When you ask most travelers “where is your favorite place?” they might have to stop and think.
Well, maybe here… or there. Oh but my trip to this place was incredible!
I have no problem when asked that question: my favorite place on earth is London.
Mind you, I haven’t seen the entire rest of the planet, but there’s something special about London for me. Some magical combination of history and culture and pop culture (Harry Potter!) and pubs and great friends and memories… and something deeper that has always been present inside me and tells me London is home. (Funnily enough, I have very little British ancestry, so it’s not even some weird genetic thing.) I just love London! ??
Why I Wrote This Guide to London to 10 Days in London
I’ve traveled to London many times and spent a year living there, 2012-2013. I’ve taken the tours and seen the sights and walked the streets and drank the pints.
With all that in mind, I’ve decided to finally put my thoughts together on exactly what I would suggest if you only have 10 days to visit London. This list combines my list of must-see sights in London with some gems I’ve learned to love by being there.
Notes from my very first trip to London in 2011
If you have fewer than 10 days to visit London – say you’ll only have 5 days in London or 7 days in London, just pick the days you most want to do and mix and match to create your own itinerary. You can also mix and match activities on each day; I’ve organized them by location or topic depending on the day… but there’s a lot of flexibility. If you can’t tell, I don’t think you can go wrong no matter what you do while visiting London! Let’s dive in…
[info]Note that this post is over 8,000 words long. You can use the table of contents below to jump to the sections you’re interested in… but trust me that it’s all helpful advice based on my many trips to London (and living there).[/info]
Tips on Visiting London for a Week or More
I feel like this section could probably be its own post because there are lots of things to know before visiting London. I’ve put it here because if you’re planning a 7-day trip to London or longer, these are all important to keep in mind and I don’t want you to miss them because they’re in another post!
When to Visit London / U.K. Weather
Personally, I think London has delightful weather year round, but I get the rainy grey isn’t for everyone. Here are the basics of London weather by season.
In the winter (November through March), London experiences a cold, grey, and often rainy climate. Temperatures can get down to freezing and it’s possible to get snow in the coldest months of the year (January and February). If you’re visiting London during this time, bring layers and rain gear to stay warm and dry.
In the spring (March through May), London comes to life as the temperatures rise and the sun returns. You may still experience rain more often than not, but you’ll also get to see daffodils in bloom and a few glorious days of sun.
In the summer (May through September), London is at her finest. London has a delightful, warm, and sunny summer that makes up for all the terrible weather during the rest of the year. It’s sunny most days in the summer (rain is, as always, a possibility, so be sure to check the forecast), but you can theoretically catch a tan if you decide to take a rest one day in one of London’s famous parks. Unsurprisingly, summer is London’s peak season for tourism.
In the autumn (September through November), the weather turns slowly colder and wetter. London experiences a nice autumn with some good foliage colors, but you should prepare for wet weather and stops to warm up over a pint in the pub.
During a weeklong trip to London (or longer), be sure to check the 10-day forecast so you can get a sense for what’s coming. In autumn, winter, and spring, even if the forecast doesn’t call for rain, it’s best to assume there might be some and plan accordingly (museum day, anyone?).
Packing for London
What to pack for London depends a lot on the season you plan to visit.
I put together a list of what you actually need to pack for London based on the seasons and London’s unique fashion scene (rain boots! sunglasses! Burberry trenches!). Check out my London packing list for the full list!
Food & Drink
If you believe that food in London is terrible because it’s British, prepare to have your mind blown.
The culinary scene in London is one of the best in the world, buoyed by immigrants that have flocked to the city for centuries. Yes, you can find staples like fish and chips and bangers and mash, but you can also find those done up right, on menus alongside stunning Indian and Bangladeshi dishes, tasty Thai options, and plenty of American foods (burgers have been having a five-year moment).
Heck, Bourdain showed us that British food is having a renaissance.
In terms of drinks and drinking culture, the pub is central to your experience in London. You should try to eat in a pub at least once, and if the first one is terrible, try another. Many pubs in London are owned by several big companies and offer a bit more ‘cookie-cutter-ish’ experience than I like, but I still have a few favorites that are either independently run or still doing it their own way. (A couple include the Clerk & Well and the Lady Ottoline, both near my former school, and the Princess of Prussia near Tower Bridge.)
When it comes to pints, you can enjoy pretty much anything you want: classic British ales like London Pride and Doom Bar; craft beer like Camden Town Brewing, Meantime Brewing, or Brewdog (out of Scotland); or cider (both craft and big-batch). You’ll also find beer bars and tasting rooms popping up more as London steps beyond its hand-pulled cask ale days.
Getting Around London by Public Transit
Do. not. rent. a. car.
That might be rookie mistake #1, and hopefully, it didn’t even cross your mind. You don’t need a car to get around London or even most of England, so don’t waste your money renting one!
Instead, opt for public transportation. London’s Underground system (the Tube) is efficient if crowded and connects all the major parts of the city. The buses make up the difference, and on my most recent trip to London, I actually traveled more by bus than by tube. You can get literally everywhere in London by tube or bus and with a little bit of walking.
