All Articles The perfect 4 days in London

The perfect 4 days in London

The London Eye in a pink sky over the Thames River
Maria Kirsten Adelmann
By Maria Kirsten Adelmann08 Feb 2023 15 minutes read

How much of London can you really cover on a long weekend? Quite a lot, actually. Explore art and artifacts at famous museums, marvel at UNESCO World Heritage Sites, sample food at the city’s oldest street market, and drink plenty of pints at historic pubs. Throw in a few lines of Shakespeare (at the Globe Theatre, no less), a red phone booth (they’re everywhere), and a rainy day (almost a given), and your London checklist will be complete.

Our itinerary packs in as much as possible without running you ragged, grouping activities together by location. Plus we’ve added lunch and dinner stops, so you can sightsee with your fork (think classic English food like fish and chips). And to make sure you don’t waste a single second, we’ve used Tripadvisor reviews and ratings to hit the London hotspots that real-life travelers love most.


DAY ONE

London guards in their red uniforms and tall black hats stand in organized rows
A view of Buckingham Palace with blooming flowers in the foreground

MORNING: A taste of royalty

Prioritize an essential London experience by heading to Buckingham Palace first thing to watch the changing of the guard, which typically starts at 10:45 a.m. (It’s every other day in some seasons and can be earlier on the weekends, so be sure to double-check the schedule online.)

The best vantage point is from the Buckingham Palace Gates, but you’ll need to get here some 90 minutes early (especially in busy summer months) to score a good spot. If you’re running late or not feeling the wait, locate an easier-to-come-by spot along The Mall. After the guards march past, follow them over to Buckingham Palace to catch what you can of the ceremony through the crowds.

AFTERNOON: Iconic London in a Gothic mode

By 11:45 a.m. the changing of the guards is complete, so snap pics of the palace and then head out with the crowds to amble your way through St. James Park, the city’s oldest royal park, toward Two Chairman Public House, a charming 18th-century pub with classic English dishes. You’ll get there around noon, right when it opens. (Tripadvisor users rave about the steak and ale pie here.)

Once you’ve rested your legs and refueled, take the five-minute walk to Westminster Abbey, a stunning gothic cathedral and UNESCO World Heritage Site (together with Westminster Palace, which is right around the corner). The Abbey gets busy, so book a timed ticket ahead to ensure a spot inside. For a small extra fee, you can also visit The Queen's Diamond Jubilee Galleries, a small gallery that gives you a bird’s eye view of the abbey. Expect to spend at least 45-minutes marveling, though some visitors spend as much as two hours scouting out the famous figures buried here (e.g. Charles Dickens, Stephen Hawkins, Henry VII) and taking in all the ornamental sculptures and stained glass.

Exit the Abbey, and walk around the corner to Westminster Bridge, which extends over the Thames River and offers an epic view of several top attractions. We’re talking the London Eye, an enormous Ferris wheel with city views, and Westminster Palace (the House of Parliament) with its attached clocktower, aka Big Ben (though technically, Big Ben is the bell inside). Get there at the top of the hour to hear it chime.

If you managed a quick trip to the Abbey, you might even squeeze in an extra attraction. We recommend either taking a spin on the London Eye for an epic—if pricey—view of London or a visit to the Churchill War Rooms, once the underground command center for World War II and kinda literally one of London’s hidden gems. (Arrive by four, and you can still get in a solid two hours before the museum closes at 6 p.m.) Both are a quick walk from Westminster Bridge. As with other London attractions, the safest bet is to book tickets ahead online.

Travelers say: "I was so excited to finally get to see the [Queen’s Diamond Jubilee] Galleries, and was NOT disappointed! It’s kind of amazing to see the structural ‘insides’ of the Abbey, and the view ‘down below’ is spectacular… you also get unique views of the gargoyles on the buttresses. It was well worth the extra fiver!” —Kris M

WESTMINSTER TOURS OPTIONS

  • Don’t want to shell out extra money for a guided tour? The Westminster Abbey audio tour, included with your entrance, is well-produced and packed with info. Download the app ahead of time, and BYO headphones.
  • If navigating via Google maps exhausts you, this three-hour Westminster walking tour is basically a survey course on London attractions and includes entry into Westminster Abbey.
  • History buffs who would prefer ending their tour of Westminster with Churchill than in a church will enjoy this walking tour, which closes out with a trip to Churchill’s War Rooms.
  • The London Landmarks & Secret Gems Bike Ride + Historic Pub + Graffiti Session bike tour is fantastic and fun, taking riders all over Westminster and beyond. It also features a key pub stop in Covent Garden and some (legal) graffiti-making in a tunnel beloved by street artists.

