Visiting London for the first time is exciting, but can be overwhelming. There's so much to see and do it's hard to know where to start between the world-class museums, the famous monuments, the iconic sights and all the other things that make London one of the most popular destinations for a citytrip.
Our 3-day guide to London takes you from Buckingham Palace to the London Eye, via Tower Bridge and Camden market, with something for everyone, whatever their age. There are also tips for avoiding queues and restaurant and café suggestions for refreshments during the day
Travel to the centre of London with Eurostar and, before you know it, you can be enjoying afternoon tea or having a pint in a cosy London pub. Save money and take all the stress out of planning your city break by booking your train and hotel together.
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Start your first day in London with brunch at Dishoom, just around the corner from St Pancras station. The Bombay-stye breakfast is bursting with flavour and gives a spicy twist to traditional dishes. While you're in the area, Harry Potter fans should pop into King's Cross Station for a photo op with the luggage trolley that disappears into the wall at Platform 9 ¾. You can also pick up some souvenirs in the official shop while you're there. Queues can be long, so arm yourself with one of the books to keep yourself busy.
Cross Westminster Bridge and walk over to the Southbank Centre, picking up something delicious for lunch on your way. The street food market takes place there every Friday-Sunday and you’ll have fabulous views along the river and of the London Eye. Stroll east along the river bank towards the Tate Modern for the latest exhibition. On the other side of the river you’ll see the crazily-shaped skyscrapers of the city in the distance as a backdrop to the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral.
Once back on dry land, walk up to Covent Garden for dinner at Henrietta Bistro. Tuck in to a plate of slow roasted pork ribs with confit potatoes – you deserve it!
If you’ve got any energy left after your busy day, drop by the TKTS kiosk in Leicester Square and see if you can get discounted tickets for a West End musical or play.
For brunch with a breath-taking view, head to Duck and Waffle on the 40th floor of the Heron Tower. (If you’re going over the weekend it’s better to reserve in advance to be sure of a table).
When you’ve had your fill of waffles and tea, walk over to Leadenhall Market. A pretty Victorian covered market tucked away between the City’s skyscrapers.
Pit stop at Borough Market, one of London's oldest and best known food markets, to buy the makings of a picnic. Then it's just a 10-minute walk to the Globe theatre, built just a few hundred yards from the original Globe where the Bard himself trod the boards.
Top tip: You can watch a play at the Globe for just £5 if you're happy to stand.
The next stop on your cultural journey is the British Museum. Hop on the Northern Line tube at London Bridge station and go to Bank, then change onto the Central Line to Holborn (it should take around 26 minutes). The British Museum is well worth a visit for the massive selection of ancient treasures on display. The permanent exhibitions are free so you can wander from room to room enthralled by such wonders as the Rosetta Stone, the Elgin Marbles and even the sarcophagus of a cat.
You can't visit London without spending at least half a day exploring the shops, so what better way to spend the morning of your last day? London offers a great choice of shops for every budget and style, from vintage markets to designer shops and everything in between.
For some serious carbs to set yourself up for a hard day of shopping, head to Bread Ahead, a café and bakery in Soho. The salted caramel and honey doughnuts are to die for.
Once you've had your caffeine fix, take a walk down Carnaby Street stopping off at historic Liberty London, to pick up some gifts in its iconic floral fabrics.
For a gluten-free lunch-time feast head to Camden Lock Market, and try some Colombian street-food at Maize Blaze. on the menu, cheese pandebonos stuffed with chorizo, spicy plantain salad with garlic rice and balsamic cabbage.
Walk off your lunch wandering around the market, with a stop at St Cyr Vintage for fashions going back as far as the 40s. If you're lucky you can find statement pieces for your wardrobe by Mary Quant and Biba.
If designer clothes and high-end brands are more your thing, pay a visit to the famous Harrods department store. You can buy almost everything in the 330 departments of this Knightsbridge-based temple of consumerism and extravagance, including gold bullion.
Then, find yourself a table at Bluebird Chelsea for a light lunch. The brightly-coloured interiors and sheltered terrace make it a good address, whatever the weather. Speaking of weather, if the sun is shining don't miss a turn around the lake on the pedalos in Hyde Park. Bring a picnic and join the locals soaking up the rays on the grass.
London has a pretty comprehensive transport system so getting around is easy, though quite pricey. One of the most economic options, if you are planning on travelling around a lot, is a Day Travelcard. This lets you take the tube, bus, overground and DLR as much as you want for the entire day. It's available for different zones, depending on where you want to travel, but zones 1-2 should be enough to cover you for all the sights in Central London.
On the London Underground tube doors open automatically however, on Overground and DLR trains you need to press the button when it lights up to open the doors, which regularly catches visitors out.
After a few days in London you'll probably start to tune out the loud 'Mind the gap' announcements in all the stations, but do be careful as the gap between the train and the platform can vary a lot at certain stops, so watch your step.
Tube etiquette in London is quite strict. On the escalators you should always stand on the right and walk on the left. If you have bags with you, make sure that they are also on the right and not blocking people walking down.
You can use Day Travelcards, Oyster cards or contactless bank cards on London's iconic red buses, but you cannot buy your ticket on board so make sure you have one of the aforementioned before getting on the bus.
For your first trip on a London bus, why not hop on line15, for a scenic trip from the Tower of London to Trafalgar Square via St Paul's Cathedral? Get a seat upstairs at the front for the best view, but be warned, it can be a bit hair-raising going around corners which can feel a bit like sitting at the front of a rollercoaster.
What better way to see the sights of London than from the river? Either hop on a river bus for a budget trip along the river (you can use your Oyster card or contactless bank card to pay), or take one of the many organised cruises with a guide pointing out the sights and giving you the history of the city as you cruise along the Thames.
The London Pass gives you access to more than 80 attractions across the capital. It'll save you both time and money with free or discounted entry to many attractions and fast-track entry to some of London's busiest sights. There's also a handy app for instant mobile tickets.
Tipping isn't mandatory in the UK, however it is general practice to leave 10-15% of the overall bill for service. In some restaurants this is may be included at the end of the bill but, unless clearly stated otherwise, this is optional.
London is a top destination for serious shoppers with most stores open, uninterrupted, from 10am-7pm. If you are heading to busy shopping streets like Oxford street and Carnaby street on weekends, go early when they first open or in the evening to avoid the worst of the crowds.
Greater London is enormous, stretching over 600 square miles, so the Tube is the obvious choice for getting around. However, most of the main sights are in the centre, and quite often within walking distance of each other if you want to get a bit of exercise and see more of the city.
The iconic London Tube map may be a design classic, but it's actually very misleading in terms of showing where stations are in relation to each other. On the Tube map, Leicester Square and Covent Garden stations look quite far from each other, but in reality it's just a 2-minute-walk between them. So, if you want to limit the amount of time you spend underground, check distances between sights on a map and give walking a go.
Image credits: © Alamy; © Alamy; © Alamy; © Queen Elizabeth Hall Roof Garden; © Getty; © Image Source; © Getty; © Trustees of the British Museum; © Steven Joyce; © St Cyr Vintage; © Getty