London Itinerary: 3 Days That Will Make You Fall in Love

London Itinerary for a 3 Day First-Time Visit

Recently, a friend asked for a 3 day London itinerary. With only 72 hours in the city, he wanted to see as much as possible during his brief first-time visit to London, England. Not only was he working around work obligations, he also wanted to travel economically.

As a recent college grad, I spent a winter living and working in London. Suffice to say, I KNOW London on a budget. Despite its reputation as an expensive city, you can easily take in the best of London for just the cost of a Travelcard and a little spending money.

Read on for the best budget-conscious 3 day London itinerary!

London Tube Sign

Know Before You Go For This London Itinerary

Make sure you know how you plan to travel around London before you arrive. This itinerary assumes you’ll use London public transportation – mostly The Tube/Underground Train and occassionally buses. You have several options to pay for those rides:  Travelcard, travel pass, or pay as you go with an Oyster card. Chose which one will work best for you before you’re standing in front of a Heathrow or Gatwick ticket machine in a jetlagged funk.

We’re gonna hit the pavement hard over the next couple days. Comfy, broken-in shoes are a must. Blisters are no joke!

I didn’t set a daily budget for this itinerary. I based suggested activities around the idea that you have about £50 of daily spending money.

This itinerary prioritizes experience over dining, so you won’t find many  London dining suggestions. However, I’ve include my best money-saving tips for eating in London.

Should I Buy A London Pass for 72 Hours in London?

Many travel bloggers encourage you to use The London Pass for a first-time London visit. (I’ve used its counterpart, the New York Pass, twice in New York City)

Unarguably a good deal, I prefer using the London Pass for a longer visit. I find it works best for a longer visit to London. If you only have 72 hours in the city and you opt to use the London Pass, you will spend your entire visit queuing for top 10 attractions. You will get a better sense of London’s overall character if you ditch the pass and set your own agenda. 

Why Explore London on foot for a first-time visit

Things that look far apart on a London public transportation map are often a short walk apart from each other. When exploring central London, I prefer to stay aboveground. London is extremely walkable and you’ll see all sorts of the fascinating sights on your walks from Point A and Point B.

Gotta run? Pin now to help plan your next trip to London!

London Must-See Highlights Walking Tour for Day One

  

Link to Day One: London Must-See Highlights Route

You really can see most of London’s must-see sights in a single day. This London walking tour takes you on a seven-mile saunter through central London. If that’s too much for you, I’ve broken the tour into sections so you can do one or just a few of the sections depending on your time constraints and/or mobility.

Westminter 

Trafalgar Square

Covent Garden and the Strand 

The City of London

The Thames and The Tower

Southbank

To start your day, take the Tube to Westminster stop on either the Circle or District Lines.

Westminster Walking Tour  

first time london visit to westminster

  • Houses of Parliament/Big Ben – I love this route because it starts with a big London “wow” factor. As soon as you step out of the Tube Station, the Big Ben Tower of the Houses of Parliament stares you in the face.
  • Cross the street right in front of Big Ben and head south past Parliament Square. You might see protestors in the square trying to make their MP take notice of their cause.
  • Continue down the street past the Houses of Parliament, then cross the street again to reach St. Margaret’s Church. This 12-century church (building dates to the late 15th century) is free to enter. Often known as the Church of the House of Commons, many MPs come here to worship and it’s where Winston Churchill married in 1908.
  • Exit the church and take in the gorgeous exterior of Westminster Abbey. Return to Parliament Square and start north on Parliament Street. Be sure to pay attention to all the statues and monuments as you walk!
  • Be on the lookout on your right for Downing Street. Although it will most likely be gated off, take a peak through the gate to spy 10 Downing Street, aka, the Prime Minister’s house!
  • Continue up Parliament Street until you reach Banqueting House of Whitehall Palace. In 1649, Oliver Cromwell’s Parliamentarians executed King Charles I by the middle lower level window of this building. If you have a little extra pocket change, go inside to view a beautiful Rubens ceiling. (£6.70 – 7.40).
  • On the righthand side just beyond the Banqueting Hall you’ll find mounted troopers stationed in front of a building aptly named . . . Horse Guards.

