London is an incredible but humongous city with unlimited things to do, and it can be overwhelming to chose and decide what to see and where to go if you have limited time. That’s where this London Itinerary guide comes in handy.
I have been to London several times for long periods, and I love it with a passion, although I am not sure exactly why.
This time I went with a friend, and we decided to live in the city as first-timers tourist for 9 days, but we agreed to avoid the most touristic places and search for more hidden treasures of the vibrant cosmopolitan city.
And so we did.
In this post, you will find a detailed 8 days London itinerary, exactly like we did it, and lots of useful and practical information and extra tips on other optional itineraries and tours. When my friend and I started planning, we decided to take it easy and not be rushing around.
And although we wanted to see as much as possible, we tried to find a good balance between exploring and resting, considering that when I say resting, it meant to sit at a cafe’ and work at our gigs, being the two of us freelancers, there’s never a dull moment, meaning never a real vacation. But we love it that way. If you like to rush around and see as much as you can, this guide will be great, too, as I have always had an extra couple of things to do each day if you have spare time to fill in.
We were lucky to find amazing weather instead of what one may think of the London sky, gray and cloudy. In the 10 days I spent in London I only saw rain once, at the end of the day, and most of the time the sky was blue and the sun shining! But we had our rain poncho with us and that time I was happy to have bought it.
It just gets dark very early, so plan accordingly. I guess I was lucky, and if you read this post on my 9 days itinerary in London till the end and follow my path, you will be lucky too. 🙂
Also read: The most unique things to do in London
LONDON ITINERARY PRACTICAL TIPS
Before diving into the day by day itinerary, let me give you some practical tips that you should think of before even packing.
- This itinerary is based on my experience, but you can switch days around and add or minus any of the places I mention. I will give you extra tips on things that I wanted to do and places that I wanted to visit and suggestions on fitting them in. You can also do some hiking near London in the stunning England countryside.
- Markets are on Saturday and Sundays only, so make sure you plan accordingly.
- There are so many exciting museums, we managed to do only a few, but I will give you a list of the other interesting ones that I would have covered if I had more time.
- Always bring a raincoat with you. It can be handy.
- Credit cards are accepted everywhere and preferred as we found some restaurants where the payment was even only available by card, NO CASH accepted.
- If you stay for seven days or more, it’s much more convenient to get the seven-day Oyster card.
- Use Google Maps to find directions. It will also give you the bus and tube itinerary options.
- At a crossroads, when in doubt, remember to look both ways. In the worst-case scenario, look down, and you’ll be reminded. 🙂
9 DAYS LONDON ITINERARY DAY BY DAY
London Itinerary Day 1 – getting the feel of London
Although I have been to London multiple times in the past, I still wanted to get the city’s feel and regaining that familiar sense that you have when you are in your own place, because that‘s what I feel about London no matter how far away I have been. It will always be one of my multiple home-places in the world.
We booked a tour with a local guide; actually, a guy from Luxembourg that came to London 16 years ago fell in love with it and decided to stay. That turned out to be a smart choice. We had an appointment in Russell Square at 1.30, and we decided to walk our way up from our lovely home in Kennington. It was quite a walk, but we enjoyed it both looking around, eyes wide open, marveling at the city views just like a child in a toy shop. By the time we reached our appointment, we’ve got hungry, and we accidentally found a delicious vegan place, Wild Food cafe’ in the colorful Neil’s Yard. Pleasant to the palate and the eyes.
We went through the art deco building around Russel Square, in Bloomfield, where many illustrious names of the English literature lived, including Virginia Woolf. She has changed many residences in the area and talks about her affection for London in her books. The beauty of having a guide, even better if private, is that it’s nice to walk around a place and understand what you are seeing. I would highly recommend one of Yannick tours, his passion and knowledge of London in such details will delight you all through the few hours you spend with him. You can find Yannick on his website, where you can choose among his tours and make an appointment.
After the tour, we rumbled around the most common places such as Covent Garden and Leicester square. They were fundamental elements of my first visits to London about 20 years ago when I was a teenager and only wanted to hang out in the most crowded and touristy area. I just wanted to go back to that place (physical and mental) and see what it has become, what I felt about it after so many years, and the memory it would have brought to my mind.
Besides, I wanted my friend to see it. It’s funny how, after so many years, everything feels still so familiar indeed. We had dinner in a pub in the same area, a lovely place but the food was not remarkable, that’s why I didn’t take note of the name. After dinner, we called it a night and headed back to our Airbnb place.
