London Museums, Attractions and Sightseeing in 3 Days
1. St James’s Park, 2. Buckingham Palace, 3. Downing Street, 4. Horse Guards Parade at Whitehall, 5. Great Scotland Yard, 6. Westminster Abbey, 7. Palace of Westminster, 8. Big Ben, 9. St Paul’s Cathedral, 10. Museum of London
11. Natural History Museum, 12. Science Museum, 13. Hyde Park, 14. Oxford Street, 15. British Museum, 16. Covent Garden
17. Trafalgar Square, 18. National Gallery, 19. Temple Church, 20. Millennium Bridge, 21. Tate Modern, 22. Tower of London
As you begin your sightseeing and discover the museums and other attractions in London, the city will soon reveal a fascinating history. Founded by the Romans, London – or Londinium as the ancient Romans named it – became at a very early point in time a major settlement on the River Thames. Throughout the years it continued to develop and successfully retained its position as the most important city in England – and with a significant role in European history.
Present-day London is a product of its long and captivating history, as well as cultural background – and has become a world-class city with top attractions and enticing cultural activities. Today, it is one of the largest financial centres and definitely one of the most global cities in the world!
Inspiration for London trip: 12 Hours in London and The 9 Best Neighbourhoods to Stay in London
DAY 1: London museums, attractions and sightseeing in 3 days
About today’s itinerary, note that we suggest that you later today choose between visiting Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s Cathedral (unless you are extremely fascinated by both of them!).
Anyway, on your first day of the 3 days in London, you will begin with a brisk morning walk and sightseeing in and around St James’s Park.
The oldest royal park in London is St James’s Park, a lovely oasis in the city with green spaces and a ton of picturesque flower beds – the perfect place to start your sightseeing. St James’s Park includes the Mall leading up to Buckingham Palace.
Anyway, the neat park, as it appears today, hides a much more serious and less romantic history with a hospital as its starting point. Originally, the land was the site of a women’s leper hospital dedicated to James the Less, one of the Twelve Apostles (who the park today is believed to be named after).
The King Henry VIII now built a palace, St. James’s Palace, on the site and converted the marshland and meadows into a royal hunting area for deer hunting as well as duck shooting.
Later, King James I introduced unusual animals such as crocodiles, an elephant and a multitude of birds into the park. Among other birds, he received some pelicans from the Russian ambassador. Still, there is a reminiscence of the birds to be found in the street name Birdcage Walk – besides the crowd of pelicans strolling around in the park today!
Finally, in 1828 the architect John Nash redesigned the park again, giving it its present looks with scenic flower beds and paths.
From the bridge across the lake (built in the 1950s as a replacement for an old Chinese-style bridge) you have excellent views of Buckingham Palace.
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The royal palace, Buckingham Palace, can be visited on a few days during the year. If you are lucky to be here on one of these days (check the website), you may want to catch a glimpse of the 775-room large Palace from the inside during your London sightseeing. Otherwise you will for today do with viewing the impressive building from the outside with the black and golden wrought-iron gates and railings in front!
The Buckingham House near St James’s Palace was bought by George III back in 1761 as a family home for his wife Queen Charlotte. Therefore, it also became known as the Queen’s House.
In the beginning of the 1800s George IV decided to convert the house into a real palace and he assigned the architect, John Nash. He both remodelled existing rooms and added a new suite of rooms, as well as designed the garden in the French neoclassical style.
Moreover, Marble Arch was constructed here on the premises in commemoration of the British victories at Trafalgar and Waterloo. It should be mentioned that Marble Arch was later moved to the northeast corner of Hyde Park!
The forecourt of the Palace, where changing the guard takes place, was designed in 1911, and in 1913 the Palace itself was refaced with the use of Portland Stone – just before the First World War!
Today, Buckingham Palace is the centrepiece of the UK’s constitutional monarchy being used for official events and receptions held by the Queen.