EVENING: The show goes on

Take the 15- to 20-minute trip by tube or bus to Scarlett Green, where of course you’ve already booked a reservation for a 90-minute seating. This beloved Aussie restaurant balances a chic atmosphere with famed “bottomless” meals, including a stuff-yourself-silly dinner of either Aussie BBQ or vegan favorites, plus a cocktail and dessert.

Now, it’s show time! The West End Theater District is London’s answer to Broadway, and it delivers with plays, dance performances, opera, and hit musicals (expect new shows along with long-running classics like Lion King and Phantom of the Opera). If theater isn’t really your thing, 100 Club is an iconic basement venue where bands like the Kinks and Metallica have rocked out, plus it’s just around the corner from Scarlett Green. Make sure to book tickets in advance.

Worthy detours along the way

DAY TWO

A classic English breakfast: tea, toast, and a plate of sausage, bacon, sauteed mushroom, roast tomato, and over easy egg

MORNING: English breakfast and two million years of human history

Fill up before a day of sightseeing at Salt & Pepper, which serves up a classic English Breakfast (bacon, eggs, and, yes, baked beans). It also has a handy location just a five-minute walk from The British Museum, your first stop of the day. This museum of human history, art, and culture is arguably London’s best, which means getting there early is a good strategy for heading off the crowds. (The museum opens at 10 a.m. daily; tickets are free and can be booked ahead, though you may be asked to donate.) Even half a day here isn’t enough to see it all, so make a beeline to the Rosetta Stone, then pick and choose which exhibits to explore. If deciding which of 80,000 artifacts to look at is overwhelming, just take a tour—many are free, though booking ahead is recommended.

Travelers say: "The British Museum is an absolute treasure box! What do you want to see? Ancient maps, Egyptian mummies, sculpture from Greece, the first printed Bible, original handwritten words to Beatles song, Shakespeare, the Magna Carta? All this and MORE! There is never enough time to see it all." —@Dream6793

AFTERNOON: Light lunch and 700 years of European art

Bottomless meals and heavy English food weighing you down? Hop across the street for lunch at Bloomsbury Street Kitchen (open Wednesday through Saturday) which serves up outstanding Mediterranean and Japanese small plates.

Once you’ve refueled, pop on the Northern Line at Tottenham Court Road or take the 15-minute walk to Trafalgar Square, London’s most photographed square, thanks in part to the 145-foot-high Nelson’s Column.

Next up is The National Gallery, a free museum right on the square. It’s easy to spend two or three hours losing yourself in 2,000-plus Western European paintings from the 13th to the 20th century. Keep an eye out for Vermeer, Cezanne, van Gogh, Rembrandt, and other famous painters.

TRAFALGAR SQUARE TOUR OPTIONS

  • Trade in an afternoon at The National Gallery for an afternoon exploring London’s under-the-radar attractions in the Secret Walking Tour of Central London, which starts and ends at Trafalgar Square and covers spots like a teeny, tiny police station.
  • The Pub Tour of London’s West End: Trafalgar Square, Covent Garden and Soho is a neighborhood tour with a side of beer. The tour leads you to several historic pubs, passing major attractions along the way. We love that they cap the tours at 15 people, so you can get chummy with your drinking buddies.

EVENING: Fish, chips, and British pubs

There are plenty of dinner options near The National Gallery, but to really recover from a day of culture we recommend The Marquis, which serves up quintessential cozy pub charm and equally quintessential British dishes, like fish and chips. If it’s good enough for Charles Dickens, who was once a regular there, it’s good enough for us.

From here, amble your way around Covent Garden, a charming neighborhood that’s home to shops, street performers, pubs, and cafes. (Note that most stores in the area close at 8 p.m., so if shopping is a priority you may want to amble first, then eat.) Make your way north to Soho, the city’s nightlife neighborhood, which is home to the Red Light District and is also LGBTQ+ central. We love The French House, an authentic no-frills bar that was once a gathering point for the French Resistance during World War II.