To make the most of your vacation budget, get an oyster card and buy a 7-day pass for zones 1-2. This is the most cost-effective option as it will allow you unlimited rides within the core zones in London. As this itinerary is made for 10-days, I recommend purchasing a 7-day pass and then adding another £25 pay-as-you-go after that expires. In zones 1-2, you pay a max of £6.80 per day, so that will cover any additional sightseeing you want to do.
For travel to/from the airports, purchase a separate ticket for those rides.
If you’ve ever been to London, you might look at this itinerary and think: that doesn’t look like much! In fact, I’ve packed as much as I think could possibly be done into this 10-day itinerary for London – and I didn’t even put a rest day, which I normally advise (instead, I have two out-of-London trips where you’ll spend part of the day in transit).
London is a huge city, and there’s more to see than you can ever possibly try to fit into 10 days. Instead, you’ll need to pick the sights and experiences that are most important to you, and plan to fit those in. If you have extra time, you can add more on. What you don’t want to do is pack in so much that you’re so tired by day 4 that you can hardly enjoy (or remember) the rest of your trip.
After so many of my own trips to London trust me when I say you have to pace yourself.
The Cost of Travel in London
There’s a lot of talk about how London is such an expensive city, and it can be. It’s certainly not a cheap place to travel (or to live, as I learned!), but there are ways to cut costs. Here are a few quick tips to save money while traveling in London:
1. Compare flights to all London airports.
2. Purchase a travel transit pass rather than pay-as-you-go.
3. If you need a car, there are options.
4. Don’t eat out for every single meal.
It’s super easy to blow your vacation budget (x2) on restaurants and pubs in London. Instead, opt for one meal out per day. If possible, have breakfast at your hotel or Airbnb, and grab a cheap takeaway sandwich or salad for Tesco or Waitrose (two local groceries).
This tip only applies if you want to save money on food; if part of your goal in visiting London is to try the food, by all means: eat it all!
5. Skip the hotel for a cheaper option.
I don’t have a section in this guide about London accommodation, but I’ve stayed in hotels and I’ve stayed in Airbnbs… and you can pretty much always save by staying in an Airbnb or vacation rental instead of a hotel.Here are some of the Airbnbs I’ve stayed in, in London:
- This super-cheap private room is in a managed property, but it’s great for a solo traveler.
- This studio with ensuite is fantastic for a couple and has a kitchen if you want to cook a few meals to cut costs.
- This cozy studio is in London’s East End and has a kitchen too.
If you’ve never booked on Airbnb before, click here to get $40 off your first booking. You’re welcome! ?
I also stayed one time in West London in a stunning flat managed by CityRelay. This is a perfect family-friendly option and gives you a real sense of what life in London could be like (#someday).
You could also check Booking.com, which lists hotels, vacation rentals, and flats for rent:
6. Purchase a London Pass.
I don’t typically promote pre-set tours or passes, but I booked a London Pass for my first trip to London… and I have to admit it made it so much easier to see the main sights during that first trip when I was overwhelmed and disoriented. If you like the idea of a pass to the main attractions in London, it’s a great option. You’ll get free or discounted admission to tons of them.A couple notes on the London Pass:
- You purchase your London Pass for a certain number of consecutive days, and it only works for those days.
- As such, you may need to rearrange the itinerary I’ve laid out below because it doesn’t take London Pass discounts into account in the activities I recommend each day.
Sold? Interested? Visit the London Pass website. (← not an affiliate link)
7. Choose low-cost or free attractions.
Many of London’s museums are free, and some attractions offer discount days for admission. London’s parks are also always free. Also, if you’re considering a walking tour, you can often find a self-guided option instead of paying for a guide.
8. Book everything possible in advance.
No matter what you choose to do in London, tickets and admission are almost always cheaper if you book online in advance. Also, London is one of the world’s top destinations, and attractions/showtimes do sell out. If you have your heart set on experiencing something, book it in advance.(Otherwise, you’ll be like me on my most recent trip where I waited to purchase my tickets to the WB Harry Potter Studio Tour in Leavesden and then they were completely sold out! ?)
Quick Glance: 10 Days in London
Gosh, we’re so far into this post and we still haven’t gotten to the itinerary yet! If you’re short on time, here’s a really quick version of the highlights I recommend for each day in London.
|2||Houses of Parliament, London Eye|
|3||Tate Modern, St. Paul's Cathedral|
|4||King's Cross Station, Platform 9&¾, Leavesden Studio Tour|
|5||Museum of London, Barbican Centre, British Museum|
|6||Brighton Pier, Royal Pavilion|
|7||Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace|
|8||Tower of London, Tower Bridge|
|9||Cutty Sark, Prime Meridian, Royal Greenwich Observatory|
|10||Shoreditch, Brick Lane Street Art|
Here’s a map too that shows you these destinations. Note that you can’t see Day 4 (Leavesden), Day 6 (Brighton), or Day 9 (Greenwich) because they’re further out of central London. Click the map to open and interact with it.
Okay, all that said, are you ready to dive into the meet of my 10-day London itinerary and guide? Here’s how to make the most of 10 days in London!
