A tourist standing outside the gates of London's Buckingham Palace
Ian Packham

How to spend 5 days in London

Two thousand years of history, some of the world’s top museum collections and icons of design including black cabs and red telephone boxes makes London one of Europe’s most desirable city breaks. Whilst it can be tempting to limit your time in ‘the big smoke’ to a couple of days, there’s so much to see and do in London we’d recommend planning to spend several days in the capital.

5 days in London can be easily filled, with shopping sprees, cultural attractions and ancient castles all taking their turn. The sheer volume of attractions can actually make it difficult to know where to begin, which is where our 5 day London itinerary comes in very handy!

Day 1 – Make the acquaintance of Old Father Thames

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Described by The Kinks as a ‘dirty old river’ in their love song to London Waterloo Sunset, the Thames – despite its muddy brown color – is now one of the cleanest urban rivers in Europe. Having played a significant role in the development of the city, landmark sites aren’t thin on the ground.

To take in their full spectrum of attractions, there are Hop-On Hop-Off sightseeing cruises. Slip along one of the world’s most important waterways like a wooing royal – George III had composer Handel write the Water Music to do just that – taking in a vista that includes the Houses of Parliament UNESCO World Heritage Site, London Eye and the recreation of Shakespeare’s Globe at Bankside.

When you feel the urge to explore further, simply disembark at the next pier – there are four to choose from putting the Whispering Gallery of St Paul’s Cathedral, exhibition space of the Tate Modern art gallery and crown jewels at the Tower of London all within easy reach.

If you’ve a head for heights, you can also explore the upper walkways of Tower Bridge to discover more about this masterpiece of Victorian engineering, or draw a close on the day with sunset from London’s highest public viewing platform – The View from The Shard.

Day 2 – Discover hundreds of years of history

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Just west of Westminster Millennium Pier, The Mall has been one of the centers for state ceremony since Buckingham Palace became the monarch’s official residence. Stretching for approximately 1.5 kilometers in a perfectly straight line – an unusual occurrence for London – its eastern end is linked to Trafalgar Square via Admiralty Arch.

A top destination for art lovers, Trafalgar Square’s public sculptures include Nelson’s Column and those that reside on its fourth plinth. Left empty for decades, it was decided to open up its platform to temporary works of art. A giant blue cockerel and melting ice cream cone have each taken a turn.

A more comprehensive study of European art over the centuries can be enjoyed at the National Gallery, whose walls hang with a near-unending list of recognizable names, from Turner to da Vinci. The interconnected National Portrait Gallery displays the great and the good of British history.

To pay homage to the country’s scientists and writers – Charles Darwin, Stephen Hawking, and Jane Austen amongst them, head to Westminster Abbey, which has served as the coronation church since 1066.

By contrast, Buckingham Palace has only been the residence of major royals for a couple of centuries. Even so, the chance to walk through its state rooms, such as the Banqueting Hall and Throne Room, is not one to be missed during the summer months, whilst the Changing of the Guard ceremony draws the crowds throughout the year.

Day 3 – Head east to Greenwich

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One of the few London neighborhoods ‘south of the river’ not unilaterally dismissed by those living in the traditionally well-to-do areas of north London is Greenwich.

Situated beside Greenwich Pier, it’s the masts of the Cutty Sark which welcome many visitors to the neighborhood. The last of its kind in the northern hemisphere, this sailing ship was a tea clipper holding the record for the fastest voyage between Shanghai and London, a journey of 3.5 months. It now provides an insight into life on the high seas in the 1800s carrying a cargo now synonymous with British culture.

But Greenwich’s maritime history is far from done with the Cutty Sark alone. A short distance away are the grand buildings that make up the National Maritime Museum. It contains priceless artefacts including the jacket Admiral Nelson was wearing when hit by a French sniper at the Battle of Trafalgar.

Continue along the rising paths of Greenwich Park and you’ll not only get an incredible panorama across much of Canary Wharf, but also the opportunity to discover how the world was mapped and stand in both the eastern and western hemispheres on the prime meridian at the Royal Observatory.

Day 4 – Soak up north London’s atmosphere

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Think of London as a series of small villages – Notting Hill, Kensington and Covent Garden for instance – that eventually formed one megacity of over nine million people – and you can best understand why the ambience of one part of the capital can be so different from another.

Notting Hill’s Portobello Road is very different in temperament from the independent stores and high-end pubs of Marylebone High Street. Its market runs in various forms throughout the week, with stalls from everything from fresh fruit and vegetables to household essentials. But it’s the areas renown for antiques and vintage that attracts most people. To see it at its best – and busiest – try and coincide your visit with the weekend.

For some peace and tranquility after bargaining hard, Little Venice on Regent’s Canal is a nice place to recharge with a coffee and a pastry. To continue the shopping spree there’s Oxford Street and its cluster of well-known shopping destinations including Bond Street and Regent Street.

Then head to a time when none of London’s modern attractions existed at the British Museum. Pick up an audio guide and you’ll be free to trace the heritage of treasures including the Rosetta Stone and Anglo Saxon Sutton Hoo burial.

Day 5 – Follow in the footsteps of kings and queens

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To dedicate 5 days in London without taking the time to include Windsor would also be a mistake. Although not strictly speaking a part of the capital, its history is intricately linked with that of the nation’s royals.

The oldest inhabited castle in the world, Windsor Castle has such symbolism that it gave its name to the royals when it was seen as expedient to end the German-sounding Saxe-Coburg-Goetha dynasty during World War One.

You can catch a Changing of the Guard ceremony here as well as at Buckingham Palace and tour St George’s Chapel, where the funeral of Prince Philip Duke of Edinburgh was held following his death at the age of 99.

Join a sightseeing bus tour of the town and you can also see Eton College, one of the country’s most prestigious private schools, and glimpse deer in Great Windsor Park.

Discover London’s top attractions with Go City

Visiting London can be expensive. But it doesn’t have to be. There are numerous hints and tips for making the most of the capital, including traveling with Go City. Our passes provide visitors with huge savings on admission to many of London’s top attractions so you can stop watching your wallet and start enjoying yourself!

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