London in Four Days – The perfect itinerary for first timers

London in four days - Travel for a Living

Last summer my goddaughter and her mum visited me here in London for the very first time. They were here for four days, so you can imagine that we had a rather full schedule to ensure they see the best of London in just four days.

Needless to say, four days is nowhere near enough to really see and experience all of London, but it is just about sufficient to give you a first overview and visit at least some of the most famous sights of London.

So, if you are planning your first trip to London, maybe this four-day itinerary for London might come useful.

Obviously, you can switch and swap as much as you like, no need to stick to a certain order or completing it all.

London in Four Days:  Day 1 A self-guided walking tour + Sky Garden

To make the most of London in just four days, my goddaughter and her mum arrived on a very early morning flight into Stansted.

With no time to waste, we headed straight into London.

For a first overview and a better understanding of London, we went on a little self-guided walking tour.

Starting point for our tour was Piccadilly Circus.

As you get out of the Tube, you are pretty much in the centre of the West End. Piccadilly Circus is a massive junction, connecting Piccadilly, Lower Regent Street, Regent Street and Shaftesbury Avenue. Take a look at the world famous advertising billboards; sure the advertising brands and technology have changed over the years and one might miss the old nostalgic neon signs of past day, but they still look impressive and capture your eye the minute you step out of the Tube (especially at dawn or dusk and when it is wet and the lights reflect on the ground).

From Piccadilly Circus we headed towards Leicester Square, popped into the M&M store and the Lego Store opposite (obviously there is no chance walking past those with youngsters in tow, even if the ‘kid’ in question is 14 and all grown up – most of the time). After all, this is the only M&M store in Europe, so how could you not pop in, look at all the colourful merchandise and the rows of multi-coloured M&Ms. Depending on time of day you might even ‘meet’ some of the life size M&Ms walking around the store. Give them a hug and pose with them for a photo (and no, you are never too old for this, even my 85-year old gran still cracked a smile when hugging the M&Ms). And as for the Lego store, fingers crossed the queues to get in aren’t too long (a nightmare during the weekend, so try and time it well). Once in, have a wander around, sit in a life-size tube carriage made entirely of Lego bricks (and no worries, staff are only too willing to take your photo for you) and don’t forget to glance at the map of London above the stair well.

London in four days - Travel for a Living London in Four Days - How to see it all - Travel for a Living See the best of London in four days - Travel for a Living

Whilst you are at Leicester Square, you could check out the TKTS booth if you fancy some reduced last-minute tickets for a West End show that evening.

Keep an eye out for those pigeons up in the trees. They are vicious. We walked diagonal across Leicester Square and somehow managed to all get covered in pigeon drippings. Not quite the look we were going for.

With Leicester Square behind us, we headed towards Trafalgar’s Square, past the National Portrait Gallery, St. Martin’s in the Field and the National Gallery.

Feel free to pop into the galleries if you fancy some art (general entrance is free of charge, unless you want to see a special exhibition) or check the schedule for St. Martin’s in the Fields. They do regular lunchtime concerts and candlelight concerts in the evening, often for little money. Plus, there is a nice little café / restaurant down in the crypt.

Enjoy the street performers in front of the National Gallery, snap some photos of Nelson’s Column and make a wish at one of the fountains.

From Trafalgar’s Square the walk continued through Admiralty Arch and down the Mall towards Buckingham Palace.

During the week the Mall is open to traffic, so as tempting as it might be to walk down the middle of this ‘red carpet’ (the Mall has red asphalt, giving the impression of it being a red carpet leading to the Palace), please stay on the pavements.

As you head down the Mall, you will see Buckingham Palace at the far end, with the Queen Victoria Memorial in front of it.

To your left is St. James’s Park, to your right you will come past the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (better known as Queen Mum) memorial half way along the Mall.

Four Day London Itinerary - Travel for a Living

That day we missed the Changing of the Guard by half an hour or so, but we didn’t mind. We had it on the agenda for one of the other days anyway. But if you want to make the most of London in four days, you might want to try and time it a little better than us and do the Changing of the Guard at the same time (check Day Four for more information on the actual ceremony).

With the mandatory photo in front of Buckingham Palace over, we went back through St. James’s Park towards Whitehall.

Past the Imperial War Museum and Churchill War Rooms (if you want to go in, I would definitively recommend booking ahead, the queue was rather long and on a four day trip to London you have no time to waste I’m afraid) and down Whitehall towards the Houses of Parliament and Parliament Square.

