London is a city like no other, with more claims to fame than we can count. Overwhelming in both size and scale, London can be daunting, but three days here is plenty of time to explore. It’s puzzling how a modern metropolis feels both so old and so new, when museums hold prehistoric artifacts and contemporary masterpieces just doors away. Between theaters are countless pubs and restaurants, many of which challenge the notion that British food isn’t fine dining. And the city is home to a plethora of green spaces, perfect for when you feel overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of a city that never stops moving. If you have 72 hours to spend in London, this itinerary can help you get the most out of your stay.
Start your London stay with a little shopping while you keep your eyes peeled for a possible royal sighting.
Morning: Sight see and shop for souvenirs at Notting Hill
Notting Hill, of the movie fame, draws flocks of tourists to London’s Portobello Road Market and the picture-perfect white houses with pastel doors. The market offers antiques and jewelry, as well as food and fashion on Saturday. But the real gems can be uncovered in the side streets, not just on the main road. Light pink houses covered in flowers meet pure white streets and long façades on Victorian townhouses—Instagram everything to your heart’s desire. If you happen to visit in August, you’ll see the area come alive with Carnival, a giant street party that celebrates Caribbean culture.
Lunchtime: Nosh on warm banh mi in Scoreditch
The Scoreditch neighborhood of London is known for its varied cuisine and eclectic dishes. You might not think of London as a great place to try bahn mi, but if ever you’re to do it, it’s in this area of town. This Vietnamese baguette sandwich is made with meat (usually pork), crispy vegetables, and crunchy bread. It’s typically a pretty cheap (and hearty) sandwich. Plus, Shoreditch has the obligatory hipster element that is so popular in so many trendy neighborhoods these days.
Afternoon: Take a walk around Kensington Palace
Home to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (that’s William and Kate), Kensington Palace is more than just a place to spot your favorite royal couple. With all of the history and drama surrounding the crown, the palace tells the history of the crown but could just as easily be recounting an episode of The Crown, if that show were real. We’d totally watch it. On the tour, you can see the luxurious rooms of royalty, where they wine and dine guests and have important royal meetings. If Buckingham Palace is just too crowded but you want to enter a royal building, Kensington’s a very solid choice, especially if you can see the White Garden, previously known as the Sunken Garden.
Westminster Abbey is another alternative for a very British afternoon activity—a cool experience, just be prepared for long lines and lots of people.
Evening: Grab dinner in Dalston
Whether you’re in the mood for some authentic Turkish cuisine or just want to grab a quick slice of New York-style pizza before hitting up the bars, this neighborhood is where you want to be. Check out the street food scene here or snag a seat at a wine bar—this popular hipster haven is a laid-back spot to eat, relax, and enjoy a night on the town.
Explore a museum full of trinkets and toys, gaze at some painted portraits (it’s cooler than it sounds), and nosh on mac and cheese.
Morning: Visit London’s Museum of Brands, Packaging, and Advertising
Upon entrance to this London original, you’ll enter into a veritable time capsule from the 1800s to today, starting with vintage tins for tobacco and soaps and ending with laundry detergent and sugary cereal. It’s like an antique shop combined with a grocery store and deli. Anything that has a cabinet for One Direction (and, okay, the Beatles) has our vote. The museum presents an almost sociological study about cultural norms like the role of women and children throughout the years. Particularly interesting are the magazines that only begin to promote slimming down and toning up in the 70s, around the same time when packaged food made an appearance. While the main gallery isn’t interactive, some exhibits in other rooms let you create your own brands. We made some liquid hand soap—fruity with bursting bubbles, and, of course, all-natural ingredients.
Lunchtime: Grab a sweet on-the-go snack from Ben’s Cookies
Ben’s Cookies are famous for their giant chunks of toppings instead of the more traditional chips. You’ll find stands everywhere: in the Tube, in markets, and of course, in bigger shops on the street. They price cookies by weight, which is a little weird, but as soon as one of the ooey-gooey cookies dissolves in your mouth, you won’t care about paying the extra 20 pence for a chunkier cookie. If just one cookie won’t satisfy your sweet tooth, why not be a little wild and indulge in the cookie monster: a cookie with gelato. C is for Cookie, and B is for Ben’s. That’s good enough for us!
