3 Days in London: A Local’s Expert Guide

The hardest part of planning 3 days in London isn’t finding things to do, it’s choosing what to do from the cornucopia of museums, galleries, palaces, restaurants, bars and hidden gems across this sprawling city.

After all, London is a global metropolis packed to the rafters with art, history, food and nightlife.

But if you have three days to make the most of what London has to offer, here’s what you should do.

skyline of London
London: so much to see, so little time. Photo credit: Negative Space

Day 1: Westminster & Notting Hill

If you ask most people what the most famous sites in London are, they’ll say Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey

And they’d be wrong. 

Technically, these are located in the Royal Borough of Westminster, a city in its own right and the perfect place to start your “three days in London” adventure.

Walking through Westminster

Exiting the Westminster station, marvel at the world’s most famous clock tower (and don’t mind the pedants that tell you that its name is the Elizabeth Tower—Londoners have always called it Big Ben, even though that’s actually the name of the bell inside of it).

An aerial view of London, showing the Big Ben (Westminster)
If you hear mention of the Elizabeth Tower, they’re actually referring to this tower! Photo credit: Jamie Street

Circle Parliament Square to get a view of the Houses of Parliament and the ancient abbey, pausing to get a photo at the most iconic red telephone box in the city before heading up Whitehall, passing Downing Street (home of the prime minister) and Churchill’s War Rooms, bunkers frozen in time from WW2

Heading through the Horse Guards Parade, you can walk the mall leading to the front of Britain’s most famous residence, Buckingham Palace. On certain days—and depending on your arrival time—you may even catch a glimpse of the Changing of the Guards ceremony, the snazziest soldiers undertaking the most complex shift change known to man, woman or child.

If you don’t catch the ceremony on a whim and want to carve out time to see it (with two separate ceremonies from four distinct viewpoints), check out the Changing of the Guard & Buckingham Palace tour.

Snacking in Soho, London

After all that wandering in Westminster, you’ll definitely be hungry.

Head into Soho for a multicultural melting pot of taste. From the locally renowned, decently priced and formally rudest Cantonese canteen Wong Kei (ignore the reviews) to the Italian-regional-dish-highlighting Bocca di Lupo, this vibrant area is the true meaning of something for everyone.

Or if you don’t mind walking a little further, you’ll find the unbelievably cool Mercato Mayfair. Welcome to a street food heaven located in a deconsecrated church. Ever slurped noodles under stained glass windows before? You can here.

Seeing the Best of the West London

From here, jump on the tube to Notting Hill Gate to spend a pleasant afternoon wandering the lengthy Portobello Road, full of antique markets, pastel-coloured houses and the iconic bookshop from the film. Still feeling peckish? Pop by the Grain Shop and grab some health in a box from a selection of hot and cold vegetarian and vegan dishes prepared fresh in-house since the ‘70s.

A pink and blue apartment building in Notthing Hill, London
Notting Hill is one of the most charming areas of London. Photo credit: Olivier Chatel

Day 2: The city, Borough Market & Southbank

Exploring the historic heart of London

This morning is all about the Square Mile, which is the most historic part of London, the part where you’ll find the Royal Exchange (London’s first commercial building), the Financial District, and a cluster of sacred spaces from Christopher Wren’s stunning St. Paul’s Cathedral to the oldest surviving church in the city, the atmospheric St. Bartholomew The Great.

People walking on a small bridge with views of St. Paul's Cathedral in London in the background
St. Paul’s Cathedral is right in the heart of London’s historic downtown district. Photo credit: Belinda Fewings

Speaking of St. Barts, it’s just on the edge of Smithfield. We recommend starting your day around here for two reasons. Firstly, indulge in a bacon butty at the family-run Beppes (23, W Smithfield). With a history dating back to the ‘30s, it is widely considered to be a fine example of the classic London caff (keep in mind that traditional caffs tend to close after lunch).

This area also boasts an absolute hidden gem that most Londoners don’t even know about. The Charterhouse is a complex of 14th-century buildings that have, at different points, been a monastery, a boy’s school and an almshouse.

A view of the London Charterhouse
The London Charterhouse has been many different things at many different points throughout history. Photo credit: Geoff Henson

From here, wind your way through the streets of the historic city, getting your Roman fix at the Mithraeum (also free entry, but book in advance), taking in the Monument to the Great Fire of London and eventually crossing London Bridge for unforgettable views of the river.

And on the other side, you’ll find the Borough Market, a perfect place for lunch.

Eating in Borough Market

The iconic Borough Market has been feeding hungry Londoners and visitors for over 1000 years. Whatever your tastes, there’s going to be something for you here.