Due to building works there is currently no view of Big Ben (well of Elizabeth Tower obviously, we all know that the actual tower isn’t really called Big Ben), sorry to disappoint. But that said, it gives you a good reason to come back in the future.

Make a round through Parliament Square, check out the statues and glance at Westminster Abbey (again, book tickets ahead if you want to go in or attend an evening service to catch a glimpse of the interior for free).

Best of London in four days - Travel for a Living

We went past the Houses of Parliament and across Westminster Bridge (and past myriads of other tourists) towards County Hall and the London Eye.

Snap a selfie on Westminster Bridge with the London Eye or the Houses of Parliament in the background (or both).

Explore London in four days - Travel for a Living A four day London itinerary for first time visitors - Travel for a Living

By the time we arrived in front of the London Eye, it was lunchtime and as the weather was nice, we opted for a picnic on the green opposite, but if you fancy something more substantial you could head towards Waterloo Station or along the Southbank for a large selection of different restaurants.

We did not go up the London Eye, but you can obviously do that if you want (as with many of the other sights, a pre-booked ticket with a specific time slot might be advisable, to minimise wait time. London in four daysneeds to be timed well).

With lunch over we continued along Southbank, enjoying the views across the river and enjoying the performances of the various street performers (Rule number 1: stay clear or you’ll have to engage with them).

Up onto Waterloo Bridge to catch a bus towards the City.

Busses from here will take you along Aldwych and Fleet Street, past the Royal Court of Justice and the old newspaper buildings towards Ludgate Circus and St. Paul’s. Take a minute and enjoy the sight of this majestic church (or even better, get off, enjoy St. Paul’s a little while before continuing).

Our ultimate destination that afternoon was the Sky Garden (or 20 Fenchurch Street, as the actual building is called) for some magnificent views of London. I secured some tickets to go up that afternoon. But as we still had a little over half an hour left, we went straight past and down towards the Tower of London and Tower Bridge. A quick stroll, some pretty views and a coffee later it was time to head back and go up the 34 floors to the Sky Garden.

Tickets to the Sky Garden are for free, however you need to book ahead as there is limited availability. I would advise to check their website two weeks before your trip to try and secure free tickets. Alternatively, there is a chance of going up without tickets, but spots are limited and you might have to wait in line…

Best of London in four days - Travel for a Living Four day London itinerary - Travel for a Living

The visit to the Sky Garden pretty much marked the end of our first day exploring London. We walked back to Liverpool Street station to catch a train home.

But as you come out of 20 Fenchurch Street, don’t forget to check out Leadenhall Market, which is just a few paces away. It is one of the old market halls dotted around London, dating back to 14thcentury. It was originally a meat market; nowadays it has a selection of retail shops in this very picturesque setting.

If you are a Harry Potter fan, you might recognise Leadenhall Market as one of the film sets of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s stone.

Best of London in just four days - Travel for a Living

On day 1 of our ‘London in Four Days’ tour we covered approx. 8km / 5 miles by foot, plus around 2 by bus. Obviously, you could shorten this or take more busses / public transport if you fancied.

London in Four Days: Day 2 Going West and hitting the shops

Well rested and ready for everything we started day 2 at Green Park Station. Being proper tourists, my goddaughter and her mum wanted to go to the Hard Rock Café to get the mandatory Hard Rock Cafe London Tee.

Shirts bagged and photos taken, we then took bus number 9 (another heritage bus route, so keep an eye out for the old route masters) towards Knightsbridge.

Around the Wellington Arch, along Hyde Park and on to Harrods.

For years it has been our little Christmas tradition for me to give my goddaughter a Harrods Christmas bauble every year.

Best of London in four days - Travel for a Living

But obviously going to Harrods itself was a different thing and we spent ages in there, exploring the food hall, checking out the Harrods gift shop and glancing at all the designer clothes on offer. As it was July, the Christmas shop was not yet set up, but from onwards August this is a different story. Go and check out the Christmas department, if you have a chance.

And once we had enough of exploring all that Harrods had to offer, we popped into the Harrods café for some coffee and cake. And what a delight to realize that even the complementary biscuit that comes with your coffee carries the iconic Harrods H branding.

