How to Plan How Many Days You Need in London

How to Plan How Many Days You Need in London

After living in London for just over five years I’ve still not discovered all of it. As you can imagine answering how many days you need in London is a challenge! Having less than 12 hours isn’t really enough time to explore what London has to offer I’d recommend a minimum of 24 hours but ideally four or more days if you have the time.

Some of you may have more flexibility (i.e. gap year) where you can extend your stay or set vacation days with limited time to explore. Before I start on how to determine how long you should spend in London, what’s your gut feeling? Is it somewhere you always wanted to visit and already have a list of things you want to do here? Or somewhere you are not fussed by? Just another big city in your opinion?

At the end of the day, there are no right or wrong answers! On my first trip to London, I spent 1 day and then 3 days at the end of my trip. After that, I packed my bags and moved over. I loved the city that much I thought I could make it my home.

What Does It Mean to Have a Reasonable Itinerary in London?

Just by using Google you will find the most popular and suggested itineraries for London. You will find a range from 1 day to 10 days. The problem with some of these itineraries is that they aren’t written by a local, like me and miss some of the good tips that could be making your experience much better.

I have added some of my tips below that I would do as a local and in my first timers guide to London to help identify a reasonable itinerary.

If you had already thought of a set amount of time, ask yourself are you comfortable with the number of days you had planned? Now you should look at minimising or adding days. At the end of the day, we all have an opinion on how much time you should spend in London and all comes down to what excites you about coming to London.

Decide Your Must Do List in London

Decide Your Must Do List in London
Write down all the things you want to see in London so you can plan how much time and money you need.

Still unsure about how long to spend? Then the first thing you should do when deciding how long you should spend in London is coming up with your list of ‘must do’s’. A couple of questions to get you started:

  • Do you love museums and art? It could easily take you days to explore the museums and galleries.
  • Love markets? Then you should tailor your time in London to the weekends.
  • Want to see London’s iconic landmarks? Then you could see the outside in a day but exploring inside can add half a day per landmark.
  • Love Harry Potter? The studio will take you a day and if you want to watch the play this runs over two nights or a whole day.
  • Enjoy day trips? These add days on to your itinerary.
  • Like Theatres? This can easily add a couple of extra nights.

As you can see the must do list will easily affect how much time you need. Do allow for some spontaneity as a jammed pack to do list means you won’t be able to discover London’s hidden gems.

What’s Your Pace?

An important part of itinerary planning is your pace. London is really easy to get around by walking and has an excellent public transport network. Sometimes public transport can take longer than actually walking (check out this walking tube map)! Plus you save on transport costs.

When thinking about your pace, consider some of these questions in your planning:

  • Are you someone that just likes to see the outside of an attraction or do you like to spend a lot of time exploring the attraction?
  • Do you like to walk slow or fast?
  • Like to find cute coffee stops or grab a beer?
  • Do you like to take public transport or prefer to walk?
  • An injury that might impact you?

When I travel, I love to walk as much as possible and stop for food and drinks along the way. I walk at a medium pace and due to my knee injury, I know I can’t walk more than 2-3 hours in a row, then after 15km, I struggle to walk. Also, the stairs are a killer! There are only so many tall buildings, cathedrals and monuments in a day. Knowing your strengths and weakness, all help in what to factor in your travel planning.

Consider the Distance

Walking from the west (say the Natural History Museum) to the East (so Tower of London) can easily take an hour and forty minutes. It’s a popular route for people visiting to take as you pass by all the sights. If you only have a limited amount of time these distances can affect what you can fit in. Whereas taking the tube will take 30 minutes saving you and providing an hour more to explore inside these buildings.

I recommend downloading the City Mapper app to help you decide whether walking, tube or bus is a better option (p.s. they recommend step-free routes as well!). When considering the distance, if it says that the route is 12 minutes on the tube but 15 minutes to walk then I would opt to walk.

London Itinerary Planning

Without knowing what you like to do it’s hard to suggest a daily itinerary so I have put together a 2-day itinerary to get you started and then broken down what you could do in London with the best way to see the city, museums, what’s only open on weekends and day trips to consider.

An Example Itinerary – What Can You Do In London In 2 Days

For two days in London, I would recommend using the best way to see London route below. Split this into two days by splitting the West and East. This will give you time to explore the landmarks in more depth, go inside the museums and have proper food breaks.

