London is a real life museum with a rich history and culture. It is cosmopolitan, proud, flamboyant, open but at the same time conservative, reserved and subtle. We wanted to put together an itinerary and travel tips from a Londoner’s perspective for someone who is visiting London for the first time. An itinerary that is practical and enjoyable. One that captures the spirit, the history and as much of the intricacies that make London such a wonderful city. This was one of our most challenging project to date.
Over 4 days, we will guide you to places that showcase the journey of the monarchy that ruled from London, the growth of its global empire and how it impacts modern London. You will see how this impacts art, culture and design and admire some of the architectural showpieces that have defined and redefined buildings all around the world. Words like Tudor, Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian will have new meanings to you. Due to its intertwined history with many cities around the world, we will taste and savour the fresh produce and masterfully prepared global dishes from the best restaurants as well as street food vendors in London.
Day 1 (Thursday):
Wake up your senses at London’s fresh food market
Start your adventure in London with a look into it’s fresh food market. Hence, don’t bother with the breakfast buffet at the hotel this morning and head straight to Borough Market for a treat (opens at 10am). Food brings people together and there is no better place to experience that in London than here. This partially covered fresh produce and street food haven buzzes with chatter and laughter. The air is filled with the aroma of freshly grounded coffee, paella and confit duck. And, it is a visual feast with the array of bright colours from the fresh fruits and vegetables.
Make sure you sample and bag yourself some of the fresh cheeses from Neal’s Yard Dairy. Indulge in giant oysters for £1 each and wash it down the some cold white wine at Richard Haward’s oyster shack. While you are at it, try the authentic Iraqi kubba halab (deep fried mince lamb in rice dough) at Juma Kitchen, the vegetarian Indian moong dal dasa (mung beans potatoes curry in a pancake wrap) at Horn OK Please, the uniquely British scotch eggs at Scotchtails and the freshly made black truffle tortelloni at La Tua Pasta.
Time to eat again..this time for lunch
Now that you are done with breakfast, it is time for lunch. Brindisa is one of the first food stall to popularise Borough Market in it’s current guise and it was from here that they started their modest restaurant empire across London. This restaurant brought the spirit and flavours of Spain to the corner of London Bridge. Friendly service coupled with delicious fresh gambas al ajillo (garlic prawns), Bellota Iberico ham (100% acorn-fed ham), padrón peppers and tortilla (chunky Spanish omelette) is a lethal combination that you should not resist.
If you are going to Brindisa, as they don’t take reservations, download the cool WalkIn App (App Store) and queue virtually while you finish off wondering the market.
Look down on London from 800ft
From Borough Market, take a 5 min walk to the tallest building in London. Make sure you pre-book to see London from this cone-like glass-clad building with the highest viewing platform in the capital. Known as The View from The Shard (theviewfromtheshard.com, map), standing at 800 ft (250 m) above the capital, you will get uninterrupted view of up to 40 miles (64 km) from there. There are also two cocktail bars at hand to offer a tipple while you soak in the view. (Entry fee: £25pp)
Admire the Crown Jewel and immerse into the history of the Royal family
From The Shard, flag a cab for a 8 min ride to Tower of London (hrp.org.uk, map) which has been a palace, a fortress and a prison in its 1,000 years of history. Time to brush up on your British history. This is home to the Crown Jewels, the royal’s jewellery collection. Be dazzled by the Imperial State Crown worn by Queen Elizabeth II on her coronation. Admire the Sovereign’s Sceptre with it’s Cullinan I, at 530 carats, it is the world’s largest top quality white cut diamond.
Join the complimentary Yeoman Warder tours which runs every hour to learn about the White Tower built by William the Conqueror to protect and control London. Marvel at the historic tournament armour of King Henry VIII. If you are travelling with kids, make sure to go to the top floor of the White Tower for a lesson in sword-fighting and firing a cannon!
- Save time by buying your tickets online (hrp.org.uk). You can then download your PDF ticket to your mobile for scanning at the entrance
- Allow for 3 hours to appreciate the castle. It closes at 5.30pm
- Admission cost £28.90 for adult and £14.40 for children (family tickets also available)
Be serenaded by the romantic bridge
Next up is the romantic Tower Bridge (map), a short walk from the Tower of London. It is one of the most famous and instantly recognisable landmark in the world. It is majestic with its two Victorian Gothic style towers draped with white and blue-painted iron like ribbons.
