London is by far my favorite big city. Full of history, tradition, unique style, great restaurants, and wonderful shopping—there truly is something for everyone to enjoy. Whether you have a long weekend or an entire week, I’ve got the perfect 4 days planned for your first visit to London.
Like I always say, use this itinerary as a starting point to planning your time in London, but make it your own. If you don’t like shopping, take it off the list and add in a museum. If you don’t like museums, no big deal, take it off the list and head to the park for an hour! You get the point!
Hiring a taxi directly at Heathrow can be very expensive, but thankfully there are great public transportation options too. If you want to get there as quick as possible take the Heathrow express to Paddington station and then buy an underground ticket (aka the tube) to the nearest station by your hotel or hop into a cab to take you there. The cheapest, but slowest option, is to do the underground zone 1-3 all the way into London.
Traveling Chic Tip – The Heathrow express ticket is cheaper if you buy it online ahead of time.
**A black cab from Heathrow is very expensive, but be sure to take a spin in one at some point during your trip to London. The drivers are so sweet and knowledgeable about the city, it’s sort of like having your grandpa drive you around town!
If you get in at night, depending on where you are staying, you may consider strolling along the river by Big Ben, the House of Parliament, and the London eye to see the city lit up at night.
If you arrive in the morning I highly recommend checking into your hotel room, taking a quick shower (grabbing an hour nap if you really need it), and heading out for the day. Try to stay up as late as you can, as this will help you get on London time much quicker!
Where to Stay:
London has no shortage of charming hotels, but they also come at a high price. When searching for a hotel, pick a few neighborhoods you’d be interested to stay in and then start your search from there. Here’s a good overview of London neighborhoods. Below I’ve listed a few hotel ideas, but I usually end up staying with friends when I visit so I’m not an expert on booking accommodations around the city.
Traveling Chic Tip: When booking make sure the room is “en-suite”, which means it has a connected bathroom, so you don’t end up sharing one down the hall with others.
Astor Hyde Park Hostel (South Kensington) $
airbnb (Trafalgar Square) $$
Hotel Ibis (Near Borough Market) $
Garden Court Hotel (West End) $
Safestay (Kensington Holland Park) $
Number 16 (Kensington) $$
Mad Hatter Hotel $$ (Southwark)
The Hoxton, Holborn $$ (South Kensington)
The Belgrave Hotel $$$ (Pimlico)
The Bailey’s Hotel London (South Kensington) $$$$
The Goring Hotel (Victoria) $$$$$
Dorchester (Overlooks Hyde Park) $$$$$
8am – You may be feeling a little jet lagged, so grab some
coffee tea (you are in London, after all!) and get ready to explore!
Hop on a bright red double decker bus and get ready to channel your inner tourist. If you’ve never visited London before then the hop on hop off bus is not only a quintessential experience, but a great way to get oriented with the city. It stops at many of the major sights making it easy to cross them off your list.
10:30 am – If you’re visiting between the months of July – October tickets to tour Buckingham Palace should be available. If not, it’s still worth walking by to scope out the place. You’ll know the Queen is in residence if the Royal Standard flag is flown above the palace instead of the Union Jack flag. Stick around for the Changing of the Guard. It’s probably a little overrated, but still fun to see the pomp and circumstance of it all. Interesting fact – it used to take an entire black bear skin to make those crazy bearskin hats the guards wear, needless to say more humane alternatives have replaced this tradition.
If a selfie at the Prime Minister’s residence interests you, stroll past 10 Downing Street for a photo op. Then it’s time to rest your feet for awhile.
For lunch we’re headed to Red Lion for a pint and a traditional pub lunch. This Victorian era pub was visited by notable names like Charles Dickens and Winston Churchill and seems an appropriate place to dine before visiting the Churchill War Rooms.
This is a museum held underground in a WWII bunker that Winston Churchill occupied, you’ll learn about his legacy and a bit about WWII. Even if you’re not too into museums, this is an experience that I think non-museum lovers will enjoy too.