Worthy detours along the way

DAY THREE

A view through sculpted foliage of a square pond in Kensington Gardens

MORNING: Tour some British treasures

If you picked up the tab on a few pub rounds last night, you’ll be happy to hear the Victoria and Albert Museum is 100 percent free. Even better, it doesn’t require booking ahead, so just wander over when you’re ready. (It opens at 10 a.m. if you want to avoid the crowds.) The V&A is the world’s largest museum of the decorative arts, home to prints and paintings, costumes and ceramics. Highlights include one of the world’s oldest and largest carpets and Tipu’s Tiger, an almost life-size statue of a tiger with a mechanical organ that mimics the cries of the person it’s attacking (though you may want to read up on its controversial history).

AFTERNOON: Afternoon tea and a walk in the park(s)

Take the 10-minute walk to Harrods, London’s world-famous department store, situated in one of the city’s fanciest shopping districts. Here you can cross off another square on your London Bingo card with tea time—Harrods’ version is exceptional—complete with the required tiny sandwiches and scones. If you forgot to make a reservation or can’t pull off “smart casual” on a day of sightseeing, Harrods has plenty of other bars and restaurants for a pit stop. While you’re here, you may want to check out the wonderfully bizarre Egyptian Escalator, pick up some souvenirs, or visit the toy department, where you can nab the official Harrods’ version of a Paddington Bear plushie.

After tea, it’s just a five-minute walk north to Hyde Park, once Henry VIII’s hunting reserve. With dirt paths and grassy fields, it’s the perfect place to stroll, picnic, or people-watch, especially on sunny days. You might want to pass through Speakers’ Corner, which has quite the dramatic history. This used to be an execution spot where the condemned could say their last words. Later, figures like Karl Marx, Marcus Garvey, and George Orwell demonstrated here. Now it’s a monument to free speech—especially on Sunday, when anyone can pull out their soapbox.

Stroll over to the Serpentine Bridge to cross into Kensington Gardens, a carefully landscaped park, formerly the private gardens of Kensington Palace. While here, you can stop by Albert Memorial, a show-stopping monument to Prince Albert complete with a gilded canopy. Or opt for something a little less grand and more whimsical and visit the Peter Pan Statue, a tribute to author J.M. Barrie, who lived nearby.

KENSINGTON AREA TOUR OPTIONS:

  • The Victoria & Albert Museum has loads of free tours daily. Look out for specialty tours (like one geared toward LGBTQ+ art), as well as the excellent Highlights Tour, which covers the V&A’s most popular exhibits in just 45 minutes.
  • If your feet are tired, let your quads pick up the slack with this London Royal Parks Bike Tour. It covers major London attractions along with Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens.
  • Trade out the usual tour bus for a 1960s double-decker bus with the London Vintage Bus Tour with Cream Tea at Harrods. Not only does this thorough half-day tour drive by a ton of major attractions, it includes a Thames River cruise and ends with tea and scones at Harrods.

EVENING: A meal with a side of history

Cut back across the park to Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, one of London’s Michelin-starred restaurants. Blumenthal’s big draw is a five-course set menu, which changes seasonally and highlights dishes from different eras in British history. If dining this fancy isn’t quite in the budget, scope out the la carte menu or opt for lunch instead. And if this spot is all booked up, try Marcus, another Michelin-star British restaurant, which is practically next door.

Extend the night at the Library Bar, a classy club-like cocktail bar famous for its cognacs. Bonus: It’s less than a 10-minute walk from dinner and sits right next to the Hyde Park Corner Underground station, making it convenient for end-of-night travel, especially if your hotel is on the Piccadilly Line.