- Check if you can see the bridge lift while you are in London. The timetable is on their website (towerbridge.org.uk)
- You can learn more about the engineering aspect of the bridge and go up to the high-level walkway, which offers a decent aerial view of London, by visiting the Tower Bridge Exhibition. You can swap this for The View from The Shard in the itinerary earlier. It also offers a unique view “down” as there is a section of glass floor.
Enjoy one of the best French restaurant with the picture perfect view
End the day with dinner on the outdoor terrace at Le Pont de la Tour on Shad Thames with a picture perfect view of Tower Bridge as the sun sets. The restaurant is a true class-act in London’s dining scene. It has consistently maintained its high standards, both in service and quality of the traditional yet innovative French dishes it churns out. Experience the lobster bisque, truffle veal cutlet or aged fillet of beef Rossini. Cap off the meal with a classic blood orange crepe Suzette flambé by your table. Good old classic always does the trick.
Day 2 (Friday):
Listen to the heart to understand the soul of London
Continue on your discovery of London at the heart of the city, at one of it’s most iconic landmark. St Paul’s Cathedral, designed by Sir Christopher Wren in 1710, is a majestic Baroque-styled building with its stunning large dome and a show-stopping grand front facade with a double-storey portico and symmetrical twin towers. It has hosted joyous weddings and sorrowful funerals for some of London’s most prominent inhabitants. This building is so integral to London that in 1937, it passed a policy to ensure that St Paul’s Cathedral can be viewed from 8 important vantage points across London.
Come through the front and be awed by the bright spacious room with shiny black and white chequered floor, white and gold intricately decorated walls & ceilings and chandeliers from the sky. Walk towards the opulent and ornate high altar and admire the rich delicate artwork under the dome. Climb up 257 steps to the Whispering Gallery just under the dome and then a further 271 steps to the Golden Gallery for a breath-taking view of London.
Apart from the architecture and art, soak up on history with the monuments to some of London’s most famous sons and daughters. Admire the monument to the 1st Duke of Wellington, famous from his victory against Napolean at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 as well as Admiral Nelson from the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.
- Save time and money by buying your tickets in advance online (stpauls.co.uk).
- Admission cost £17 for adult and £7.20 for children when purchased online (family tickets available).
- The 90 min guided tour which is included in your admission fee is the best way to experience the church. Unfortunately, it can’t be pre-booked online.
- Get here as early as you can to reserve a place at the guiding desk for the 10am guided tour (opens at 8.30am). The tour covers the main floor, crypt, as well as the geometric staircase, chapel of St Micheal & St George and the Quire – which are not usually open to visitors.
- Grab breakfast and visit the Dome Galleries before your tour starts.
Bite into a quintessential English pie for lunch
For lunch, head to the Holborn Dining Room in Rosewood London hotel (rosewoodhotels.com, map) to have some pies – one of the traditional British dishes. The grand dining hall is reminiscent of the glamorous Art Deco with bright round light bulbs, marble columns, plush red leather banquette seats and, of course, a copper-topped gin bar. Enjoy a classic steak & kidney pudding or try one with a modern twist of curried mutton. Make sure to also try the “most liked egg on social media” – Monkshill Farm scotch egg. You can also just grab one of the pies to-go, if you want to make up some time.
Immerse in the greatest collection of historical artefacts
After lunch, head over to the British Museum to run through two million years of human history and culture, spanning continents and oceans. It is also an illustration of the British discovery and exploration heydays. The building’s grand facade, designed by Sir Robert Smirke in 1823, is a homage to classic Greek architecture, with it mighty Ionic order columns, a horizontal entablature and an ornately decorated triangular pediment. In the centre courtyard, you will find a mesmerisingly graceful Foster & Partners designed glass-and-steel roof connecting the outer building to its large central dome core.
Inside, be blown away by the colossal 7 tons statue of the Pharoah Ramessess II, one of Ancient Egypt’s greatest rulers. Stand in front of the Rosetta Stone, the key that unlocked the hieroglyphic language of ancient Egypt. Admire the life-like Greek marble sculptures that adorned the Parthenon 2,500 years ago. Scrutinise the details and personalities of the most famous chess pieces in the world, craved from walrus ivory by Lewis Chessmen in the 12th century. Rejoice in the realism and finesse of Assyrian art depicting the king in a lion-hunt, a sport of kings in those days.
- It is impossible to see all 8 millions artefacts under this roof in one visit, it is just not humanly possible. Hence, the only way to do this is to know what you want to see and plan ahead.
- Or, join the “Around the World in 90 mins” tour at 2pm for £14 per person. This tour only runs on Friday, Saturday and Sunday in the summer months.
