How to Organize Your Time in London

How to Organize Your Time in London

London, England is one of our favorite cities in the world.  With world class museums, incredible historic sites, and non-stop things to see and do, it makes for a fabulous place to visit.  But with so much to see and do how can you best organize your time here?  We took the guess work out of planning and created daily itineraries to minimize backtracking in this big city.

A bit of London’s history

London’s beginnings are traced back to Roman times, having been built in the year 43 AD.  The name Londinium was given to this city on the River Thames, which had quickly swelled to over 50,000 people.  The Roman Empire eventually fell and the control over London was passed on to Anglo-Saxons who invaded many times over the years.

Viking attacks took place here in the ninth century and eventually the Danish lived here for a time.

Finally, the England that we know of today began in 1067 when the Duke of Normandy became the new King of England, William I.

The ancient Roman-built walls were still encircling the city’s limits in the mid 1600s.  With poor living conditions and tight quarters, the Great Plague quickly spread within the city, killing over 70,000 people.  In 1666, the Great Fire swept through London, which eventually brought the plague to a halt.  As London was slowly rebuilt, modern day London was born.

London today

Situated on the River Thames in southeast England, London still remains one of the world’s greatest cities.  From the Tower of London to Tower Bridge to multiple palaces and castles, you’ll definitely get your historical fix here.

London has fabulous parks and greenspaces, many near popular sights.  With walking paths, playgrounds, and bodies of water, kids will have a blast burning energy and exploring, especially in between historical sights and museums.  In each day’s itinerary, we include a nearby park to visit.  When we first visited London we had three young kids in tow and visited the many parks.  Take advantage of this when traveling with small children to help balance out the sites and museums.

How to get around

The best way to get from point A to point B is London’s Underground, also known as The Tube.  It is very easy to use and sites are well connected thanks to this efficient system.  In each day’s itinerary, most of the sites are walkable from one another but here and there you’ll need to use the Underground.  I recommend downloading “The Tube App” for easy access to figuring out your route.  You also have the option to use the iconic black taxis, which we have done as well.  

Now for the best ways to organize your time in London:

DAY 1

This is technically “Day 2” if you arrived on a red eye flight the day before.  On arrival day in London, check in to your lodging, get groceries if staying in an Airbnb, explore parks, just get outside!  Plan on an early dinner and get to bed early to reset your internal clock.

On today’s agenda:

  • Tower of London
  • Tower Bridge
  • The British Museum

Day One Sites

Your day begins by heading to the Tower of London.  Be sure to reserve your entry tickets ahead of time on the website.  The entry ticket includes admission to the Tower as well as the Torture at the Tower exhibition and the Crown Jewels.  Engage with the Yeoman Warders, decked out in black and red outfits.  They are the official guarders of the Tower of London and enjoy sharing information!

The kids and a Yeoman Warder at the Tower of London

The Tower of London is not to be missed.  So much infamy is held within these walls and it’s pretty thought provoking to know all that went on here. 

Braden checking out the Entry to the Traitor’s Gate – where prisoners were brought from the River Thames

Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife, was beheaded here.  The prince sons of King Edward IV were sent here and mysteriously disappeared, still an unsolved mystery to this day.  Many other notable folks were sent here, including the future Elizabeth I after being sent here by her older half-sister, Mary I, for a short time.

So much history within these walls

There are numerous towers to explore and watch for the ravens on the grounds. 

One of the Tower’s ravens

The legend behind these captive ravens residing at the Tower of London is this:  “If the ravens leave the tower, the Kingdom will fall”.  This saying is traced back to Charles II, so ravens are always kept at the tower!

While at the Tower of London, you’ll also get a chance to view the Crown Jewels. 

The Crown Jewels are kept here

The jewels are heavily guarded and no photos are allowed inside.  While viewing the jewels, visitors stand on a slow moving walkway, assuring guests continue to move along.  

After your time at the Tower of London, head to St. Katharine’s Docks for lunch.  We had a great lunch at Strada.  On the way to St. Katharine’s Docks, you pass Tower Bridge.  The best viewpoint is along the walking path on the River Thames in front of the Tower of London.   

