Things To See And Do In London – 5 day Itinerary for first timers

by | Dec 16, 2019 | Itineraries, Live Work Play Travel, London and UK Live Work and Play | 58 comments

I had dreamt about seeing some of London’s tourist spots. Buckingham Palace was top of the list along with Big Ben, Tower Bridge, Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London. And I wasn’t disappointed either when I finally got to see them. A good thing about many of the tourist sights in London is they are clumped together. This means the things to see and do in London are easy to get to and you can spend a whole day exploring the one area. Without further ado, here is my suggested 5 day itinerary for first timers to London. 

 

Accommodation in London – Where to stay

 

London has loads of accommodation on offer. Ranging from hostels to B&Bs to 5-star hotels found on the Monopoly Board. If this is your first time in London I recommend you stay in the centre of London. This way you are close to the tourist attractions and can easily get around on the local public transport.

If hostels are your choice then you are in luck because London has around 150 of them. I recommend checking out HostelWorld to help you make your choice cause hostels range in comforts. They have varying number of beds in rooms ranging from single rooms, double and/or twin rooms to a bed in a dorm of 21 people, so have it in your mind what you would prefer. Here are some I have stayed in.

YHA Central London
Astor Hyde Park
Generator London
The Walrus Bar and Hostel

If you are wanting a budget hotel then consider:

Earls Court Garden Hotel which is in Earls Court and is easy to reach from the airport and has lots of transport into central London.
Oxford Hotel
Lord Jim
Mayflower Hotel and Apartments
Or check out the accommodation booking websites such as Booking.com.  

 

Getting around London

 

London is serviced by London Underground (The Tube), London Red Buses and taxis. To use the The Tube and the buses get yourself an Opal Card and get going. If you are limited for time or want to see London’s sights quickly then consider going on the hop-on hop-off tourist buses. They will take you to all the major attractions. There is London’s Big Bus or the Hop-on Hop-Off Bus. Click on the link following to book your ticket. 

TIP: I suggest you have a broken in pair of good walking shoes to wear as you will be on your feet a lot.

 

Day 1

 

Your London adventures start today when you alight at Hyde Park Corner Tube Station. Hyde Park Corner is one of the busiest corners in London. Walk by Wellington Arch which was built as an original entrance to Buckingham Palace. It later became a victory arch after Wellington defeated Napoleon. You can climb to its balconies for views over London. Then proceed down Constitution Hill which is a very pleasant walk with Green Park on your left and high Buckingham Palace walls with their spikes and barbed wire on the right. At the end of Constitution Hill you will come to the Queen Victoria Memorial in front of Buckingham Palace. If the flag is flying, the Queen’s home!

During summer you may tour some of the Buckingham Palace State Rooms. You could also see the changing of the guard which occurs at 11.00am but check the times if you really want to see it. If you continue walking around the palace you will come to the Queen’s Gallery which is an art gallery and the Royal Mews, which is where the carriages and horses are. 

If you back-track (or ‘turn back on yourself’ as they say in the UK) from Buckingham Palace and walk up The Mall, you will see St James’s Palace. On your right and in the distance, there is Westminster Abbey and the Horse Guards (which is on tomorrow’s suggested day). To your left you will pass Clarence House, once the residence of the Queen Mother and now the London home of Prince Charles. Almost at the end of The Mall you will encounter the Duke of York statue at the top of some stairs. If you climb the stairs and continue walking up the street you will reach Piccadilly Circus, home of the Eros Statue and perpetually buzzing with activity. 

You may wish to end Day 1 in a nice restaurant or eatery in this exciting area. If your feet are tired you may want to head back to your accommodation. Or spend the evening in a bar in the area.

 

Day 2

 

Today on your what things to see and do in London you could take the Tube or bus to Westminster. Here you will find Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.

From here you could walk across the Westminster Bridge to Southbank where you will find the London Eye or Millenium Wheel. This wheel is the largest observation wheel in the world standing some 135 metres high. You could take a ride on The Eye which offers stunning views over London. 

Leaving the wheel you could return over the Westminster Bridge to Westminster Abbey which is across the road from Big Ben. Westminster Abbey is where many a royal wedding and coronation has taken place. The most recent being that of Prince William to Kate. Since the 11th century this abbey has been steeped in history and you may find yourself spending hours walking around inside. I know I did. If you do go inside you will see the burial site and Coronation Chair of Edward the Confessor, founder of the abbey. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is there, along with the graves of poets, playwrights, and many kings and queens.