Exploring Trafalgar Square and Beyond

  • Parliament Street terminates at Trafalgar Square, a popular public square commemorating the 1805 naval battle of Trafalgar in the Napoleonic wars. You’ll find fountains, lions, Nelson’s column, and plenty of pigeons. Don’t miss the small police outpost (often misreported as London’s smallest police station) in southeastern corner.
  • The National Gallery overlooks Trafalgar Square from the north and just around the corner on Charing Cross Road, you’ll find the National Portrait Gallery. Both are free to enter and well worth an hour or so of your time. Go inside and enjoy some of the best European art.
  • Across Charing Cross Road from the National Gallery, you’ll find St. Martin’s in the Fields Church. You’re free to explore this beautiful Church of England church whenever a service isn’t in progress. If you’re feeling peckish, you nip down to the famous Cafe in the Crypt for a snack. The church is also known for its brass rubbings and evening concerts.
  • Continue up Charing Cross Road. If you’re looking for discount “day of” London theatre tickets, swing into Leicester Square. Known as the site of many English film premieres, this square’s also home of the TKTS booth.

A Walk Through Covent Garden and the Strand

  • From Charing Cross Road, turn onto St. Martin’s Ct to New Row to Kings Street to reach Covent Garden, a historic marketplace, now known for restaurants, craft vendors, and street performers. If you love shopping and spectacles, you might want to linger here. Just remember as a busy, distracting place, it behooves you to be on the lookout for pickpockets here. If not, at least take in St. Paul’s Church, which is where Eliza Doolittle sells her flowers at the start of My Fair Lady.  
  • Make your way east out of Covent Garden and towards the Strand. Cross the Strand to reach Somerset House to taken in this stunning complex’s beautiful courtyards. In the winter, you can ice skate here, but be sure to reserve your skating time in advance.
  • Continue east up the Strand and be on the look out for the High Commission of Australia building on the eastern edge of the Strand Underpass. You might recognize it as Gringotts Bank in the Harry Potter films.
  • Looking up the Strand, you’ll see a beautiful fairy tale palace on your left. It might look straight out of a Disney movie, but it’s actually the Royal Courts of Justice.

City of London entrance dragonThe City of London

  • As you pass by the Royal Courts of Justice, the road turns into Fleet Street. A dragon statue greets you at the start of Fleet Street, signaling that you’re leaving the City of Westminster and officially entering the City of London. Ha! You thought you were in London along, didn’t you?
  • Whew! My feet are tired just writing this and I feel a little thirsty. Maybe you better pop into Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, one of London’s oldest pubs, for a drink.
  • As you continue up Fleet Street, watch for the wedding-cake-esque steeple of St. Bride’s Church on your right.
  • Continue straight up the road until you reach St. Paul’s Cathedral. I strongly urge you to shell out some pounds to go inside. If possible, climb to the top of the dome for an amazing 360 view of London. You also don’t want to miss the notable tombs in the crypt. Book your ticket online in advance to save a little on the admission price. (£17 – 20).
  • You’re now firmly in the financial/business center of London.  Continue on for 10 -15 minutes until you reach Cornhill, then turn down Gracechurch St to reach Leadenhall Market. This Victorian covered marketplace served as the entrance to Diagon Alley you see Harry and Hagrid walking through in The Sorceror’s Stone film.

 

To The Thames and The Tower

  • From Leadenhall, get back on Gracechurch St and continue down past the golden orb topped Monument to the Great Fire of London towards the Thames River to reach London Bridge. Yes, the one of falling down fame. Except the actual bridge referenced in “London Bridge is falling down” now lives in Lake Havasu, AZ . . . because that makes sense? The current London bridge dates back just to the 1970s and well, she just ain’t a looker. But you get a great look at the much more picturesque Tower Bridge from here.
  • Head east down the north bank of the Thames to the Tower of London. Should you go inside? This is a tough question. If you can’t imagine going to London not seeing the Crown Jewels, or if you really love medieval history and knights and armor, then by all means, shell out the ££s. Just know it’s a tourist trap and admission is notoriously steep. Personally, I’d skip since you can get a great view of the impressive structure by walking the perimeter. (£26.00.)
  • If you opt to skip the Tower of London and just walk the exterior, be sure to check out the (free!) London Wall Walk on the remnants of the old Roman city wall that used to surround the city.

