When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life. That’s a heck of a high bar set for a city, right? Even though it might seem an exaggeration I have visited London a half-dozen times and lived in London for a year – and I totally agree. London is the best city in the world. Spending 7 days in London is not nearly enough…
If you’re planning your first trip to London, I’m excited for you! You’re about to experience my favorite city and begin to discover her wonders for yourself. I’ve put together this itinerary if you are planning to spend one week in London; I also have a post if you want to more time (like 10 days in London) or less time (say, 5 days in London).
With just 7 days in London, you’ve got to pack a lot into every single day. I’ve done my best to show you the city’s best sights without running you ragged, but don’t be surprised if you’re tired by the end! I’ve also got other tips for your first London trip, including transit and money-saving suggestions. Let’s get into this itinerary for your week in London!
This post was originally published in July 2019, and was updated in January 2020.
Quick Glance: One Week in London
Before I dig into the details of each specific recommendation I have for each day of your week in London, it’s helpful to get a high level view. Here’s a quick glance in table form:
|1||Arrival, Westminster, Houses of Parliament, Southbank, London Eye|
|2||Westminster Abbey, Changing of the Guard, Trafalgar Square, British Museum|
|3||Brighton Pier, Royal Pavilion|
|4||Borough Market, Bankside, The Shard, Tower Bridge, Tower of London, The Monument|
|5||Cutty Sark, Prime Meridian, Royal Greenwich Observatory|
|6||Shoreditch, Brick Lane Street Art, St. Paul's Cathedral|
|7||Sunday Roast in Richmond, Departure|
And I also put together a map of the main landmarks and experiences I recommend. You can click the image below to get to the interactive map:
Without further ado, let’s dig into the details of my weeklong itinerary for London. As always, you you have any questions about my recommendations or the order I’ve put them in – let me know in the comments.
7 Days in London: An Itinerary & Guide
I’m not gonna lie – I never get more excited to share my travel advice than when I’m writing about London. Putting together an itinerary like this is as exciting to me as giving travel advice to a friend who’s planning their first trip.
You’ll find other bloggers recommending other activities because we all have our own travel preferences – but mine come from living in London from a year and thinking after all this time that these are still the best way to spend 7 days in London.
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 or Piccadilly Circus and stay in one of London’s neighborhoods:
- West London, like Kensington, Chelsea, or even Brompton, 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).
If you have your heart set on staying in Central London, look at neighborhoods like Hoxton or Clerkenwell. These neighborhoods are away from the crowds but walking distance from attractions like Covent Garden, the West End, and the British Museum.
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. (I stayed here back in 2018; from $37/night)
- This studio with ensuite is fantastic for a couple and has a kitchen if you want to cook a few meals to cut costs. (Mr. V and I stayed here in August 2018; from $74/night)
- This Belgravia studio is cozy (“luxury” is a stretch) and has all the amenities – and is a great location for all things West London. (We stayed here in October 2019; from $156/night)
I’ve also got a whole wishlist of London Airbnbs I love; check it out here.
Day 1: Arrival, Westminster & the Southbank
When you touchdown in London, it’ll probably be in the morning. You’re gonna be jet-lagged like crazy unless you’re one of those lucky people who can sleep on planes, but don’t let that slow you down. Take advantage of this first day to stay on your feet and see some of London’s top sights.
If you can drop your bags off at your accommodation early, do that. If not, consider checking your bag into a Left Luggage service at one of the train stations or using a service like Luggage Hero to drop your bags at a secure location. Once you’re free of your bags, hop on the Tube to Westminster station. We’ll start from here on this first day.
Houses of Parliament
- Nearest Tube: Westminster
- Website: parliament.uk
As you emerge from Westminster tube station, it’s impossible to miss the Houses of Parliament (aka Westminster Hall). In fact, people will kinda clog up the sidewalk and Tube station exit trying to get that first view and picture-perfect shot.
Once you’ve snapped all the photos your heart desires, cross Westminster bridge on the western side of the road, and head down the stairs to the riverfront path. This will give you my favorite view of Westminster Hall, pictured above. Many people miss this great view, so this is my #1 pro-tip if you’re headed here.
Exploring the Southbank
Now that you’re on the Southbank, it’s time to explore a bit! Cross through the dodgy little tunnel to your right (when viewing Westminster), and you’ll emerge in the shadow of the London Eye.
