London is, in many ways, iconic to travel in Europe. For many traveling outside the United States for the first time, London represents something attainable and less intimidating because of its similarities to culture in America, and is therefore a first pick for tourists who have never been outside the U.S. In fact, it was our first destination in Europe for the much same reason.
Yet, traveling to London presents its own challenges. Namely, the amount of things you’ll want to do and see in London will be staggering. London is massive, and ten trips to this sparkling city wouldn’t be enough to fully uncover all there is to experience.
With those challenges, however, London is also easily transferable, walkable, and by planning your trip well, you can knock off an extensive amount of things on your travel bucket list. Here’s how to make it happen over only three days in London!
What You Have To Know
Given London’s size, knowing how to get around the city is paramount. Traffic is nightmarish, so renting a car and attempting to drive around is a definite no-no. What about relying on the fabled London Black Cabs? You still have to deal with traffic, and taxi fare in London is tremendously expensive.
The solution? The London Underground Metro System, more colloquially called “The Tube”. The Tube is a fast and affordable means of transportation around the city, as a half dozen “lines” cross under the city’s surface is a relatively clean and very cost sensitive system. While you can individually pay for different fares as you use them, the wiser decision is to purchase a three-day Tube pass via the London Oyster Card, the name for the formal card used by locals and longer term tourists. You can additionally use the Oyster Card at a bulk price, and “top off” the card once your credit gets low at any of the individual Metro stations.
Where To Stay
In every area of London, there will exist something you want to see, and the hotels and accommodations that will help you stay there to see it! With that in mind, avoid larger hotel chains. As is the case in most larger cities that attract many tourists, the larger hotel chains run incredibly pricey, and really don’t offer any type of authenticity of the surrounding area. They’re sterilized, essentially. If you prefer a more connected feel at a price you can afford, look for either a smaller local chain or even boutique hotels. These establishments will be far more affordable, at no more than maybe £150 per night, will be in convenient locations, and give you a more comfortable experience at establishments with under 50 rooms. (See also: Popular Hostels in London.)
One of our favorite areas in which to stay is the Bayswater area in West London, near Notting Hill. You’ll get Notting Hill quality establishments at a reasonable price, as well as access to nearby Metro Stations, and plenty of places to dine and drink.
Day One: Westminster and Soho
We like to travel with “theme days” in mind, either in the type of excursions we’re doing or in the areas we’re visiting. Our first day in London is almost always the same – Westminster. This is the part of town central to why you’re visiting London to begin with, namely to see the staples. These include Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, the Thames River, London Eye, and one of the more densely populated areas for great food and pubs.
Getting to Westminster is easy on The Tube, especially if you’re staying in the Bayswater area. Simply jump on the circle line from the Bayswater Station heading east, and within 15 minutes you’ll be stepping out from the underground staring directly at the Houses of Parliament! For our fellow history lovers, you’ll have a great selection of museums including Churchill’s War Rooms, The Tate Gallery, and the British Museum.
Once evening encroaches and the sun goes down, you’ll want to use that time to nightcap in Soho, London’s hip and trendy area known for shopping, pubs, and great food. Soho additionally has an amazing arts scene, and the Queen’s Theatre is knowing for frequently playing live performances of classics such as Les Miserables and the Phantom of the Opera. (See also: Discount Theatre and Show Tickets for London.)
Day Two: East End, Tower Hill and Parks
Perhaps it’s a matter of preference, but we adore London’s East End. It’s historic, busy, full of shopping and great food, and has just a bit of grittiness to let you know you’re really in London.
This East End, including the Whitechapel area, is host to some of the best food in the city. You can get traditional British fare seemingly every 50 feet at the pub of your choice, but also variety is present. You would do yourself a disservice, however, if you don’t make a stop at the Ten Bells, just across from the Old Spitalfields Market. The Ten Bells is a nearly 150-year-old pub, and the site from which Jack the Ripper was said to identify and track down his eventual victims. However, it’s also been a famous watering hole for politicians, famous tourists, but especially locals. If you want to really feel London’s vibe, visit the Ten Bells and Old Spitalfields Market.
Also on London’s East End are some of the things that make London truly beautiful – parks. In fact, you’ll want to spend time at the King Edward VII Memorial Park, located in Shadwell, or Stepney Green Park just north of the Thames River.
A couple of other must-sees are on London’s East End, such as the Tower Bridge, the Tower of London, London Bridge, and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre – the recreation of the original Globe Theatre, which burned in the early 17th century. In this district, known as Tower Hill, you’ll be acquainted with numerous museums, and the chance to truly enter the lore and legend of London’s past – from Jack the Ripper to Shakespeare!
By now you’ve probably realized that you need more than a long weekend. So check out this 2-week itinerary of the UK. It covers plenty of great places that you definitely need to see!
Day Three: Museums and Kensington
Two of the best things we’ve seen in London also happen to be two of the best museums in the world – the British Natural History Museum and the Science Museum, located next door to each other in Kensington. The Natural History Museum takes you through an exploration of all walks of life, from evolution to technological advancement, as well as the history of Britain itself, while the Science Museum is the ideal place for science-lovers, and one of the best science museums in the world. (See also: Discount Museum Tickets for London.)
From there, visit one of the most beautiful parks in the world, located right in Kensington. Hyde Park, world renowned for both its scale and beauty, as an idyllic spot to spend time in London, as well as present a great opportunity for shutterbugs and photophiles! Near here, you’ll even be able to cap off your London visit by visiting some of the other tube stops that might be on your list, such as the National Gallery or Marble Arch, both easily reachable by Tube.
London’s beauty matches its size, and presents a daunting list of possibilities. However, with just a few tips and a little planning, having a great time in London and seeing most of what’s on your bucket list is easily doable in just a few days.
Justin and Tracy Uselton own A Couple for the Road, a cultural travel blog celebrating international art, history, architecture, music, language, and culinary traditions. They seek to enlighten, inspire, and educate the reader on cultural treasures around the world!