Travelers say: “There are three meal 'experiences' you can select [at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal], which are essentially the following: Don't tell me anything about the food I want to be surprise;, tell me a little about what's in the dishes; or tell me everything—where the inspiration for the dish came from, where the ingredients came from, etc. We did the third because we were intrigued by the time periods that inspired the chef (recipes and meal pairings from thousands of years ago)…which made the night a magical evening.” —travelingss

Worthy detours along the way

DAY FOUR

A view of the Tower of London with its four square towers rising into a blue sky

MORNING: Ghosts from the past at the Tower of London

Word of warning: The Tower of London gets mobbed, so arrive right when it opens (9 or 10 a.m., depending on the day) to avoid the crowds, for a little while, anyway. This fascinating 11th-century fortress castle and UNESCO World Heritage Site is where, among other things, 16th-century queen Anne Boleyn was locked up and beheaded. (Supposedly, she is one of many ghosts that haunt the grounds.) While you’re here, don’t forget to check out the Crown Jewels.

TOWER OF LONDON/THAMES RIVER TOUR OPTIONS

  • Beefeaters, aka the Tower of London guards (famously pictured on bottles of Beefeater Gin), give tours that are the stuff of legend—not to mention free with entry. Tours run every half hour; no need to book ahead.
  • If you want to spend more time on water, the Thames Hop-On-Hop-Off River Cruise is an excellent option. Note that it stops at several sights already on this itinerary, so you’ll double up on some attractions.
  • No way around it: The Tower of London gets packed. If it’s your priority, consider getting a skip-the-line, early access pass to the Tower, which also includes a tour and tickets for a river cruise.
  • Lovers of true crime and the spooky stuff will enjoy this 60-75 minute Ghost Bus Tour of London. Bonus: You’ll be cruising around in a 1960s black double-decker bus as it passes by Tower of London, Fleet Street, and other iconic spots.

AFTERNOON: From a historic market to modern art

Head over to Tower Millennium Pier and take the RB1 “River Bus” to London Bridge City Pier, with the added benefit of a built-in (if brief) river cruise. From here, it’s a seven-minute walk to Borough Market, where food has been sold for over a thousand years. Today, along with fresh produce, there’s also street food in every direction. Check out the meat pies and paella, the bao buns and fish and chips, then choose whatever looks the most delicious.

Travelers say: “Borough Market is a prime destination for food lovers, and it has been in continuous operation since 1014 near London Bridge. […] From French cheeses, olives and bread to traditional English pies, Spanish paella, French confit duck, Asian curries… it perfectly reflects the melting pot identity of the city.… Don’t miss it.” —LonderGuide

Once you’ve filled up, take the five-minute walk to The Shard, which has the highest viewing deck in London. While entry is pricey and often sold out in advance, the views are epic, especially on sunny days when you can see out as many as 40 miles.

Next, take public transit or walk 15 minutes to the Tate Modern, known for its art from the early-1900s to the present. Entry to the regular gallery is free; no need to book ahead. But definitely take a sec to read up on the special exhibits. Yes, they cost extra and may require advanced booking, but their spectacular shows will earn you London bragging rights. Expect to spend at least an hour here hunting down Picassos and Dalis and discovering new artists, and add another hour if you’re touring a special exhibit.

EVENING: All’s well that ends well

Start your evening off with a dinner at Swan at the Globe, a chic modern restaurant offering seasonal British dishes and classy cocktails, just a few minutes’ walk from the Tate. An added bonus: It has a great view over the Thames and St. Paul’s Cathedral, which means you’ll cross yet another attraction off your London sightseeing safari.

Then head next door for a play at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, a full-size reproduction of the famous playwright’s original open-air theater. (When you book tickets ahead, make sure they’re for The Globe; it’s easy to accidentally book tickets to The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse instead.) Standing room tickets on the floor are super cheap and super fun—it’s like you’re watching a production back in the 1600s. But after a full day of sightseeing, we understand if you want to rest your feet and sit on a bench. (If you do, spring the extra pound for a cushion.) Even in an open-air theater, the show must go on, as they say, so if the weather looks iffy bring a raincoat (umbrellas aren’t allowed) and enjoy a truly British experience: Shakespeare in the rain.

Worthy detours along the way

Know Before You Go


London is bright and bustling June through August, with weather in the mid-70s (though heat waves are getting a bit more common). While May and September are a bit cooler, their budding flowers or falling leaves are a bonus, plus there are fewer crowds. November through February are cool, dark, and even rainier than usual, but travel and hotel rates can be at their cheapest. Dark days are a bit cheerier from mid-November through December, when the city is dotted with Christmas markets, ice skating rinks, and epic holiday lights.