After leaving the abbey, walk around Parliament Square and see the statues. If you’re hungry, head along Victoria Street where there are many eateries. You could also visit Westminster Cathedral. Alternatively, after viewing Parliament Square turn up Parliament Street and follow the signs to the Cabinet War Rooms. At the underground wartime headquarters visit the rooms used by Winston Churchill during WWII. The War Rooms are very interesting and have been recreated to look how they looked during the war. 

Returning to Parliament Street, turn left and continue to 10 Downing Street, which is unfortunately cordoned off from the public by a large wrought-iron fence. You will have to crane your neck to see anything worthwhile. This is the London residence of the Prime Minister. Continuing along the street The Cenotaph is located in the middle of the street where you could pay your respects to the fallen. You could then visit the Horse Guards. Watch for the changing of the guard and take a photo of those who protect the Queen.

Parliament Street becomes Whitehall and along here you will find Trafalgar Square with Nelson’s Column taking pride of place. You might want to feed the pigeons. Perhaps visit the St Martin-in-the-Fields Church or the National Gallery (which some say takes a day or more to explore). You could also walk through the magnificent Admiralty Arch and glimpse Buckingham Palace in the distance.

 

Day 3

 

So after 2 days of sightseeing you will have discovered there is plenty to see and do in London. And there is still plenty more. Today take the Tube to Tower Hill Tube Station, situated on the Circle and District Tube lines. By following the signs you will find yourself stepping back in time to macabre English history. You will discover areas of London Wall dating back to Roman times. Across the road from Tower Hill is the Tower of London where you’ll see Traitor’s Gate. You’ll also be able to visit the Bloody Tower where two princes, Edward V and his brother, were murdered. it’s also the place where King Henry VIII had a couple of his wives beheaded. If you love history, you could spend many hours in this place. These days you will find friendly Beefeaters conducting tours and you will be able to view the Queen’s priceless Crown Jewels. 

Leaving the Tower of London, you could cross the Thames via Tower Bridge. There are plenty of photo opportunities as you walk across this famous landmark often seen on the tourist brochures. You can walk this Gothic structure, which gives great views of London. Or you can climb parts of it for fabulous views. 

Once across the bridge, turn right into Tooley Street. If you are interested in battleships, board the HMS Belfast or continue up this street to the London Dungeon. Here your senses will work overtime as you see, hear and smell the gruesome tortures that were practised throughout England’s long history.

If you have had enough touring after London Dungeon, London Bridge Station is there to take you home. If you haven’t had enough, visit Southwark Cathedral or cross over the Thames via London Bridge, (which is near the site of the original medieval bridge). Once across, you will arrive at a really tall, 202Ft to be exact, column structure known as The Monument. This structure was built as a reminder of the Great Fire of London of 1666, which apparently started in a bakery not far away in Pudding Lane. The fire burnt a great deal of London and is a significant event in London’s history as London had to be rebuilt. The Monument was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and Dr Robert Hooke. You can climb to the top via the spiral staircase inside. Be warned, the spiral staircase consists of 311 stone steps, which I found a little scary at times, but the view is worth it.

From The Monument either head up King William Street to the Bank of England and the Royal Exchange or head along Cannon Street to Ludgate Hill. Here you will find St Pauls Cathedral, which was made famous by Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer’s wedding in 1981. I worked in the area for a while and would often sit on the steps of the cathedral to have my lunch.

 

Day 4

 

Today is day 4 on our what things to see and do in London. I suggest you head to Knightsbridge for some shopping at Harrods. You might spend the morning here or possibly longer depending on how long you like to shop. Then catch a bus up Kensington High Street or walk through Hyde Park and in to Kensington Gardens. Whilst strolling through the parks see the squirrels. Visit the Princess Diana Memorial and then take a tour of Kensington Palace where you can see the State Apartments.

Kensington also has a lot of shops to visit. If you don’t feel like shopping, head along Cromwell Road to visit the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Natural History and Science Museum. Both are worth a visit. To see everything may take a few hours or even a full day.

 

Day 5

 

I haven’t given an itinerary for today of things to see and do in London. Use it as a day to go back to the places you want to see again or other things to see. Here are some other possibilities.

Alighting from the Tube or bus at Baker Street Station, you could visit Madame Tussauds wax museum. See many famous people immortalised in wax including the Royal Family. Also in this area discover the haunts of Sherlock Holmes, or take a pleasant walk through Regents Park to London Zoo

Harry Potter fans may wish to visit Kings Cross Station and go to Platform 9 and 3/4. Or take a day tour to Warner Brothers Studios to see many of sets used for the movies. 

 

You will see and do many things in London on my 5-day itinerary for first timers to London. I hope I haven’t worn you out! I do hope you enjoy London. It is a fabulous city to live, work and play in.

