London is one of those places that is on pretty much everyone’s bucket list. What amazes me the most about London is the blend of history and modern-day. One moment you’re looking at a fortress built in 1078, and the next at a sky scraper that went up in 2009. London is one of the most iconic cities in the world, with everything from quaint neighbourhoods and side streets to decadent palaces and fortified castles. 4 days in London isn’t time to see absolutely everything that this city has to offer, but it’s plenty of time to see the highlights and get acquainted.
I’m part British on my Mom’s side, so I was excited to visit London to learn more about a culture that is part of my heritage. I found that 4 days in London was enough for me to feel very connected with the city, in a way that I hadn’t expected. The truth of it is that with 4 days in London, you will have to pick and choose what you see – but this itinerary will help you plan it out, and fit a lot in!
Get ready, we’ve got a lot to cover!
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- What to Expect in London, England
- 4 Days in London Itinerary
- Day 1 – River Thames
- Day 2 – Westminster and Kensington
- Day 3 – Covent Gardens and Sightseeing
- Day 4 – Day Trip Outside of London
- Tips for Visiting London
Just an aside: this blog post combines my own photos with some stock photos. I visited London not quite a year before starting Nina Near and Far, and it’s amazing how many photos I didn’t take!
What to Expect in London, England
New cities can always be a little bit overwhelming, and London is no exception. If you’re not from a big city, like me (Ottawa, Canada is home for me!) then it’s actually a lot overwhelming. Here’s a little bit of what you can expect.
London is busy, but it’s well-managed. Although London is the second most-visited city in the world and very crowded, most places do a great job of handling and addressing large groups. Any security check points we passed through ran smoothly, tour guides are used to addressing large groups, and overall crowds were not an issue.
It’s good to have a map. it’s super easy to get lost in London. We actually went in circles on the way to Buckingham Palace one morning. My advice to you is to always have a map with you!
London is expensive. London is pricey. Come ready to pay a fair amount for food, accommodations, and most activities. I’ll tell you in advance that almost nothing on this itinerary is free, however it is totally possible to spend a few days in London and only do free things (here’s a list of free things to do in London by Lonely Planet). If you’re doing a lot of paid attractions, you will want the London Pass because they’re pretty much all on there. More on that later!
4 Days in London is enough time for the highlights. I think it would take a few weeks (months?) to see everything that I want to see in London. The key to having an amazing short trip is to pick a few of the must-see items for you, and then build around them to have a great trip! This London itinerary will help you do just that!
How to Use This London Itinerary
This itinerary is largely designed around areas of London. It’s very similar to my visit to London, with a few extra suggestions in case you have different taste or in case something happens to be closed on your visit.
The main idea is for you not to be zipping back and forth across London all day. By staying in one area, you can see and do a lot more!
4 Days in London Itinerary
Day 1 – River Thames
London is a big city, with lots to see. It’s best to explore things that are close together all in the same day. This itinerary works it’s way along the River Thames so if you go in order, you won’t be doubling back at all!
I highly recommend the London Pass for this itinerary. Most of the things in this 4 days in London itinerary are on there. Everything on Day 1 is on the London Pass, as are a couple activities on Day 2 and 3. The way it adds up, the London Pass will save you at least £60. It’s worth it even if you cut out an activity or two, because it’s easy to use and includes fast-track access, and you will still get your money’s worth.
I purchased a London Pass on my visit and was really, really happy with the decision. There’s an app for the London Pass, too, so you don’t actually have to carry anything extra with you.
The Tower of London
Start your 4 days in London at the Tower of London. Get there first thing when it opens at 9AM, because it gets very busy as the day goes on. Once you’re in, go straight to the Crown Jewels. This dazzling (granted, elaborate) display is a must-see on your visit.
Guided tours of the Tower of London are available, at no additional cost. The Yeoman Warder Tours begin every 30 minutes. The first one runs at 10AM Tuesday to Saturday, and 10:30 AM on Sunday and Monday. Tours begin near the main entrance, and last about an hour. This is a great way to get familiar with the Tower of London! This brings you to 11AM so if there areas of the Tower that you want to circle back and see more of, take your time!
