There’s just something about London. From London’s iconic landmarks, its free world-class museums and coolest neighbourhoods to a long list of popular tourist attractions. London is a destination every traveler should visit and I’m not just saying this because I live here. If this is your first trip, you can rest assured there are lots of things to do in London for first-time visitors.
A week in England is an ideal time to spend in London as this gives you a chance to explore the city’s best attractions and even enjoy a day trip from London to Oxford or Bath.
I have put together this 5-day London itinerary for first-time visitors to help you get the most from your time in London. It includes things to do in and around London and, ensures that you not only see the main tourist sites in London but also have time to experience how the locals live by visiting lesser known parts of the city like the Borough of Greenwich and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
Table of Contents
- 1 5 Days in London itinerary for first-time visitors: How to plan your perfect trip!
- 2 Where to Stay in London
- 3 Must-have London Accessories
- 4 Getting around London – London Transport
- 5 Why You Should Get a London Pass
- 6 Best London itinerary for first-time visitors
- 7 2 Days in London
- 8 3 Days in London
- 9 4 Days in London
- 10 5 Days in London
- 11 Best Non touristy things to do in London
5 Days in London itinerary for first-time visitors: How to plan your perfect trip!
Where to Stay in London
While London is a massive city and one of the most expensive in the world, you can enjoy an amazing trip without breaking the bank. As a first-time visitor, you’ll want to stay in or close to central London as this will ensure you are close to London’s main tourist attractions and not miss out on the many things to do in London at night.
London has hundreds of hotels to suit every traveller and their budget. Below I have included a few of the best hotels in London in some of the coolest neighbourhoods in London.
The Levin Hotel Knightsbridge
In the heart of Knightsbridge, the Levin Hotel is a luxury boutique hotel in London, that offers maximum luxury and style. One of the most sophisticated accommodation spots in London, The Levin Hotel has 12 bedrooms, and with its charm and personality, the hotel is a ‘home away from home’ for potential travellers to the famous city of London. Check Prices Here
Once known as a local brothel, Hotel 55 is a cool and welcoming place featuring abstract paintings that add splashes of attractive colour. It has three-bedroom types: Cozy, Garden, and Street, with Garden being tiny, great for one but suitable enough for two at a pinch. The dining area serves mouth-watering Japanese cuisine and the menu. Hotel 55 might be one of the best places to stay in London as it is only two minutes’ walk away from North Ealing tube and is a 30-minute ride to the West End on the Piccadilly Line.
It is a handy accommodation spot for travellers who will exit London through Heathrow. At £74 per night for the double rooms, Hotel 55 is just ideal for the London visitor on a shoestring budget. Check Prices Here
Also known as the most sustainable hotel in London, Qbic is a modern mid-priced hotel that features creative designs and uses sustainable practices. The innovative design the rooms are not only inviting and fun, they feature a framed art built from sustainable materials, an eco-friendly rain shower, an eye-level television, lighting that can be controlled from the bed, and a natural bespoke mattress.
Other amenities in The Qbic include free Wi-Fi, free tea and coffee, and free bike rentals; the hotel is just perfect for your 5 day’s visit to London. Check Prices Here
Booking through Airbnb is a top choice for many travellers. I have booked with Airbnb abroad and in London. Airbnb London is a fantastic way to see inside some of London’s coolest flats and trendiest neighbourhood and is a great option for first-time visitors that are staying in London for a week.
It is a terrific way to save money and have an incredible experience — a perfect option for couples, friends, and groups. If you want to see how the locals live, then check out Airbnb.
Airbnb coupon code BONUS: if you’re looking to use Airbnb, you can get a £25 Airbnb coupon by clicking here. Don’t worry if this is your first time using Airbnb coupons, it’s really easy to sign up.
Must-have London Accessories
Having savvy advice from one who has “been there and done that” is always worth considering if you are planning a trip to London. Here are must-have accessories that may come in handy.
A Good Camera
London is a beautiful city. The architecture of the buildings and cute streets will have you wanting to capture everything so bring a good travel camera. Check out my guide to the best travel cameras.