Afternoon: See if you recognize anyone in the National Portrait Gallery
Walking through room after room of paintings of people could definitely be boring. And it is, usually. All those paintings of old kings start to blur together until you’re standing in the middle of a gallery yelling “NO MORE I CAN’T TAKE IT!” But luckily, the gallery also holds portraiture in other mediums and some faces that you’ll recognize. The contemporary portraits provide a breath of fresh air from the typical portrait styles of earlier centuries. The gallery might best be known for its annual BP Portrait Competition, a summer exhibit showcasing the winners and recognized artists for one of the most important portrait competitions in the world (apparently, there are many). Anyone over 18 can enter a painting for consideration, but the 48 on display in the gallery every summer are breathtaking in scope, talent, and detail that can be appreciated by everyone. Want a truly unique experience? Take a private guided tour.
Evening: Dress to the nines for a fancy dinner in Marylebone
Is this neighborhood fancy? Yes. Are the restaurants expensive? Also yes. But, if an indulgent dinner is on your agenda, this is the area of the city to go. Grab your finest clothes and head to any of the hot spots dominating this popular part of London. And don’t forget to keep your eyes peeled for a celebrity or two—they’re known to hang out around here when they’re in town.
Get your Shakespeare on, explore a famous cathedral, and spend a night on the town.
Morning: Drop into Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre
William Shakespeare once wrote “be not afraid of greatness.” History nerds, bibliophiles, and regular lay-people alike: come step foot into the Globe to experience Shakespeare’s greatness. Stop by for a show, or just take a tour of one of the most influential theatres of all time. Although what stands on London’s South Bank today is just a mere replica and not the real thing, the exhibit tells the story of theater in Shakespeare’s time. It demonstrates his legacy, like the phrases he coined (which include “skim milk”). To truly taste the history, tickets can be purchased for performances that entitle you to one standing-room only ticket, just like the peasants of yesteryear.
Lunchtime: Chow down in Islington
The main road in this neighborhood is affectionately called “Supper Street,” so you can only guess the array of mouth-watering restaurants and cuisine you’ll find here. Head here hungry and prepare to chow down.
Afternoon: Cross Millennium Bridge to see St. Paul’s Cathedral
No big deal. It’s only 528 steps to the top of St. Paul’s dome, our personal favorite view of the entire city. Huffing and puffing up stairs that feel more like ladders, you’ll see the entire city sprawling before your eyes. The walk up lets you embrace Christopher Wren’s masterpiece of a building. Yes, the Cathedral costs you (call it penance?), but if you don’t want to pay, come for Evensong, the evening prayer service. Some lucky visitors will be chosen to bask in daily Evensong from inside the nave. The angelic choir voices echo from the walls of the church as the sunbeams reflect off the glinting mosaics on the ceiling. Take a tour or explore on your own—either way, it’s an experience you’ll never forget. Oh, and don’t forget to snap some pictures while you’re on the bridge, too.
Evening: Swing by Barbican Centre for some performing arts
If you’re searching for something different (a different kind of culture than beer, perhaps), then boy have we got a lucky find for you: London’s Barbican Centre. Here, you’ll find a true center for the arts encased in giant concrete buildings. They’ve got a movie theater, they’ve got an art gallery, they’ve got Shakespeare plays and dance performances. They’ve even got the Symphony, so get ready for a classy night on the town. By the way, they also offer Young Barbican tickets to most shows and exhibits, accessible to anyone under 25 who registers!
Late night: Top off your London stay with pizza
For some incomprehensible reason, pizza by the slice is a rarity in London. But chowing down on a late-night slice while people watching on a bench in Neal’s Yard is about as close as awesome as you can get.