The Tower Bridge
The Tower Bridge is easily the most recognizable bridge in London – though it’s sometimes mistakenly called the London Bridge. When you’re finished at the Tower of London, make your way to the Tower Bridge. You can go up, across, and down the other side.Go down below the to check out the engine rooms, and get a view from above through the glass floors. Crossing the Tower Bridge with the occasional stop to read information panels and enjoy the view took just under an hour.
Potters Field Park is on the south side of the Thames River. This is a very popular spot for photos, and there are loads of restaurants here for lunch!
If you only had a day in London, then I suggest this morning (Tower of London and the Tower Bridge) and then a Hop On Hop Off bus tour in the afternoon.
St. Paul’s Cathedral or the Globe Theatre
St. Paul’s Cathedral: Go for a leisurely stroll down the Thames Rivers to the Millennium Footbridge, and make your way across to St. Paul’s Cathedral. This cathedral is recognized world-wide for it’s stunning dome – which has been destroyed 4 times throughout history! On your way you will also have a chance to pass the Globe Theatre (details below) and make a stop in if you’re interested.
Visitor entry includes entry to the Cathedral floor, crypt, and three galleries in the dome. Guided tours or multimedia tours are also available. The last entry for visitors is at 4PM, and St. Paul’s closes for sightseeing at 4:30PM.
Globe Theatre: The reconstructed Globe Theatre stands a few hundred meters from it’s original site. The Globe Theatre was originally built by Shakespear’s playing company, and it’s where many of his plays first came to be.
The Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre Tour and Exhibition takes you through the Globe’s history and modern day – including some amazing historical artifacts! It’s a 20 minute walk from the Tower Bridge.
P.S. if you still want to go to St. Paul’s you will not make it for visitor hours… but you can go to a service instead! This way you still get to see inside, and you actually get to experience St. Paul’s as a place of worship (whatever you believe, it is a great experience).
If you still have some energy left after a big day of history and site seeing, take in a great view from the Shard! 4 days in London isn’t complete without a great view. It’s open until 6PM Sunday – Wednesday, and until 10PM Thursday – Saturday. This later than most other attractions in the area, that’s why it’s saved for last, but you can also flip this around. It’s near the Tower Bridge!
- Admission: £32.00/adult (included in London Pass)
The Sky Garden is a free alternative for a great view of London. It’s nearby, just make sure you book your tickets in advance!
Day 2 – Westminster and Kensington
The theme of Day 2 is royalty! Pick a palace and a couple of other attractions, and enjoy. If you have an extra day in London beyond this itinerary (or if you want to skip the day trip on this 4 days in London itinerary) then there are enough suggestions in here to split in to 2 days.
If you only have 2 days in London, then I recommend Day 1 + Day 2 of this London itinerary.
Buckingham Palace is the residence and headquarters of the monarch of the UK. It’s open to visitors for just 10 weeks every summer! Whether you decide to go inside or not, you will at the very least have to see Buckingham while you’re in London. If possible, time your visit with the Changing of the Guards. With 4 days in London, seeing one of the palaces is a must.
There are a couple of options for going inside Buckingham Palace. The first is to purchase admission to only the State Rooms, including an audio tour. Or, if you want the full effect, a Royal Day Out gives you access to the Queen’s Gallery and the Royal Mews. The Royal Mews was my favourite part, seeing the carriages was so interesting. Just know that the Royal Day Out does take a decent part of the day – we left Buckingham around 2PM!
The only problem is it’s not always open to the public, so if that doesn’t line up with your trip, Kensington Palace is a great alternative.
- Website: Buckingham Palace
- Admission: £25.00 / adult for State Rooms only, £45.00 / adult for the Royal Day Out.
Kensington Palace is another royal residence, located in Kensington Gardens. It’s been a residence of the British Royal Family since the 17th century. The State Rooms and the gardens are open to the public, and many painting and objects from the royal collection are on display.
The best part – it’s always open! If Buckingham Palace is closed during your 4 days in London, this is another chance to see a royal residence that has been standing for centuries.
The suggested time to spend here is ~2.5 hours, and Kensington Palace opens at 10AM. Expect your visit to end around lunch if you visit first thing!