A Rain Jacket or an Umbrella
Comfy Shoes and Clothes
London is a walking city; most Londoners love to walk or cycle to get around because it’s faster than taking public transport. Packing a pair of a comfortable shoe is a must if you want to explore London or while doing one of many of the free walking tours in London.
If you are looking for the best travel shoe, then read this post on the best travel shoes and tips on how to choose the best travel shoe. From stylist walking shoe to the best flats and lightweight shoe for travel, this guide has all your shoe needs covered.
READ MORE: Things To Know Before Visiting London
Getting around London – London Transport
London is made up of nine fare zones, with zones 1 and 2 representing Central London, and increasing as you go further outside the city. For instance, Heathrow Airport is in Zone 6.
There are several ways you can pay for transport in London including purchasing an individual ticket, buying an Oyster card, buying The London Pass or using a contactless card. But to make the most of your time in the city, it would be ideal you buy The London Pass.
Why You Should Get a London Pass
The London pass is a prepaid card designed to give you free entry to the top tourist attractions in London. The London Pass attractions list includes the Westminster Abbey, Hop on Hop off Bus Tour, the Tower of London, Thames River cruise and over 80 London attractions. With an optional Visitor Oyster card in addition to your London Pass, it covers all your transportation needs.
The London Pass is a great option for first-time visitors who want to stick to a budget, save money, while still having an amazing time in a famous city like London. It also allows you skip the long queues, so you can spend more time sightseeing.
If you are looking to hit all of London’s major tourist attractions, buying The London Day Pass is an ideal option. In this week-long itinerary, I’ve also listed a few of the best things to do London. You can get your London Pass here.
Best London itinerary for first-time visitors
1 Day in London
Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour
Starting off your day with a bus tour? No, that wasn’t some lame attempt at a joke. In many places, this wouldn’t be ideal, but this is London. Taking a bus tour is a perfect, low-key start especially for jet-lagged travellers to get an overview of the city. From Original Tour to Big Bus, and Golden Tours, there are many companies that offer Hop-on Hop-off Bus Tours, and most of these companies offer multiple routes to allow you to view the endless sites the city has to offer. Get your tickets to the hop-on hop-off bus tour here.
- St. Paul’s Cathedral
St. Paul’s Cathedral is an iconic feature, and from the top of the dome, visitors can enjoy incredible views and see the place in all its glory. With your London Pass, you can enjoy all the amazing sights and even visit the Westminster Abbey (where Prince William married Kate Middleton) for free. You could stop by at the iconic Millennium footbridge to take photos too.
With St. Paul’s in the background, of the bridge will be worth your time.
Pro tip — if you want to get a photo with no other commuters on the Millennium bridge with St. Paul’s Cathedral in the background, then get up early (6:00am) apart from a few city runners. You’ll have the bridge to yourselves. Another magnificent view of St. Paul’s Cathedral is from the café in the Tate Modern.
If you’ve got time to kill afterwards, check out the Parliament and Big Ben, and the London Eye for a sunset ride.
2 Days in London
Tower of London
We are starting off the second day with a visit to one of the major highlight places of your London tour! Everyone will enjoy the trip to the Tower of London because of its noble history, especially with King Henry VIII, and the crown jewels you’d could view up close and personal. You will read everywhere that it is ideal you get here early.
Hence, it makes sense you make the trip to the Tower of London the first thing on the list. With its 1,000 years of history, the Tower of London is worth exploring, so get your London Pass ready and get going as early as you can. The Tower of London opens at 9:00 am.
No, this is not the London Bridge. The Tower Bridge is a beauty to behold – just walk across the Bridge to the other side of the river where you can visit the museum and have a splendid view of the glass floor exhibit. One of the best things about Tower Bridge is it’s a working drawbridge that is raised up to allow passing ships. This is something worth seeing and is entertaining to watch.
Also, the Tower Bridge is not the London Bridge. It’s a common mistake most people make if they don’t know the difference between the two bridges, made worst by the catchy Fergie song ‘London Bridge’ video with her in a speedboat on the Thames and Tower Bridge in the background. Let’s say this did not go down well with Londoners.