10 Days in London: An Itinerary & Guide
London has a powerful draw for many travelers at some point: maybe you want to go as your first trip overseas (like I did) or you’ve traveled the world and somehow missed London. Maybe you’ll love it (like I did) or maybe you’ll hate it. One thing I can say for certain is that there’s no city quite like London, and there’s no shortage of sights, experiences, and things to do in London.
This itinerary puts together each day either by geography (activities close together) or by theme (Harry Potter, museums, royal sights). You can skip any day that doesn’t interest you, or mix-and-match however you see fit. What you’ll find below are over 35 incredible sights in London waiting for you to plan your perfect trip.
Day 1: Arrival
If you’re arriving in London from North America, I recommend taking your arrival day easy. This depends on your flight times though.
Most flights from the U.S. and Canada arrive in the morning or midday, but you’ll be facing some serious jetlag. If you’re lucky enough to be able to sleep on planes and feel okay, you could put a few activities from Day 10 or my Day 6 alternatives today. Most flights to the U.S. and Canada leave in the afternoon, so this depends on whether you fly out on Day 10 (or Day 11). You can also check into your hotel, have your first (of many) pub dinners, and turn in at a reasonable hour to wake up full of energy for the rest of your trip.
If you do choose some sightseeing today, I recommend staying on your feet this first day. Head to one of London’s parks or hit up a museum. If you sit down, that jet lag will start to catch up!
Day 2: Explore the Southbank
This first day, we’re going to start off with some of the ‘greatest hits’ sights of London, because you flew all this way and want to see the good stuff, right?
Houses of Parliament
The Houses of Parliament (aka Westminster Hall) is stunning from the outside, so it’s entirely possible to spend quite a while admiring them from many angles. The most famous part of the building is Big Ben in the Elizabethan Tower, but as of 2018 that part of the building is under renovation, so you might see a whole lotta scaffolding. I’ll update this section as soon as that work is complete, so for now, assume that the postcard-worthy snaps you’re planning to take might look more like a Lego building.
Some of my favorite spots for photos of the Houses of Parliament are right as you exit Westminster tube station, from Parliament Square Garden, and one of London’s most photographed red phone boxes on Great George Street (pictured above).
Depending on the timing of your trip and parliamentary sessions, you can also book a guided or self-guided audio tour through the Commons Chamber and the Lords Chamber. Be sure to book this in advance to save a bit on admission and ensure you get the day/time you’re hoping to tour. When you’re finished snapping photos, cross Westminster Bridge on the west side of the road – and don’t forget to look back for more photo ops.
- Nearest Tube: Westminster
- Admission: Guided tours from £25.50 advance/£28 day-of for adults, £11 advance/£12 day-of for children; self-guided tours from £18.50 advance/£20.50 day-of for adults, free for each child up to the same number of adults.
- Website: parliament.uk
My favorite view of Westminster
Once you cross Westminster Bridge, you’ll see a gift kiosk at the end of the bridge and a stairwell down to your right. Take that stairwell down to the river level and turn right again for my favorite view of Westminster:
This view isn’t particularly secret anymore, but as you’ll see, for most people it requires passing through a dodgy little tunnel to get there. It is also one of the first views I had of Westminster on my very first trip in 2011… and I’ll never forget the magic of seeing that building in the morning sun. I’ve visited many times since and never tire of the view.
Once you’ve finished admiring this angle, head through the dodgy tunnel on your right. Yes, it’s safe, and it will put you out on the Southbank with a fantastic view of the London Eye and the crowds that always hang out there.
Exploring the Southbank
London’s Southbank is a very cool place, and it has developed a lot in the last decade with food stalls and trucks coming in to add some variety among the buskers and street performers, booksellers, and hordes of tourists. This was undoubtedly driven by the installation of the London Eye in 1998.Today, you can spend a few hours wandering around on the Southbank. The majority of attractions are between Westminster Bridge and Waterloo Bridge, though you can certainly explore further east along the river. Pass a few hours watching street artist performances, riding fair rides (there’s a section called Wonderground with some rides) and browsing the literary options at the permanent South Bank Book Fair. You could also pay to visit the London Dungeon or London Aquarium if either of those sounds interesting; they’re also good family options, but I haven’t done either personally to recommend them.
There are a couple of galleries and theatres as well if that’s more your style, including the BFI and Odeon BFI IMAX for you movie buffs (I saw Jurassic Park there on IMA ?).
If you get hungry on the Southbank, there are tons of options from permanent installations to temporary food markets that pop-up for a day or weekend. Wahaca is a great option; their menu is proper Mexican tacos and margaritas – I’ve eaten at many Wahaca locations in London including this one. Otherwise, just find something that strikes your fancy.
One of the common questions I get about sightseeing in London is: “is the London Eye worth it?” And I always say, “yes, but only if you do it this way:”
The London Eye is a 30-minute ride that takes you one cycle around the 443-foot structure. There’s also a 15-minute experience beforehand, and you may queue a bit to get on the Eye itself. I say all this because it’s important to get the timing right. You should purchase your ticket for the London Eye so that you’re on the eye the 30 minutes surrounding sunset; this means your ticket should have a start time 45-60 minutes before sunset.