Stroll on a bit – pass the tourist traps (like the London Aquarium and the London Dungeon) in favor of watching buskers and street performers or browsing book stalls and other vendors. It’s easy to spend an hour or two exploring this little pocket of London; the crowds are almost endearing since there’s so much to see and do.
- Nearest Tube: Waterloo
- Admission: from £25.20 online (book in advance!)
- Website: londoneye.com
A lot of people ask if the London Eye is worth it – and I always say yes. When you first arrive at the Southbank, I recommend you purchase your ticket for the London Eye right away. Time your tickets so that you’re on The Eye the 30 minutes surrounding sunset; this means your ticket should have a start time 30-45 minutes before sunset.
Watching the sun set over London and the city light up is one of the most magical experiences I know of in London – and you’re having that experience on the end of your first day!
You’re exhausted now, right? After the Eye, call it a night. You could pop into a pub for dinner on your way back to your hotel for a pint and plate of fish and chips if you’re hungry. There are a few pubs near Waterloo station which is the closest tube station to the Southbank.
Day 2: Royal London
Part of the draw to visit the U.K. is the monarchy. Brits don’t get why we Americans are so obsessed with the royals; I don’t know either but I’m guessing it has something to do with the fact we don’t have them. We don’t have palaces and that kind of wealth on display… Our royals (celebrities) live behind locked gates in Beverly Hills and we don’t see it. So yeah, if you are curious about the Royals like I was (am), this day’s for you.
- Nearest Tube: Westminster
- Admission: £10
- Website: westminster-abbey.org
Westminster Abbey is one of the most beautiful buildings in London; it’s an amazing example of Gothic architecture and has some spectacular flying buttresses (my favorite!). It’s most well-known as the building where the majority of royal weddings take place – and almost everyone has seen at least one of the royal couples married there (Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, Prince Charles and Diana, or Prince William and Kate).
You can choose to go in and see the interior, or just stroll around the outside and admire the view. Personally, I’ve always only stayed outside and never feel like I’ve missed an experience by not going in. (Save those £££ for other things!)
Buckingham Palace & the Changing of the Guard
From Westminster Abbey, walk through St. James’ Park to Buckingham Palace. Again, you could 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.
Can I be honest? I’ve never seen the Changing of the Guard! It’s mostly just that it has never worked for the timing I’ve been in the area around Buckingham Palace. It just fits so well into today’s itinerary that I have to recommend it.
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. I’m not sure if that’s geographically true, but a lot of my thoughts about London are based on impressions… so this is one of them.
Trafalgar Square is great for people-watching – there’s always something going on in the Square!
From Trafalgar Square, walk or catch a bus up Charing Court Road. Then turn east onto New Oxford Street toward the British Museum.
- Nearest Tube: Holborn, Tottenham Court Road, or Russell Square
- Admission: Free with suggested donation of £5
- Website: britishmuseum.org
I’m not a huge museum person, but the British Museum is a particular treat because it is home to so many amazing artifacts from around the world. Admittedly, these were almost all added to the collection by way of invasion or colonization – but they’re still one of a kind. As an example, that’s the Rosetta Stone pictured above.
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: Escape to Brighton
With just 7 days in London, why should you do a day trip? Because London is part of the United Kingdom, and it helps a lot to get a point of comparison on what life in the U.K. is like outside London. My favorite suggestion is the seaside town of Brighton. It’s got salty sea air and crashing waves and fresh seafood – need I say more to convince you?
To get to Brighton, catch a Thameslink train; the biggest station option is Blackfriars but there are stations all through Central London where you can catch one. They run regularly, every 30-60 minutes depending on the time day.
Once you arrive in Brighton, head straight out of the train station and down the hill toward the beach. Brighton Beach has been a lure for visitors of all kinds for centuries – as you’ll see below, even the royals have loved the ocean air and sea breeze.
Brighton Beach is a rocky beach, so you won’t find soft sand to stroll in – but you might spot intrepid sunbathers and plenty of locals and visitors soaking up the rare sun if it’s out.
After a relaxing stroll or sit on the beach, head east toward the Brighton Pier. This is one of the main tourist destinations in town, and a charming blend of modern and old-time rides and attractions. 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.