Are you a foodie? No? Do not worry, you’ll be converted to one at this food lover’s heaven. There is a plethora of culinary options you can choose from at the Borough Market. It’s one of the best markets in London. The market dates to the 12th century, has over 100 stalls and produces are sourced from local British traders and International producer.
For coffee lovers visit Monmouth Coffee Company, cheese lovers should visit Neal’s Yard Dairy and Kappacasein. For baked goods go to the famous Bread Ahead. Visiting Borough Market is one of the many things to do in London for free.
Full market operations begin at 10:00 and ends at 5pm on Wednesday to Saturday. Though the market is usually open on Monday and Tuesday, only a few traders are available. There are also food tours of Borough Market that you can check out here.
From Borough Market, you can make your way to the Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. Where you can take a guided tour of the place and will prove helpful as you find your way around. If you are visiting in the summer, you could go have a feel of the intimate settings shows in the open air constructed theatre. To get most of the show, try getting tickets for the front row of the middle gallery.
Camden Market is one of the most popular attractions in London, featuring array stalls where you can find a variety of crafts, clothing, and cuisines in fast food spots. Visiting the Camden Market is a great way to round off activities on your second day in London as you get to enjoy a great mixture of cultures and mouth-watering street food.
If you only have a shorter time in London, why not check out my 2 day London itinerary guide.
3 Days in London
The Buckingham Palace is the administrative headquarters of the Monarch and has been the official residence of British sovereigns since 1837. The State Rooms are usually open during the months of August and September for a period of 10 weeks. If you are in town during the summer, ensure you make the trip.
If you are not visiting at this time, you could plan a visit to see the changing of guard, which usually starts with a procession at St. James Palace around 11:00am.
Harry Potter Tour Studio London
The Harry Potter studio tour takes place at the Warner Brothers Studios where all Harry Potter movies were made. Wardrobes, props, sets, and behind-the-scene-technology are prominent features of the studio; and you can do lots of stuff here: drink butterbeer, fly in an enchanted car or on a broomstick, or stop by at the Diagon Alley, Hogwarts Express, Dumbledore’s Office, and 4 Privet Drive. The studio is outside London in Leavesden.
You can either take the express train from London Euston in London to Watford Junction (about a 20-minute ride) or take a tour coach there from Victoria Coach Station and make it a coach trip. You can get tickets to the Harry Potter Studio Tour from get your guide.
Churchill War Rooms
10 minutes away from the Buckingham Palace is the Churchill War Rooms – the underground headquarters of the British High Command during the Second World War. It’s one of the unusual places to visit in London, but if you like battle history, then visit Churchill War Rooms as it is just the ideal place for you.
It will probably be early afternoon when you are out of the Churchill War Rooms, a perfect time to go to the Trafalgar Square in central London. The hustle and bustle around the area brings the place to life, so just walking around seeing people pop in and out of shops even feels like a great idea. After some time spent getting a feel of the environment.
You can head to Sketch, one of the trendiest afternoon tea spots in London, for a classic British tea time experience. Chances are you’ve already got a feel of what this place looks like on Instagram even before your trip to London!
National History Museum
The National History Museum is a perfect site for individuals and families of all ages. One of the best natural history museums in the world, the Museum houses vast selection of specimens collected by Charles Darwin, mammals, and some of the most important minerals on earth. But the museum is most famous for its exhibition of dinosaur skeletons and its ornate architecture.
Visiting a museum is one of the countless things to do free in London.
The National Gallery, London’s most popular art gallery, is in the Trafalgar Square. It is home to the British art from the 13th century to 1900, and it could take up a full day to explore the displays on offer.
READ MORE: Things To Know Before Visiting London
4 Days in London
Similar to Times Square in New York City. Piccadilly Circus is a meeting point where several major roads come together. You will find enormous neon signs that add splashes of colour to the area, along with double-decker buses and cars streaming by. Yes, you can watch London in the thick of its glory from the steps of the Shaftesbury memorial fountain, which are views to be savoured.
A day trip to Greenwich and is a wonderful way to see a different more relaxing side to London. You can take a boat trip to Greenwich on the Thames River cruise. Greenwich park is also one of the Royal parks in London and a beautiful place to see the cherry blossoms in London if you are visiting in spring.