Day 1 Exploring the West of London

Start the day by going to Kensington and choose a museum in the free museum list! If you get there by 9am you will beat all the crowds and fewer crowds mean you will be able to walk around faster.

Skip Trafalgar Square as it’ll take you in the wrong direction and instead go straight to Buckingham Palace. Try and get to Buckingham Palace around 10.45am to watch the Changing of the Guard.

Using the handy map go by Westminster Abbey and Big Ben (please note that until 2020 Big Ben is being restored).

Cross over Westminster Bridge and you’ll arrive at the London Eye. Make sure you read my guide on what to book in London where I cover everything you need to know about booking the London Eye.

Near the Hungerford Bridge and Golden Jubilee Bridges there are a lot of cool things like the Summer and Winter Festival, several food markets, restaurants and places to get a drink.

Stop by the OXO Tower and check out the viewing platform (which is free) or the bar for a drink and to rest your feet.

Next head to the Tate Modern, as the gallery is free to have a look at some of the modern artwork. Here you can either make a decision to go to St Paul’s or continue to Shakespeare’s Globe and then your tour at Borough Market.

Borough Market closes at 5 pm so if you don’t make it in time, don’t worry as you can still pick up amazing food from some of the nearby restaurants. I recommend Padella which always has queues for their pasta! Another one of my favourites is Tas a Turkish restaurant (there are a few in London). You can also visit one of the oldest pubs in London, The George, it opened in the 17th century and is said to have been frequented by Charles Dickens!

Day Two Exploring the East of London

Start the day off at St Paul’s Cathedral. For a great view head to One New Change and go to the viewing platform.

Afterwards, you can go by Monument, decide whether you want to climb 311 steps or just have a sneak peek at it. There is a hidden gem that everyone writes about, so stop by Saint Dunstan in the East Church Garden and get some beautiful photos.

Once you are finished the next place is the Tower of London! If you decide to go inside check out the 2 for 1 deal or buying tickets online to save a little bit of money.

Around the area, the food is all chain type places so not the best place for lunch. If you can hold off until you finish Tower Bridge, then you can head to Shoreditch. In the area you can either end the day with either the markets (if you are there on Sunday), haggle for Indian food or head to one of the amazing restaurants like the famous Dishoom.

Shoreditch is a great place to find street art, have a drink on a rooftop, explore box park for more food and shopping or find a secret bar like the Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town.

Best Way to See London

The best way to see London landmarks is via this handy map. The route will take you a day to tackle and about 4 to 5 miles of walking. It’s the perfect way to see the city in 24 hours but if you more time in London you can look at splitting this into three sections – west, central and east. This is exactly what I did for the itinerary above.

The highlights of the route are:

  • Trafalgar Square
  • Buckingham Palace
  • Westminster Abbey
  • Big Ben & the Houses of Parliament
  • Westminster Bridge
  • London Eye
  • The Southbank Centre
  • Waterloo Bridge Book Stalls
  • OXO Tower – you can go to the viewing platform for free or grab a drink at the bar
  • River Thames Bankside Foreshore
  • Tate Modern
  • Shakespeare’s Globe – Tickets for a play can go from £5 to £50
  • Millennium Bridge
  • St. Paul’s Cathedral – you can get 2 for 1 ticket with Days Out Guide all you need to do is get a rail ticket
  • The Monument
  • Tower of London – you can get 2 for 1 ticket during low season with Days Out Guide.
  • Tower Bridge
  • St. Katherines Dock

When my friends visited most recently I did this route in reverse and I changed it a little to add a local vibe. We had breakfast at Duck and Waffle (bookings required), we saw St Paul’s Cathedral by heading to One New Change rooftop, went to the strand to visit Gordon’s wine bar and ended our day with another glass of wine at Nova Building.

Psst… Don’t forget to read A Helpful Guide on What to Book Ahead in London by a Local.

Explore All the Free Museums and Galleries

Natural History Museum
Natural History Museum

The great thing about London all the main museums and galleries are free! Some of the museums and galleries will have exhibitions which you will have to pay to enter but apart from that you will be able to explore these great places for free. Here are some of my favourite museums to visit:

  • The Wallace Collection – The restaurant does a great afternoon tea and is super affordable (it’s under £20)
  • The Wellcome Collection
  • National Portrait Gallery
  • Natural History Museum – in my opinion, the best museum in London. Check out the Wildlife Photographer of the year. I suggest booking this in advance, it’s frequently sold out.
  • Horniman Museum
  • Museum of London
  • Tate Modern
  • Viktor Wynd’s Museum of Curiosities, Fine Art & Natural History – Not free, it is a fiver and super cool. Plus you get to have interesting flavoured cocktails with a lion.
  • British Museum
  • British Library

Walking Tours

Walking tours will easily take up three hours of your time so can quite easily make a dent in your itinerary. Although they are one of my favourite ways to get information about the city. Most of them run a tip base, although a few are paid tours like Jack the Ripper.

