London, how do I love thee? Let me count the days… If you didn’t already guess, London is my most favorite city in the whole world, and I return there often (my goal is always once a year!). Because I love it so much, I’ve put together several different itineraries over the years: for 7 days in London, for 10 days in London…
If you’re planning a trip to London and it’s only going to be five days, you’ve come to the right place. I’ve written this five-day London itinerary to help fill the days if you’re spending more than 1-3 days – but not have too much fluff if you don’t have a full 7-10 days in London. As you’ll see, 5 days in London is a perfect amount to see all the greatest sights!
Read on to learn how to spend five days in London, plus some other travel tips to help you plan your trip. As always, if you have questions once you finish reading, I’m happy to help in the comments.
Jolly good? Let’s get to it. Here’s how to spend 5 days in London!
London Travel Tips
Before we jump into the itinerary, there are some important travel tips I need to share. These will help you plan so that you’re making the most of the short time you have with just five days in London. (If you want to skip this section, scroll up just a bit and use the Table of Contents to jump to the itinerary.)
When to Visit London
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).
- 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 – and it’s peak season for tourism. 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.
- 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.
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 (pub day, anyone?).
Where to Stay in London
A lot of people will advise you to stay in Central London on your first trip… but that’s a sure-fire way to blow your vacation budget and be located in tourist-central. Instead, get out of Trafalgar Square, Covent Garden, or Piccadilly Circus and stay in one of London’s neighborhoods:
- West London, like Kensington, Chelsea, or even Sloane Square, is still the poshest part of town. It’s a bit more spendy but has a more residential vibe.
- North London, or should I say near-North London like Angel or King’s Cross, is in close proximity to Central London but often quieter and a bit cheaper.
- East London, including Brick Lane, Shoreditch, and Aldgate East, is the place to be especially if you love nightlife, street food, and street art.
- South London, like Bankside or Bermondsey, is a lesser-visited part of the city, but still has an urban feel and great public transit access (mostly bus).
You can pretty much always save by staying in an Airbnb or vacation rental instead of a hotel. Here’s a list of cheap London Airbnbs under $150 per night – that’s almost $100 less per night than the average for a hotel. (Some of these Airbnbs are in Central London, too!)
How to Get Around London
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. 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. Even though this itinerary is made for 5-days, I recommend purchasing a 7-day pass. You’ll still save money instead of paying the tube max every day.
What to Pack for London
Uncertain what to pack for your trip? I’ve got a list of essentials you need to pack for London, or you can sign up to receive the list by email (plus other emails with tips for your trip to London!):
5 Days in London: A Quick Glance at the Itinerary
I always like to give a quick glance at the itinerary before we dive into the specifics. Here’s how I recommend spending five days in London:
|1||Arrival, Westminster, Houses of Parliament, Southbank, London Eye|
|2||Hyde Park, Marble Arch, Green Park, St. James' Park, Buckingham Palace, Changing of the Guard, Trafalgar Square, Covent, Garden British Museum|
|3||Borough Market, Bankside, The Shard, Tower Bridge, Tower of London, The Monument, St. Paul's Cathedral|
|4||Camden, London Zoo, Regent's Park, Baker Street, Shoreditch, Brick Lane Street Art|
|5||Sunday Roast in Richmond, Departure|
Armed with this table, let’s dive into the specifics and how you can string all of these sights together into a five-day London itinerary.
5 Days in London: The Full Itinerary
Ready to dive in? Below you’ll find about 2,500 words chock-a-block full of helpful advice and tips on seeing London’s best sights and making the most of your trip.
Day 1: Arrival, Westminster & Southbank
- Main Sights: Arrival, Westminster, Houses of Parliament, Southbank, London Eye
- Tube: Start at Westminster Station (Jubilee), End at Waterloo Station (Jubilee)
- Distance on Foot: 0.7 miles (1.2km)
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 can check into your hotel or at least drop your bags off early, that will help you make the most of the time you have today. Once you’ve done that, catch the Tube to Westminster station for some sightseeing of the ‘Greatest Hits.’
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.
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:
When 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.
Explore 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.
The London Eye is a 30-minute ride that takes you one cycle around the 443-foot structure. It’s a hulking but beautiful structure that completely dominates the Southbank. 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:”
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 ‘by night.’
Day 2: Central London & the Parks
- Main Sights: Hyde Park, Marble Arch, Green Park, St. James’ Park, Buckingham Palace, Changing of the Guard, Trafalgar Square, Covent Garden, British Museum
- Tube: Start at Queensway (Central), End at Russell Square (Piccadilly)
- Distance on Foot: 4.7 miles (7.6km)
Today is the longest walking day of the itinerary, so I hope you’re rested up and full of energy! Put on your best walking shoes…
Discover London’s Parks
London is full of wonderful parks, most of which exist due to the royal family. This morning is all about exploring those parks, including a walk through Hyde Park, Green Park, and St. James’s Park. These massive green spaces are a wonderful reprieve from the bustle of the city.
Start in Hyde Park, where you can walk past Kensington Palace (where the young royals live) and see the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain. Then, walk past/under Marble Arch and cross into Green Park.
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 toward Buckingham Palace and St. James’s Park. Once you visit Buckingham Palace, you can stroll along the west border of St. James’s Park to continue this itinerary.
Visit Royalty at Buckingham Palace
As you arrive at the southeast end of Green Park, you’ll see Buckingham Palace. You can pay to go inside but this isn’t necessary to admire the view and opulence. There are always crowds outside the gate, and it’s a beautiful facade for photos. If you time it right, you can visit Buckingham Palace and time your visit to see the Changing of the Guard, which occurs at 11am each day.