Your essential four day London itinerary for first time visitors - Travel for a Living Harrods - Best bits of London in four days - Travel for a Living

As we were in the area, our journey continued down Knightsbridge towards South Kensington. A quick 10-minute walk and you will get to the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum. If you have some spare time, I would definitively recommend you check out at least one of them (if you visit London with kids, the Natural History Museum and Science Museum are an absolute must). All three are free to get into; you only have to pay if you want to see any of the special exhibitions.

We left the museums behind and walked along Exhibition Road towards the Royal Albert Hall with the Albert Memorial and Kensington Gardens opposite.

4 Day London Itinerary - Travel for a Living Best of London in four days - Travel for a Living

Obviously, you could now head into Kensington Gardens and enjoy the park, the adventure playground (if you have kids with you) or explore the summer pavilion at the Serpentine Gallery (which is situated just outside the Gallery for three months each summer).

Or you could venture even further west. Get on the bus and continue towards High Street Kensington. You will find lots of high street shops there. As well as some nice charity shops.

From High Street Ken it is just a short tube ride to Notting Hill Gate.

You can easily spend a whole day in Notting Hill and on Portobello Market. Best day would probably be Saturday, as this is the main day for Portobello Market. But try and get there early in the morning, otherwise it is proper packed and not much fun. But even if the main market isn’t open, take the time to just wander along the pretty and colourful streets of Notting Hill. Even though the stalls aren’t open, there are still loads of little shops and cafes to keep you occupied for hours.

But since we were on a rather tight schedule, Notting Hill was a very short round and on we went towards Marble Arch on the Central Line (or jump on a bus). If you were to skip High Street Kensington and Notting Hill altogether you could have gotten a bus directly from the Royal Albert Hall to Marble Arch or walked across Hyde Park instead.

By now the Harrods cake started to wear off, so we opted for yet another picnic in the park (we had to make the most of the gorgeous weather in July), before eventually hitting the shops on Oxford Street.

The shops on Oxford Street span from Marble Arch all the way across to Tottenham Court Road, a total of four tube stations. Tells you something about the length of road and amount of shops that await.

And with a teenager in tow, this can easily take the best part of a day or two.

Needless to say, we didn’t actually manage the entire length of Oxford Street that day. We started, but eventually abandoned the mission at Bond Street station, heading back home for a relaxing evening.

London in Four Days: Day 3 East End and the River Thames

Day 3 of our London in Four Days adventure started at Liverpool Street Station. From there it was a short walk to Spitalfields Market and on to Brick Lane. Sunday is the ideal day to explore this area, as you will find both Spitalfields Market and Sunday Up Market open.

Spitalfields Market (or Old Spitalfields Market, if we are being correct, as there is also a New Spitalfields Market further east) is a covered market area that was used as a market since the 17thcentury, but as the fruit and veg market moved to New Spitalfields Market in the 1990s, the area was re-designed and repurposed and nowadays features loads of food stalls and restaurants (so a perfect foodie destination in London) and the Traders’ Market offering arts and crafts.

From Spitalfields we headed down Fournier Street towards Brick Lane. Take the time to glance at the 18thcentury Georgian houses either side, as well as Christ Church Spitalfields on the corner of Commercial Street and Fournier Street (that big white church on your right, one of London’s iconic Wren Churches).

Brick Lane (along with Fournier Street and some of the other side roads) is worth a visit any day of the week. This is a separate little world and you will struggle to imagine that you are just a few paces away from the hustle and bustle of the City of London.

Brick Lane is home to a large Bangladeshi community, and you can find loads of curry houses, Asian supermarkets and sweet shops.

As you walk down Brick Lane towards Shoreditch station, you will also find loads of independent little shops and coffee places, as well as loads of really awesome street art (if you are into Street Art, there are some walking tours on offer, just google it).

London in four days - Travel for a Living

Our next stop on our East End London Tour was even further east. We were heading for the Docklands and Greenwich.

To get there, we opted for the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) from Tower Gateway to Greenwich. Tower Gateway Station is about a 20-minutes (1 mile) walk from Brick Lane, but obviously you could also take a bus if you wanted to reduce the amount of walking.

The DLR runs as part of the TFL (Transport for London) network, so you can use your normal ticket / Oyster card / contactless payment card that you use for tubes and busses. But unlike the other tube lines, the DRL is a driverless train. If you get the chance, board the first carriage, sit in the front row and pretend you are driving the train. As you meander through the Docklands, it feels a little like being on a rollercoaster (without the loops obviously).

