London Itinerary: Planning Your Time

St. Paul's Cathedral, London
Even under gray skies, London sightseeing offers nonstop thrills.
By Rick Steves and Gene Openshaw

So much to see, so little time. To help you plan your sightseeing, I've listed my ideal one-week itinerary for a first-time London visit.

London is a super one-week getaway. Its sights can keep even the most fidgety traveler well entertained for seven days. You won't be able to see all of London's worthwhile tourist destinations in one visit, so don't try. With any luck, you'll be back in London. After dozens of visits myself, I still enjoy a healthy list of excuses to return.

With that in mind, here are my recommended priorities:

London in Seven Days

Day 1

9:00  Tower of London (crown jewels first, then Beefeater tour and White Tower; note that on Sundays and Mondays, the Tower opens at 10:00).

13:00  Grab a picnic, catch a boat at Tower Pier, and relax with lunch on the Thames while cruising to Westminster Pier.

14:30  Tour Westminster Abbey, and consider their evensong service (usually at 17:00, at 15:00 on Sundays and off-season Saturdays, never on Wednesdays).

17:00 (or after evensong)  Follow my guidebooks' self-guided Westminster Walk (also available as a free audio tour). When you're finished, you could return to the Houses of Parliament and possibly pop into see the House of Commons in action (but check their schedule first).

Day 2

8:30  Take a double-decker hop-on, hop-off London sightseeing bus tour (from Victoria Station or Green Park), and hop off for the Changing of the Guard.

11:00  Buckingham Palace (guards change most days May–July at 11:30, alternate days Aug–April — confirm online).

12:00  Walk through St. James's Park to enjoy London's delightful park scene.

13:00  After lunch, tour the Churchill War Rooms.

16:00  Tour the National Gallery.

Evening  Have dinner — maybe at a pub? — before a play, concert, or evening walking tour.

Day 3

9:00  Take a historic stroll through The City from the Strand to St. Paul's (ideally, following the first two-thirds of my London guidebooks' self-guided walk; also available as an audio tour), then tour St. Paul's Cathedral.

15:00  Cross London Bridge and make your way east along the South Bank of the Thames (best with my London guidebooks' self-guided Bankside Walk). Tour Shakespeare's Globe or the Tate Modern if you're interested (or, if it's a day that the Tate Modern is open late, circle back here later). Then walk the Jubilee Walkway from the Millennium Bridge to the London Eye.

Evening  Cap your day with South Bank sights and experiences that are open late (a ride on the London Eye — last ascent 20:30–21:30 depending on season; a Shakespeare play at the Globe — usually at 19:30 in summer; or Tate Modern — open Fridays and Saturdays until 22:00).

Day 4

10:00  Tour the British Museum, then have lunch.

14:00  Tube to Leicester Square to see Covent Garden and Soho, then browse through the shops along Regent Street (ideally with my London guidebooks' self-guided West End Walk and Regent Street Shopping Walk).

17:00  Enjoy afternoon tea (at Fortnum & Mason, The Wolseley, Brown's Hotel, or the Orangery at Kensington Palace).

Day 5

Spend the morning exploring a street market (try to make today coincide with the day that your market of choice is busiest; my guidebooks have details).

Spend the rest of your day at your choice of major sights. Depending on your interests, choose from the British Library, Tate Britain, Museum of London, Imperial War Museum, or Kew Gardens (consider a cruise to Kew, return to London by Tube).

Day 6

10:00  Cruise from Westminster Pier to Greenwich.

11:15  Tour the salty sights of Greenwich.

16:00  Ride the Docklands Light Railroad (DLR) to the Docklands for a look at London's emerging "Manhattan" (best with my London guidebooks' self-guided Docklands Walk).

18:30  Take the DLR or Tube back to London.

Day 7

10:00  Tour the Victoria and Albert Museum.

After lunch (or a picnic in the park), stroll through Hyde Park and visit Kensington Palace.

Spend the afternoon at Harrods or other shopping venues.

With More Time

To get a break from big-city London, you can easily spend a day or two side-tripping. Windsor, Cambridge, and Stonehenge each make a satisfying one-day visit.

Gene Openshaw is the co-author of the Rick Steves London guidebook.