A Walk on London’s Southbank

  • You’ll immediately pass a weird sphere-like building that’s London’s City Hall. A little further down the path, you’ll pass Hay’s Galleria – an upmarket shopping centre.
  • Once you reach the south side of London Bridge, walk past Southwark Cathedral and swing through the Borough Market. This massive food market is a great place to grab a sandwich or baked good. The brownies are especially good.
  • Get back on the Thames Path via Cathedral Street. You’ll walk past a replica of Sir Francis Drake’s Golden Hinde galleon.
  • At this point, I’m assuming you’re a little worn out so we’re going to make a beeline down the Thames Path back towards Westminster while enjoying great views of the north bank of the Thames. However, if you’ve still got some energy (and money), consider swinging into the Clink Prison Museum (£8), the replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre (£16), or the Tate Modern (free!) depending on your interests. One cool thing about the Tate Modern is that it’s located in an old power station.
  • Near the Waterloo Bridge, you’ll find the Southbank Centre Book Market, along with street performers and a skate park.
  • As the river curves south, look across the bank for a good view of Charing Cross train station. The station architecture makes it look like the front of train approaching you.
  • Bypass the London Eye ferris wheel, then cross Westminster Bridge for a great view up the Thames of the Houses of Parliament. End at the Westminster Underground station where you started. Before you duck inside the station to grab a train, don’t miss the Boudicca statue on the northwest end of the Westminster Bridge.

View from Westminster Bridge

What To Do on Your First Evening in London

You’ve probably worked up a bit of an appetite, considering that you’ve just walked over seven miles and put a pretty massive dent in London’s “must-see” sights. Check out my suggestions for budget friendly London eats for an early dinner.

Since you’re already in central London, tonight’s a great night to take in some theatre in London’s West End. If you’re looking for affordable London theatre tickets, try lastminute.com, a couple days before your trip. It’s a much more efficient way to nab affordable last minute London theatre tickets without waiting in the TKTS line in Leicester Square.

Day Two: Explore London Parks and Palaces

Link to Day Two: London Parks and Palaces Route

We took in most of London’s “Top Ten” sights yesterday, but we have a couple more to see today. Don’t worry – you’ll spend slightly less time on your feet today. Today’s walking tour takes you about 5.5 miles through Mayfair, Kensington, and Knightsbridge.

Queen Victoria Buckingham Palace

Piccadilly Walking Tour

Begin at Piccadilly Circus Tube Station

Although many compare Piccadilly Circus with New York City’s Times Square, there’s not a whole lot to see at Piccadilly Circus except for some neon billboards. Grab a photo of Eros atop the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain, then continue west on Piccadilly for some window shopping.

Known for its posh shopping opportunities, some favorite shops to visit as you make your way down Piccadilly include Hatchards Booksellers, Fortnum and Mason, and Burlington Arcade. Watch for Royal Warrants (the royal coat of arms) over shop entrances. A warrant means that shop provides goods for the royal family. Right before turning into Green Park, you’ll pass the Ritz. Afternoon tea at the Ritz was one of my favorite memories from living in London. However, it’s definitely not budget friendly and must be booked well in advance.

Explore Central London Parks

Cut a diagonal across Green Park to reach Buckingham Palace. If possible, try to time your arrival for a little before 11 a.m. for the Changing of the Guard. (Be sure to check the Changing of the Guard schedule since the change isn’t a daily occurance in the winter.) While you can tour the State Rooms and more at Buckingham Palace, at £26 a ticket, it’s not your most budget friendly option. I prefer to gaze on it from afar near the Victoria Memorial and wondering what the royals are up to today.