There is a fabulous view of Tower Bridge from the walking path in front of the Tower of London

Another great vantage point is on the bridge on the way from Tower of London to St. Katharine’s Docks

After lunch, it’s time for a museum, and one of the best at that.  The British Museum holds two million years of human history and culture as well as artifacts from six continents.  Here you can see the Rosetta Stone and so much more.

Mummies and the Rosetta Stone | British Museum  

For dinner tonight, how about a unique experience at Sky Garden?  With epic views and highly rated food, it is the perfect end to your first day in London.

PARK:  A great option for today is Tower Hill Garden, near the Tower of London.  Nearby are the ruins of the London Wall, built during Roman times.

DAY 2

On today’s agenda:

  • Westminster Abbey
  • Big Ben & Parliament
  • The London Eye
  • Thames River Cruise

Day Two Sites

Your morning begins at the incredible Westminster Abbey.  As a royal church, Westminster Abbey has been the site of coronations since the 11th century.  Inside, you’ll stand above the final resting place of notables such as Charles Dickens, Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Geoffrey Chaucer, Rudyard Kipling, and many many more. 

Gorgeous Westminster Abbey

Not only does Westminster Abbey hold so much important British history, but the beauty of the church is incredible.  Take your time soaking in the architecture inside and out. 

It’s just a short walk from Westminster Abbey to see Big Ben and Parliament

Ava, Braden, and I on Westminster Bridge near Big Ben & Parliament

Did You Know?  the name “Big Ben” is the name for the bell inside the clock tower.  The clock tower itself is named Elizabeth Tower.  However, the name Big Big has stuck when referencing the entire clock tower.  From here, make your way across Westminster Bridge for iconic views of Big Ben and Parliament from across the River Thames. 

Parliament as seen from Westminster Bridge (when we visited in 2019 Big Ben was under scaffolding.  You can see the tarp on the right side of Parliament as well)

Cross Westminster Bridge and make your way to the London Eye.  This is notably quite the touristy attraction, however one does get incredible views of London from up high.

The London Eye

Consider a Thames River cruise, which departs nearby, if you want to give your feet a break while taking in the city from a different perspective.

Braden on the River Thames cruise – a great way to view the city

PARK:  The Jubilee Gardens has an enclosed play area, greenspace, and awesome view of the London Eye.

DAY 3

On today’s agenda:

  • Trafalgar Square
  • The National Gallery
  • Buckingham Palace
  • Churchill War Rooms
  • Afternoon Tea at the Goring Hotel

Day Three Sites

Begin your morning in Trafalgar Square.  Check out the statue of Sir Admiral Nelson on top of a high column as well as a gigantic ship in a bottle. 

Sir Nelson’s Column and the Ship in a Bottle | Trafalgar Square

The National Gallery is located here, so head indoors to take in some of the world’s greatest paintings.  Again, this museum is FREE!

The kids at the National Gallery

From Trafalgar Square, it is just under a one mile walk to Buckingham Palace

The kids in front of Buckingham Palace

You can walk down The Mall to get an epic view looking towards the Palace.  

Tours are available at certain times of year.  Check the Buckingham Palace website for more information.  The famous Changing of the Guards takes place on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays.  It is the formal changeover of duties from one set of guards to the other. 

Crowds gather to watch the iconic Changing of the Guards | Buckingham Palace

Personally, I found the experience to be extremely crowded and not worth the effort to peer over fellow bystanders to catch a glimpse of the action.  We much prefer the experience that we just happened upon when visiting much quieter Windsor Castle.

Afternoon tea is a must when visiting London and we highly recommend tea at the Goring Hotel.  With impeccable service and scrumptious small bites, this family-friendly tea was perfect.  

Our lovely afternoon tea | The Goring Hotel

Heading east from Buckingham Palace, take Birdcage Walk to get to the Churchill War Rooms.  Mike and Braden visited and really enjoyed it.  It’s a great peek into life here during WWII.