- The museum closes at 5.30pm everyday apart from Fridays, where it closes at 8.30pm
- As the museum is free to enter, be prepared for a 15-30 min queue to get in after lunch
Discover the department store that started the notion of shopping for pleasure
From British Museum, take a cab to Old Bond Street and work your way north to Selfridges (selfridges.com, map). Here you will be greeted by all the luxury brands of the world. It is worth a small detour to check out Savile Row, the street synonymous with fine English tailored suits, before heading onto New Bond St.
Selfridges is 6-floors of shopping haven in London. It opened its doors in 1909 and is allegedly known to have started the notion of shopping for pleasure, rather than necessity. You can still see why even after more than 100 years. The shop floors are beautiful, attentively designed to showcase the best products and entice you to touch and experience to build your desire for them. Be captivated by the often bold and artistic window displays, which are known to be some of the most innovative in the industry.
After Selfridges, walk back to Oxford St towards Regent St and make your way to Carnaby St and Kingly Court and check-out some of the independent boutiques there.
Find out what three Michelin stars taste like
Wrap up the 2nd day on the itinerary with a dining experience of a lifetime at three Michelin stars Sketch. It is not just going to be an explosive experience for your taste buds, but also a lavish visual experience. The restaurant is a theatre of fun, colour and gastronomy excellence, tastefully over-the-top. The Michelin stars came from The Lecture Room & Library, the main dining hall. Expect only the best and you will be served much more in Sketch.
You can also opt for dining at The Gallery. This is the more relaxed cousin. It is soft pink, fun, modern and light-hearted but not any less in flawlessness of execution in the kitchen.
Day 3 (Saturday):
A grand English breakfast
There is no better way to start a holiday in the heart of England than with an English breakfast at The Wolseley (thewolseley.com, map). Located on Piccadilly, one of the most iconic streets in London, is this grand European cafe/restaurant. Be energised by the morning buzz in the masculine black, white and gold dining hall with high domed ceiling as bankers pitch to their clients from Mayfair, media-types debate the latest adverts and socialites catch up on the latest gossips.
The clean sandstone walls, beautiful ironwork and shiny marble floor completes the look. But it is the warm croissant, delicious Egg Benedict, mashed avocado with confit tomato on wholemeal toast and full English breakfast that will complete your morning. Expect no less than impeccable service.
Traverse the green to the royal house
With a satisfied belly, follow the paved walkway across Green Park to Buckingham Palace. This is one of the many parks that makes London one of the greenest modern city. On a triumph summer’s day the park will be graced by sunbathers, office workers tucking into their lunch and families relaxing to a picnic.
Admire the centre of command of the bygone British Empire
About 15 mins later, the center of command of the largest empire the world has ever seen will come into view. Buckingham Palace is the official London residence of the British Royal Family since 1837.
Just in the foreground is the majestic Queen Victoria Memorial – an imposing marble sculpture of the great queen enthroned against a central pylon crowned by a golden winged Goddess of Victory. The memorial is adorned with statues representing courage, fairness, motherhood, justice and truth – qualities that have made her much loved. It is a monument that encapsulated the celebration of dominance of the empire in early 20th century.
The palace is a proud symmetrical Georgian building with a clean and understated facade. It is 108m wide and 120m deep with a central courtyard. Right in the middle of the front facade, below the Union Jack, you will find the famous balcony where the Royal Family greets their subjects on special occasions. As it is an operational administrative building, the palace is not open to public apart from for 10 weeks in the summer. During this period, there will be a 3-3.5 hour multimedia guided tour of the 19 magnificent State Rooms as well as the garden. It is without a doubt one of the best palace visit in the world. You will need to prebook the tickets (rct.uk).
Time your visit here to catch the choreographed changing of the royal guards with it’s official inspections, processional music and salutes. It is a tradition that has started since 1689. The ceremony takes place, weather permitting, at 11am on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday and daily in the summer. For more on the history and details of the ceremony see the British Army website.
Refuel at Knightsbridge
Tucked away behind the busy Brompton road and a short 3 minute walk from Harrods is this popular Japanese restaurant and bar. Zuma welcomes you in as soon as you step through the doors. A classy dining room lowly lit sets the scene for your meal. Zuma’s offering is an array of authentic but not traditional dishes which are meant for sharing. Expect to find the usual offerings such as sushi, sashimi, and tempura, and a selection of signature dishes all delicious and freshly prepared. Don’t miss trying out the robata meats and seafoods which aren’t as easy to come by in London. If you have space left you can go for one of their desserts which isn’t just the usual offering of green tea icecream and moochi.