When you board the Eye, you’ll be able to see London ‘by day,’ and the sun will set during your ride, giving you a view of London from above during the golden hour, and at night. In particular, you’ll be coming around the side of the eye facing Westminster as it gets dark, and can see all the buildings lit up. This is my pro-tip for making the most of your (expensive) ride on the London Eye. I’ve been 3 times and always done it this way.
- Nearest Tube: Waterloo
- Admission: from £25.20 online (book in advance!)
- Website: londoneye.com
Day 3: Across Millennium Bridge
Today’s activities focus on the Millennium Bridge, made famous for two reasons (one of which is Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and the other I explain below). Start on the south part of the river and work your way north across Millennium Bridge, then turn east toward the City of London for a few extra sights most people miss.
I’m not a huge museum person, but I generally love modern art museums because even when I don’t ‘get it,’ they’re still interesting. The Tate Modern is one of those museums, with galleries full of fascinating art I don’t quite understand. As the Tate Modern has free admission, it’s a great option for those who love modern art, those who need to escape the London rain – or both!The Tate Modern also has a restaurant and cafe on-site, so you can enjoy a bite and rest your feet for the day ahead. I recommend taking lunch here (maybe opt for the tea service).
- Nearest Tube: London Bridge
- Admission: Free except for special exhibits, which may have an additional fee
Directly outside the Tate Modern facing the River Thames, you’ll see a beautiful metal bridge that’s pedestrian-only. Millennium Bridge originally opened in June 2000 but was closed almost immediately because it started to sway; it re-opened in 2002 after stabilization work and has been open since. It offers stunning views of the Tate Modern at one end and St. Paul’s Cathedral at the other.
If you walk across this bridge and up the pedestrian road, you’ll end at St. Paul’s Cathedral.
St. Paul’s Cathedral
St. Paul’s Cathedral is my most favorite building in London, which is my most favorite city on earth. That sets a pretty high bar, eh?
I love St. Paul’s from the outside and inside, from every angle, by day and by night. It’s the kind of place you could easily spend a few hours walking around and admiring the architecture, plus touring the inside to appreciate the religious significance.
There’s an admission fee to enter the cathedral, which includes access to climb the dome. I highly recommend this if you’re able to ascend the 528 steps to the top, as it gives several stunning views of London along the way, and you’ll be able to see the dome up close.
If you have time, pop across the street to One New Change and ascend the elevator to the top floor. You’ll get another great view of St. Paul’s and London (pictured above) – and it’s free!
- Nearest Tube: St. Paul’s
- Admission: £16 advance/£18 day-of for adults, £7 online/£8 day-of for children
- Website: stpauls.co.uk
Once you’ve finished at St. Paul’s Cathedral, head east along Cannon Street (the main street in front of St. Paul’s) toward the City of London. After about 0.7 miles, you turn down Fish Hill Street and see the Monument to the Great Fire of London. It was designed by Sir Christopher Wren, who also designed St. Paul’s Cathedral, to commemorate the Great Fire of London in 1666, which started about 200 feet from this monument and leveled most of the city.
You can pay a small fee to climb the 311 steps of the Monument. At the top, you’ll have good views of the City of London and London Bridge (though admittedly not as impressive as other viewpoints). I recommend it for a different perspective and a quick history lesson.
- Nearest Tube: Monument
- Admission: £4.50 for adults, £2.30 for children
- Website: themonument.info
Day 4: Beyond Platform 9&¾
Normally by Day 4, I advise a rest day to keep you from getting too exhausted. Instead, I’ve got a bit of ‘out-of-town’ sightseeing for those who love Harry Potter as much as I do. You’ll get a break on the train ride each way to help make up for the lack of rest.
St. Pancras is one of the most beautiful buildings in London, and it’s worth spending a few minutes to admire its architecture. This building was foremost a train station (and now houses the Eurostar international train terminal among other regional trains) and the hotel was built in 1868. It is now a Grade I building and a five-star hotel. The curving architecture and red stonework are what I love most about it, all history aside.
- Nearest Tube: King’s Cross / St. Pancras
King’s Cross Station
Next door to St. Pancras is King’s Cross Station, which underwent a major renovation in the early 21st century and is now a futuristic companion to its historic neighbor. This is a beautiful train station to walk through because the West Concourse’s iconic metal roof is a modern interpretation of the classic metal train station roofs – and looks quite similar to the British Museum too (Day 5).
King’s Cross is also home to Platform 9&¾, which is our real destination!
- Nearest Tube: King’s Cross / St. Pancras
On my first trip to London, renovation in King’s Cross had relocated Platform 9&¾ outside the building… which is decidedly inaccurate for us Potterheads! Since renovations were completed, you can now see a real, live Platform 9&¾ near the barriers for Platforms 9 and 10 at the far end of the West Concourse.
You’ll definitely have to queue up for a picture since it’s a popular spot for families and Harry Potter fans. You can also squeeze in the tiny gift shop next door to blow your vacation budget on Potter memorabilia.
- Nearest Tube: King’s Cross / St. Pancras
- Admission: Free, but expect to queue
WB Harry Potter Leavesden Studio Tour
If you’re not sure what this activity is all about, you might just want to skip it. The Harry Potter studio tour in Leavesden is a bit of a pilgrimage spot for Harry Potter fans, and it’s a half-day tour at a minimum. It’s not super easy to get there or cheap admission, but it’s worth it for die-hard fans. Be sure to purchase tickets in advance as they sell out weeks (sometimes months) in advance.
