What’s the perfect excuse to explore London? Scoring cheap tickets over a long holiday weekend! Bethany and I were so excited to check London off our bucket list. London has so many well-known historical and architectural landmarks mixed with off-the-grid neighborhoods, restaurants and pub. Keep reading for our 5-day itinerary and recommendations for this iconic city!
Five days in London – Sightseeing, Museums, Food, Drinks and a day trip to Bath
- Day 1 – Travel to London, Tower of London, Tower Bridge, St. Paul’s Cathedral
- Day 2 – Buckingham Palace, Churchill War Rooms, House of Parliament, Big Ben
- Day 3 – Changing of the guard, Westminster Abbey, Shoreditch
- Day 4 – British Museum, Afternoon Tea, Camden Market
- Day 5 – Day trip to the city Bath, Roman Baths, Travel home
If you have extra time:
- We took a day trip to Bath, but consider a multi-day excursion out of London to explore more of England. We’ve heard great things about Salisbury and Stonehendge.
- London has a great theater circuit, so consider seeing a show while you’re visiting.
Tips for a great trip:
- Contradictory to our usual travel style, we found booking in advance to be a great way to make efficient use of our time in London and save some money along the way.
- Public transit in London is among the best in the world, so plan to get an Oyster Card and take the tube .
- Although British food is notably bland, London has an eclectic and international food scene. Try something new!
Day 1 – Tower of London, Tower Bridge and St. Paul’s Cathedral
Our flight landed first thing in the morning. and we grabbed the direct train into the city center. From there, we used the tube to get to our hotel and checked in. We used hotel points to stay at The London EDITION which proved to be a beautiful place to stay in an incredible location.
Our sightseeing day started with the Tower of London. We had already purchased tickets in advance and began our three hour meandering visit with the beefeater tower. Having a guided tour for the first hour of our visit really helped us get the lay of the land for the sprawling site and to imagine what the fortress and castle were like in medieval times.
Once we had taken in the Tower of London, we walked to the nearby Tower Bridge to take some pictures. The famous bridge is an icon of London architecture and we enjoyed the quick visit.
We wrapped up the day’s sightseeing by heading over to St. Paul’s Cathedral. We had purchased our tickets in advance and arrived just before the last entry at 4pm. After checking out the nave and altar of the church, we began the journey up a series of winding staircases to the dome of the church. Although the journey up the 528 steps wasn’t easy, we were rewarded with some incredible views of the London skyline.
We were excited to get off our feet and put back a couple well-deserved pints to cap off our first day in London. The Blackfriar didn’t disappoint with tasty pub ales and some much-needed fish and chips.
Day 2 – Buckingham Palace, Churchill War Rooms, House of Parliament and Big Ben
We were lucky enough to be in London over the late summer months when Buckingham Palace is open to visitors while the Queen is away. We discovered that we could visit the state rooms of the Palace and booked tickets well in advance since they usually sell out. Visiting Buckingham Palace was an incredible experience. We spent the entire morning exploring the Palace and grounds. The garden that forms the exit of the tour was one of our highlights (and allowed photos, unlike the rest of the tour).
After a stroll through St. James Park and a quick lunch, we headed to the Churchill War Rooms. The museum is housed in an expansive underground bunker that protected the staff and secrets at the heart of Britain’s government during the Second World War. The museum also includes a permanent exhibit dedicated to Winston Churchill’s life and legacy. As somewhat of a war buff, this museum was a highlight of my London experience. We spent about 2.5 hours looking through the exhibits.
A walk by the House of Parliament and Ben Ben was our last stop of the day. Come on – you thought I was going to miss a photo op. of my namesake clock? Wrong! 🙂
We were in for a two hour wait to get dinner at Dishoom, but decided the line was worth it for some tasty Indian food (Also, it has been crowned the best restaurant in the U.K. two years running on Yelp). Our evening wrapped up at Experimental Cocktail Club in Chinatown, which was the most unremarkable (although still cool) speakeasy bars we checked out on our trip.