Have a late lunch near Buckingham palace. There are lots of restaurants nearby!
Westminster Abbey is a Gothic abbey church in the City of Westminster, in the centre of London. The abbey is the traditional place for coronations and a burial site. It’s probably one of the most iconic and most visited places in London, and essential to a 4 days in London itinerary.
On your visit, see the coronation chair, the royal tombs (there are over 3,000 people buried at Westminster Abbey), and the cloisters. The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries is a new museum within the medieval triforium that recently opened to the public.
Getting there from Buckingham Palace: 15 minute walk along St James park. Getting there from Kensington Palace: Notting Hill Gate Station to St James Park Station. The tube only takes a few minutes, or you can enjoy a nice one-hour walk there!
Kensington Museums and Westminster
Want more activities to fill your day? Here’s a quick overview of some other notable London attractions and museums that are in the area. If you have more than 4 days in London, this is a great area of the city to revisit!
- Kensington: Natural History Museum and The Victoria and Albert Museum are both walking distance from Kensington Palace, and both are free to visit.
- Westminster: Westminster Palace, Jewel Tower, and the Churchill War Rooms are minutes from Buckingham Palace, near Westminster Abbey
Day 3 – Covent Gardens and Sightseeing
There are a lot of places and sights in London that are worth seeing that are squares, alleys, and areas. On Day 3 of your 4 days in London, take some time to wander around the Covent Gardens area and see a few of the sights! In the afternoon rest your legs on a Hop on Hop Off bus, and pop in to some free museums.
With 3 days in London, stick to Days 1 to 3 of this London itinerary. Note that these first 3 days basically serve as a 3 Day London Pass itinerary, because nearly everything on here is on the London Pass.
Covent Gardens in a shopping, food, and entertainment area in London. There is plenty to see and lots of exploring to do in this area. Come for a morning and walk around, browse shops, find beautiful alleys, and try some food! Check out Cecil Court, part of J.K. Rowling’s inspiration for Diagon Alley. Marvel at Picadilly Circus, home to what is quite possibly the busiest and most confusing intersection that I have ever seen. Visit Covent Garden (the mall) for hand-made goods and delicious food, and walk through Trafalgar Square to see the lion statues!
Here’s a map to what’s in the area:
- Going along the top row, left to right: Picadilly Cirus (left side of the map), Leicester Square, Cecil Court (by Leicester Square tube station), Covent Garden (top right corner)
- Trafalgar Square is right by Charging Cross Station on the map. The National Gallery is also located here.
The National Gallery & The British Museum
The National Gallery is an art museum in Trafalgar Square. It’s free to visit, and it’s holds over 2,000 paintings going back to the 13th century.
The British Museum is only a 12 minute walk from Covent Gardens. It’s free, and a great way to spend an afternoon. The building itself is beautiful and impressive, and it’s home to thousands of art pieces and artefacts.
If you have more than 4 days in London, a free museum day with more exploring of this area makes a great day!
Hop on and Off Bus
Rest your legs in the afternoon with a Hop On Hop Off bus ride. 4 days in London isn’t a lot of time to see everything in this amazing city, so a bus ride is a great way to fit in a little more sight seeing!
There are two major Hop On Hop Off bus companies in London: The Big Bus (£33.00 for one day) and Golden Tours (£25.00 for one day). The longest, most scenic route available is the Gran Tour on the Golden Tours Bus. It goes everywhere. The Red route on the Big Bus tour, similarly, goes almost everywhere. If you’re looking to relax on the bus for a couple hours, choose one of these. If you’re on the London Pass, either of these bus tour companies is included. Pick one and go!
This 4 days in London itinerary includes a lot, but you just can’t see everything. A Hop on Hop off tour is a great way to see more of London with limited time!
King’s Cross & The British Library
Here’s a suggestion if you’re looking to hop off the bus. King’s Cross Station (home to Platform 9 3/4) is fun for any Harry Potter lover to see. Harry Potter was a fairly high priority for my 4 days in London… more to come! Fun fact: when the movie was filmed, Platform 4 was used for filming.
Fans of literature, the British Library is right across the street. Medieval manuscripts and British classics are housed here. On our visit we saw original excerpts from James Bond, Lord of the Rings, and Alice in Wonderland!