To get to the Leavesden Studio tour from Platform 9&¾ in King’s Cross station, you need to take the tube from King’s Cross to Euston Station (one stop on the Bakerloo line) and catch a direct train from Euston to Watford Junction (the nearest stop to Leavesden). This train takes about 20 minutes. After that, you’ll need to catch the shuttle bus from Watford Junction station to the Leavesden studios. That’s another 15 minutes, so plan for it to take about 60 minutes each way from King’s Cross to Leavesden Studios and returning.
For the studio tour itself, I’ve put together a whole article about what you can see and do at the Harry Potter Studio Tour in Leavesden. Check it out here!
- Admission: £43 for adults, £35 for children
- Website: wbstudiotour.co.uk
Day 5: In London’s Great Museums
I’ll be the first to admit: I’m not a huge museum person. In my time in London, it took me months to visit these three museums I’m recommending for a single day. Most people seem to love museums though, so if you’re one of those people this is a great day!
I’ve included some of the ones I like here, but there are so many more: the Museum of Natural History, the V&A, the Churchill War Rooms… If these don’t sound interesting, a quick Google search will give you plenty of options.
Museum of London
Photo credit: Paul Hudson via Flickr
The Museum of London is a fascinating round building in the City of London. Exhibits range from prehistoric and neolithic to present day history and art, all focused on London, England, and the U.K. One of the top sights in the Museum right now is the London Stone: this neolithic stone is highly mythologized and currently housed in the museum while its old building was demolished and rebuilt.
Note: The London Stone pictured above is shown in its old location, not the Museum of London.
- Nearest Tube: St. Pauls or Barbican
- Admission: free, with guided tours on Saturdays at 11 am for £8.50
- Website: museumoflondon.org.uk
Across the street from the Museum of London is the Barbican Centre. The Barbican is a multi-use space filled with galleries, exhibits, and green spaces including ponds and bridges. There are also remnants of the old city walls and tower from the City of London during Roman times. One whole floor of the Barbican is free (Level G). You can explore for quite a while even if the galleries and exhibits don’t hold your interest.
- Nearest Tube: Barbican
- Admission: Free
- Website: barbican.org.uk
The British Museum is a must-see, even if you aren’t a fan of museums: it holds many of the world’s significant artifacts. (Yes, many of these were acquired through the tools of imperialism and conquest and should be returned; for now, this is the place to see them.)
One of the most popular is the Rosetta Stone, which helped historians learn to translate ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. There’s also a fantastic exhibit on ancient Egypt and others about first nations tribes in the American and Africa. It’s definitely a place you could spend a whole day – if not more than one!
- Nearest Tube: Holborn, Tottenham Court Road, or Russell Square
- Admission: Free with suggested donation of £5
- Website: britishmuseum.org
Day 6: A Day out of London in Brighton
You might think: wait… I’m in London. Why would I leave?
Turns out it’s great to get ‘London outta your lungs’ a bit, and the rest of England is wildly interesting. One of my favorite destinations outside London is Brighton, a quick ride from central London. This seaside town has been a getaway for Londoners for centuries and once you arrive you’ll see why.
Catch a train to Brighton on the Thameslink, which has stops in Central London at King’s Cross, Farringdon, Barbican, Moorgate, Blackfriars and London Bridge (all convenient depending on where you’re staying). It’s about 45-60 minutes depending on which stop you embark at.
Once you arrive in Brighton, walk straight out of the station and downhill to the beach. Brighton Beach is a classic English rock beach, so don’t expect sand or surfing. It’s still nice to sit and watch kids playing in the waves and seagulls overhead. There’s a nice sidewalk along the beach where you can stroll, shop, or stop for a bite to eat.
Brighton Pier is the main attraction along the waterfront. The pier has food, attractions, and rides, and is about as picturesque as you can imagine.
You can spend an hour or two walking out on the pier, to ride the rides out on the end of the pier, or play fair games throughout the pier. Also, it’s nothing fancy, but the fish and chips are pretty good for lunch if you’re looking for a cheap and greasy option.
If you love rides, be sure to snag a wristband in advance to save 25% over buying one on the pier. It’s £22 for adults and £12 for children, to get unlimited rides.
History and/or royalty buffs will want to make a stop at the Royal Pavilion, even if you choose to walk around rather than going in for the tour.
The Oriental-style Royal Pavilion was constructed in 1815 by George, who was at the time Prince of Wales and Prince Regent (and would eventually become King George IV). George had been advised of the health benefits from visiting Brighton and soaking in the brisk salty seawater, and by using Brighton as a getaway from London, George inspired Londoners to make the trek as well.
- Admission: the grounds are free, or £13.50 for adults and £8 for children
- Website: brightonmuseums.org.uk
Banksy’s Kissing Coppers
Banksy is arguably one of the most famous street artists in the world, and one of his most famous pieces is Kissing Coppers. Located on the side of a pub in Brighton, this is a quick visit on the way back to the train station. If you love street art, it’s a great spot to make before Day 10 in London’s East End.