Head up Constitution Hill to the Wellington Arch. The Arch commemorates the Duke of Wellington’s victory over Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815. The Duke’s home, Apsley House, sits just across the street near the entrance to Hyde Park.

Meander through Hyde Park. When you cross over the Serpentine Bridge, you officially enter Kensington Gardens, although the green space all merges together to feel like one big park.

Once you cross the Serpentine, visit the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain. If you’re in the mood for modern art, the nearby Serpentine Gallery offers lovely, bite-sized exhibits. Although it’s free to enter the gallery, be prepared to skip it if there’s a long line.

Kensington Palace and South Kensington

Kensington London England

Make your way to Kensington Palace. I love it and strongly recommend you pay the £17.50 admission and head inside. However, if you’re not very interested in royalty or fashion, you may prefer to save your money. As with St. Paul’s Cathedral, buy your tickets online ahead of time for the best price.

If you have room in your budget, I definitely recommend treating yourself to a fancy lunch or afternoon tea at Kensington Palace Orangery (currently closed for renovations) or Kensington Palace Pavillion and Tea Room. Book online ahead of time.
Prince Albert Memorial Kensington London
Head southeast through Kensington Gardens past The Albert Memorial and the Royal Albert Hall towards Exhibition Road.

Turn onto Cromwell Road and swing into the Museum of Natural History. If you skipped Kensington Palace and still have lots sightseeing in you, spend some time wondering the (free!) exhibits. Otherwise just duck inside to see its beautiful Gothic entrance hall. During winter months, you can ice skate in front of the museum’s gorgeous facade.

Back across Exhibition Road, go inside Victoria and Albert Museum. Another free (yes, free!) London museum that’s sometimes described as visiting “the attic of the empire,” the V&A is my favorite London museum.

Hike up Cromwell Road to Harrods. This fabled six-level London department store might give you flashbacks to the V&A – there’s a little of everything! It’s fun to look around, even if you have no intentions of making purchases. Don’t miss the food hall.

Make your way to the Knightsbridge Tube Station to conclude your London Palaces and Parks walking tour. (If you really enjoyed your time in Kensington, check out these 15 ideas for Things to Do in Kensington.)

Day Two London Evening

Tonight, head to the pub for bite and a pint and to watch whatever game is on.

Or take in a concert. Check to see what’s playing at the Royal Albert Hall or St. Martin’s in the Fields.

London Day Trip Down the Thames to Greenwich

Sure, Dr. Johnson said you’re tired of life if you’re tired of London, but I definitely recommend going beyond city limits to get a fuller sense of England during your brief visit. A myraid of worthy day trip destinations lie less than a two-hour train ride outside of London. For example, you might consider visiting Salisbury/Stonehenge, Windsor, Canterbury, Brighton, Wincester, Norwich, Oxford, or Dover.

A ton of tour companies operating in London will take care of all of your day trip logistics for you . . . but for a pretty penny. My suggested London day trip is logistically simple and surprsingly affordable because it barely get you outside of the London metro . . . .

Let’s go to Greenwich!

Why Visit Greenwich during your first-time London visit

Greenwich lies to the east just around the river bend from central London. The site of a royal palace starting in the 15th century, Greenwich became intrinsically linked with Britain’s naval dominance of the globes’s oceans when the Greenwich Hospital replaced the derelict palace in 1692. Greenwich continued to house a Royal Navy training facility as recently as 1998.

Since 1997, Greenwich has been honored as a World Heritage Site because it has such a high concentration of historical and architecturally significant buildings.

In addition to a rich naval and royal history, ever heard of a little something called Greenwich Mean Time?

Greenwich has a small(er) English village vibe that contrasts sharply with London’s major world city bustle. However, you can use your Travelcard or Oyster Card on the Docklands Light Railway (connect at Tower Hill) giving it a distinct advantage as a first-time London day trip. Can’t get much budget friendly than a day trip whose transportation is already paid for! However, if you have the extra £s, I highly recommend traveling from central London to Greenwich via boat.

Before you go, pick up a grocery store picnic to enjoy during your visit.