Just crossing the street at the other end of St James’s Park, you are now a stone’s throw from 10 Downing Street, the official residence and the office of the British Prime Minister since 1735. You will have to stay behind the iron gate and view the renowned black door from Whitehall / Parliament Street.
Its history goes all back to the 11th century, when King Canute I built a palace here. Centuries later, in 1682 Sir George Downing initiated the construction of a row of houses on the premises. One of these houses, at the time known as 5 Downing Street, became the residence of Sir Robert Walpole, the first prime minister in Downing Street.
In this house important decisions have been taken during the last centuries – for instance during the First and Second World Wars. It has been residence for famous and influential prime ministers such as Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher.
Today, in addition to being the official residence, Downing Street is also the address where the Prime Minister hosts receptions and receives guests from both Britain and abroad.
The Horse Guards Parade is a parade ground off Whitehall at Horse Guards, a gatehouse facilitating access between Whitehall and St James’s Park.
The Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment rides through the London streets and is definitely one of the attractions that is worth coming for if you are around. It consists of two squadrons – one from each of the two most senior Regiments of the British Army. Dressed in red tunics and white plumed helmets or blue tunics and red plumed helmets, the Life Guards and the Blues and Royals continue the long-established tradition, dating all back to 1660, to stand guards at Horse Guards.
During the day Horse Guards is guarded by two mounted sentries. In the afternoon the Four O’clock Parade or the Dismount Parade then takes place. When the Queen is at Buckingham Palace, a so-called Long Guard is mounted with an Officer, a Corporal Major, two Non-Commissioned Officers, a Trumpeter and ten Troopers. Else, a Short Guard with only two Non-Commissioned Officers and ten Troopers is mounted.
Most conveniently the attractions and places of interest are close to each other in the Westminster district of London. A few streets away you will find yourself at Great Scotland Yard, which used to be the rear entrance to the original headquarters of Scotland Yard (the Metropolitan Police Service). Catch a glimpse of it now that you are here, since it is both a royal, historical place and a famous filming location.
Sources state that the Kings of Scotland had part of Whitehall Palace for their use when in London, hence the name of the street. In the years 997-1105 the Scottish royal family resided here. The last Scottish family member who lived here was notably Queen Margaret, wife of James IV of Scotland and sister to King Henry VIII.
One of the other London attractions you will pass close by – before arriving at Westminster Abbey, which is next on the agenda, is the Churchill War Rooms. If you are interested in WWII war history, you may well try to squeeze in a visit here.
Continuing your sightseeing itinerary, you will now walk down to Westminster Abbey, the magnificent Gothic abbey church in London, in the City of Westminster.
You should make a decision now whether your 3 days will include a complete visit to Westminster Abbey – or rather to St Paul’s Cathedral later today, since two colossal church constructions in London may be a bit too much to cover in one day.
Westminster Abbey has a long and significant history. During the last thousand years (right since 1066), the church has hosted all coronations in the country.
Moreover, British kings, queens, and a wide range of statesmen, poets, musicians and other famed people rest in tombs and are commemorated here inside the Abbey, which has also hosted 16 royal weddings. In all, the church holds around 3,300 burials and more than 600 monuments. Among the numerous burials is the Unknown Warrior, which has become a place of pilgrimage and which receives a wreath by visiting Heads of State.
The Abbey history goes all back to the 1040s when King Edward established a palace at the banks of the river Thames. It was close to a Benedictine monastery which he decided to enlarge to a larger church. Soon this church was known as the ‘west minster’ as opposed to St Paul’s Cathedral, the ‘east minster’. Only a few traces of Edward’s monastery have been left here: the round arches and columns of the undercroft and the Pyx Chamber.
In 1516 a new addition to the Abbey was the remarkable ‘Lady chapel’ built by King Henry VII, the first of the Tudor monarchs. It has been associated with the Most Honourable Order of the Bath, and banners of the current Knights Grand Cross flank the chapel walls.
