4 day London itinerary: travel guide for first-timers
Looking for the perfect 4 day London itinerary? You’re not the only one. The UK capital is one of the most visited cities in the world, seeing around 20 million people step foot in it a year. Here’s what you should prioritise on a short trip to London.
Heading to London for the first time and wondering how to maximise your time there?
The biggest problem with the UK capital, is that there’s soooo much to see and do and quite a lot of it is worthwhile.
Pretty much everyone has a London bucket list of some description, although they vary by size and taste.
I lived in the city for years and feel like I barely scratched the surface of what London has to offer.
What does that say about the place? Only good things, really.
Regardless, here is a 4 day London itinerary, which covers a long weekend, or midweek break in the city.
4 days is a good amount of time to spend in London, if you want to see some of the sights nearby – particularly on a day trip from London by train.
And remember, it isn’t only London that’s full of neat things to do!
Here are some other hidden gems around the UK, definitely worth exploring.
Your 4 day London itinerary
Here is a loose itinerary you can play around with. You can mix up the days, do as much or as little as you like.
This is what you’ll find in this particular 4 day London itinerary:
- Day 1: Get acquainted with the city
- Day 2: Dive into London’s rich history
- Day 3 Take a day trip to Richmond
- Day 4: See the icons
- BONUS Day 5: Get into a bit of culture
London trip tip: Consider grabbing a
London pass, which will give you free entry to more than 30 attractions. Depending on what activities you plan on doing, this could save you a heck-tonne of cash (plus you can get a visitor’s Oyster Card on the pass). Passes are available for one, to ten days.
London: some need know information
London Airports: London is serviced by five airports – Heathrow to the west of the city, Gatwick in the south, Luton in the north, Stanstead in the east and my favourite City, in the city itself. Most are serviced by train, although not always in the early hours of the morning. You can book private transfer from Heathrow in advance.
Getting around: An Oyster Card is necessary for travel around London via public transport. It’s a smartcard that you load money onto, in the style of pay-as-you-go (£30 is a good start for a few days in the city). Consider buying a pass if you’re staying in London for longer than a week. You can buy them from any ticketing machine, from train stations or at any of these locations. Visitor cards do not have an expiry date, so keep it safe to use on your next trip to London.
Where to stay in London on your trip
With all the logistics out of the way, let’s get on with the fun part – planning your 4 day London itinerary.
Day One – Get Acquainted With the City
Your first day should be all about getting acquainted with the city. I am of the opinion that this is best done either from the air, or by water.
Luckily, London has both options available.
Things to do on day 1 of your 4 day London itinerary
Do a Cruise Down the River Thames
This has to be one of the nicest ways to see London, particularly if you luck out and get a day with brilliant sunshine.
I… didn’t. I took this particularly cruise during a thunderstorm. I got severely rained upon. Yet, on the upside, I had the whole upper deck to myself and walked away with some pretty amazing photographs of the deluge.
There are four piers from which to embark upon the boat. Westminster, London Eye, Tower and Greenwich pier.
I highly recommend starting at Greenwich. It’s a nice place in itself to explore (more on that later) and far less people get on the boat here than at the other piers.
The City Cruises boats are also the best to catch. There’s a catamaran which traverses the length of the Thames, but it’s more for commuters – plus it doesn’t have an outside top deck to sit upon.
Check out London from above
Or, you can alternatively ogle this immense city from a bird’s-eye view.
You have a few options for this.
London’s tallest and pointiest building is located in the city’s south, right near Tower Bridge. Visitors can travel up to the 72nd floor and take in a 360 degree view of the city, which is best done at either sunrise or sunset for fairly obvious reasons.
|London Trip Tip: You can take in this view for free, if you head to Aqua Shard, the bar on the 31st floor. Well, almost for free as I suppose you have to buy an exorbitantly priced drink. Still. Better than naught.|
If you’re on a bit of budget or simply don’t like spending money, the nearby Sky Garden located in the building known colloquially as the “Walkie Talkie” is gloriously free. Yep. Zero pounds for entry. Pretty neat, huh?