London Itinerary Day 2 – The first of Many Museums – Tate Modern
When we planned our trip together, we brainstormed the many places we wanted to visit, and we surprisingly agreed on everything, including putting the museums as our priority. We both love art, I am a newbie, and she’s, as a journalist, a professional bookworm who knows everything you can talk about. We were just a perfect match. I would have been a student again with a personal tutor. The first museum we would have decided on was the Tate Modern Gallery. I have been there already, but I was so thrilled to go back. And Tate Modern it was.
We decided to walk from home towards South Bank because our neighborhood offered beautiful views of a nice mix of Victorian houses and modern brick buildings. We then reached the Riverwalk, right before Westminster bridge down to the London Eye and the South bank walk.
South bank is another charming area to hang out among local food stalls and craftworks, all year round. Obviously, during Christmas, it’s an even better atmosphere. The Tate modern doesn’t need a presentation. The beautiful building, a dismissed warehouse, offers a huge array or expositions of modern art, including remarkable pieces from famous artists. As in almost all the museums in London, the permanent exposition is free while the temporary ones have an entrance fee.
You can spend the entire day there, as we did, and have lunch in one of the restaurants and bars. We didn’t find them particularly worthy, but hey, you are not there for the food. You can also take a break from your cultural visit and head out to Southbank and grab a bite in the local food vendors. It smelled delicious. And then you can go back to the museum.
Practical tips: We have arrived quite late in the morning, but if you get there by 10 when it opens, you will manage to cover the entire museum in 3 or 4 hours and then go out to lunch and get to see something else. It is up to you and the way you want to live your vacation. You could have walked down to Tower Bridge and visit the museum there in the afternoon if you wish.
I like to take it slow and enjoy a dull moment as well, looking around and taking rests, so we called it a day! It also depends on how many days you have. If you have ten days itinerary and you rush it, you will get exhausted before the end.
London Itinerary Day 3 – Saturday – Broadway Market and Portobello Road
How to get to Broadway Market
Markets are mainly on weekends so we have planned accordingly.
Remember to do so as well.
And Saturday was just the perfect day to stay outdoor. It was sunny and bright and not so cold. We lingered on our breakfast in our favorite place for longer than usual checking on emails and getting some work done, then we headed to the Broadway market by tube.
The tube stop was at Bethnal green or Cambridge Heath, which took us to a cool lively neighborhood with trendy cafes and parks, but the highlight was the canal. In fact, from the Docklands through the north area of London, you can take lovely walks along the canal admiring the old red brick houses and graffiti arts, besides breathing a sophisticated, decadent atmosphere that seems to be so trendy nowadays.
On a sunny day, it is a perfect place to exercising as well. From Cambridge heath road to Broadway market, it’s a nice 10 minutes walk, well half an hour if you take thousands of pictures like I do. Broadway market is mainly for the foodist, so I would suggest you go with an empty stomach because you will find many very appealing delicacies that you will want to taste.
You will also find a couple of old bookshops and fancy vintage and modern clothing stores. Here we had two options after the Broadway market:
- Keep walking along the canal until Shoreditch park and then head southwards in the artistic neighborhood of Shoreditch to check out the famous graffiti and trendy shops,
- Get back on the tube and go to the Portobello Market, which happens every day, but it’s at its best on Saturday only.
We opted for Portobello market and left Shoreditch for the following day (see below)
This is less of an off the beaten track, and more of a very touristy place, which became even more popular after the Notting hill movie with Hug Grant and Julia Roberts, in fact, you can also visit the bookstore where it was filmed. Every time I go to London, I love to hang out there, and I find it always fascinating, despite the crowd. The souvenirs shops get another meaning, and the flee market with old useless stuff to browse through would get me there the entire day. If you manage to see beyond the tourist place’s layers, you will feel a sense of culture and tradition in the seller’s faces, the colorful old shop signs, and the iconic bow windows above them.
I especially love the neighborhood’s architecture and the old little shops and cafes, besides many stalls that sell exciting goods. Arriving from Notting hill tube station, you can follow the crowds, and you will get to Portobello Road. We just kept walking up to Golborne Road (to give you a reference). Right there, it’s a less known neighborhood with exciting shops and restaurants.
We had a delicious lunch at the Bluebelles of Portobello, which we highly recommend. Tired of wandering around, we decided to head to Tottenham Court Road and find a cafe to sit and do some writing while resting our legs.
In the evening, around 7, we walked to Leicester Square, passing through the lively neighborhood of Soho down to Piccadilly circus to get the feeling of the night vibes. Still, we had dinner in one of the local pubs close to our Airbnb in Kennington Lane, where we had a great vegan burger and enjoying the local Saturday night atmosphere—living like a local.