British cheese? Check.
Fiery curries? Check.
Oysters (a.k.a., the oldest street food in the city)? Check.
Fish and chips? Check!

A produce stand in the Borough Market, London
London’s Borough Market is equally popular among locals and tourists. Photo credit: Hulki Okan Tabak

For the most delicious overview of seven traditional tastes and a drink that you’ll find in this area, how about the Ultimate London Food Tour of this very market to lead the way?

Exploring Southbank

Continuing along the south bank of the Thames, you’re now strolling down the area known as Southbank. Full of brutalist buildings maybe, but this stretch is a testament to the tenacity of Londoners.

Heavily bombed in WW2 due to being an important dock area, it was here that the post-war rebuild would give us the Royal National Theatre and the Royal Festival Hall. Pop into the BFI to watch archival infomercials in pods out the back or into the Tate Modern for a completely free immersion into works from Mondrian and Picasso or Anish Kapoor and Guerilla Girls.

A man and woman stand in front of a painting at the Tate Modern
The Tate Modern museum opened its doors in 2000 and has been an iconic London landmark ever since. Photo credit: Toa Heftiba

To wrap up, head back to Borough and enjoy a British beef dinner at award-winning steak spot Hawksmoor. And don’t miss out on the Tunworth mash and the best sticky toffee pudding in town!

Day 3: Tower of London & Shoreditch

Visiting the Tower of London

It’s your final day so rise early, grab a quick coffee and a Full English from Devine (another amazing little family-run joint) and beat the crowds into London’s most famous fortress. 

Started by William the Conqueror in 1079, it’s been developed by a succession of monarchs over centuries and is home to ravens, Beefeaters, and the most famous jewels in the world.

Insider’s Tip: It gets super busy as the day wears on, so we recommend getting on an early access Tower of London tour that gets you inside before the crowds to catch a glimpse of the Crown Jewels with literally no line.

Tower of London
The Tower of London was founded around 1066 as part of the Norman Conquest of England. Photo credit: Amy-Leigh Barnard

Shopping in Shoreditch

And once you’ve had your fill of history, make your way through Aldgate, onto Brick Lane and onwards to Shoreditch where you’re going to find record shops, vintage stores, Spitalfields market, street art galore and London’s Curry Mile. The Curry Mile was founded by Bangladeshi, Punjabi and Pakistani arrivals in the 1970s.

Despite being a London landmark, our favorite place to indulge Indian food is on the streets nearby. Top recommendations include (definiely make a reservation!):

  • Meraz (one of the originals): Small prices, big flavors and a seriously tasty Tandoori Lamb
  • Dishoom: Alocal favorite offering stellar tastes like House Black Dahl—so creamy, so good
A building filled with grafitti and street art, located next to a restaurant
Shoreditch is a must-see when visiting London. Photo credit: Hulki Okan Tabak

Drinking cocktails in Shoreditch

After an afternoon spent shopping and eating your way around the hipster haven that is Shoreditch, it’s time to toast to three days in London, well spent.

Head to the award-winning Cocktail Trading Co. where they offer a cool take on traditional cocktails. The menus change a lot, but whatever you order, it’s going to be game-changing.

A cocktail with blackberry and mint
Looking for some creative cocktails in London? You’ll find them in Shoreditch. Photo credit: Nikita Tikhomirov

More London activities: Harry Potter, Museum of Zoology, & Neal’s Yard

If you’ve found yourself with extra time during your three days in London, then consider these extra activies:

Set of Harry Potter
Get tickets to Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter, one of the most in-demand attractions in the UK. Photo credit: Finn
  • Love animals and learning about them? Check out the Grant Museum of Zoology. The museum offers a diverse range of exhibits, including a jar of preserved moles, dodo bones, a quagga skeleton, specimens in fluid, taxidermy collections, and extensive skeletal displays.
  • Neal’s Yard is a vibrant and colorful courtyard nestled in the heart of Covent Garden, London. Easily accessible on foot, it’s a fun place to walk around, check out shops, buzzing cafes, and unique architecture.

Three days in London, sorted. But if you’ve got even less time, don’t worry—we know exactly how to help you see London in just one day.

Update Notice: This post was updated on January 31, 2024.

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About the author

Born in Britain and made in the Med, Shabby is a true ‘Enfant de Bohême’, splitting her time between her native London and her adopted home on the island of Malta. As a tour guide, writer, wanderer, and culinary history obsessive, she adores challenging assumptions about the food in her birth city. Spoiler alert: it’s fantastic food. Follow along on her adventures via Instagram at @shabbyontour

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