Tired of being below ground, let’s get back out on the streets for some fresh air. The next direction we’ll be walking is toward Big Ben and Parliament. If you’re interested in a tour or listening to a debate in the House of Lords Chamber you can find information here.
From there we’ll walk over to Westminster abbey. Royal Wedding, anyone? One of the most beautiful cathedral’s in England, the location where Kings and Queens are coronated, and definitely worth a visit.
Cross the Westminster bridge and get a view of London on the London Eye. If you’re on a budget this is definitely something you can miss, but the views from the top are fantastic and if you plan it right you could enjoy sunset.
You’re probably exhausted from Jet Lag, but here are a few options for dinner.
- Chiltern Firehouse or Kitty Fishers – Fancy and spendy. Call for reservations far in advance.
- Bentley’s Oyster Bar and Grill – Seafood and nice ambiance.
- Le Relais de Venise – Originally from Paris. Steak Frites is the only thing on the menu, but they do it well!
- Dishoom – Popular and trendy Indian cuisine (in the spirit of Irani cafes from Bombay) – doesn’t take reservations, so expect a wait.
- Ping Pong – This is somewhat of a chain, but the dim sum is a fun experience.
- Barrafina – Spanish tapas
- Sticks and Sushi – Excellent sushi chain!
- Franco Manca – Inexpensive Pizza
- Duck and Waffle – Open 24/7 and views of the city
*Keep these restaurant ideas in mind for other nights too!
Not tired yet? Head over to Mr. Fogg’s for great cocktails in a quirky atmosphere and then off to bed!
This morning we’ll be exploring the colorful streets of Notting Hill and Paddington. But first things first, when in Notting Hill you must brunch! Some good options include Granger & Co, Goode & Wright, and Egg Break
Give yourself an hour to aimlessly walk around the neighborhoods and take pictures of the pastel buildings.
If you make it to Notting Hill on a Saturday then you’ll see the Portobello Road Market in full swing. Get there early if you want to avoid the crowds.
Unfortunately, I think the beloved travel book shop from the movie Notting Hill has closed, but you can visit William Thacker’s flat (played by Hugh Grant) and get a picture by the blue door here: 280 Westbourne Park Road, Notting Hill, London W11.
Another movie location is Rosmead Gardens on Rosmead Road, London W11. This park, you may recall, is where Hugh Grant tried to climb over the fence and yelps “Whoops a daisy.” ha
Once you’ve had your fill exploring the Notting Hill/Paddington area you can make your way over to Kensington Gardens.
For Lunch you may want to stop at the Orangery for high tea. This venue overlooks Kensington Gardens and serves a signature orange tea in darling blue china. Instead, if you’re in the mood for Thai food check out the Churchill Arms pub, which is also a cool spot for a photo op. Even if you don’t stop for lunch, you may want to swing by for a pint and to see the Churchill memorabilia.
Next we’ll walk over to Kensington Palace, the current home of Princess Kate and Prince William and former residence of Princess Diana. You can tour part of the building or just take a peak as you walk by.
Head back to your hotel to relax for a bit and once you’re ready head out to do a some shopping in the Knightsbridge area. Here you’ll find Harrods, the world-famous department store. This is a great place for souvenirs and fun to browse through the food market and the children’s section if it’s your first visit. Pop into Harvey Nichols as well if you have a deep wallet or want to see where the rich and famous shop! If you want to see the big name designers head over to Sloane Square nearby.
If you’re not into shopping and happen to love Harry Potter take the underground to King’s Cross Station and head to Platform 9 3/4. There is a luggage cart there where you can take your picture and there is even a Harry Potter store in the station.
Tonight it’s dinner and a show!
Going to a show in London is much like attending a Broadway show in New York. The new Harry Potter play would be fun to see, but they usually have popular shows that that you’ll find on Broadway as well as old favorites like Les Miserables.
Traveling Chic Tip: When you arrive you can go to the bar and pre-order champagne or a cocktail so that you’ll have it waiting for you during intermission.