Along the way, you could get off at Canary Wharf and have a wander around there, but our ultimate destination on the DLR was ‘Cutty Sark for Maritime Greenwich’ (probably the station with the longest name on the network).

Believe me, you can spend a day and more in Greenwich, so if you have more time during your London trip, allow for more time. But on a ‘London in four days’ trip you have to be efficient with your time, so this could only be a brief overview of what to see and do in Greenwich.

 

My Top Five things to see in Greenwich include:

  • The Royal Observatory and the Prime Meridian
  • Greenwich Market
  • Cutty Sark
  • Greenwich Foot Tunnel
  • Old Royal Naval College

The Royal Observatory and the Prime Meridian

The Royal Observatory is situated within Greenwich Park and thanks to sitting on top of the hill you get a great view over Greenwich and the Thames.

You can visit the Observatory Museum, discover time (after all, this is home to Greenwich Meantime GMT) and stand on the Prime Meridian, which runs through  Greenwich. Until a few years ago the museum was for free (so you could just dash through, snap a photo on the Prime Meridian and leave again), however nowadays the Prime Meridian is only accessible if you pay the entrance fee to the Observatory Museum (which is £13.50/adults, £5.50/children).

If you have time, go ahead and explore the museum, it sure is interesting. But if you are pressed for time (and if you want to explore all of London in four daysyou will be) I would propose a simple walk through Greenwich Park (so you still get the stunning view from the top) instead.

Greenwich Market

Greenwich Market is a covered and enclosed market space, with lots of arts and crafts stalls as well as plenty of very tasty foods from around the world. It can get a bit crowded at weekends, but it sure is worth a visit if you are in the area.

If you visit during the summer months, why not buy yourself a tasty lunch here, then head up to the Greenwich Park for a picnic with a view.

London in four days - Travel for a Living

Cutty Sark

The Cutty Sark is an old tea clipper, built in the mid 19thcentury. In recent years (after burning down) it was re-built and now sits proud next to the Thames on a gigantic glass wave. You can visit the museum ship, which is part of the National Historic Fleet (the nautical equivalent of a listed building), admission fee is £12.15/adults and £6.30/children.

Greenwich Foot Tunnel

Yes, you heard right, there is a foot tunnel where you can walk underneath the river Thames. One entrance is in Greenwich, the other on the opposite site of the Thames on the Isle of Dogs.

The tunnel was originally built around 1900, it is just over 300 m long, so you can easily walk it over and back just for the fun of it.

Best bits of London in just four days - Travel for a Living

Old Royal Naval College

A world heritage site, the Old Royal Naval College sits centre stage in Greenwich. It is an architectural masterpiece, built by Christopher Wren (the same guy responsible for St. Pauls and quite a few of the London churches).

Admission is free, so go and have a wonder around. There are even free guided tours several times a day, which last around 45 minutes.

Having undergone a massive restoration project, the Painted Hall has recently re-opened to the public. I haven’t yet had a chance to go and see it for myself, but it is supposed to be stunning. You will have to pay admission to get in, but from what I’ve seen so far, it should be well worth it.

 

When you are done exploring Greenwich (regardless whether you only did a quick tour through Greenwich or spent an entire day in Greenwich), I’d recommend a boats tour back to the City.

Head down to Greenwich Pier to board a Thames Clipper. If you have money on your Oyster or you are using a contactless payment card, you can easily use this to touch in and out when using the Thames Clipper. From Greenwich to one of the central stations (so anywhere between Tower and Battersea Power Station) a single ride will cost you £7/adults when using Oyster or contactless or £10/adults if you buy a paper ticket.

Which means you could easily take the Thames Clipper all across London and get off at Westminster, depending what your further plans of the day are.

Best of London in four days - Travel for a Living See the best of London in just four days - Travel for a Living

For us it was only from Greenwich to London Bridge and there we called it a day.

London in Four Days: Day 4 Changing of the Guards and Marylebone

The final day of our London in four days trip, we started at Green Park station.

Grabbing a quick breakfast and coffee, we strolled down Green Park heading towards Buckingham Palace to witness the Changing of the Guards.

Changing of the Guards takes place at 11.30am every morning in summer and every other day during the winter months, so depending on season, ensure you check whether it takes place that day or not before heading here.

As mentioned, we could have timed it better and combined it with the walking tour on day one. But instead we planned it as a separate occasion. Not the least to allow for sufficient time.