Today the impressive Westminster Abbey has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
If you have chosen to do the visit of Westminster Abbey, you may afterwards want to find a pub for a traditional pub lunch! (and if you have chosen to skip visiting the church inside, you may want to wait a bit)
Along the River Thames you will catch sight of the spectacular Palace of Westminster, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. The iconic buildings serve as the meeting place for both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, known as the Houses of Parliament. Its name is related to the neighbouring Westminster Abbey, and the Palace is owned by the monarch in right of the Crown.
The first royal palace which stood on the site dated from the 11th century. It was the primary residence of the Kings of England. However, devastating fires in 1512 and 1834 destroyed the buildings, and left only minor parts of the old medieval structures (among these Westminster Hall and the Jewel Tower). Based on a design competition the reconstruction was carried out by the architect Charles Barry.
You will not be visiting the Palace as part of your London sightseeing today – but just take it in from the outside, which is also quite impressive!
As part of the Palace of Westminster Big Ben rises towards the sky.
Big Ben often refers to both the clock and the clock tower of the Palace of Westminster, which in 2012 was named the Elizabeth Tower as a tribute to the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II. Previously, the official name of the tower was the Clock Tower.
It is today the iconic landmark from 1859 as well as one of the top tourist attractions in London – whic is part of any sightseeing tour in the city! It stands 96 m (315 feet) tall, and can challenge nearly anyone with its 334 steps!
The Gothic-style tower was originally designed by Augustus Pugin, and it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. Maybe a bit surprisingly, the clock still uses its original Victorian machinery.
From Westminster Bridge and the River Thames, you now have the perfect view of the London Eye or the Millennium Wheel as it is also named.
In case you haven’t had lunch yet, it is definitely now time to go for your British pub lunch!
You will take the London tube up to St Paul’s Cathedral, the impressive Anglican Cathedral standing at the highest point in the City of London – it is one of the absolutely top tourist attractions!
Unless you have already visited Westminster Abbey earlier today (and you find it a bit overwhelming to visit two churches on the same day), you will probably want to enter St Paul’s Cathedral.
St Paul’s dome is 111 m (365 feet) high and among the highest in the world! It is a cathedral where weddings and funerals of important persons take place. It was here that Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer got married, and funeral services of prominent people such as Admiral Nelson and Winston Churchill were held.
It is an amazing feeling to stand inside the Cathedral looking up into the gigantic dome!
Among the numerous London museums, you will as the last thing today visit the Museum of London, located a few streets away from St Paul’s Cathedral (do check the opening hours on the website to be sure you will make it!).
This is your chance to get a bit more of insight into fascinating London history, as this is one of the outstanding historical museums (and there is even free entry).
Discover London in the Middle Ages when famine, disease and fires swept through the city.
Your attention will easily be caught by the detailed stories of the Great Plague in 1665 and the Great Fire of 1666. This is definitely one of the museums to experience London from another angle and relive important historical events and their influence on people and the city structure.
After a long sightseeing day, you really shouldn’t deceive yourself from an evening pub experience in one of the old London pubs – at least you should try it one of the 3 days/evenings in London.
DAY 2: London museums, attractions and sightseeing in 3 days
London really has quite a few brilliant museums you just have to see during the 3 days. You will start your day with either going to the Natural History Museum or the Science Museum. Although they are located right next to each other in South Kensington, you will probably have to choose between the two museums, since you would otherwise easily spend most of your day 2 in London here!
If you would like to dive into amazing natural history, the Natural History Museum is obviously the museum you will choose.
The Natural History Museum is one of the great London museums with free entry, providing you with stunning insight into natural history in the world.
A model of the giant blue whale is on display in full size inside the museum. Encounter a roaring T. rex dominating a whole museum hall and discover numerous other fascinating prehistoric dinosaurs.
Moreover, you will learn about Darwin’s theory of biological evolution by natural selection and be able to view specimens collected by Charles Darwin on his HMS Beagle Voyage.
On the other hand, if you are rather interested in science and scientific inventions, you will instead of the Natural History Museum pick the Science Museum (also with free entry)!