Don’t forget to swing through (or purposefully avoid) Piccadilly circus. It’s definitely a circus and similar in many ways to Times Square. It’s in full effect at night, so you may want to check out the scene.
Today is a great day to check out the Tower of London! If you are interested in learning a few things, you may want to do the Beefeater’s Tour of the tower. The Beefeater’s are in charge of protecting the crown jewels and used to guard the prisoners being held there. Historically they were allowed to eat as much beef from the King’s table as they desired, so that is where their name came from.
After you’ve had your fill of the tower, head over to The Ship on Hart Street for a pub lunch.
Now it’s time to walk over the Tower Bridge (commonly mistaken for the London Bridge), one of London’s most famous bridges and take a few pictures. Continue walking and there are several sights you can check out if they interest you. You could check out the Tate Modern (free and fun collection of modern art), the Globe Theater (catch a Shakespeare show or take a tour), or if you need a snack, walk through Borough Market and get yourself a treat from one of the many stalls. I wouldn’t recommend trying to do this all on your first trip, so just pick what interests you most and do that.
This afternoon is all about shopping! From Oxford street, Bond Street, Regent Street, and Carnaby, there is some incredible shopping areas in London! While it is a lot of ground to cover, they are close enough to hit up in one day if you want. That said, I would probably limit yourself to one or two areas so you don’t tire yourself out too much!
Oxford Street has a lot of chains like Topshop, Zara, Primark, Gap, H&M, and French Connection. It’s usually pretty crowded, so if this isn’t your thing you may want to avoid.
Bond and Regent Street has some higher end/designer shops like Burberry, Barbour, and Reiss as well as some American stores like Anthropologie, J Crew, and Banana Republic.
One place you can’t miss is Liberty London a Tudor-style building housing unique and stylish treasures inside its one-of-a-kind department store. Another fun stop is Hamley’s Toy Shop. It may just be the finest and busiest children’s toy shop in the world.
This is a great opportunity to have an afternoon tea break–especially because you’ll be having a late dinner tonight.
Just behind Regent Street is Carnaby street. A colorful shopping area with more independent stores and less chains.
For those not interested in clothing shopping a visit to Covent garden and Neal’s Yard, a cute alley nearby, is a good alternative to Oxford Circus and Bond Street.
Tonight things are going to get a little creepy! We’re off to East London to join one of the many Jack the Ripper tours, which will walk you through the famous crime scenes and finish at the Ten Bells pub where two victims had their last drink before their demise. No worries if this is not your thing, skip it and go straight to Brick Lane for dinner.
If you like Indian food then you really must have an Indian dinner in London–they know what they are doing in this city! If you loathe Indian food, check out some of my dinner suggestions from day one. Brick lane is famous for its delicious curries and colorful shops. Aladin is a good option, but there are tons to choose from.
Today there are a few options, so if you have an entire week you can use these ideas to fill-in the rest of your itinerary.
- Visit North London – Camden Lock Market (a hipster’s paradise and great street food), get lost in Hampstead Heath (the largest park in London), Primrose Hill and Regent park have nice views of London and you may spot someone famous as a lot of celebrities live in this area. From Regent park head over to Abbey Road if you’re looking to pay homage to the Beatles (you could also fit this in after Notting Hill as well)
- Stop in Fortnum and Mason, a quintessential British Department store, and pick up a food hamper (quite pricey) so you may want to pick up picnic supplies elsewhere and spend some time in Hyde park (go boating on the serpentine) Green park, or St. James’ park.
- Stroll through Connaught Village exploring it’s lovely shops and cafes.
- Visit the Harry Potter Studios or Highclere Castle (aka Downton Abbey)
- Take a day trip to Windsor Castle – The last time I visited I saw a glimpse of the Queen walking her dogs!
- Take a day trip down to Brighton for some fresh English Seaside air (see post here)
- Visit the Cotswolds to experience the English countryside or take a train up to the lovely university towns of Cambridge or Oxford.
Whew! That should cover your first visit to London! What else would you add to the list? I’d love to know!
For more tips on London, check out my post on the Royal’s version of London!