London. The capital of the UK, with history dating back to Roman times. It’s big, it’s busy and sometimes it’s totally overwhelming. It’s hard to know where to start, so this blog post is focused on how to fit most of the main sites into a 3 day visit.
3 days in the capital is just enough to see a good amount of the main attractions, but even those take a bit longer to do at a pace which fully takes them in. I’ve then also posted ‘How to spend more than 3 days in London’ which has suggestions of additional sights you could add on.
So here goes.
ONE. The Tower of London (Day 1, morning)
By far my favourite attraction in London. 1,000 years of history in one castle. You can see the Crown Jewels, Traitor’s Gate, Henry VIII’s armour, the spot where numerous people were beheaded, the tower where the princes were kept, and learn about the stories of this castle on a Yeoman Warder’s tour (including torture methods, the gunpowder plot and of course, the castle ravens). It’s full of history which is brought to life throughout the castle, and is just an epic place to be.
My advice is to get there for opening and go straight to the Crown Jewels. It opens at 9am on all days other than a Sunday and Monday when it opens at 10am. We arrived at 9am on a Friday and ran to the crown jewels. We were the only ones in there and got to see them all to ourselves. By the time we were out, a few more people had arrived but were heading to the jewels so we managed to get some nice photos of Tower Square pretty empty.
You could easily spend a day at The Tower of London, but if you’ve only got 3 days in the capital then you don’t have time. Prioritise it for a morning and don’t rush – the museum in The White Tower is worth a fair amount of time.
TWO. Tower Bridge (Day 1, afternoon)
Built in the late 1800s, this bridge is a London icon. You can walk over the bridge (though cars can also drive over it – as my rogue sat nav has meant I have on a number of occasions!)
There is also a really interesting museum within the bridge, which if you’re interested in engineering I really recommend. You can also climb the high level walkways to take in the amazing views out across the Thames and watch London beneath your feet through the glass floor!
THREE. The Shard or HMS Belfast or The Tate Modern (Day 1, afternoon)
You won’t have time to do all 3 of these London attractions, so take your pick to suit your interests.
The Shard is an iconic glass building which is host to numerous restaurants and bars offering 360 degree views out across London. Go for this option if you like food and views (definitely my pick) – at this stage in the day it’s likely to be about 4pm, so perfect for the British tradition that is afternoon tea, followed by the viewing platform for sunset.
HMS Belfast is a ship which is permanently docked on The Thames. It is now a museum, showing what life would be like on the ship for the crew at sea and at war. It’s open until 6pm so again you will have enough time for a decent 2 hour visit.
The Tate Modern is the UK’s national gallery of modern art. I’m not really an art kind of person, but it’s still a really impressive place with galleries including the works of Andy Warhol and Dora Maar. It is open until 6pm (and 10pm on a Friday and Saturday, should you want a longer visit).
FOUR. Buckingham Palace (Day 2, morning)
You can’t visit London and not visit the Queen’s house! You can tour inside the palace with pre-booked tickets and if you want to see The State Rooms, Royal Mews and the Queen’s Gallery then a 2 hour tour may be for you. We opted just to see the Palace, and instead do a tour of the Houses of Parliament as that was more to our interest. If you’d prefer to see the Palace then just stay longer here and don’t linger at Parliament.
FIVE. Houses of Parliament incl. Big Ben (Day 2, morning)
The Houses of Parliament are another iconic London building. The buildings are open Monday to Saturday and you can attend debates, committee hearings or do a tour to learn about the buildings, role of the House of Lords, House of Commons, British judicial system, and Prime Ministers over time. We found the tour really interesting, and it lasted about 2 hours.
Big Ben is attached to the Houses of Parliament, right on The River Thames. It’s currently covered in scaffolding but due to be completed at some point in 2021.
SIX. Westminster Abbey (Day 2, morning/afternoon)
Westminster Abbey is right by the Houses of Parliament. It’s a World Heritage site, with over 1000 years of history and is an imposing Gothic church which is most definitely worth a visit. Prince William and Kate were married here in 2011, Henry VIII had his coronation here, and Edward III (and many other Kings and Queens) are buried here. It’s historic and it belongs to the Sovereign. Again you can do an audio tour round the Abbey, which is very interesting.
SEVEN. Imperial War Museum or Churchill War Rooms or London Eye & London Dungeon (Day 2, afternoon)
Again, the choice of options totally depends on your interests. All are within walking distance of The Abbey.
We chose the Imperial War Museum, those who know me will be unsurprised to hear. We LOVED it. One of the best museums in the world, and we have been to quite a few. There are galleries on WW1, WW2, Afghanistan, a holocaust exhibition, The Falklands and many more. We spent 4 hours in here and only got through the WW1 and Afghanistan galleries. We could easily have spent a full day just in this museum. We will definitely be going back.
If museums are your thing but maybe you want a more interactive and less intense one, The Churchill War Rooms are the underground caves which served as Britain’s central control during WW2. It also has a section of museum dedicated to the life of Churchill himself. This can be done in a few hours.
If museums just aren’t your thing, you could choose to visit the London Eye for great views out across London, and probably still have time to visit the London Dungeons as well. This is also a great option if you have children in tow. The dungeons combine special effects, rides and actors to recreate some of London’s famous historical macabre stories in a humorous way.
EIGHT. Madam Tussaud’s (Day 3, morning)
Waxworks of famous people, a little ride section, and doing a Sherlock Holmes mystery if you choose. It’s a fun way to spend a few hours, especially with children. However if you’ve done MT’s somewhere else in the world, I wouldn’t recommend investing your time in the London one as I don’t think it’s that different.
NINE. Sherlock Holmes Museum (Day 3, morning)
Visit 221B Baker Street for a fun museum about Sherlock Holmes. I know he’s not real, but he’s a British icon and both the small museum and great gift shop are worth an hour or so of your time.
TEN. Hyde Park and Kensington Palace or The V&A Museum and Royal Albert Hall (Day 3, afternoon)
Hyde park is big, and lovely for a stroll on a nice afternoon. To walk through the park takes roughly half an hour, so allow an hour for a wiggeldy route and a few detours for photos. There are also some nice children’s play areas and a really pretty rose garden which is worth a visit.
Kensington Palace is the birthplace of Queen Victoria. You can visit her re-imagined childhood rooms, learn about her early years through the exhibitions, and explore the beautiful gardens. The Palace building closes at 4pm, so my recommendation is to do that first and then go to the Palace gardens.
Alternatively, you could check out the V&A Museum and Royal Albert Hall. The museum is the world’s largest museum of decorative arts, design and sculpture and has over 2 million objects on display! The Royal Albert Hall is an amazing, world famous, concert venue. Did you know it’s actually held in trust on behalf of the nation and managed by a charity?! If you can get tickets, it’s so worth it. We went to ‘Classical Spectacular’ and it was so much fun.
After those three days, you’ll probably need another holiday!
If you have longer in the capital, you can cover more of the options I mention above. Alternatively, you can check out my post ‘How to spend more than 3 days in London’ for other ideas including the Olympic Stadium, St Paul’s Cathedral and Greenwich. You may then just about leave London having scratched the surface.
I hope you found this post helpful – let me know your thoughts in the comments below!