two days so I think a 2-day pass would be your best option. Keep in mind that a you will only have skip the line tickets, but not guided tours and that you will have to book each attraction separately.
You can get your London Pass here.
For the purpose of this itinerary, I have assumed you have 5 days in London – and 5 nights. You can adapt it and spread it across more days if you are staying longer. For example, if you have an extra day you can visit Kensington Palace and Gardens, Hyde Park, Harrods following the itinerary I have outlined in my post An Easy To Follow Itinerary For 4 Days London.
You are obviously free to skip places you are not interested in and instead add others that I haven’t mentioned – but this specific London itinerary has been drafted with the idea of maximizing your time in the city and minimize the time spent commuting from one attraction to the other.
Here are some extra tips to help you make the most of your time in the city:
- Go to bed early, and leave early in the morning to start exploring – it’s the best way to beat the crowds.
- Eat lunch on the go – this itinerary often mentions markets where you will likely be just around lunch time, and they are all perfect to grab a bite.
- If a museum is open late on the day you are visiting, leave it as the last attraction!
- Dress comfortably – remember good walking shoes are important!
Make sure to also read my post What To Wear In London.
Where to stay in London
There are plenty of good places to stay in London, but I shall warn you: if you want quality, it will come at a price. My advice is to stay in areas such as Kensington or Westminster Borough. Covent Garden is another nice area to stay. Definitely avoid Camden as it can be a bit dodgy at night, and it’s actually far from all the attractions mentioned in this post.
Here are some recommendations:
- Kimpton – Fitzroy London, an IHG Hotel – great hotel and excellent location; only if you can splurge.
- The Montague on the Gardens – nice, comfortable rooms close to the British Museum.
- Arosfa Hotel London by Compass Hospitality – clean and central; rooms are very small but it is also budget friendly.
- The Resident Covent Garden – nice hotel with small rooms, close to Covent Garden.
For more accommodation options in London, head over to my posts Where To Stay In London: The Best Areas And Hotels and The Best Airbnbs In London.
The best time to visit London
This is one of the trickiest questions I get asked. If you are a fan of Christmas, you will love the city around that time of year as it get very atmospheric and romantic – but it’s also cold, and prices increase even further. For longer days and better weather, opt to go in April and May, or September and October. It can get hot (and humid) in the summer, and many places won’t be equipped with air conditioning.
Set to visit around Christmas? Then you should also read my post Should You Visit London In Winter?
How to get to London from the airport
There are 5 airports in London. Here is some essential information about each of them:
- London Heathrow, served by main airlines and connected to the city via metro (Piccadilly Line), bus, and train to Paddington;
- London Gatwick, served by main airlines and connected to the city by train (to Victoria Station) and bus;
- London City, served by main airlines; it’s located in the Docklands and can be reached by bus;
- Stansted, a budget airlines hub located in Essex and connected to central London by bus or train (to London Liverpool Street);
- Luton, a smaller budget airlines hub, connected to London by bus or train to Kings Cross St. Pancras station.
In general, the train is the recommended means of transportation, and from the station you can use the metro (London underground, or “the Tube, as locals call it).
However, if you are carrying lots of luggage and your hotel is not close to the station, it’s actually probably better to get a private transfer as London underground is really not the best place to be carrying your suitcases around (some stations don’t even have escalators, let alone elevators).
You can book your private transfer on Welcome Pickups here.
For more guidance on how to get to the city, my post How To Get From Heathrow To London will prove a precious guide.
How to move around London
Most travelers in London move around by metro (London Tube or London Underground), which has network of 11 lines and multiple light-rail lines. The bust system is also generally good, though buses are often late or stuck in traffic.
The main downside of the Tube is that it doesn’t run 24 / 7 – so after 11:30 pm or so you’ll have to use a night bus, which doesn’t come as often as a regular bus. Some lines are very old, and hence a bit slow (and at times don’t work altogether because of maintenance works). Finally, most stations are not accessible to passengers with limited mobility.
Uber works well in London.
Get an Oyster Card if you wish to use public transportation. It’s a touch in touch out system, and you can top it up as you go. You can get yours at the airport as soon as you arrive, at any metro station, or online on the Oyster Card website here.
Luggage storage in London
Luggage storage is available near all train stations in London. Stasher is a good reliable company but you need to book in advance.
Other useful tips
Get a data plan
Your life will be much easier if you can access apps such as Google Maps or Uber whenever you need it. Make sure your phone works in the United Kingdom.
Watch out for scams
London is not immune to scams and pickpockets. Scams happen in any major tourist hub – especially around Leicester Square, but also Piccadilly Circus, and the South Bank. Don’t give money to charities that randomly stop you in the street as they are often a scam! Pickpockets are active in any crowded place such as metro and train stations.
Get a good travel insurance
Make sure to get a good insurance for all your trips, London included!
Check out my post Why You Need A Good Travel Insurance. Get your travel insurance here.
For more ideas and itineraries for London, make sure to read these posts:
- How To Make The Most Of London In A Day
- How To See London In 2 Days
- A Perfect Itinerary To See London In 3 Days
- 15 Great Day Trips From London
- How To Get Madame Tussauds London Tickets And Skip The Lines
- How to get London Dungeon Tickets
- 15 Amazing Day Trips From Paris
- 20 + Great Things To Do In Oxford
- 19 Fun Things To Do In Cornwall
- The Best Villages In The Cotswolds