To ensure you get a good viewing spot, I would urge you to arrive early. At the least one hour before, but the earlier the better really, otherwise you might be stuck right at the back with no view at all.

Around 10.45 we saw the first bit of movement, as the horses approached from Wellington Arch down the Mall towards the stables.

Best of London in four days - Travel for a Living

Shortly after, the band marched down the Mall, clockwise around the fountain and through the left gate into the grounds of Buckingham Palace.

They played for a little while inside the gates, then the walk out the left gate and back in through the right gate.

London in four days - Travel for a Living

After all that action it quietened down a bit until 11.30am, when it was time for the actual Changing of the Guards ceremony.

Guards marched in, changed position with the previous guards and the then released guards along with the band will marched out through the gates and down the Mall.

4 Day London Itinerary - Travel for a Living

Once they disappeared from view, the parade of horses came back along the Mall, past Buckingham Palace and down to the Wellington Arch.

If like us you visit on a hot and sunny day, I would advise you bring yourself some sun protection and ideally a bottle of water. You might stand at your location for a good hour and a half, so wear comfy shoes (generally I would advise on comfy shoes for your London in four days adventure, as you will do an awful lot of walking throughout the days)

Where best to stand to see the Changing of the Guards? Good question. We opted for a spot along the railings outside Buckingham Palace. That spot had the advantage that we got a really good view of the Mall and the horses coming from the Wellington Arch. Disadvantage was hardly any view of the left gate as the band marched through. But another advantage (a big one in my book) we were able to sit on the railings as we waited (which also gave us a slightly elevated view).

With the Changing of the Guards over, head back to Green Park station to catch the Bakerloo Line up to Baker Street for a visit to Madame Tussauds.

I would urge you to pre book your tickets for Madame Tussauds, as a. it saves you money and b. the queues can get rather long.

As I am sure you are aware, Madame Tussauds is a museum that displays loads of celebrities, politicians and the Royals all as life-sized wax figurines. Over the years, plenty of wax museums have opened all over the world, but the one in London is the original and surely worth a visit if you’ve never been to one.

As you are already at Baker Street, you could go and pay a visit to 221b Baker Street, the address of fictional character Sherlock Holmes and home to the Sherlock Holmes Museum.

Or head a little further up the road and visit Regent’s Park for a little stroll.

If you had enough of walking, you could head back towards Oxford Street to continue your shopping trip (or head to Westfield shopping mall in Shepherd’s Bush if the weather isn’t great).

As your final day comes to an end, you could consider another trip to Covent Garden and Soho for a nice dinner or maybe even to go and see a West End Show as your Grande Finale.

As I have mentioned in the beginning, four days is nowhere near enough to see everything that London has to offer, but it is enough time to give you a good overview and cover the basics.

Tell me, anything else I should include in my ‘London in Four Days’ itinerary? What are your must-sees in London?

London in four days - The perfect itinerary for first time visitors - Travel for a Living How to see the best of London in just four days - Travel for a Living

Leave a Reply

7 Comments

  1. juliemsa

    Great post and I have to admit that even though I’ve been to London several times, there were several things I haven’t done yet. Noted for my next trip:)

    Reply
    • Travel for a living

      Well, there is so much to see in London that it is really difficult to see it all. Even though I live here, I still have loads of places on my To-Do list 🙂

      Reply
  2. Julia Dent (@juliadentphoto)

    Such a great itinerary! I’m hoping I can visit London soon, so I’ll definitely use your recommendations! I hadn’t heard of visiting the Old Royal Naval College before

    Reply
    • Travel for a living

      There is so much to see and do in Greenwich, that you should really allocated much more time than just one afternoon. It really should be a trip on its own. And I definitely need to return soon to actually see the Painted Hall myself. I’ll keep you all posted obviously.

      Reply
  3. Grace

    I love that you included Sky Garden. I was so bummed on my last visit that I wasn’t able to make it. Next time!

    Reply
    • Travel for a living

      Yes, if you want to visit the Sky Garden, you will have to plan a little ahead. However, there is a new roof top garden nearby now, where you don’t need any tickets. Might be worth next time you visit London? Have a look at my ‘Best view of London for free‘ post for more info.

      Reply
  4. Maria Haase

    Oh man, I wish I had this itinerary before I went to London last month. That would have been super helpful. Looks like you know London really well. How long have you lived there?

    Reply