Indulge in hedonism and decadence
After lunch, make your way to the ultimate in luxury shopping experience at Harrods (harrods.com, map). The baroque-styled building is ornately beautiful. The interior is opulent and magical. It is a shopping-based theme park with all the trimmings. It is not a cliché, as even if you are most up-to-date on the latest in fashion or tech or wine, you will still feel like a Western explorer discovering a Moroccan souk for the first time. As space is a premium, only the latest and best products are displayed to seduce and entice you. Marvel at the limited editions watches, fine jewelleries and fine wines. Be amazed at The Food Halls with its chocolates, pastries, caviars, truffle oils, exotic coffees and teas as well as top-quality fresh fruits. There is also a Harry Potter shop on the 4th floor.
Explore antique, clothing and craft market and discover vintage designer cloths
Leave Harrods shortly after 4pm, hop into a taxi for Portobello Road (portobelloroad.co.uk). It is one of the few quaint shopping streets in London that has retained a local artisanal or shopkeeper spirit. The street was made famous by its antique shops/market, Paddington Bear and the movie Notting Hill. As antique shopping is such a big British pastime, you have to indulge in it to truly appreciate London.
In addition to antiques, the street is now also graced by vintage clothing shops, unique designer boutique as well as characterful cafes/bars/restaurants and street food trucks/stalls. It is also home to the biggest carnival outside of Rio, Brazil in last weekend of August. If you can time your visit for it, it is an experience of a lifetime (nhcarnival.org).
You should be just in time to catch the tail-end of the market which wraps up at 7pm on Friday and Saturday. Ask to be dropped off on the junction between Portobello Road and Cambridge Gardens. Most of the vintage clothing boutiques are on this end and the antique shops are further south towards Westbourne Grove/ Chepstow Villas. Here are some of the shops that puts Portobello Road on the map, make sure you pop by:
Dinner at The Ledbury
This two Michelin stars restaurant has been feeding Londoners some of the most sophisticated dishes since 2005. The Ledbury is helmed by Chef Brett Graham. The interior of the restaurant is smart and simple. It is like a blank piece of canvas ready to be painted by the best culinary strokes in the industry. Try the Tasting Menu for £275 pp with wine and you will be in for an orgasmic treat. Service is excellent, with attentive, knowledgeable and helpful staff.
Day 4 (Sunday):
Brushstrokes, colours and expressions in stately rooms
Your final day in the capital is mostly about absorbing it’s art culture. For that your itinerary brings you to The National Gallery (nationalgallery.org.uk, map) by Trafalgar Square. There are more than 2,600 paintings for you to explore. Take your time to wonder around the expansive stately rooms and rejoice at masterpieces by Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin and George Seurat in Room 43. Celebrate British painting by JMW Turner and Thomas Gainsborough in Room 34. Be impressed by how Rembrandt skilfully convey character on his portraits in Room 22. Look into the brilliance of Leonardo da Vinci in Room 66. Last by not least, make sure to see The Thames below Westminster by Claude Monet in Room 44.
The main entrance is on the left of the building if you are looking at it from Trafalgar Square. It is called the Sainsbury Wing entrance, at the corner of Pall Mall and Whitcomb Street
Enjoy pre-theatre lunch in Covent Garden
Do take a moment to take in Admiral Nelson standing high up on a column in Trafalgar Square before you depart to lunch in Covent Garden. Walk-up Charing Cross Road and make a right onto Cranbourn St and you are at the start of Covent Garden. Covent Garden is a shopping and dining destination and it is centred around the cobbled stone Covent Garden Market Square and Long Acre. But make sure to check out the independent boutiques around Seven Dials, Floral St and Garrick St.
Clos Maggoire (closmaggoire.com, map)
It is tough to stay at the top of London’s dining scene, but Clos Maggoire has managed it pretty effortlessly. It is a stylish, elegant, romantic but yet relaxed French Provençal fine-dining haven. Try to get a table in their bright outside-in garden conservatory room if possible. Don’t leave until you have tried the espresso martin dessert
Enjoy a musical or play at London’s West End
After lunch, make your way to your pre-booked London’s West End play or musical. Sunday matinee shows normally starts between 2-3pm depending on the show. There is a wide selection to choose from. You can enjoy the colours of The Lion King, or laugh-your-head-off at The Book of Mormon, or be captivated by Harry Porter and the Cursed Child or stick to the reliable classic of Les Misérables.