As a global capital, London tends to keep open hours the whole week long. Most museums are open regular hours seven days a week, though church-related sights are often closed on Sundays. Shops tend to open a little later Sundays, around noon, and some restaurants are closed Sundays and/or Mondays.



Museums and shops in London open around 10, with museums typically closing at 5 or 6 and shops at 7 or 8. Restaurants tend to be open from noon to 9 p.m., though some close between 3 and 5 to make the transition from lunch to dinner. Despite the fact that most Londoners aim for afternoon tea in the hours of 2 to 4 p.m., high-end venues will take reservations for tea time anywhere from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. to max out reservations. Pubs tend to open around noon. And don’t expect to do a pub crawl into the late hours—they actually close “early” compared to cocktail bars, usually around 11 p.m.



Covent Garden: Smack-dab in the middle of the action and featured at the end of our Day Two itinerary, Covent Garden is one of the most central locations in London. The Claremont, Charing Cross is an elegant 1865 hotel with chandeliers, marble columns, and a chic cocktail bar, just a few minutes’ walk from tube stops and Trafalgar Square and a 15- to 20-minute walk from both The British Museum and Westminster Abbey.

Westminster: You might not realize how close you are to London hotspots when you’re lounging in St. James’ Court, A Taj Hotel’s classy courtyard with its own fountain, but it’s located right between Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey. With both the District Line and Circle Line a few minutes’ walk away at St. James Park, even the sights not right outside the front door will feel pretty close.

East End: OK, it’s not as central or scenic, but hotels in the East End are cheaper and closer to attractions like The Tower of London. Travelodge London City Hotel isn’t fancy, but it gets high ratings for covering the basics for a cheap price. Plus, it’s just a four-minute walk to the Circle Line, which means most of London is easily within reach.



Public transportation: The tube, aka London’s underground transit system, is wide-reaching, relatively simple, and always running, with 24/7 service on major lines. That said, trips can add up. A Day Travelcard includes unlimited trips on the tube, trams, and buses within most of central London, and it’s worth it for travelers making three or more trips a day. If you like to linger over your hotel buffet breakfast, an Off-Peak Travel card, which can be used after 9:30 a.m., is an even better deal. The Oyster card is also an option but requires a deposit fee so may not be worth it for shorter visits.

By bike: London is not as bike friendly as other European cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen, though there are designated bike lanes in some areas, like the three-mile cycle route running along the river from the Tower of London to Big Ben. If you’re looking to pedal your way around the city, guided bike tours are a good option, such as one that covers London’s Royal Parks or another to see major attractions with stops for art-making and beer.

By taxi: London’s iconic black cabs are super cute, but a word of warning: They tend to be pricey, with fluctuating rates that depend on traffic. And that traffic can also inch along. As of this writing, the ride-share app Uber was running in London, but Lyft was not. London taxis also have their own app: Gett.

Airport transfers: London has six international airports, including City, Luton, Stansted, Southend, and, the two largest, Heathrow and Gatwick.

From Heathrow, the Piccadilly Line on the tube runs directly to Piccadilly Circus in 50 minutes. The faster option is the Heathrow Express rail line, which runs to Paddington Station in just 20 minutes. It’s more expensive than the tube, but it still beats taking a taxi, the priciest option by far and—thanks to traffic—often the slowest. Some hotels also offer hotel bus service—the Heathrow Hotel Hoppa, for example, makes trips to 25 hotels around the city and is as cheap as public transit.

From Gatwick Airport, the 30-minute Gatwick Express is by far the fastest option, running direct to Victoria Station. The ThamesLink train costs half as much but takes twice as long, though it runs to more stations, including Blackfriars, St. Pancras International, and London Bridge. Both depart every fifteen minutes during the day. Buses are the most time-consuming choice, departing hourly and taking at least 90 minutes depending on the stop and time of day. Through easyBus, the National Express runs a bus from Gatwick to Victoria Station for as little as two pounds, but be sure to book ahead online or it could cost as much as the train.


Maria Kirsten Adelmann
Maria Kirsten Adelmann has lived in the US and Europe and once traveled around the world on a ship, visiting ports in Asia, Africa, and beyond. She has written hundreds of reviews of hotels, cruise ships, and travel products.