  • London Landmarks – the most popular starts at Westminster and will take half a day. In the end, there is always a pub lunch. I once saw the Queen driving by on this tour!
  • Jack the Ripper – the famous London serial killer, try and figure out the mystery.
  • Harry Potter – London has a ton of the Harry Potter movie location so what better way to see the locations than on a walking tour.
  • Street Art and Graffiti Tour – Explore famous artworks of Banksy, MR Cenz, Jimmy C, Zabou and more fantastic artists.

Weekend Only Activities

London has lots of great things happening different days of the week, some happen to be weekend only activities. These are mostly markets, bottomless brunch and Sunday Roast.

All Weekend

  • Bermondsey Beer Mile and Maltby Street Markets (some are open during the week and Friday but mostly Saturday to Sunday).
  • Bottomless Brunch – I love Lanata as you can swap drinks and have coffee! Others to consider are Bad Egg, Mac & Wild (my boyfriend raves about this one) or Hotbox.
  • Canopy Market – Located in Kings Cross, it’s a food market and you’ll find the famous Bread Ahead doughnuts.

Saturday

  • Broadway Market – A massive 135 selling various things but famous for its food.
  • Notting Hill Market – Famous for the antique market, pick up a unique souvenir here!
  • Netil Market – Based in shipping containers this market comes alive on Saturday with vintage fashions, crafty stalls and street food vendors.

Sunday

  • Brick Lane Market – lots of tasty food that cater for all dietary requirements, shops, arts and crafts!
  • Colombia Flower Market – Devoted to selling plants, flowers, garden fittings and gardening equipment
  • Sunday Roasts – this is a must! Meat versions are the most popular but lots have vegetarian options. You will need to need to search a little for vegan options, although more are popping up on the menu!
  • Alexandra Palace Farmer’s Market – Pick up amazing produce from the farmers like fruit, veggies, jams and relishes and cakes. 

Day Trips from London

Day trip to Brighton Pier
A day trip to Brighton Pier is so easy, just catch the train from London Victoria or London Bridge to Brighton and you’ll be there within an hour.

London is spoilt with the options available for day trips and most of them either a short train ride or bus trip away.

  • Stonehenge Day Trip – Stonehenge and Bath are a common day trip that you can take. Bath is an absolutely beautiful place to visit so well worth getting this added to your day trip. You will be able to explore the Roman Baths, the Abbey and Jane Austen Centre.
  • Windsor – The Royal residence of the Queen and where Harry and Meghan got married. It’s the perfect day trip by train from Paddington station.
  • Cambridge – Most of us have heard about Cambridge from its prestigious colleges and regatta on the Thames between Cambridge and Oxford. Visit the prestigious colleges like King’s College, Trinity College and St John’s college, go punting and visit the Eagle while you are in Cambridge.
  • Oxford – The rival to Cambridge and just as many incredible looking colleges! Also, Lewis Carroll started Alice in Wonderland there which is my favourite tale. J.R.R. Tolkien who wrote Lord of the Rings studied at Oxford.
  • Paris – St Pancras offers frequent trains to Paris by the Eurostar, when my cousin was over, she popped over to Paris for a French cooking class for the day. A little extravagant but totally doable!
  • Brussels – Belgium is probably best known for its beer, waffles, pomme frites and chocolate. It’s a perfect day trip from St Pancras on the Eurostar. If you want to know more about I’ve got you covered in my Brussels in a Day Trip.
  • The Cotswolds -The Cotswolds is famous for the pretty houses in golden stone, ancient woodlands and wildflower meadows.
  • Stratford-upon-Avon – Most famous for the birthplace of William Shakespeare, explore where he was born and how he grew up.
  • Brighton – A seaside town, on a summer’s day watch all the Londoners flock to the beach. Visit the famous Bright Pier, pick up some doughnuts and sit on the beach enjoying the view. Be careful of the seagulls, they are pretty confident and have stolen my doughnuts before!
  • Plus many more! 

Let me know in the comments below how many days you will be spending in London and what you’re most excited to see.

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