You do have to be prepared however – you can’t just rock up on the day and expect to be let in. Rather, you have to book into an allocated time slot via their website.
On the upside, you can hang out there as long as you like and marvel at the indoor gardens to boot.
I rep this activity so hard, mostly because I find the Walkie Talkie hideously ugly. It’s nice to gaze upon the city of London, without having to look at this building’s ugly mug.
Visit the Tate Modern
You can’t go to London and not take advantage of its many wonderful and more importantly FREE museums and gallery.
The Tate Modern is one of the best, or so is the actual Tate as well. It’s hard to pick a favourite, but I personally like the area the Tate Modern is in better.
|London Trip Tip: Try to time your visit for late at night, if you’re in the city on a Friday or Saturday. The gallery closes at ten.|
Tour the Globe Theatre
Close to the Tate is The Globe Theatre, a reconstruction of the open-air playhouse from 1599, where many Shakespearian plays were performed.
You can check out their programme if you want to catch a play there (the standing tickets are fine, trust me as I’ve stood through two Shakespearian plays, once in the pouring rain!), or alternatively take a tour through the theatre itself.
Grab some food at Borough Market
Borough Market is one of London’s oldest food and retail markets. There are both pop-up and more permanent stalls worth exploring and lots of delicious options for a lunchtime meal.
It’s open from 10am to early evening, every day bar Sundays.
Grab a drink in a toilet bar
There are a few old toilets littered around London, which have been converted into small bars. You’ll find one in Bermondsey, at the Bermondsey Arts Club.
Day Two – Dive into the city’s rich history
So you’ve seen the city itself from multiple angles – now it’s time to explore London’s rich and diverse history! This isn’t hard to do, as it’s the kind of city where you can find history pretty much around every corner.
For history buffs, this will probably be the most exciting day of your London trip.
Things to do on day two of your 4 day London itinerary
Visit the Tower of London
Let’s start by heading to the Tower of London, which has been knocking about since the 11th century. You can learn a bit about its past as a prison, fortress and palace, as well as check out the Crown Jewels for yourself.
|London Trip Tip: You can skip the very long line by booking your tickets in advance, online. Getting there early will help, too.|
Tower Bridge is only a stone’s throw away from the Tower of London (the names might give that fact away), so you may as well head there next.
Simply walking across the bridge itself is nice, but you can check out the exhibit which tells of its history and gaze upon London from the tower’s top.
HMS Belfast is a wartime ship, turned museum, located in between Tower Bridge and London Bridge. It happens to be the most significant Second World War Royal Navy warship, so it’s great that it’s been preserved like this for all to experience.
You can explore all nine decks to find out what it was like for crews at sea, during wartime and otherwise.
Walk across London Bridge & the Millennium Bridge
You could spend all day strolling along the Thames and crossing London’s various bridges, but beyond Tower Bridge, I think these two are best to check out.
The eponymous London Bridge is probably the city’s most famous bridge, by name alone – in fact, many tend to confuse it with the rather more grand Tower Bridge.
There’s been bridges spanning that site for centuries, although the current was built in 1973, its predecessor sold off to an American. Rumours flew around that he believed he was buying Tower Bridge, but he denied that fact adamantly.
The Millennium Bridge is a pedestrian bridge, leading straight to St Paul’s Cathedral.
It was opened in June 2000, and closed on the same day it was opened, as it swayed something shocking when pedestrians tried to cross it. Londoners were quick to nickname it the “Wobbly Bridge” and it re-opened in February, 2002 as a much sturdier bridge.
Potterheads will recognise it from the movie Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince , where it’s blown up by Death Eaters.
St Paul’s Cathedral
Stroll alongside the Thames until you reach St Paul’s Cathedral.
The original structure burnt to the ground during the Great Fire of London in 1666, but the replacement building is pretty darn nice.
Entry to the cathedral is around £16.
Natural History Museum
From here, hop on the Tube and head to the Natural History Museum.
This is probably my favourite museum (besides the Horniman in south London), because I have a weird obsession with taxidermy.