Greenwich is where you can also see the Royal Observatory and the prime meridian.
It is home to the UNESCO World Heritage Site which served as a naval hospital before they converted it to a naval college. They use the site as a filming location for several famous movies such as Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, The King’s Speech, The Dark Knight Rises, and The Avengers. Check out my post on things to do in Greenwich.
Hampton Court Palace
What a way to round off your fourth day in London! The Hampton Court Palace is a magnificent stretch of red-brick royal buildings – a former home of King Henry VIII. He developed this grand palace after they acquired it in the 1520s, and these developments have continued throughout the centuries.
Your visit to this palace will be incomplete without a visit into the Cumberland Art Gallery to view the revolving display featuring massive art collections in the court.
5 Days in London
Since the past 4 days have been packed with endless sightseeing, it’s great to have a slightly relaxed last day. A walk-through Hyde Park in the heart of London marks the beginning of your 5th day. Here you can buy an ice-cream, feed the ducks, ride a bike or rent a boat to have a go at paddling around the pond.
If royalty appeals to you, you could visit the residence of the Royal Family, and continue in the same direction to stop by for some lunch at the Portobello Road Market. The market is usually filled with unique antique shops, giving the area a rustic look. Continue your walk to nearby Notting Hill for a stroll through the charming neighbourhood and take in the colourful houses that Notting Hill is known for.
You can even find the famous Notting Hill film locations where the romantic comedy ‘Notting Hill’ was filmed.
The British Museum is one of the most historical museums in the world. They amassed the historical collections in the museum during the reign of Great Britain. Artefacts such as the Egyptian mummies, Rosetta Stone, hieroglyphics, and a portion of the Parthenon are prominent in the museum.
As a first-time visitor to London you can get bogged down with all the touristy sites and attractions in London, so I recommend taking time out and visiting spots that are not as popular or in your Lonely Planet’s guide book.
Best Non touristy things to do in London
Discover Brick Lane
The colourful street art, Sunday markets and the mix of culture and curry houses along Brick Lane, makes it a hotbed for London’s art students and street artist. And is an ideal site for those looking for a non-touristy place to visit in London. Visiting Shoreditch in East London is one of cool things to do in London. This once forgotten and derelict part of London, is going through regentrification and is now a hub for street artist, hipsters, London’s young entrepreneurs and creative types. If you want to have a fun night out in London like a local hit up Shoreditch as it’s far cheaper that going out in Central London. I recommend checking out The Blues Kitchen, The Book Club, Dinerama and Floripa. You will mostly need Londoners at these places. Book Your Tickets Here.
Based in Zone 5 Kew Gardens is a lovely and serene setting, with over 250 years of history sitting gracefully on 300 acres. Kew is a one of the world’s leading botanic garden. To see plants from every corner of the world, some even near extinction then visit the iconic Palm House at Kew Gardens, which has the climate of a rainforest inside or the exquisite Temperate House.
The Kew Gardens, loved by Londoner’s and should be on your London itinerary planner. Book Your Tickets Here.
If you like Kew Guide then you might also like my guide on Neal’s Yard Covent Garden, one of London’s secret location.
Sir John Soane’s Museum
The former residence of Sir John Soane is one of the finest public museums in London. With over 20,000 architectural drawings including art works by Turner, Canaletto, and Piranesi, the museum has a lot to offer a first-time visitor.
Up at the O2
Up at the O2 takes you through an exhilarating 90-minute experience where you can climb over the roof of the most popular entertainment venues in London. You can climb: at daytime, sunset, or even at twilight.
This is a fun thing to do in London at night as you get some of the best views of London’s skyline all lit up and some famous London building you’ll be able to see from Up at the O2 are the walkie talkie building, The Shard and St Paul’s Cathedral and trust me there isn’t anything like it. Book Your Tickets Here.
While in London, enjoy the Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey. Visit the Tower Bridge and walk through Hyde Park. These are all some things I would recommend to someone visiting London for the first-time. They are some iconic historical monuments that make London so unique.
But there is also a ton of non-touristy and quirky things to do in London, that can make your 5-days in London, so much more interesting and memorable.
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