Day 7: Live Like Royalty
Raise your hand if you remember Will & Kate’s first kiss. ??Did you wake up early to watch Harry & Meghan’s wedding in Windsor? (Okay, I didn’t do that because it was way too early but I know people who did!). Fans of the royal family will enjoy today’s itinerary because it focuses on some of the important sights and residences.
Note: today includes a lot of walking. Be prepared, bring a water bottle, and wear good shoes!
Start the day at Westminster Abbey, where most royal weddings take place. You can walk around this beautiful building (love me some Gothic architecture) or go inside to admire the stained glass. I’ll be honest: I’ve never shelled out the money to go inside, but I’ve enjoyed this building from the outside many times.
- Nearest Tube: Westminster
- Admission: £10
- Website: westminster-abbey.org
St. James’s Park
From Westminster Abbey, you can walk in St. James’s Park toward Buckingham Palace. The land that became St. James’s Park dates back to Henry VIII in the 16th century, and it was remodeled by George IV during his time as Prince Regent in the 19th century. It’s a nice walk with beautiful flowerbeds in the warm months.
- Nearest Tube: St. James’s Park
- Website: royalparks.org.uk
At the northwest corner of St. James’s Park is one of the most famous buildings in London: Buckingham Palace. Formally, it is the official residence and administrative center of the monarch of the United Kingdom; most of us think of it as the place “where the Queen lives.” (Actually, she only lives in Buckingham when she and Prince Charles are in London. She also has residences in Windsor, Balmoral Castle in Scotland, and Sandringham House in Norfolk.)
You can admire Buckingham from the outside, or pay for admission to see some of the staterooms including the throne room, ballrooms, and drawing rooms when they are open to the public.
- Nearest Tube: St. James’s Park
- Admission: £25 for adults, £22.80 for seniors, £14 for children
- Website: royal.uk
Green Park is another former royal garden now open to the public. The park was enclosed in the 16th century and landscaped in the 1820s; now it’s a great spot for a stroll or to catch some sun on a nice day in London. You can walk through Green Park on the southern border along Constitution Hill to the next stop on this itinerary, or just make your own way through the park on other trails.
- Nearest Tube: Green Park or Hyde Park corner
- Website: royalparks.org.uk
The Wellington Arch, in the northwest corner of Green Park where it meets Hyde Park, is a massive triumphal arch to commemorate Britain’s victory in the Napoleonic wars. You can climb the Wellington Arch for a view of the nearby parks.
- Nearest Tube: Hyde Park Corner
- Admission: £4.70 for adults or £2.80 for children
- Website: english-heritage.org.uk
Ready for another insanely large park in London that’s perfect for a stroll? Hyde Park is one of the city’s best and biggest, at 140 hectares. There are absolutely tons to see in Hyde Park, including the Serpentine Lake, the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain, Kensington Gardens, and the Albert Memorial. Oh, and Kensington Palace, which is the next stop on this itinerary!
- Nearest Tube: Hyde Park Corner & Knightsbridge on the south, Lancaster Gate & Queensway on the north
- Website: royalparks.org.uk
Kensington Palace is the other famous royal residence in London. The most famous residents are Prince William, Princess Kate, Princes Louis and George, and Princess Charlotte; Prince Harry and Meghan; the Prince and Princess Michael of Kent (cousin to the Queen); the Duke and Duchess of Kent (cousin to the Queen); and Princess Eugenie (the Queen’s granddaughter through Prince Andrew) and her husband Jack. In short, it sounds like a royal clown car, but it’s actually a massive palace with plenty of room for everyone.You can tour Kensington Palace as well, and there are often special galleries and exhibits highlighting the young royals who have lived in Kensington Palace.
- Nearest Tube: Queensway or Notting Hill Gate
- Admission: £16 off-peak or £19.50 peak for adults, £8 off-peak or £9.70 peak for children
- Website: hrp.org.uk
Day 8: South of the River
While I’m a bit behind in saying this, the part of London south of the River Thames is a pretty cool place! Today, you’ll hit a few more top sights in London, then head south of the river to explore some of the cool things happening around here.
Tower of London
The Tower of London is another one of those you-only-need-to-do-it-once-but-you-gotta-do-it sights in London. The Tower of London dates back to 1066 and the Norman Conquest of England; it has been used as a castle, royal residence, and prison over the centuries. Some of the most famous prisoners include Anne Boleyn (second wife of Henry VIII), Sir Walter Raleigh (of the Virginia colony on Roanoke Island), and Guy Fawkes.
Today, you can visit the Tower of London to learn about the history of London, get a tour from one of the famous Beefeaters, or see the Crown Jewels on display.
- Nearest Tube: Tower Hill or Tower Gateway
- Admission: £22.70 for adults, £17.70 for seniors and students
- Website: hrp.org.uk
From the Tower of London, you can’t get lost trying to find Tower Bridge. This iconic bridge was built between 1886 and 1894 during the reign of Queen Victoria.
Now you can walk across the bridge, or purchase admission to climb the two bridge towers and cross the span above street level. You can learn about the history of the tower and engineering feats that make it possible.