- Admission: the grounds are free, or £13.50 for adults and £8 for children
- Website: brightonmuseums.org.uk
Built in the early 19th century for George, Prince of Wales – who would become Prince Regent in 1811 –, the Brighton Palace is one of the most fascinating buildings I’ve seen in England. It’s designed in the Indo-Saracenic style which was popular in India at the time; it gives the building an even more exotic look, far from the grey gloom of pre-Victorian London. You can either pay to go inside the palace or stroll around the grounds which are free and open to the public.
After you’ve finished at the Royal Pavilion, you can head to the train station, or stop for dinner in Brighton. Pick a restaurant in The Lanes, a narrow, winding pedestrian streets with all the ethnic restaurants and little eateries you could want. If you love street art, be sure to seek out Banksy’s Kissing Coppers on the way back to the train station.
Day 4: Bankside & the Towers
On the middle day of your trip, you’re back to London’s top sights – this time on the other side of the central part of the city. If you’re feeling wiped, take this day easy; there are lots of things to see but no specific timetable so you can go at a more leisurely pace.
Borough Market & Bankside
- Nearest Tube: London Bridge
Borough Market is a 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.
Once you’ve strolled through the market and eaten your fill, strike out to the east. The neighborhood near Borough Market is called Bankside; my top suggestion in this area is Bermondsey Street, a street of restaurants, galleries, and art studios. You can grab a coffee at Fuckoffee to keep your energy up, then pop into the Fashion & Textile Museum.
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!
- Nearest Tube: Tower Hill or Tower Gateway
- Website: towerbridge.org.uk
The iconic 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.
Tower of London
- Nearest Tube: Tower Hill or Tower Gateway
- Admission: £22.70 for adults, £17.70 for seniors and students
- Website: hrp.org.uk
I always loved going for a run around the Tower of London when I lived in the area; there’s something deeply impressive about the amount of history held within its stone walls. After all, the White Tower inside the Tower of London dates to 1097 CE!
If this is your first trip to London, I recommend queuing up for tickets and doing the tour inside the Tower of London. You’ll learn a ton about English history up through the modern era, and have a great appreciation for the history literally right under your feet. Oh – you can also see the crown jewels which are outrageous and beautiful.
As you’ve taken your time exploring today, it’s time for dinner, a pint, and bed. The nearest tube station is Tower Hill, which has access to the Circle and District lines.
Day 5: Historic Greenwich
On my first trip to London, I actually stayed out near Greenwich. Let me tell you: it’s not close to Central London, so I recommend staying more centrally and just visiting the area. To get to Greenwich, you’ll need to take the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) which connects to the tube system at Bank (Central/Northern Lines).
- 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
As you step off the DLR in Greenwich, head left out of the station and left again to the banks of the River Thames. You can’t miss the Cutty Sark – a massive clipper ship that was one of the fastest and one of the last ever built.
The ship has been preserved as a museum you can pay to enter; it’s especially impressive as they’ve dry-docked the ship so you actually descend ‘below’ sea level to see the undersides of the ship. If you’re not up for the museum, you can walk around the whole ship and admire it from the outside.
National Maritime Museum
- Nearest Tube: Cutty Sark for Maritime Greenwich (DLR)
- Admission: free
Maritime history buffs can’t miss the National Maritime Museum, which is a short walk from the Cutty Sark in the direction of the Royal Greenwich Observatory. This museum is free to enter and stuffed full of fascinating ship memorabilia, marine engineering relics and feats, and interactive displays for kids too.
Prime Meridian & Royal Greenwich Observatory
- 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
It’s a short but somewhat ambitious hike up the hill to the Royal Greenwich Observatory, but it should come as zero surprise that this is one of my favorite places in Greater London. I am a space nerd after all!
The Royal Greenwich Observatory is home to a paid museum, a number of free areas with importance to astronomical history, and the Prime Meridian. Yes, the Prime Meridian, which helped establish Greenwich Mean Time – GMT – which we all set our clocks by. You do have to pay to see the official marker of the Prime Meridian inside the gates, or you can look for tick marks on the nearby walls and stone pathways which also indicate where the Meridian runs.
At the end of the day, you can grab dinner here in Greenwich or back in Central London. I’ve eaten at The Mitre before.
Day 6: East London & The City
Over the course of this itinerary, we’ve moved from West London to Central London and now to the City and East London. This allows you to get a slice of life through London’s different areas which each have their own personality and vibe.
