London is one of my favorite cities to visit across the pond. It is not only a great city to fly in and out of when you are venturing to other European cities, but it also has so much to offer beyond a layover.
Like many big cities, London offers something for almost everyone – history, culture, architecture, eclectic neighborhoods, sporting events, museums and art, an assortment of cuisines and more. You can easily fill up a few days or even a week in London and still only scratch the surface. I just returned from a 3-day trip to London with my family – making it my fifth time there! – and I’ve still not seen all of the major sites in the city.
With so much to offer, London can definitely be overwhelming – how do you decide what to see? How should you spend your days, especially when you are limited on time?
If you’ve never been to London, it’s best to do a little research before your trip to identify any major sites you won’t want to miss based on your interests and how much time you are there. There are plenty of London itineraries online and you’re sure to find one that fits your needs.
Because we’ve visited London on several occasions, my family and I were fairly strategic at what we chose to see this time around, returning to several of our favorites and adding in a few new sites/activities as well. And with a little pre-planning, we were able to pack in quite a bit in just 3 whirlwind days! Let’s take a look at how we did it.
London Highlights Tour in 3 Days – Museums, Historic Sites and So Much More!
By now you’ve surely guessed that we are “museum people”. No matter what major city we visit, a museum is sure to be on our list of sites to see. London has amazing museums and what’s even better is that most of the major ones are FREE to visit, including Tate Modern, Victoria & Albert’s, British Museum, National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery. As you can imagine, it was rather challenging to visit all of these museums with just 3 days in London. However, we managed to visit V&A, Tate Modern and the National Gallery, and they did not disappoint!
Victoria & Albert’s is a mix of real and casted artifacts ranging from sculptures, to tapestries, to fashion (vintage clothing and shoes), paintings, jewelry and more. Don’t miss the Cast Room where you can find reproductions of some of the most famous sculptures in the world (hello Michelangelo’s David!).
The National Gallery is an art museum with an assortment of works from notable artists like Cezanne, Seurat, Monet, Rembrandt, Van Gogh and more. This museum is a must if you love classic works of art.
Tate Modern is a mix of paintings, sculptures and more from artists around the world. But what’s different about Tate Modern is that it centers on art from the early 1900’s until today – so very recent art compared with V&A and the National Gallery.
Really, no matter what museum you choose, you won’t be disappointed. And with no entry fee, you can go for even an hour and not feel like you need to stay to get your money’s worth. Tip – most of the museums stay open late on Fridays (some until 10pm!!), so we often save an hour our more after dinner to pop into one of them.
With so many historical sites in London to gaze upon, it’s nearly impossible to see everything in just a few days. This trip, we grouped sites and monuments together by location so we could visit several before lunch and then more in the afternoon. For instance, within a 20 minute walk, we were able to see Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Parliament, many monuments and other fun things along the way (ie. Classic red phone booths and double decker buses).
Likewise, we were able to visit Trafalgar Square – home of Lord Nelson’s Column, the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery – all of which led us to other nearby sites like The Globe Theatre, St Paul’s Cathedral, the Millennium Bridge (featured in one of Harry Potter films) and London Bridge, and the monument to the great fire of London. We even added in a walk along the River Walk which gave us up close views of the Thames River and the skyline.
Sky Garden – London has many historical sites to behold, but it also holds a few local gems that are worth a visit. This trip, we were fortunate enough to obtain tickets to the Sky Garden located in the City of London. Also known as the walkie talkie (because if its resemblance to the toy), the Sky Garden is the highest public garden in London. Located in a 38-story building, the garden is an atrium-like, indoor/outdoor space on the 34th-37th floors. Tickets to the Sky Garden are free to all but you do need to reserve your spot well in advance of the day you plan to visit, especially if you want an evening ticket.
This was our first time visiting the Sky Garden and we did so just after breakfast. After a short line and an express elevator to the top, we were treated with clear views of all of London, which made for incredible pictures. Although you can grab a drink or a bite to eat in the garden, we chose to merely walk around for an hour and identify as many monuments and sites as we could using site maps printed on the glass. This was a great way to spend an hour and see the city in all of its shining glory below.
Borough Market – Just over the London Bridge from the Sky Garden was the Borough Market, where we stopped for a quick bite to eat – along with a thousands other people. If you’ve never been to the Borough Market, it’s definitely an experience, one that can be really exciting or really overwhelming depending on the day. We stopped by on a Saturday afternoon, knowing very well that it would be crazy busy, and it was. But we persevered through the maze of people and stalls to find the Kappacasein Dairy stand – home of the legendary toasted cheese sandwich. This was our second time having the sandwich and it was just as tasty as the first experience, in spite of the 85 degree heat.
Leadenhall Market – Next stop was a quick stroll through Leadenhall Market, which offers more restaurants, pubs, and shops…not to mention locations where they filmed a few scenes from the Harry Potter movies. The architecture here is quite interesting and really does make you feel like you are on a move set in some instances.
Harrods – Finally, we made the obligatory stop at the famous Harrods Department Store to check out its gorgeous food hall. From gourmet grocery items to deliciously prepared take-away meals, to specialty chocolates and treats, Harrods food hall is a must, just for the experience. Oh, and if you have a few thousands dollars to spend, you can always go up a few floors to peruse the high-end fashion finds!
AFTERNOON TEA AND OTHER TREATS
What would a trip to London be without Afternoon Tea? Afternoon Tea is something we always do when we are in the city. There are many, many places around London that serve Afternoon Tea – it really just depends on the experience you want (fancy vs. casual) and how much you’d like to spend. Although we’ve had tea at a few places around London, we opted to return to one of our favorite spots – Arthur’s Cafe at the Liberty of London store. Located on the second floor, Arthur’s offers a variety of tea experiences to meet different price points and palates. We chose the traditional Afternoon Tea which included finger sandwiches, tea pastries and treats, a scone with jam and clotted cream, and a choice of tea or coffee.
Although the cafe seems to have some issues regulating its indoor temperature (this is the second time that we’ve had tea there and it’s been very warm inside), the tea was lovely and gave us an opportunity to relax after a long and busy morning. In addition to Arthur’s, we also made multiple trips to a little bakery in South Kensington called Molly Rose.
I have to admit, everything in this bakery looked amazing – from the scones, to the cakes, to the colorful marshmallows – but after I had the triple chocolate chip cookie, I was smitten and didn’t order anything else! This quaint bakery has a few tables for patrons – inside and outside – but the inside is so charming you may just decide to linger there for hours.
And there you have it – a highlights tour of London in just 3 days! Of course, I left a few major sites off the itinerary – like the Tower of London, Notting Hill, and Kensington Palace – but this just leaves an excuse for me (and you!) visit again.
Ciao and Happy Travels Everyone!