Day 3 – Changing of the Guard, Evensong at Westminster Abbey and exploring the Shoreditch district
We started the day with an early breakfast at our hotel in order to get on our way to Buckingham Palace and find a good spot to watch the changing of the guard. We ended up snagging a spot near the gates, but there are a couple other ways to get good sight-lines to the guard:
- Close to the gates surrounding the palace – This is where most of the action is, but will also be the busiest and probably have some restricted views so plan on hanging out for two hours or more before the changing of the guard starts.
- Victoria Memorial – You can stand at Victoria Memorial for elevated view, but these spots tend to fill up quickly so you’ll need to turn up early as well.
- Along the mall – Lining up along the Mall will give you an up close view of the guard as they march in (you can even walk along the Mall beside them). You won’t need to arrive as early to view from here, but you probably won’t have a clear view to the changing of the guard ceremony.
We attended the Evensong Service at the Westminster Abbey later in the afternoon. Although over one million tourists pay to visit the Westminster Abbey each year, thousands of locals and tourists visit the Abbey for worship at a daily service (which is free). We found it to be a great way to experience not only the Abbey building, but the lives of Londoners. If you attend a service, be respectful. Westminster Abbey is a religious site.
After the service, we explored Shoreditch for a few hours, checking out several areas including The Old Truman Brewery (restaurants, art, etc.), Cafe 1001 (combined cafe & club), Hoxton Square (bars), Boxpark (pop up mall of shipping containers) and Brick Lane (vintage shopping). If you’re nearby on a Sunday, there is also a cool market on Columbia Road.
For dinner, we tried some Peruvian food at Andina. We really liked the atmosphere, but the food felt so much more upscale than what I experienced in Peru that it was hard to compare – although it was certainly tasty! After dinner, we went on a bit of winding adventure to find Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town, a speakeasy bar in The Breakfast Club. I’ll leave you to your own research to find out how to get in (ahem… google it), but Scaredy Cat offered one of the best cocktails I have ever had in the Peat-nut Butter Cup.
Day 4 – British Museum, afternoon tea and Camden Market
We started our day at the British Museum, which is a fantastic and free way to spend a couple of hours. We checked out the wide variety of art and artifacts before heading off to afternoon tea.
We didn’t think a trip to London was complete without afternoon tea so made reservations prior to leaving on our trip. I would recommend at least doing research before you arrive in London. There are countless venues that offer an afternoon tea service in a wide variety of styles and price points. Reservations can also be hard to find on a weekend, so it’s best to pencil it into your trip calendar so that you don’t have to spend travel time calling around.
We decided on tea near our hotel at The Sanderson Hotel, which served tea service with an Alice in Wonderland theme. I knew Bethany would love it, but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed trying all the different types of teas, sandwiches and treats.
We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the Camden Market. Although there are some highlights (like the Camden Lock), we mostly enjoyed looking around the variety of shops and grabbing a casual late afternoon beer. We tried The Queens Head for dinner, an independent brewery and pub food joint, and called it an early night to rest up for the next day’s trip.
Day 5 – Day trip to Bath
On our last day, we caught an 8:30am train from the London Paddington Station and arrived in the charming town of Bath at 10am. From the train station, we headed to the Pump Room in Abbey Church Yard in search of a sign board that said ‘Free Walking Tours Here’. We managed to find it just before the free walking tour began, and spent the next two hours learning about the historical highlights of bath.
After a casual lunch to rest our legs (and a beer at Bath Brew House), we headed back down to the city centre to check out the Bath Abbey and then the Roman Baths. Visiting the baths was certainly a highlight of our day trip, but the city has some great historical charm as well (although it can feel a little overrun with tourists). We spent the hours before dinner strolling along the River Avon and had an incredible meal at Sotto Sotto. After dinner we caught an 8:45pm train back to London.
We had a blast exploring London and experiencing one of the most well-known parts of the U.K., but our trip definitely left us wanting to spend more time exploring. What parts of the U.K. have you visited? Any recommendations? Leave us a comment!