Wrap it up with Houses of Parliament and Big Ben
Next, the itinerary will bring you to the final landmark in London and we have saved the best for last. The Houses of Parliament and Big Ben is a stunning Gothic Revival architecture masterpiece built in 1850s after most of the original building was burnt down in 1834. The sand-coloured limestone building was the brainchild of Charles Barry and Augustus Welby Pugin. Admire the dominating skywards vertical lines, tall elongated windows and intricately decorated pinnacles, all hallmarks of the perpendicular Gothic design.
Big Ben is commonly used to refer to the building officially called The Elizabeth Tower. The clock on the tower is called the Great Clock and within it is the Great Bell and Quarter Bells. Big Ben is the nickname for the Great Bell. The tower stands at 96 meters tall and the clock’s dial is 7 metres in diameter.
Best viewed from Westminster Bridge, but do make your way to Abingdon St to explore the Westminster Hall, which survived the fire, and the tallest tower of the building, the Victoria Tower. The Victoria Tower is home to the royal entrance and is the most ornately decorated part of the building. Spot the crown at the top of the 4 turrets.
There are a selection of tours that you can participate to get a more intimate insight into the rich history and architectural design of the Houses of Parliament. More importantly, you will get to experience the equally stunning interior and all its fixtures and fittings designed by the eccentric Augustus Welby Pugin. Please check them out here (parliament.uk) and adjust the itinerary according to fit it in.
Dine in Soho or Chinatown
From there, take a short 5 min cab ride to Piccadilly Circus and walk up Shaftesbury Avenue. Soho and Chinatown are to the north and south of the avenue. Soho is the epicentre of nightlife and gastronomy in London. You will find trendy cafes, bars, restaurants and shops. It stretches from Charing Cross Rd in the east to Regent St in the west and is capped off by Oxford St in the north. Most of the restaurants are on Greek St, Frith St, Dean St and Wardour St, but there are plenty on offer all round.
Chinatown is centred on the pedestrianised Gerrard St and stretches to Lisle St and Wardour St. Admire the colourful traditional gateways, check-out some of the unique bakeries available and buy some fancy snacks. Pop down to Leicester Sq while you are here, home to red-carpet movie premieres.
Below are some of our recommended restaurants for dinner in Soho or Chinatown.
Bob Bob Ricard (bobbobricard.com, map) – This place oozes opulence, decadence and fun. Come onboard this Orient Express inspired glamourous art deco haunt. Sip fine champagne and “press for” top-ups while you enjoy the Aberdeenshire Scotch Beef Wellington with Amurski Sturgeon caviar. Why not, as you only live once.
Zelman Meats (zelmanmeats.com, map) – If you are a beef steak lover, look no further than this cosy cubby seated steakhouse. Great atmosphere, friendly service and absolutely top quality steak. with a crumble of sea salt to bring out the flavour. Don’t forget the black truffle & parmesan chips.
Gauthier Soho (gauthiersoho.co.uk, map) – Although, we know that this French fine dining institution is closed on Sunday, we just can’t help putting it down. Alexis Gauthier is a genius and you will agree with us after tasting the precise, balanced and refreshing modern French dishes. Couple this with an extensive wine selection and a twist of decorative kitsch and you have something very special.
Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club (ronniescotts.co.uk, map) – If you like live music, you have to make your way to this iconic London music venue. Enjoy live jazz performances in an intimate surrounding graced by some of the most legendary names in jazz. Sunday’s performance normally runs from 8.15 to 10.15pm. Children ages 14 and over are allowed in to the main club for evening shows if accompanied by an adult, until 12 midnight.
We hope that you have found this useful if you are planning your first trip to London or if you are a Londoner with a friend or relative visiting London for the first time. Please pardon us, if your favourites are not in the itinerary. We could only fit so much into 4 days. As always would love to hear from you on this.
Additional Travel Tips:
Travelling for short distances within London is relatively good value and vital to maximise the time you have in London. Black cab are aplenty and Uber cars are usually just minutes away in the central London locations covered above.
Shoes – Make sure you pack comfortable walking shoes as you will be doing lots of steps in London. But to make sure to bring along some classy glamorous ones for the Michelin star dinners.
Travel power adapter – UK uses type G power outlets and plugs (three rectangular pin plugs). Standard voltage is 230 V with a frequency of 50 Hz. Hence, don’t forget to pack a travel power adapter. Here is a link to one we have tried and tested.
For additional reading on this amazing city, you may want to check out our selection of top books on a perfect holiday in London from our Amazon Associates links below.