If you love street markets as much as I do, and you want to dedicate more time to explore many different ones, check out this awesome guide to 16 amazing food street markets.
London Itinerary Day 4 – Sunday Spitalfield Market and Brick lane market + Spitalfield neighborhood and street art
Sunday as well was all about markets. We hopped on a bus, and we arrived at Liverpool station from which we walked our way to the Spitalfields market first. It’s an exciting area to walk around among victorian buildings and interesting shops and restaurants. Spitalfields market is on your way to Brick Lane, so we stopped there first.
It was probably the market with the most exciting and original arts and crafty goods. If you plan to buy any trendy and unique piece of clothing, prints, or jewelry, this is probably the best place among all the markets that I have seen. You will also find inviting food stalls and natural juices. We tried some delicious hot apple juice, perfect for warming up our freezing body. The market is roofed so that you can enjoy it even on a rainy day. At a 5 minutes walking distance, you will reach Brick lane, Sunday Market. Go there hungry, because it’s a food feast! From the time you enter, you smell delicious spicey dishes from international cuisine, also immensely appealing to the eyes. You want to try everything.
The market continues along the road where outdoor vendors sell goods of all sorts, from decorative house objects to freaky clothes, but most of all, it’s the triumph of vintage clothing. If you have a special affection for vintage clothing and queer goods, this is your place. Please beware of the horde of people that might discourage you at first, but it’s bearable. Independent street artists singing their melodies are also part of the Sunday entertainment on Brick Lane.
After our window shopping dose, we headed to the artsy Shoreditch district, precisely on Shoreditch street. Right down to Rivington street to admire the famous graffiti that made Basky the popular, controversial artist that he is now. Walking around Curtain road, Hackney and the entire neighborhood appreciate the hip bars, traditional pubs, co-working spaces, and ethnic restaurants of all sorts. Exhausted from walking around all day, we decided to stop by The book club, a popular and laid back artsy bar and restaurant serving Sunday brunch at the rhythm of loud music. We had a delicious vegetarian meal and spent the rest of the afternoon chatting with an old friend from London who joined us for the afternoon.
In the evening, we wanted to explore other corners of the city, and we headed to Victoria station, and from there,e we walked through Elisabeth St. down to Sloan Square. The neighborhood feels like one of those places that you only see in movies or fairytales. Fancy impeccable houses looking brand new. With opulent Christmas decorations and bars that look like jewelry stores, we are entering the Belgrave neighborhood, which, together with the adjacent Chelsea, is the richest area in London.
It was darn cold, and after walking along King’s road and appreciating the Christmas light and the shops, we called it a night and hopped on a bus to get home.
London Itinerary – Day 5 Highgate Cemetery tour
I have read about Highgate cemetery in a book, and I thought it would have been an exciting stop for an off the beaten track London tour. And it was indeed. We got out of the tube in Archway and walked up the hill, looking around this lovely quiet neighborhood. I could live there indeed. It was probably a sunny day, but I had such a good feeling about the area, even more, when we arrived up the hill and entered the Waterlow park that led us to our destination. We walk for another 10 minutes through a carpet of yellow, brownish, greenish leaves fallen from the trees.
They made London particularly appealing. Although I thought a rainy or foggy day would have been more appropriate for a cemetery visit, I enjoyed the warm sun, and the sunbeams were suddenly enlightening the old precious marble graves as if pointing us in the direction of where to look. We arrived earlier and had the time to walk around the cemetery’s Eastside, open to the public. (The cost is 5GPB, but it’s free if you have booked a tour). The west side was only accessible by a guided tour that you can purchase online for 12 GBP. The money is worth it, and it helps to maintain the cemetery.
Our guide Peter was an exquisite character, enthusiast, and knowledgeable. He entertained us with his witty English humor while narrating intriguing stories of some of the people that made history in Great Britain and are now buried in the cemetery. I could have listened to him all day. The tour lasted only 70 minutes instead, enough time to walk around the graveyard west wing and appreciating its history. We then walked around the East part by ourselves, enjoying the quiet atmosphere and a friendly strained cat acting as if welcoming us into his home.
When we finished our visit, we headed towards Hampstead and skipped Kenwood’s house (for lack of time), which was nearby in the north part of the park, and we took a bus to Hampstead instead. Following the suggestions we found on a random guide, we stopped at the Royal free hospital (Map), and after a delicious lunch, we walked up to the Keats home, which was closed for the day, but it was just lovely to see it.