As with all of the big museums in London, entry is FREE.
If you’re there in the wintertime, you can skate on the ice rink that’s set up outside. That’s actually more fun than the museum, believe it or not.
See a West End Show
And why not end the night with a West End Show? It’s touristy AF, but hey – that’s for a reason.
Some of my favourite seemingly-never-ending shows include The Phantom of the Opera, Mamma Mia and Les Misérables.
I also flipping loved Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
|London Trip Tip: You can buy heavily discounted tickets to most shows either on the day, or 30 days in advance using Today Tix|
Day Three – Take a day trip to Richmond
I dunno about you, but I reckon it’s time for a day trip.
Let’s get out of the heart of the city and head west, to see the delightful village of Richmond.
Things to do on day three of your 4 day London itinerary
It’s pretty easy to get to Richmond from central London, which is why it’s a must-do on any London itinerary. The easiest way is by train.
Catch a train from Waterloo Station to Richmond Station. The average journey time is around 35 minutes, but an express train will get you there in 16 mins… should you be so lucky!
And what should we do once we get there? Well, there are a few options.
Check out the park
Richmond Park is the largest of all the royal parks, so big that it’s hard to imagine that you’re still fairly close to the city.
If you time it right, you might even see deer hopping around, which makes for a pretty special experience.
Have lunch at a pub
Richmond is also home to some pretty cosy and very British-esque pubs. Grab some grub or have a pint and soak up the local ambience.
Visit Hampton Court Palace
If you like palaces, Richmond is home to one of the best – Hampton Court.
Known for housing the infamous Henry VIII, you can wander around the gardens, check out the massive maze and view the works in the Cumberland Art Gallery.
Day 4: See the icons of London
Next stop on your 4 day London itinerary is braving the part of the city most popular with the city, but a must-see for any London trip – Westminster.
We’re going to go full tourist for this part of your London trip. Some things in London aren’t worth doing, but these options most certainly are.
Things to do on day four of your 4 day London itinerary
Houses of Parliament & Big Ben
When you think of London, one of the icons that readily comes to mind is probably the clock tower of the Houses of Parliament, known colloquially as Big Ben.
Except that’s not entirely correct – Big Ben is actually the name of the bell encased in Elizabeth Tower.
You can tour the Houses of Parliament, alongside Churchill’s secret war rooms.
From there, you can go on to view magnificent Westminster Abbey.
The first Westminster Abbey was allegedly constructed in the 11th century (it’s been a site of religious importance since 960) and the present building has been standing there since the 13th. All coronations of English and British monarchs have been held there since 1066, the most recent being Queen Elizabeth the II.
Over 3,300 people have been buried or commemorated at the Abbey, including King Henry V, Charles Dickens, Isaac Newton, Elisabeth Gaskell, Jane Austen and Stephen Hawking and Diana, Princess of Wales.
The Abbey is beautiful inside and out, but at least on the inside you get a nice, close look at the gorgeous stained glass windows.
Buckingham Palace is worth an ogle once – if you’re lucky you might be able to spot one of the royals through the gates.
This is one of London’s most popular public squares, the site of many parades and celebrations.
Don’t be surprised if you head down there and find something going on.
Convent Garden is a food and entertainment district. There are plenty of shops, restaurants and colourful corners to poke around in.
My favourite restaurant there is a Spanish Tapas place called Barrafina. I recommend getting there shortly before opening time, if you don’t fancy queueing.
Piccadilly Circus & Regent Street
This is one of those areas of London that you have to check out on your first trip (and then feel free to never go back, because it can be quite busy!).
Within Piccadilly Circus, several streets join at the base of a roundabout, on which the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain stands.
If you’re into people watching, perch on the steps to watch the world go by. Behind you, will be giant neon signs, displaying various changing advertisements. It’s a bit like Times Square in New York.
One of the streets you can continue up is Regents Street, which has Hamley’s, one of the most famous toy shops in the world.
The London Eye
I feel rather ambivalent about the London Eye – yeah, it offers a good view, but I think you get more value for money via the Shard or Sky Garden.