Boating to Greenwich on the Thames

Boat Down the Thames to Greenwich

Take the tube to Tower Hill then make your way down to the Thames. If you’ve been using a Travelcard to make your way around London, you qualify for a discounted ticket from City Cruises. Boats depart for Greenwich every forty minutes. The boat plays a surprisingly enjoyable pre-recorded sightseeing commentary while it sails.

Once you arrive in Greenwich, there’s no shortage of things to do and see. The real beauty of Greenwich is that it’s rich in free activities.

As soon as you embark your boat, you’ll see the Cutty Sark, one of the last tea clipper boats (aka, sailboat used to pick up trade goods across the world) used before Britain totally industrialized. You can tour the ship if you’re interested for £13.50. Or, if you plan to visit both the Cutty Sark and the Royal Observatory Greenwich, buy a combination ticket to save a little money. If you’re not interested in the Cutty Sark, continue on to the Old Royal Naval College.

Old Royal Naval College Sights

Queen’s House – built starting in 1616 for the queen of James I, Anne of Denmark, it’s free to visit the royal residence. Best known for a spiral staircase with a beautiful, tulip motif, cast iron banister and its display of maritime paintings, the house definitely warrants a visit . . . just not a long one.

National Maritime Museum – This free museum far exceeded my expectations and I ended up wishing we’d budgeted more time for our visit. Be sure to check out the Polar Worlds expeditions exhibit!

Painted Hall of Old Royal Naval College– this once free Greenwich attraction happily recently underwent a renovation and is now, sadly, a ticketed attraction (£11). If you’re an art lover, you still might fork over the admission to this Baroque masterpiece which features what’s been called “Britain’s Sistine Chapel.”

Painted Hall Interior

Greenwich Park and Royal Observatory Greenwich

As you exit the Old Royal Naval College campus, Greenwich Park – a vast expanse of green – greets you. Find a sunny spot and enjoy your grocery store picnic.

Perched on a hill above Greenwich Park, you can’t miss the Royal Observatory Greenwich when you emerge from the Naval College. Many significant astronomical and scientific advancements -perhaps most significantly the invention of longitude- occured at this observatory which dates back to 1675.

Cutty Sark Although you can see the prime meridian line through the fence outside the Observatory, the museum now located inside the Observatory is well worth a visit (£14.40). Even if you opt to skip the museum, definitely make the steep climb up the Observatory Hill for a sweeping view of Greenwich Park, the Old Royal Naval College, and Canary Wharf on the north side of the Thames. Don’t forget to get a combination ticket if you want to visit both the Cutty Sark and the Royal Observatory.

There’s a lot to see in Greenwich beyond the Royal Museums Greenwich. For example, if you’re a fan of well . . . fans (hand fans that is. . .) you could visit The Fan Museum on the edge of Greenwich Park for just £5. Or you could soar across the Thames in a cable car.

If you’re ready to head back to central London AND you have serious FOMO after skipping the Tower of London on Day One, here’s your second chance to visit. This is an especially nice time to visit the Tower since your time in London has almost wrapped and you know exactly how many £s you have left to spend. By all means, get up close and personal with a beefeater and the Crown Jewels.

London Evening Entertainment for Day Three

Since you didn’t spend as much time on your feet today, consider going on a London Walk tonight. These guided, two-hour long, themed walking tours of London will cost you £10. I always learn some great “did you know” facts to sprinkle into my future conversations about London from these tours which are both entertaining and educational.

But if it was up to me, I’d definitely go to another West End show if you can squeeze it in.

London Food Budget Tips

Breakfast is easy in London. Just be sure to book a hotel or B&B with a complimentary full English breakfast to keep you full for hours of adventuring.

Budget friendly London lunch options

The British Isles invent the sandwich and you’ll find all sorts of pre-made sandwiches in any London grocery store. A grocery store picnic purchased at a Sainsbury’s or Tesco near your B&B or hotel to take with you during your day out is an excellent way to stretch your London food dollars. Also, score, London groceries are crazy affordable.