We kept walking along Willow road down to Flash walk, a trendy neighborhood with cute little artsy shops and cafes, beautiful restored victorian buildings, a pleasure to the eyes. I wished one day to live in one of those beautiful, elegant homes.
It was about 4 pm when we finished our rounds in the Hampstead area. Hence, we decided to take the tube to Oxford circus and explore another part of the city, the most tourist one, but if you visit London for the first time, it’s a must, especially if you love shopping.
If you walk down to Regent Street from Oxford Circus towards Piccadilly circus, besides luxury, you will notice the remarkable victorian buildings where the Liberty shop is. It’s certainly worth a visit, not only for the iconic fabrics and style but the building itself is an exquisite piece of history and a symbol of the Victorian architecture. Further down the road, you can take one of the lateral streets that head to the famous Carnaby Street, the swinging London icon in the 70s, the place of freedom and rebellion, creativity and vision, where famous singers and artists of all sorts gather to find inspiration. In the 70s – Carnaby Street was pedestrianized, and the iconic ‘Carnaby Street welcomes the World’ sign was installed. In the 80s, Carnaby Street became the headquarters of fashion Icons like Vivien Westwood and Mary Quaint.
In the 70s, it became a pedestrian area. It remains an iconic place in London, with the trendiest shops and extravagant clothing stores, cool restaurants and bars. Even more suggestive during Christmas. Walking down to Regent Street, we cut off towards Buckingham Palace, the royal residence. You need to go there once in a lifetime. If you are fond of traditions and a follower of the Royal Family, you should go there on Sundays to attend the guards’ change. But we decided to pass by any day, to say, I have seen Buckingham Palace.
It was around 6 pm by then and pitch dark. We headed to the theater to check out ticket prices and show time. We wanted to see The Phantom of the Opera, a classic but didn’t want to spend a fortune.
We have read somewhere that in Leicester square, we would find vendors that sell cheap tickets, but we realized it’s the same price as the theatre itself. So we went and checked it out, and it’s definitely true. So don’t fret about buying your ticket. Just go to the theater and ask for the cheapest. If they are running discounts, they would tell you.
We ended our day at the Waterstone bookstore in Piccadilly circus, the biggest one with a lovely cafeteria. After exploring the bookstore and resisting buying the entire stock, we sat and enjoyed reading and writing in such a cozy atmosphere while sipping our coffee—the best way to end a hectic day.
London Itinerary – Day 6 – Docklands where past meets future
In the cemetery bookstore, I found a little book called London curiosities by John Wittich, who talks about London’s unique places and their historical details, including the London Docklands. From when you get off the train in Tower Hill underground station towards the Island of Dogs, including the docklands museum, it’s an itinerary that makes you jump back into the past. Note the Cistercian Abbey, the Abbey of St Mary Graces, founded by Edward III in 1345. It became one of the wealthiest abbeys in England.
Walking towards the east, you will find the Dickens inn, a pub that was converted from an eighteenth-century warehouse by the great-grandson of Charles Dickens. If you keep walking left and leave the dock and walk along to St Kathrine’s way, you can continue your way through the river Thames path to wander along the riverside. You can admire the Design Museum on the other side of the river, which I couldn’t visit this time, but it’s on my list for my next London trip. Besides the Museum building, you will see what appears like warehouses lining right in front of the river.
They have been converted into housing, just like those on Butler’s Wharf. It’s an area that has been revamped and now became an exciting district to live in. The riverside walk leads us to Wapping street and into a neighborhood brimming with history and legends, where you feel like you are in Dickens’s novels. Or I felt like that. Anyway, that’s the subject for another post.
Once we arrived in the heart of Wapping, after enjoying the frantic activity of a squirrel in a quiet leafy park, we hopped on a bus towards the Docklands Museum. The iconic museum located in a beautiful historic building features an exciting representation of what life was like in the docks, the history of trading in England, workers’ lives in the docklands, and how it all started and developed years.
We didn’t stay long because we had other stops during the day, including the sky garden visit at sunset. We went for a walk by the dock where modern high-rise buildings contrast the nostalgic redbrick warehouses now turned into restaurants, homes, and, sometimes, museums. It was 2.30 pm we were starving, but we decided to get the tube and get close to our next stop to make sure we got there on time.
And Sky Garden it was.
We didn’t find a fancy place to eat this time, but we had a quick sandwich, and then we headed to our appointment. Because to visit the Sky Garden, although it’s free, you need to book online.
