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London for the First Time: A 3 Day Itinerary

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In the 18th century, English writer Samuel Johnson famously said, “If you are tired of London, you are tired of life.” And that is still true today. Three days is not enough to discover all the capital has to offer, but here’s a taste of its history and diverse cultures.

Stay

It takes about 40 minutes to get anywhere within zones one and two on the underground (aka “the tube”). Here are a few of our favorite upmarket stays for each area. London also has great hostel, B&B, and Airbnb options.

Central (Fitzrovia)

The Mandrake

The Mandrake

20-21 Newman St, London, England W1T 1PG

Within walking distance of the British Museum and Oxford Street, The Mandrake will transport you to an oasis of calm with its greenhouse full of medical plants, internal courtyard around Tazmanian ferns, and private cabanas. The 30 rooms whisper tasteful opulence—and if that’s not enough for a good night’s sleep—you can add on a shamanic ceremony or ethnobotanical cocktail class in the Waeska bar.

North (King’s Cross)

The Megaro Hotel

The Megaro Hotel

1 Belgrove St, London, England WC1H 8AB

Located just opposite the historic King’s Cross and St Pancras stations, boutique hotel The Megaro is impossible to miss with its colorful facade. Guests can choose to stay in the unique, graphic style Brittania rooms—inspired by Camden punks and the King’s Cross acid house culture of yore—or retreat to the more serene standard rooms. They also have wellness day packages, Northern Italian food in their on-site restaurant, and a jazz and cocktail bar in the basement to unwind after a day of sightseeing.

South (Southwark)

The Hoxton, Southwark

The Hoxton, Southwark

40 Blackfriars Rd, London, England SE1 8NY

If you want to explore any of the Southbank’s landmarks, The Hoxton Southwark is ideally situated to access the river Thames. Its bright rooms have an industrial feel, inspired by the area’s Victorian factories where they tanned hides to make leather. But the real pull is Seabird, its rooftop seafood restaurant that Londoners fight to get a table at. Or, if you want something more relaxed, try their lobby restaurant Albie.

East (Liverpool Street)

Batty Langley's Hotel

Batty Langley's Hotel

12 Folgate St, London, England E1 6BX

Step back in time to Georgian England at Batty Langley’s, an elegant, five-star boutique hotel named after Bartholomew Langley, who wrote trend-setting books about Georgian design in the 18th century. Expect antique furniture, free-standing baths, breakfast in bed, and an on-site library. If you want to feel like English gentry without leaving the capital, this is a good place to stay.

West (Victoria)

Artist Residence London

Artist Residence London

52 Cambridge St, London, England SW1V 4QQ

The decor in this 10 bedroom townhouse is eclectic but somehow, it works. Peruse the curated pop art on the exposed brick walls from the comfort of a velvet sofa or leather chair, or grab a drink at the buzzing all-day cafe. Artist in Residence is fun, quirky, and luxurious. And it’s only a stone’s throw from Victoria station, the Tate Britain, and Chelsea.

The London Eye. Photo by Ozgur Kara from Unsplash.

Day 1: The West End

Morning

Start off at Waterloo and grab a coffee and breakfast to go from any of the excellent cafes on Lower Marsh . Then walk through the Leake Street art tunnel through to the London Eye . Walk across Westminster Bridge past Big Ben , Westminster Abbey , and then right through St James's Park until you get to Buckingham Palace . At 11am, you can watch the Changing of the Guard; royal soldiers play everything from Mamma Mia to James Bond songs while changing shifts. Then walk down the Mall till you reach Trafalgar Square . Pet one of the lion statues (designed on the sculptor’s dog). Behind that, you’ll find the The National Gallery (free), full of famous paintings by European greats like Rembrandt, Cezanne, and Gainsborough. Their on-site restaurant has a great view of the square, or pop to Brasserie Zédel , a french all-day brasserie off Piccadilly Circus.

Afternoon

Walk past the neon lights of Piccadilly Circus , then shop ‘til you drop on Regent Street and Oxford Street . Grab lunch in Kingly Court, off Carnaby Street . For a more leisurely afternoon, explore the boutiques around the Seven Dials roundabout in Covent Garden . Head to the main square to see street performers entertaining the crowds around the covered market, or visit the London London Transport Museum . Try out a candy floss-covered ice cream at Milk Train .

Evening

Nearby Soho behind Leicester Square has good options for dinner and drinks with plenty of independent restaurants and bars. For Chinese with a twist, dine at Wun's Tea Room & Bar on Old Compton Street. Then have a nightcap or three at the Experimental Cocktail Club Chinatown , a speakeasy bar in the heart of Chinatown .

The London Bridge. Photo by Charles Postiaux from Unsplash.

Day 2: The Southbank

Morning

Start at St. Paul's Cathedral , where royal weddings and state funerals have taken place. Then walk across the Millennium Bridge to the The Globe Theatre (where William Shakespeare put on his plays) and the Tate Modern for free contemporary art.

Stroll along the South Bank and past the Golden Hinde , a copy of the first English ship to go around the world. Grab a bite to eat at one of the food stalls in Borough Market , tucked under London Bridge’s railway lines.

Afternoon

Walk across London Bridge to Monument to the Great Fire of London , a column commemorating the great fire of London that destroyed the city in 1666. Walk up to the top for a great view. A much higher viewpoint is from Sky Garden , a skyscraper with an indoor garden on the top floor. It’s free to visit, but you must book a slot in advance. Come back down to Earth and make your way to the impressive Tower of London —home to the Crown Jewels—and see the famous Tower Bridge , built in 1886.

Evening

Walk around the royal palace to St Katharine Docks Marina docks for a pint at The Dickens Inn , an 18th century-style timber pub, before heading to the excellent Bravas Tapas for dinner.

Granary Square. Photo by Samuel Regan-Asante from Unsplash.

Day 3: Follow Regent’s Canal (Paddington to Kings Cross)

Following the water is a great way to discover London. Built in 1820, Regent's Canal carried huge quantities of timber, coal, building materials, and foodstuffs into and out of London until the 1960s.

Morning

Start at Paddington Station and have breakfast at Darcie & May Green , a colorful canal boat designed by British pop artist Sir Peter Blake. Then follow the towpath through Little Venice , where more whimsical canal boats moor. There’s often a floating cinema, puppet show, or library. If the weather is bad, hop on a boat all the way to Camden. Otherwise, amble along the path past some of Maida Vale’s nicest houses, and round The Regent's Park where you can find ZSL London Zoo and go up Primrose Hill for a fantastic view of the capital.

Afternoon

Rejoin the quiet towpath till you get to busier Camden Town . This is a good place for lunch as there are lots of food stalls selling everything from halloumi fries and fresh pasta, to vegan wraps and fried chicken. For dessert, get a nitro-ice cream at Chin Chin Ice Cream . Then spend the afternoon discovering all of Camden’s markets selling alternative, vintage, and bespoke clothing as well as plenty of nick-nacks. Pose with the Amy Winehouse statue and have a pint in her favorite pub, The Hawley Arms .

Evening

Join the towpath again past Camden lock and make your way to Kings Cross . Walk on until you get to Granary Square , with its lawn-covered steps and water jets. The restored Granary Building was extended to house the UAL Central St Martins’ fashion campus. Spend the evening at one of the restaurants around the square or in the nearby Coal Drops Yard .