In the Science Museum you will be able to follow great scientific inventions throughout history.
It is one of the absolutely world-class museums in London which gives a rare insight into the oddest objects and apparatuses that have revolutionised the world. All is presented in a very enticing and instructive manner.
You will find everything here from pure mathematical machines, ingenious, mechanical devices and electromechanical inventions to equipment for space missions and supercomputer simulations. It is easy to be carried away in the exhibitions!
Out again, you will pass through Hyde Park, the large green space which is one of the leisurely attractions in central London not to be missed.
Originally, the area belonged to the Westminster Abbey monks, but King Henry VIII acquired it in 1536 as a hunting ground. However, it was not until Charles I ascended the throne, that the park got redesigned and was opened to the public in 1637. With time more changes were carried out and the lake The Serpetine was created in the 1730s.
The vast park has throughout the years been used for various venues such as a celebration of the end of the Napoleon Wars in 1814 and Queen Elizabeth II’s 25 years on the throne in 1977.
A special feature in Hyde Park is the Speakers’ Corner which has existed since 1872. Here, people can speak in public on any subject they might like to. You will find it at the corner near Marble Arch.
Now you will take the tube to one of the more unofficial attractions, namely Oxford Street, the popular shopping street which is part of the vast majority of tourists’ itineraries in London. It is actually one of the most important shopping streets in the city – going from Marble Arch, through Oxford Circus to the intersection between Charing Cross Road and Tottenham Court Road.
You will definitely be hungry at the end of your morning shopping – and you will easily find a place to grab a quick bite here. Other famous shopping streets are for instance Bond Street and Regent Street.
Once sated with shopping for now, you will continue on foot the few hundred metres up to the British Museum.
The British Museum is another of the great London museums with free admission. It was founded by an Act of Parliament in 1753 as the world’s first free, national, public museum. The collection soon grew – to comprise around 8 million objects today – covering a time span of two million years of history!
From originally being housed in the 17th-century mansion, Montagu House, it moved after some years into the Greek Revival style building which it still occupies.
Considering its comprehensive collections, it is really an outstanding museum where you get the chance to view the rarest objects in the world such as the Rosetta Stone, the Lewis Chessmen, Egyptian art, medieval treasures, Assyrian sculptures, Greek vases and loads of other archaeological and ancient artefacts.
Count on spending quite a few hours of your afternoon here – since it is all very engaging. Overwhelming as it is, you’d better focus your attention on just a few galleries!
South of the British Museum you will reach Covent Garden bordered by the Strand to the south. It is today a major draw in London with many attractions like theatres, restaurants, bars and other cultural offers.
In the old days it was known for the fruit and vegetable market in the central square. At some point in time in the 18th century it had developed to a red-light district including various theatres and coffee-houses.
Due to an immense growth over the years, the market relocated in 1974 to the New Covent Garden Market about three miles away.
You will notice the ambiance around Covent Garden – it is lively and the vibe great! If you look for it, you will likely be able to detect a few hidden gems!
Covent Garden is also central to some of the great London theatres, and you may already beforehand have acquired tickets for a musical here tonight!
DAY 3: London museums, attractions and sightseeing in 3 days
During the morning you will find your way to the iconic Trafalgar Square with the eye-catching 52 m (169 feet) high Nelson’s Column strictly guarded by four lion statues and surrounded by fountains.
The name of the square commemorates the Battle of Trafalgar, where the British navy defeated France and Spain at Cape Trafalgar in the Napoleonic Wars.
Today, this site in London is still one of the major visitor attractions often used for gatherings and political demonstrations. It is a vibrant place and an excellent location for people-watching!
Now you may want to choose between visiting the National Gallery or Tate Modern – since two art museums in one day can be a little bit overwhelming for your London sightseeing!
Standing in Trafalgar Square looking north, you are gazing right at the elevated National Gallery, an impressive neoclassical museum structure in central London which was designed by the British architect William Wilkins and opened to the public in 1838.