I hate cues, but after only about 15 minutes, we were up in the sky on the 35th floor, right in time for the sunset. I couldn’t bring my tripod, but I managed to fix the camera on the balcony’s protection bars, and although it was not the perfect condition, I managed to get the shots I was hoping for. London by night, the blue hour after sunset sky. Spectacular. The Sky Garden, in itself, is not the fancy place I was expecting. Too many people too much noise. I wouldn’t really stay there for drinks or dine. Maybe during the daytime is different, though, but it was too crowded when I was there, and there was nothing enjoyable except for the view.
After our breathtaking sunset view, we headed out.
London itinerary – Day 7 Museums overload part 1
London is not short of museums, and they are all free. What a blessing! However, we had to cut our ambitious program short and chose only a few of them. We left the museum visits for the last few days, not for any particular reason. It just happened, but it turned out to be the best choice. After all the walking, we were exhausted, and in the Museum, we could leave our bags and walk around in tranquillity and without our heavy backpacks, which were safely stored.
The National Gallery
Certainly, a must-see if you love paintings.
The permanent collection of the National Gallery includes must-see masterpieces from Cezanne, Monet, Van Gogh, and Raffaello, among the other. And here you must forgive my rant, but I have a strong complaint to make. You are not supposed to translate the name of a person, let alone a famous artist and Raffaello must remain Raffaello because that’s his name, and not Raphael. End of the rant.
Apart from that absurd mistake, the Gallery deserves some attention if you are into art, but a couple of hours will be enough if you want to make room for another visit during the day.
On the way to our next stop, we run into Cecil Court, the famous lane with interesting old book stores that work a stop and a few pictures. If you are into old original books, that’s your place. You can also find old maps, which can make a nice original souvenir from London.
The last stop of the day was the British Museum first. It was meant to be a shortstop, but we actually managed to browse through almost all the rooms even though quickly. The building is a masterpiece of architecture in itself. The exhibit is a huge collection of archeology objects from all over the world organized by country, including the Rosetta Stone, plus temporary exhibitions.
London itinerary – Day 8 Museums overload part 2
Our last day was dedicated to the Museum of Natural History and the Victoria and Albert Museum. We couldn’t choose a better way to end our London itinerary. We saved the best for the last, and we didn’t even know it. They are both located in the posh and fancy Kensington area, also called the museum district. You can also find delicious restaurants and fancy clothing stores, including the worldly famous Harrods, just a few blocks away.
Museum of Natural History
It wasn’t even on my list, but I am glad I went. Besides the massive skeleton of a whale hanging from the wall, the Museum of Natural History is a spectacular Victorian Building to see if you appreciate fine Victorian architecture. I was also lucky enough to see the brilliant exhibition of the National Geographic wildlife photography winners. I wouldn’t have missed that for the world. It was a temporary exhibit and cost 14 GBP, but all worth the money for sure. Besides that, here you will find exciting displays of precious gemstones and rare minerals, fossils, and dinosaurs, galleries of weird and wonderful water-dwelling species and mammals, plus more than 100 images from artists and scientists on how they view the natural world.
Victoria and Albert Museum
If I had to choose one Museum to become a member, that would be it. In London, most of the Museums have a free entrance, but then you will have to pay for some temporary exhibitions. If you are a member, those are free and so are some workshops, or you would have a good discount.
The Victoria and Albert Museum offers a vast portfolio of interesting modern art and design workshops and exhibitions for the most sophisticated art lovers. I am not one, but I enjoyed Mary Quaint’s exposition and the photography and graphic collections, among others. Tim Walker’s provocative art was also available to visit with a 15 GPB ticket, which I manage to resist, for lack of time most of all. A combination of modern and vintage, art and design, to exhilarate your creative mind.
End of our London Itinerary
The following day, after enjoying our last breakfast in our favorite place, we headed back to Gatwick and caught our flight back to Milan to our not so boring routine. Satisfied, but not quite, of our London Itinerary, we would have happily stayed longer if it was not for my friend’s beloved cats and my… oh well, I could have stayed, which is why I don’t have nor wants string attached. Miss having furry babies to go back to but still prefer to enjoy my freedom to move around.. at least for now.
I hope this itinerary is useful, but I will also do a shorter one soon if you had less time to spend in London. Bear with me. 🙂 In the meantime, if you have any questions, ask away in the comments below or via email.
FOR FURTHER READING
- Essential London Travel Tips For First-Timers
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- 11 Things NOT To Do When Visiting Italy
- 9 days London itinerary on and off the beaten track