3 days in London
What to do in London in 3 days
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 from Brussels Midi/Zuid station with Eurostar and, in just 2 hours, 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 citytrip by booking your train and hotel together.
Day – 1 : Westminster, South Bank and Covent Garden
Good morning, London!
Start your first day with brunch at Dishoom, just around the corner from St Pancras station for a Bombay-stye breakfast giving 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. Queues can be long, so arm yourself with one of the books to keep yourself busy.
Next, hop on either the Victoria or the Piccadilly tube line from King's Cross to Green Park to Buckingham Palace to see how the other half live. The Palace is a short walk away and is open to the public for 10 weeks during the summer months. The rest of the year you can watch the Changing of the Guard outside, but you can't go in. Check days and times online so you're not disappointed.
From the Palace, follow Birdcage Walk along the side of St James Park as far as Westminster Abbey, site of the coronations of all the Kings and Queens of England since 1066. Big Ben is just a few minutes walk away, on the banks of the Thames.
Along the Thames
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.
As your first day draws to an end, take a jaunt back along the river on one of the Thames Clipper river boats (you can use your Oyster card) and give your feet a bit of a rest. You can go from Bankside Pier to Embankment Pier in about 20 minutes and see London from a different angle.
Covent Garden and the West End
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.
Day - 2 : The City, Tower Bridge and Soho
Morning in the City
For brunch with a breath-taking view, head to Duck and Waffle on the 40th floor of the Heron Tower. (If you’re going at the weekend, 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 market hidden between the City’s skyscrapers.
Next, walk towards the Tower of London, where some of the most famous names in English history were imprisoned (Anne Boleyn, Sir Walter Raleigh, Guy Fawkes...). Today it’s home to the Crown Jewels, a museum and lots of interactive activities, but try get there at 9am when it opens to avoid queuing.
Your next stop is the famous Tower Bridge. Pop into the museum to explore the Victorian engine rooms, then walk across the bridge and admire the view of the Shard, the highest building in London at 95 floors. You’ll also see HMS Belfast, the last remaining World War II battleship left in the Royal Navy.
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.
British Museum and afternoon tea
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. 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 explore the rooms, enthralled by such wonders as the Rosetta Stone, the Elgin Marbles and even the sarcophagus of a cat.
If all that culture has left you feeling a bit peckish, you may want to drop into the nearby Bloomsbury Hotel for a traditional British afternoon tea in a stunning setting - but book in advance on their website to guarantee a table.
End your day by wandering into Soho for a celebratory cocktail or two at Upstairs at Swift. Cool down with a fruity Scarlet Mimosa or, if it's a bit chilly outside, a Bourbon-based Winter Bishopis a good choice.
Day – 3 : Carnaby Street, Marylebone, Camden and Kensington
A morning of shopping
You can't visit London without spending at least half a day shopping, 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.
Next, either walk or hop on the 139 or the 453 bus from Regent's Street towards Marylebone and explore the boutiques along the High Street.
If you need a break from shopping, stroll over to Baker Street to visit the Sherlock Holmes museum or, if you don't mind queuing, take some selfies in Madame Tussauds. Then, walk north through Regent’s Park (stopping at London Zoo if you have the time) towards Camden Town, famous for its sprawling market full of vintage shops and live music venues.
Camden's vintage treasure trove
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.
Luxury and culture in Kensington
If high-end brands are your thing, pay a visit to the famous Harrods department store. You can buy almost everything in the 330 departments of this 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 soak up the rays on the grass.
Next, it's time for a bit of history at the Natural History Museum, ever-popular with kids for the dinosaur bones and life-sized model of a whale. Older kids and adults may prefer the V&A Museum, just next door, home to fabulous art and fashion exhibitions ranging from Qing dynasty teapots to Alexander McQueen dresses.
Still in the area for dinner? Try Harry’s Dolce Vita just down the street from Harrods. It's traditional Italian fare in a glamourous 1950's-style setting with Murano glass, brass fittings and period photos.
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.
Tips for your London city break
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 (1,572 square kilometres), 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.