 

Thanks for sharing!

Useful Travel Resources for Your Next Adventure!

 

Accommodation: Where Will You Sleep Tonight? If you want a bed in a hostel dorm find a great deal with HostelWorld. I mostly stay in hotels now, Booking.com is my favourite site for booking hotels from budget to ‘I feel like splurging’. For something completely different I house and pet sitting through Trusted Housesitters – this has saved me thousands on accommodation, no joke!

Flights: I always head to Skyscanner first to find a cheap and flexible flight.

Car Rental: When I need to rent a car I turn to RentalCars.

Train Travel: I love riding the train rails and get the best value from Eurail and Interrail Passes. And Japan has a great one too – JapanRail Pass.

Bus Travel: Check out Busbud for bus tickets.

Pre-organised Tours: I’ve been on a few in my time with Contiki being my first and favourite. if you are 18-35 years of age you should check them out.

Jump-the-queue entrance tickets: I don’t enjoy standing in long queues which is why I book my entrance tickets and day trips in advance. My favourite website to book them in advance is GetYourGuide.

Travel Insurance. There are a number of reasons why travel insurance is important and I never travel without having bought a policy as you never know when something might happen. World Nomads is great for general travel insurance while SafetyWing is great digital nomads and long-term travellers.

Need something else? Check out my Resources page.

 

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Hi. Sharyn here, the face behind Live Work Play Travel. I’ve been travelling all my life thanks to my dad who worked for an airline. My aim with this blog is to help you work abroad or work online and travel the world.   Read more.

 

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58 Comments

  1. Jessica Redler

    Great post! Such a clear and detailed itinerary – thank you!

    Reply
  2. Katie

    A great post! We are from London and still love visiting the big sites of the city. As mad as it gets, I do love shopping in Oxford street and visiting Harrods; especially at Christmas time! I would definitely recommend scouting at the Harry Potter locations and visiting the Warner Bros Studio Tour if you are a fan!

    Reply
  3. Shelley

    London can be an intimidating city, especially for a first timer! Your blog breaks everything down so well… I think a first time visitor could actually use your blog instead of even using a tour company

    Reply
  4. Meghan

    This is great! I’ve only spent a day in London on a layover but would love to go back.

    Reply
  5. Andrea

    I still have yet to visit London! Thank you for the tips!

    Reply
    • Sharyn McCullum

      You are welcome. I am sure you will enjoy it when you finally visit.

      Reply
  6. Monique

    My mom has been to London several times and has now convinced me to go! Thank you for this extensive itinerary! I can’t wait to travel again and London is definitely high on my list!

    Reply
  7. Helena

    This really covers all the main sights and attractions so well! I’ve lived just outside of London for the previous two years and still haven’t done a lot of these things! This is a great itinerary, really helpful

    Reply
    • Sharyn McCullum

      Thanks Helena. I’ve tried to include as much as possible for visitors.

      Reply
  8. Nicky

    This is an awesome London itinerary! It definitely picks up all the best sights in the city – a visitor couldn’t go wrong with this! Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • Sharyn McCullum

      Thanks for your positive feedback. I’ve tried to include as much as possible to ensure visitors can make the most of their time in London.

      Reply
  9. Sam

    London has been on my bucket list for some time now! This guide is super helpful and I am deff saving it for when I can travel again!

    Reply
    • Sharyn McCullum

      So pleased to hear that. London is one of my favourite cities in the world and everyone should visit – well that’s my humble opinion and I’m sticking to it.

      Reply
  10. Alanna Koritzke

    I’d love to visit London again! I went when I was 13 years old and obviously, a lot has changed. The Warner Bros studio tour looks incredible and I’d love to redo the Tower of London.

    Reply
    • Sharyn McCullum

      I’m sure you will get back to London one day and visit all the things you missed and re-visit those you saw last time.

      Reply
  11. Joanna

    Having been to London a number of times, this article pretty well covers it all.

    Reply
  12. Helena

    This is such a great first Timer’s London guide, it really covers all the great spots in the city!

    Reply
  13. kelly

    I love the Harry Potter Studio Tour and stopping by Harrods. Also can’t beat all the big name sights on this itinerary. Great post!

    Reply
    • Sharyn McCullum

      It’s hard not to want to see all the big name sights when you are a first timer to London.

      Reply
  14. Lina

    I wish I had this guide when I went to London for the first time! It really covers all the most important things in the city 🙂

    Reply
    • Sharyn McCullum

      Once you discover the most important things to see in the city then you can broaden your horizons and discover so much more.