Discover Central London
From Buckingham, walk down The Mall to the Admiralty Arch and Trafalgar Square. To me, Trafalgar Square has always felt a bit like the heart of London, the epicenter from which all streets move out in spokes. Trafalgar Square is great for people-watching – there’s always something going on in the Square!
From Trafalgar Square, make your way northeast in the direction of the British Museum (use a maps app to navigate). This area you’ll pass through is Covent Garden. There are loads of great theatres and restaurants here, and it’s easy to get a bit lost exploring the small streets and alleyways.
Explore the British Museum
As you’ll notice, there aren’t many museums on my suggested 5-day London itinerary. This is because I’m not a huge museum traveler, and I think that for your first trip to London, there are plenty of other sights to see.
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!
The British Museum is also free to visit (donations suggested) which will make you love it even if you don’t normally do museums.
Day 3: Bankside & the City
- Main Sights: Borough Market, Bankside, The Shard, Tower Bridge, Tower of London, The Monument, St. Paul’s Cathedral
- Tube: Start at London Bridge (Jubilee), End at St. Paul’s (Central)
- Distance on Foot: 2.5 miles (4.0km)
If you’re a little footsore from yesterday’s adventures, today should help. There’s a bit of walking but nowhere near as much – and plenty of spots to stop and rest your feet.
Explore Bankside: Borough Market & The Shard
The neighborhood south of the City of London is called Bankside. This neighborhood has come up a lot in the last decade, and there are some notable spots to stop and enjoy. The first is Borough Market, the foodie’s market. Located near London Bridge station, this one is great for brunch. The market opens at 10am, and most of the food vendors are open by no later than 11am for the lunch rush. My favorite one is Scotchtails, who sell the best Scotch Eggs in London.
While I’ve never been, consider taking in the from View from the Shard. I’ve never been, but I’ve seen the pics on Insta and it looks pretty stunning!
Cross Tower Bridge to Tower Hill
Once you’ve finished exploring Bankside, make your way toward the Thames and walk east along the river. This walk is called the Queen’s Walk, and the view is dominated by the iconic Tower Bridge.
Tower Bridge was built between 1886 and 1894 during the reign of Queen Victoria. 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.
Once you’re on the north side of the Thames, turn west and into the 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; 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.
Visit Wren’s Works: The Monument & St. Paul’s Cathedral
Within the City of London, you’ll find two of my favorite sights in London, both designed by Sir Christopher Wren: The Monument and St. Paul’s Cathedral.
The Monument is named for its role commemorating 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.
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?
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.
Day 4: Camden, Regent’s Park & East London
- Main Sights: Camden, London Zoo, Regent’s Park, Baker Street, Shoreditch, Brick Lane Street Art
- Tube: Start at Mornington Crescent (Northern), Transfer from Baker Street (Bakerloo) to Old Street (Northern), End at Aldgate East (Hammersmith & City/District)
- Distance on Foot: 3.5 miles (4.6km)
On your last full day in London, there’s more walking again – but plenty of fun, pop-culture sights to see that make it all worth it.
Shop in Camden
Camden isn’t typically a place I push people to visit on their first trip to London – it’s a great destination if you are visiting London again or have more time (like 7 days or 10 days in London). But, for this itinerary, it’s a good spot to pass through once you get off the tube at Mornington Crescent.
Camden is known for its alternative and edgy shops, and its massive market. If you’re looking for a souvenir that has roots in London’s punk scene, this is the place to find it!
Explore the Zoo & Regent’s Park
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.
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. (P.S. I have a whole list of Harry Potter things to do in London if you want more magical inspiration!)
Exit Regent’s Park at the southernmost point in the park and you’ll be right at the top of Baker Street.
Visit 221B Baker Street
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 (£15 adults, £10 children), be prepared to queue up on the sidewalk; you don’t have to pay to access the gift shop.
Once you’ve finished at 221B Baker Street, grab lunch somewhere in the area (there are plenty of options near Baker Street Station) and then catch the Tube to Old Street Station.
Get Lost in East London
From Old Street Station, you’re at the edge of Shoreditch, where you can spend the afternoon and evening. 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).
In Shoreditch, 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.
If you’re really looking for Street Art, Brick Lane is the place to go. This street runs south through the Whitechapel neighborhood. 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.
For dinner, you have tons of options. Brick Lane is best known for its Indian and Bangladeshi food. If you haven’t tried this aspect of British food yet (yes, British), now’s the time!
Day 5: Sunday Roast & Departure
- Main Sights: Sunday Roast in Richmond, Departure
- Tube: Start/End Richmond (District)
- Distance on Foot: n/a
It’s your last day in London – so sad! Whether you’re setting off to explore more of Europe or headed home, it’s time to put a pin in your trip and make your way to the airport. Most flights to the U.S. and Canada leave in the afternoon, so your itinerary probably ends in the late morning or midday as you head to whichever airport you’re flying out from.
My favorite thing to do, especially if you’re departing on a Sunday, is to seek out a spot that will serve you a roast… ideally a Sunday roast. Ideally in Richmond, a neighborhood in far west London that has a totally different vibe than the rest of London.
I recommend googling to find a pub or restaurant that can serve you a roast, then make your way there. You may need to contact them in advance to confirm they can do the roast on the day you’re visiting. Afterward, go for a walk along the Thames to stretch your legs before heading to the airport for the long plane ride home.
Obviously, this barely scratches the surface of what you can during five days in London. If you don’t love what you see for any given day, you can try one of these other must-see sights in London or check out my tips for your first London trip.
If you have other questions about visiting London, let me know in the comments!