However, I suppose it’s worth doing once.
|London Trip Tip: Make sure you book your ticket to the London Eye in advance, as the lines on the day can be really upsetting. If you want to see as much of London as possible, it’s best to plan ahead!|
Have a spot of afternoon tea!
This seems like an awfully British thing to do, although it’s something that’s more for tourists (you have no idea how many Brits I’ve met who’ve never had afternoon tea).
However, it is generally a little bit fancy and a lot of fun.
I’ve consumed a fair bit of afternoon tea during my time in London. You can read some of my reviews below.
BONUS Day five: soak up some culture
Got a bit more time to spend in the city?
Here’s some ideas.
You’ve seen the main icons and you’ve experienced a little bit of history.
Let’s deep dive a little bit further and soak up some more of the city’s culture.
National Portrait Gallery
This gallery is host to, well, portraits of many important and famous Brits and is the first of its kind to open anywhere in the world.
Well worth spending an hour or so wandering through here.
Continuing to take advantage of these free museum admissions, let’s now head to the gorgeous British Museum.
Make sure you get there early, as the crowds can be phenomenally painful to get through. I stood near the Rosetta Stone, yet I can’t actually say I really saw it, over the throngs of people.
The British Library
From the museum, head onto the library, which is home to some amazing exhibitions. I went to the Harry Potter A History of Magic exhibition and I have to say, it was one of the best I’ve ever seen.
See what’s on.
London is home to some truly beautiful cemeteries and Highgate might be one of the best.
The graveyard is divided into two sections – the East and the West.
You can stroll around the East, but the West can only be seen as part of a guided tour, which enable you to stroll up the Egyptian Avenue, through a pair of giant obelisks to the Circle of Lebanon cedar tree, which is older than the cemetery itself.
Possible day trips from London
This 4 day London itinerary will keep you busy, but if you have a few days spare, why not consider a day trip from London?
England is a particularly small country and so long as the trains are running, it’s fairly quick and easy to get to places outside the capital (plus there’s always the option of catching a coach, which is oftentimes a lot cheaper).
Here are some options for day trips that you could tack onto your London itinerary.
Concluding this 4 days London itinerary
It sounds like a lot, but believe me – this is barely scratching the surface of what London has to offer.
However, I believe this 4 day London itinerary is a good introduction, guaranteeing you see most of the best known sights, with a few other delights thrown in for fun.
Last tidbits of information
We’re big fans of responsible tourism. Green up your getaways with these eco-friendly travel products and check out these sustainable travel tips. Plus, discover how to travel responsibly between London and Paris.
Thanks for the heads-up on the Harry Potter exhibition at the British Library, LC! I work not far from there – can’t believe I haven’t come across any promotional posters for it. Hope you have a great time revisiting London, and that the British weather cooperates!
If you’re working near there, maybe we should meet up for a hot bev! Yeah it doesn’t seem to have been hugely advertised (very unusual for anything Potter-related) – I found out from a random email list that I remain subscribed to. It’s normally a case of seeing things pop up and then getting upset about no longer being in London, so it was nice to have the stars align in this case!
I’d be up for that – I’ll shoot you a message via your contact page and we can see if there’s a time that suits! Curious how under-advertised it is, given that everyone’s gone Potter-mad again since the Cursed Child came out. (Shamefully, I still haven’t read it, though I’m told it’s better seen than read.)
Hooray, I look forward to it! It is quite – I haven’t read it either but seeing it was phenomenal.
Well, good luck with ticking all those off! 😀 Interested to hear about the taxidermy class (oh wacko! haha) and the Potter hotel experience!!
Haha, thanks I did my best despite some shocking jetlag. And you will – plan to write about both!
My itineraries are also always overly ambitious, that’s how I like it! 🙂 There are some really cool suggestions here beyond the usual ones that I visited on my most recent trip, thanks!
Awesome itinerary! And I agree with you. I used to live in London as well (for 6 months) and I did a lot of sightseeing. Yet there was still so much to be seen. Miss London <3
I miss it too 🙁 There’s TOO much to see!