Get here by taking the Green Route from Covent Gardens on the Big Bus Route. King’s Cross is also on the Grand Tour on Golden Tours, but it’ll take a long time to get there.
Day 4 – Day Trip Outside of London
Now, I know you’ve only got 4 days in London, but if it’s 4 days in England altogether, then it’s good to get out of the city for a day! London is just one part of England, and it’s a big, busy city that is very different from the surrounding areas. This far in, you’ve seen a lot of London itself with this 4 days in London itinerary.
I settled on just one day trip in the end, but these are the three that I laboured over. It was really hard to choose! The common theme in all of them is an opportunity to enjoy a small town. My favourite place to book day trips is Viator. There are lots of options, and I’ve always had great experiences!
Here are some suggestions!
Warner Brothers & Oxford
Oxford is known as home to University of Oxford, and on a visit you will have a chance to see some of the beautiful buildings that make up the campus. There are lots of adorable cafés and shops here. It’s a really nice to place to spend a day, and a very different experience than London!
On my trip, I took a combined day trip that included the Warner Brothers Studio (Harry Potter!) and an afternoon in Oxford. I loved every minute of it, this was an awesome combination. When we arrived in Oxford there was a brief guided tour, a great way to get the lay of the town, and then we had a couple of hours to explore ourselves. Here’s the tour that I booked. This tour sells out! Book in advance. If you’re not a big Harry Potter fan, you can go straight to Oxford or find a tour that combines Oxford and another place like Windsor Castle, Stonehenge, or Stratford-upon-Avon.
Stonehenge and Bath
Stonehenge and Bath are a standard day trip combination. Stonehenge is believed to have been constructed between 3000 and 2000 BC, and it seems like archaeologists are always learning more about it!
The city of Bath (a relatively small city, with less than 100,000 people) was built as a spa when the Romans built baths and a temple. There’s lots to explore here, and it’s absolutely beautiful! Book a day trip like this one that combines Stonehenge and Bath, and that gives you lots of free time to explore. Resist the urge to do a day trip that has you hoping on and off without any time to the places!
The Cotswolds are adorable. We’re talking little cottages covered in ivy and flowers, fluffy white sheep roaming the fields, tiny canals running alongside the streets, and people peddling around on bicycles. We drove past the Cotswolds on our way to Warner Brothers, and it looks like a postcard.
This is the tour that we very, very seriously considered. It’s a day trip, lunch included, to the Cotswolds. The moment that I return to London, I’ll be booking this!
Tips for Visiting London
Here are a few other good-to-know things about London!
Get Around in London With the Oyster Card: the tube is the easiest way to get around in London. Order your Oyster card before you go, and pre-load funds based on where you’ll be going during your visit. Or, pick one up when you arrive in London. I have to say that I did like already having it. No hassles at the airport when you’re jet-lagged!
Grab Lunch at Pret-a-Manger: I discovered Pret-a-Manger in London. It’s an international chain, and it’s all over the place. If you’re looking for a snack or a quick, affordable lunch, this is the place. Consistently, I was able to get a wrap and a drink for £5.00.
Book accommodations that are close to a tube station: central London is an expensive place to stay. Don’t worry about trying to find accommodations right on the Thames River, so long as wherever you book is walking distance from a tube station that will bring you right downtown. We stayed at an Airbnb near Kennington Station, and it was really easy to get around from there. When you only have 4 days in London (or however many days you’re staying) you don’t want to spend too much time commuting!
London is a great place to use Airbnb! There are lots of private rooms in Check out this post if it’s your first time using Airbnb.
Check the Museums for live events: there’s a lot of special programming and events going on in London. Make sure you check what’s going on while you’re there, for example there might be a party or yoga at the Museum of Nature!
Always bring a rain jacket: I recommend bringing a light rain jacket or an umbrella that fits in your back pack or purse. It rains on and off in London. There can be sunshine one minute, and rain the next.
Last minute shows are cheap: Want to see a live show? If you’re not picky, you can get last minute tickets at low prices. The official TKTS booth in the centre of Leicester Square sells all remaining tickets for shows on the day, and they’re often heavily discounted.