If you go the grocery store picnic route, be sure to grab a treat from the store bakery. I have a special soft spot in my heart for Tesco’s double chocolate muffins. If you try them and don’t like them, please don’t tell me!

Check out Boots Pharmecies – yes Boots, just like cosmetic line at Target – for cheap sandwich meal deals. You can get a sandwich, snack, and drink starting at £3.29! If you want something a little fancier in the sandwich/soup department for lunch, swing into a Pret a Manger or check out West Cornwall Pasty Co.

Opt for soup (almost always served with a nice slice of bread) at museum cafes for another affordable lunch.

Affordable Dinners in London

You can find fish and chips just about anywhere in London and this is a great budget-friendly option. Your cheapest option is to head to a chipper, but you might be better off heading to the pub on the corner so you can grab a pint of lager or ale too, eh?

If you want to dine out but don’t want to spend much money, look up the nearest J.D. Wetherspoon pub for decent (if not amazing) food at a very reasonable price.

Other budget friendly restaurants around London include PizzaExpress (yes, of Prince Andrew fame!), Wagamama, or Wahaca.

First Time London Itinerary Pin

Have you been to London before? What are your tips for savings £££s while visiting this favorite English city?

About:

Hi! I’m Ada, a travel writer who believes “there’s no place like home.” I started Beyond the Yellow Brick Road to share my travel experiences and lessons learned from the road to help fellow travelers have the best travel experiences possible.

Home Airport:

DLH/YQT

Next Trip:

Hawaii

Where I’ve Been:


13 Comments

  1. As a Londoner I can confirm this covers all the main spots! 🙂

    Reply
    • Whew! I’m glad this reaches the Londoner stamp of approval! I realize these aren’t exactly hot spots for people who actually live in London!

      Reply
  2. This is a great guide utilizing Tube Stations for an easy way of going around the different sites. I have done Day One but missed a lot on Day Two and skipped Greenwich for Windsor.

    Reply
  3. This is fab for people that like walking. When we lived in London we’d spend loads of time walking in the parks and along the Thames Pathway, it is SUCH a good way to see the city. I’m glad you included Greenwich – it is such a gorgeous and green area.

    The only thing I disagree with (slightly) is the food! London has sooooo much amazing food (even on a budget) I’d always walk a bit further to make sure you eat something amazing within the big smoke. 😀

    Reply
  4. This is such great information for first time travellers to the city, covering all the main attractions. I love how you have kept in mind traveller’s budget, offering lower cost options. I’m saving this for future reference.

    Reply
  5. Fabulous itinerary and great food suggestions for budget conscious travellers. I spent 10 days in London so got to experience many of these highlights but didn’t get to Greenwich, sadly.

    Reply
  6. Very detailed itinerary and beautiful pictures! It’s actually a great London guide not just an itinerary guide 🙂

    Reply
  7. Beautifully written! Brings me right back to when I used to live in Blighty! ☺️

    Reply
  8. We’ve explored London quite a few times and must admit that it’s not really a city we love. This is mainly because we never got lucky (got robbed a few times, almost got run over by a bus, stayed in low-budget hotels that had rats or an invasion of ants). But our last visit about a year ago turned our to be quite good. We stayed at a great 4 stars hotel and loved exploring the less touristy East End neighborhood.

    Reply
  9. London is in my bucket list for a while now. I want to explore this city, enjoy the buildings, monuments and museums. Thanks for sharing this post.

    Reply
  10. A great itinerary! I would have needed it during post London trips as I somehow always end up not visiting Buckingham Palace. Guess I should follow the day 2 route when I’m in the city again.

    Reply
  11. This is a great guide and as someone who unfortunately has not been to London before, I feel like I’d be totally set with just this blog post bookmarked! I absolutely love walking in new cities and using public transportation. I think it’s such a better way to take in the sites than to spend a bunch of money on taxis or Ubers.

    Reply
  12. I really like short trips. 3 Days in London is perfect for me. It is an amazing city.Your photos are gorgeous! Thanks for sharing! Good luck

    Reply

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