I lived between The City and East London and love the area. Hopefully after today, you will too! The easiest way to start the day is by catching a bus, or by taking the Northern Line to Old Street station or the Overground to Shoreditch High Street station.
- Nearest Tube: Old Street or Shoreditch High Street (Overground)
Shoreditch is London’s epicenter of cool, though admittedly the most hip neighborhoods are no longer in this part of the city… When I lived in London though, Shoreditch was the place to be and I spent plenty of time eating at weird concept restaurants and in ‘secret’ underground bars here. By day, you can stroll the streets looking for street art, boutiques, and a spot for brunch.
Brick Lane Street Art
- Nearest Tube: Shoreditch High Street (Overground) in the north or Aldgate East in the south
Brick Lane begins in Shoreditch and stretches south into Whitechapel; it’s known for two things: street art and fantastic Indian and Bangladeshi food. I recommend you try both! You can find street art walking tours if you’re keen, or just wander a bit to discover artists you love. (My favorite, Dal East) had two pieces in London when I lived there, pictured above.)
I also strongly recommend you flip a coin and pick a place for a late lunch. Even if you share a dish of Chicken Tikka Masala and naan, this is the place to experience the impact of British Colonialism in India and the delightful back-transfer of culture to the U.K.
Once you’ve finished exploring Brick Lane, work your way south to Aldgate East station. From there, catch a District Line train to Monument station.
- Nearest Tube: Monument
- Admission: £4.50 for adults, £2.30 for children
- Website: themonument.info
The Monument to the Great Fire of London is dwarfed by surrounding buildings, but it’s one of London’s earliest landmarks. 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 to the top of the Monument and get a different perspective on the City of London – when it was built in 1677, it was one of the tallest structures, and now it’s dwarfed by high rises and skyscrapers!
Once you’ve finished at the Monument, head west along Cannon Street toward St. Paul’s Cathedral.
St. Paul’s Cathedral
- Nearest Tube: St. Paul’s
- Admission: £16 advance/£18 day-of for adults, £7 online/£8 day-of for children
- Website: stpauls.co.uk
What can I say about St. Paul’s Cathedral that I haven’t already said? It’s my favorite building in London, and they recently started to allow photos inside (they also recently started compelling admission fees, which is a bummer but helps preserve the building so I won’t complain too much).
I love to admire St. Paul’s from every angle, so I always make a walk around the building and through the grounds. You can also ride the elevator up in nearby One New Change for stunning views from their public rooftop area. They have a restaurant and dinner too, so you can stay on One New Change to watch the sun set behind St. Paul’s… What an epic last night on your first London trip!
Day 7: Departure
Today’s your last day in London – how sad! Most flights to North America leave in the afternoon, which gives you time for a roast or one last pub meal before you depart.
If you’re flying out from Heathrow, head to Richmond to enjoy a slice of small-town life within the bounds of London. If you happen to be flying home from your week in London on a Sunday, be sure to try a Sunday Roast. This meat-and-potatoes style meal is hearty and will ensure you don’t starve on the plane.
If you’re flying out of Gatwick, you might try grabbing a meal in London before catching a train south to the airport. Be sure to give yourself enough time to get to the airport.
Other Great Experiences for Your Week in London
Don’t love one of the days I suggested? There’s so much more to explore. Here are some suggestions, briefly:
- Theatre in the West End – If you’re an arts and culture vulture, you have to take in a show! There are three dozen theatres in London’s West End, and you can get discount tickets in areas like Covent Garden and Leicester Square once you arrive and know what you want to see.
- Regent’s Park, the London Zoo & Baker Street – Head up toward North London to stroll in this large park, see the animals at the zoo, and ogle 221B Baker Street if you love the famous detective who ‘lived’ there.
- Hyde Park, Green Park & St. James’ Park – These three parks are also worth exploring if you love some fresh air in the city. London is full of great parks, especially in West and Central London.
- Thames River Cruise – Another fun option to get around the city beyond the tube and buses, there are ferries and boats that take you from one part of the Thames to the other.
Obviously there are countless more things you could do while spending a week in London – my itinerary and this short list of alternatives barely scratch the surface! As you plan your trip, I also have a list of must-see sights in London, a London bucket list, and tips for your first London trip. If you have other questions about visiting London, let me know in the comments!