- Nearest Tube: Tower Hill or Tower Gateway
- Website: towerbridge.org.uk
Once you cross the bridge from north to south, it’s time to explore! My top suggestion is Bermondsey Street, which is a street of restaurants, galleries, and art studios. TimeOut has great suggestions for what to do on Bermondsey Street, but here are some of my top ones: You can grab a coffee at Fuckoffee to keep your energy up, then pop into the Fashion & Textile Museum. For dinner, you could try the Village East or The Garrison Public House.
- Nearest Tube: London Bridge
Bonus: if you’re interested in spending a bit more, consider taking in the sunset from View from the Shard. I’ve never been, but I’ve seen the pics on Insta and it looks pretty stunning!
Day 9: Go to Greenwich
Technically Greenwich is in London, so I don’t count this as another day trip in the same sense. (You only need one day trip on this itinerary, in my opinion.) Greenwich is an easy trip outside Central London and gives you some space to breathe and a bit different chapter of London’s history.
You will need to take the DLR (Docklands Light Rail) to reach Greenwich, but it’s in zone 2 so well within the standard Tube fares.
The first sight to stop by once you leave the DLR at the Cutty Sark for Maritime Greenwich station is the Cutty Sark. This clipper ship is now permanently dry-docked in Greenwich and is now a museum where you can learn about Britain’s maritime heritage. If you’re not up for the museum, you can walk around the whole ship and admire it from the outside.
- Nearest Tube: Cutty Sark for Maritime Greenwich (DLR)
- Admission: £12.15 in advance / £13.50 day-of for adults, £6.30 in advance / £7 day-of for children
- Website: rmg.co.uk
National Maritime Museum
I went into the National Maritime Museum for the first time on my most recent trip, and I was pleasantly surprised – especially as I’m not a huge maritime history buff, so most of it isn’t intrinsically motivating for me. However, the Maritime History Museum like so many in London is free, and you can wander through the galleries to learn even more about Britain’s naval history than you do at the Cutty Sark. The design and feats of engineering are interesting for everyone, and they have some good exhibits for kids interested in the subject too.Bonus: through May 5th, the astronomy photographer of the year exhibit is on display at the National Maritime Museum. You know how much I love space…
- Nearest Tube: Cutty Sark for Maritime Greenwich (DLR)
- Admission: free
Prime Meridian & Royal Greenwich Observatory
The Prime Meridian and Royal Greenwich Observatory are the main attraction that draws people to Greenwich. After all, Greenwich Mean Time is based on the Meridian here, and all coordinates are too! To see the Prime Meridian and museums, you’ll need to pay admission; you can see a small portion of the Meridian for free on an outside stone wall just ‘down the hill’ from the entrance.
The Royal Greenwich Observatories are open and free, and if you’re interested in all of the astronomy experiences here, I’m putting together a guide on my other site that I’ll link here as soon as it’s public.
- Nearest Tube: Cutty Sark for Maritime Greenwich (DLR)
- Admission: £13.50 in advance / 15 day-of for adults, £5.85 in advance / £6.50 day-of for children includes access to the Prime Meridian and all of the museums at the Royal Greenwich Observatory
- Website: rmg.co.uk
Day 10: End in the East End
For your last day in London, we’re going to hit up my old stomping ground: London’s East End. (I lived in East London from 2012-2013). While there are definitely still dodgy parts of this area, in the past decade it has developed significantly and is growing beyond its rough past and reputation.
Shoreditch is a neighborhood in East London that can probably be credited with the hipster-ization of the East End. It was the first truly ‘cool’ neighborhood in East London, with foodie hotspots and street art and plenty of cool things to do after nightfall (I enjoyed many nights out here while living in London. You can just sorta walk around, window shop, and pop into any restaurant or bar that catches your fancy here – it’s hard to go wrong. Also keep an eye out for street art, which can be spotted all over.
- Nearest Tube: Old Street or Shoreditch High Street (Overground)
Brick Lane Street Art
If you’re really looking for Street Art, Brick Lane is the place to go. This street runs south through the Whitechapel neighborhood and is lined with cool art and Bangladeshi, Pakistani, and Indian restaurants.
It’s pretty common to see work by globally-renowned street artists; at different times there have been Banksy’s here, and my favorite artist Dal East has done work here too. There are free walking tours if you want a guide.
- Nearest Tube: Shoreditch High Street (Overground) in the north or Aldgate East in the south
Jack the Ripper Walking Tour
Last chance for some history before you head home! You can do a self-guided Jack the Ripper walking tour (I grabbed a cheap guide while visiting the Sherlock Holmes museum at 221B Baker Street, mentioned below), or you can go with a guide.
I also highly recommend the Jack the Ripper tour by London Walks if you can figure out a night when Donald will be guiding… he literally wrote the book on Jack the Ripper and is considered an expert. The tour typically starts at Tower Hill and works through the City of London to Whitechapel, highlighting Jack the Ripper’s deathly deeds in East London. It’s a very cheery way to end your time in London!
- Nearest Tube: Tower Hill, Aldgate East
- Admission: £10 per person for the guided walking tour
Alternatives for Day 6 (If You Don’t Want to Leave London)
I wrote this itinerary based on my own favorite sights all over London, and then I realized it still has some major omissions. There’s not much room to squeeze more into the days than I already have (unless you want your vacation to be more work than work!), but you could choose not to go to Brighton on Day 6 and do more sightseeing in London if you choose.