Nevertheless, the foundation of the art museum was already established in 1824 when the British government bought 38 paintings from the merchant John Julius Angerstein’s family. Since then the museum has gradually expanded over the years and houses today a collection of over 2,300 paintings relating to the period from the mid-13th century to 1900.
The building was enlarged in the years 1860, 1876, 1886, 1975 and again in 1991 with the new Sainsbury Wing, designed by the American architect Robert Venturi. Entry to the main collection is free of charge and the museum is unarguably one of the top museums in London!
Not far from Trafalgar Square, after a 20-minute walk along the Strand, you will reach the 800-year old Temple Church in a secluded courtyard. Although not one of the real museums, it is still a fascinating piece of often forgotten history buried in the middle of London.
The Temple Church consists of the original Round Church and a later added chancel. The Church was built by the Knights Templar which was an order of crusading monks protecting pilgrims on their way to and from Jerusalem. They built churches and monasteries in the places they arrived at across Europe.
The Temple Church has throughout the years served many purposes. Among other things it was King John’s headquarter in 1214-1215, where the Knights Templar bravely protected him.
Another feature inside the Round Church is the unique Magna Carta. Magna Carta is a charter of rights from 1215 agreed to by King John of England. In it he renounces part of his rights, which was actually the very beginning of the formulation of England’s state law. William Marshall stood behind the document, and his tomb is also to be found inside the Temple Church.
When visiting the Church, you really cannot help being captivated by its intriguing Templar history!
Shortly after leaving the Temple Church to the southeast towards the River Thames, you will spot the peculiar Millennium Bridge which is also known as the London Millennium Footbridge. It is one of the remarkable attractions in London – an architectural wonder of a steel suspension bridge for pedestrians crossing the River Thames.
The elegant bridge was a result of a design competition organised in 1996 by Southwark Council and RIBA Competitions. It was won by Arup Group, Foster and Partners and Sir Anthony Caro. Construction began in 1998, and it first opened in June 2000. However, it showed swaying movements, and was soon after its opening closed again until 2002, while being sufficiently stabilised.
The bridge has been used as a filming location at several occasions, for instance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe film Guardians of the Galaxy and in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, where the bridge is destroyed in an attack by Death Eaters.
Do allow yourself to go for a stroll on this spectacular bridge!
If you decided to enter the National Gallery this morning, it is by now probably high time you found a place for (a late) lunch!
If you didn’t visit the National Gallery this morning, you definitely should spend an hour or two in Tate Modern.
The museum, which is part of the Tate museums in London, is located in the former Bankside Power Station on the other side of Millennium Bridge – on the other bank of the River Thames. The Power Station was originally designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott and built between 1947 and 1963. Eventually, it closed down in 1981. Subsequently, Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron of Herzog & de Meuron won a design competition with a £134 million project.
Tate Modern should not be confused with Tate Britain, the original Tate Gallery, located in Milbank, which focuses on British art from the 16th century onwards. In particular it holds a considerable Turner collection.
In the museum you will enjoy the masterpieces in an authentic setting inside the modernised Tanks, Turbine Hall, Boiler House and Switch House, all reminiscences from the old power station.
Now it is time for the last cultural activity today – also one of the top attractions in London. You can continue on foot to the east along the riverbank with a view of the characteristic skyscraper the Shard to reach the old Tower Bridge! (If you have more than the 3 days – a fourth day in London, you may choose to go to the top of the Shard to enjoy the amazing views!)
You will cross the famous Tower Bridge, an extraordinary bascule and suspension bridge which was built between 1886 and 1894. Take the high-level walkway between the two iconic bridge towers for a special experience! (it is also possible to visit the Tower Bridge Exhibition for a fee.)
The White Tower, at the time London’s tallest building, was for years the most important building used to house military personal, horses as well as armoury.
The castle has throughout the years served many purposes. Originally, it was a symbol of oppression, and it became a royal residence. It has also been an armoury, the home of the Royal Mint, an observatory and the location of the Crown Jewels of England. Even a zoo was held here in the Royal Menagerie where exotic animals were kept for over 600 years!