      Reply
  15. sam

    Great guide to london and helpful tips for first timers! It’s great that London’s such a walkable city!

    Reply
    • Sharyn McCullum

      Agree. London is a walkable city and walking is the best way to get to know London I think.

      Reply
  16. Earth To Katriona

    I wish I had this awesome guide when I visited London! Will def refer back to this when I make it to London again one day 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  17. Cosette

    Love London, which I could be there again. Great itinerary.

    Reply
    • Sharyn McCullum

      I love London too and am looking forward to getting back there soon.

      Reply
  18. Katie Diederichs

    It’s funny because big cities aren’t typically my favorite parts of travel, but I really loved London and keep itching to go back because there is just so much to do! Both times I’ve visited, I have stayed with friends who live there so we mostly did “local” things. So now I have to go back to do the more touristy experiences haha! Thanks for the ideas!

    Reply
  19. roshni

    so interesting! what is an opal card?

    Reply
    • Sharyn McCullum

      Opal card is a travel card to get you around London.

      Reply
  20. Holly

    great tips for ticking off the big ticket spots!

    Reply
    • Sharyn McCullum

      First timers should visit the big ticket spots and tick them off their list. Then they can explore and discover so much more.

      Reply
  21. cass

    Such a good post with lots of great ideas of what to do in London! I would only add the beautiful Greenwich which is my favourite of London!

    Reply
    • Sharyn McCullum

      Glad you think so. These are the main things to do – there are so many more.

      Reply
  22. Charlotte

    What a great itinerary! I’m not a big city person at all but for some reason I love London. One of my favorite things to do is as you mention, going for a stroll through Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. Can’t wait to go back to London, hopefully soon 🙂

    Reply
    • Sharyn McCullum

      I’m looking forward to getting back to London myself.

      Reply
  23. Linnea

    Great post! I loved the HP Studio’s Tour and I would recommend that to anyone!

    Reply
  24. Ophelie

    Thanks for all the tips and the 5 day itinerary reco! I have been to London many times but there are still some places from your itinerary that I have to see!

    Reply
  25. Krista

    I’ve been to London a few times but I think I missed a number of points of interest in your itinerary. Looks like I’ll have to go back!

    Reply
  26. Emma

    Such a great guide to some of the best things to do in one of my favorite cities. The museums here are amazing. And free! Can’t beat that

    Reply
  27. Elena Pappalardo

    Glad I came across this post, as it was very helpful for first-timers like me. I will definitely keep your guide handy for when I finally make it to beautiful London!

    Reply
  28. Jennifer Nilsson

    So much to see and do! I’ve been to London many times, but haven’t seen half the things on your list. I’m not worn out..just impressed! Thank you.

    Reply
    • Sharyn McCullum

      That’s always the way sometimes – you live close but don’t always visit. Maybe you can ‘be worn out’ next trip.

      Reply
  29. Elizabeth Hilton

    This is a great guide. When I was in London, I only had two nights so I did the hop on hop off bus. I stayed in the West End. I definitely want to go back and spend more time. This guide will come in handy.

    Reply
    • Sharyn McCullum

      I love doing hop on hop off buses – I always get loads out of them, particularly when I don’t have many days to explore.

      Reply
  30. Bea

    So many great tips! I really need to make an effort to visit London since it is so close (2 hours on the train!).

    Reply
    • Sharyn McCullum

      Sometimes we need to make the effort to visit a capital city near us. I live 45 minutes outside of Melbourne and don’t get into the city enough!

      Reply
  31. Ashlee Fechino

    Thanks for the great guide to London! We can’t wait to visit again and check out some of the things we missed here!

    Reply
    • Sharyn McCullum

      I love London too. Can’t wait to get back myself and do my 5 day itinerary. They may be things to add to it.

      Reply
  32. Denise

    Great Itinerary for visiting London! I hope to be there in the next year!

    Reply
  33. Sue

    I love London & am incredibly lucky to live only a 20 minute train journey away. This is a great itinerary to get the best from this amazing city in 5 days.

    Reply
  34. ANUKRATI DOSI

    I just thought of visiting London in March 2022, and I come across this post. What a great coincidence.

    Reply
  35. Shannon

    Nice itinerary! Hopefully my postponed UK trip from 2020 will happen this year!

    Reply
  36. Valentina

    I live in London and I must say that I really like your itinerary. Well done!

    Reply
    • Sharyn McCullum

      I lived in London for 4 years and have been back a number of times. I love exploring the city every time I visit and often follow my own itinerary as I never get sick of seeing London’s sites.

      Reply

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