If that’s your preference, here are some of the other sights you might consider:
Regent’s Park is one of the largest parks in London and was historically one of the royal hunting grounds around the capital city (hence its name). This massive 197-hectare green space is located in the northwest part of London and is crisscrossed by walking paths. It’s a great way to spend part of the day with a coffee in hand strolling among the greenery.
- Nearest Tube: Regent’s Park or Baker Street
- Admission: Free
The London Zoo is located within Regent’s Park at the northeast corner. You might spend part of your day in Regent’s Park at the zoo, which is home to penguins, lions, tigers, giraffes and more. Or, if you’re a true Harry Potter nerd, you’ll make a stop at the reptile house.
- Nearest Tube: Camden Town or Mornington Crescent
- Admission: £20.45 online in advance or £25 at the gate for adults, £15.95 in advance or £19.50 at the gate for children
- Website: zsl.org/zsl-london-zoo
Sherlock Holmes fans will consider this a must-see – whether you love the original texts or the modern interpretations. 221B Baker Street is now a museum to commemorate London’s most famous detective and a gift shop for those who love a good souvenir. If you want to visit the museum, be prepared to queue up on the sidewalk; you don’t have to pay to access the gift shop.
- Nearest Tube: Baker Street
- Admission: £15 adults, £10 children
- Website: sherlock-holmes.co.uk
Theatre in London’s West End
If you love live theatre, it’s possible to spend every night of your 10 days in London at a show. From famous theatres like The Old Vic, Sadler’s Wells, the Barbican, the National Theatre, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, the Victoria Palace, the Shaftsbury, the Adelphi, the Lyric, or any of many more… you can see you have a choice for basically any show in any genre you might want to enjoy. Personally, I haven’t attended many shows in London, but I did see a few fantastic ones (like The Book of Mormon at the Prince of Wales Theatre). However, I do know you can grab last-minute deals on tickets (think: day-of) on lastminute.com for some shows. Availability and prices depend on the show you want to see.
- Nearest Tube: Many theatres are near Picadilly Circus and Covent Garden
- Admission: Depends on the show and showtime.
Thames River Cruise
I almost forgot this one! This is a super-popular activity in London, though it’s one that you typically do once or twice and then don’t feel the need to experience again (hence my forgetting). There are a couple ways to do a Thames River Cruise.You can either book one directly or hop on as part of the London Pass I recommended above. Those are pretty standard tourist options and are a great way to get oriented to the River Thames and all the famous buildings and bridges.
You could also book a more adrenaline-inducing ThamesJet ride. I did this on a recent trip and it was a fun alternative to the standard slow-moving Thames cruises. You’ll pass all of the same sights, then head further out toward Canary Wharf to do some speedboat stunts on the river. It’s a good amount of fun for an hour-long excursion.
Lastly, you could use your Oyster card and hop on one of the Thames ferries that take people from one end of the river to the other. A common route would be from Westminster Pier (near Westminster tube station) to Tower Pier (near the Tower of London). Be sure to check timetables and fares to make sure you have enough on your Oyster card.
Another how-did-I-forget-this moment: I didn’t add any of London’s famous markets to the itinerary. Each of London’s markets has a distinct vibe and they’re all worth experiencing once. If you want to prioritize this, I recommend starting your day at the market on any day you choose to visit them. Additionally, some of these markets are only open on certain days, so plan ahead for any that catch your eye.
Here are a few of my favorites:
- Borough Market – The foodie’s market. Located near London Bridge station, this one is great for breakfast, brunch, lunch, or some grocery shopping. Could potentially be added at the beginning of Day 8, but it doesn’t quite make sense from a transit standpoint.
- Spitalfields Market – The vintage & crafts market. Located in the East End, you could easily tack a stop at Spitalfields onto Day 10.
- Petticoat Lane – The affordable fashion market. Street vendors sell clothing and fashion items from stalls. Another one in the East End, so a good option for Day 10 too.
- Camden Market – The alt/art market. Camden is bursting with the unusual and unexpected, and the famous market here is no different. Great for the goths, punks, and weirdos (in the nicest way possible). Located in North London, you’d need to plan ahead to visit this one.
- Portobello Road – The Instagrammer’s market. This market in West London is one of the oldest in London and is full of antiques, crafts, food, and flowers.
This barely scratches the surface of London Markets, but Visit London has a great resource to help you if you want to learn more about each and add a few to your 10 days in London.
“But what about Picadilly Circus? Trafalgar Square? The Shard? The Skygarden? Exploring the City of London or Canary Wharf? I NEED TO HAVE HIGH TEA.”
Can you see why it’s basically impossible to narrow it down? London is a city with endless options, and the surrounding countryside has even more. I’ve tried to include all of my favorites and only those experiences I love in London (and nothing I’ve never done myself). In the end, it’s impossible to do it all, so you’ll just need to plan another trip back. I always am.
As Samuel Johnson said, When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.
Personally, I have not yet become tired of London, and hope that never happens.
If you have any questions about visiting London, let me know in the comments or contact me.
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