From 1100 until 1952 the fortifications were notably used as a prison (where even Elisabeth I was ‘sent to the Tower’ by her half-sister Mary before she became queen)! In fact the Tower of London obtained its overall fundamental structure as seen today already in the late 13th century – despite many subsequent minor changes.
The Tower has also been the location of several executions during history – although those were rather performed at Tower Hill. During the First and the Second World Wars prisoners were held here – and a number of those were executed within the walls.
While visiting the Tower, do notice the ‘Beefeaters’ (also named the Yeomen Warders) in their traditional black and red uniforms. The Yeomen Warders were formed in 1485 by King Henry VII, who was the first monarch of the Tudor dynasty. Since the 16th century they have been part of the Royal Bodyguards and provided the permanent garrison of the Tower.
Another tradition is the six ravens which for centuries have been the Tower’s guardians. According to the legend, the Tower would fall if they ever left the fortress. Therefore, six ravens (plus a spare one) are always kept here.
You will also get the chance to see Henry VIII’s impressive collection of royal armour as well as the Crown Jewels which are and have been very safely kept in the Tower for centuries!
Finally, you may opt to walk the Tower walls for a special experience!
As the very last thing today you can jump on a double-decker bus to get a nearly free sightseeing tour of London (maybe by night)! In this way you will be able to cover a lot of iconic places in London, which you otherwise would not have time to do during only 3 days. You may for instance choose one that passes over Piccadilly Circus to get a glimpse of the famous road junction featuring the Eros fountain and huge neon signs, besides being another Harry Potter filming location from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows I.
An excellent way to spend your last evening is to explore Chinatown or Soho, each with their plentiful restaurant options – which perfectly completes your 3 days of sightseeing in London!
If you happen to have more than 3 days in London, you could spend either half a day in vibrant Camden Town or in Greenwich (including visiting Greenwich Observatory) or go on a day trip to the university city of Cambridge (it is easy by train or by coach from London)!
The Z Hotel Soho is located in London’s West End only a few minutes from underground stations. Rooms include a 40-inch Samsung HD TV with free Sky Sports and Movie channels, free WiFi and an en-suite shower room. Continental breakfast is served, and the hotel features a cosy courtyard.
The Z Hotel City is located in central London close to a tube station. Rooms include a 40-inch Samsung HD TV with free Sky Sports, BT Sports and Sky Movie channels, free WiFi and an en-suite shower room. Continental or full English breakfast is available in the morning. Covent Garden and St Paul’s Cathedrals are less than 15 minutes away on foot.
Ashburn Hotel is a boutique hotel with elegantly decorated rooms located on Cromwell Road in Kensington just 500 m from the Natural History Museum and within walking distance of Knightsbridge, Harrods and Royal Albert Hall.
DoubleTree by Hilton London – Docklands Riverside is a 4-star hotel located in a former 17th-century wharf building along the River Thames with restaurant and stunning views of Canary Wharf. You will have free WiFi, gym access and complimentary river taxi for accessing Canary Wharf from its own pier.
DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel London – Tower of London is located a few minutes’ walk from the Tower of London, very close to Tower Hill Underground Station and has a rooftop bar garden + views of London skyline. Rooms are soundproof, have luxury décor, a 49-inch or 55-inch flat-screen TV as well as an en suite bathroom.
Sydney House Chelsea is a Grade II listed Georgian building located close to South Kensington Underground Station, as well as a 20-minute walk to Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park. The hotel offers an AA-awarded breakfast and free Wi-Fi.
Check out The 9 Best Neighbourhoods to Stay in London
Read next: Visit Cambridge Museum to Meet Darwin and Punting Guide to the River Cam
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London Museums, Attractions and Sightseeing in 3 Days
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London Museums, Attractions and Sightseeing in 3 Days:
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Museums, Attractions and Sightseeing London in 3 Days