PARK:  With this walking route, you’ll be encircling St. James Park, one of London’s eight Royal Parks!  Be sure to spend some time here.

DAY 4

On today’s agenda

  • Covent Garden
  • Tate Modern
  • St. Paul’s Cathedral
  • Kensington Palace
  • Natural History Museum

Day Four Sites

Tate Modern is a contemporary art museum featuring art from around the world.  The museum opens at 10:00 am daily so it’s a great place to start your day.  It is not necessary to book a ticket ahead of time, however is recommended for some exhibits.

From here, head to Covent Garden, a shopping and entertainment hub featuring high end stores, dining establishments, and much more, a perfect place to grab lunch.  

St. Paul’s Cathedral, with its iconic dome, is your next stop.  Here, you can check out the art collection, take in the architecture, and visit the crypt, where many notables are buried.

St. Paul’s Cathedral

Kensington Palace is available for tours, check out the website for more details.  

The Natural History Museum is not to be missed.  See dinosaurs, mummies, and so much more.

The Natural History Museum

NOTE:  This itinerary includes two museums today.  If you aren’t interested in seeing two museums in one day or are traveling with small children, consider taking Tate Modern out of itinerary and giving yourself more time for the Natural History Museum.

PARK:  Hyde Park is one of our favorite parks in London.  It was also a favorite of J.M. Barrie as the inspiration for Peter Pan.  There is a lovely bronze Peter Pan statue here to commemorate J.M. Barrie’s works. 

Such an awesome park for kids! 

DAY 5 and more

It’s time to venture a bit further afield.  You can either spend the next three days doing each of these or picking which one you’d like to do with less time.  Below are three options for ways to spend a day:

OPTION 1

  • Greenwich
  • Prime Meridian
  • National Maritime Museum
  • Royal Observatory

Greenwich in relation to London

Trekking to Greenwich will take you longer than any other place you will have visited previously in London.  Located to the far east of the city, Greenwich contains the famous Prime Meridian.  The Prime Meridian is the 0 degrees longitude “line” that divides the earth’s hemispheres into east and west.  

HOW TO GET HERE:  Check out Greenwich’s website to decide which route is best for you to visit Greenwich.  

To take a photo with one foot in the eastern hemisphere and one in the left will most likely be the result of you standing in a very long line.  If you made your way all the way out here, you will probably deem it worth it, however!

The kids with one foot in the Eastern Hemisphere and one in the Western Hemisphere | Prime Meridian

While here, the National Maritime Museum and Peter Harrison Planetarium are worth a visit if you have an interest in maritime history or space. 

The National Maritime Museum | Greenwich

We also visited the Royal Observatory and found it very intriguing, even with the kids’ at very young ages during our visit.  

The Royal Observatory | Greenwich

PARK:  We loved visiting Greenwich Park after our day of visiting the Prime Meridian and Royal Observatory.  This park features “Elizabeth’s Oak”, which is a fallen hollow tree rumored to have been a spot for picnicking by the future Queen Elizabeth I when she was a child.  

Elizabeth’s Oak

Having fun at the playground

OPTION 2

  • Day out in Windsor

Windsor in relation to London

Windsor is one of our favorite towns and we have spent substantial time here.  We actually stay in Windsor when visiting London.  Staying in Windsor offers a peaceful respite after a day of sightseeing in busy London that we greatly appreciate.  

HOW TO GET HERE:  From London’s Paddington Station, take the train to Windsor Central Station.  You will have a very easy change of trains in Slough, which is just a few minutes from Windsor via rail.  You can also take the slightly longer train from London’s Waterloo Station direct to Windsor Central Station.

The big sight to see here is Windsor Castle.  Check the website for operating hours and ticket information. 

Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle is an incredible castle to explore.  You can catch the Changing of the Guards here if visiting on a Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday.  We prefer this experience to the much busier scene at Buckingham Palace.

Changing of the Guards | Windsor Castle  

Stroll Peascod Street and grab picnic supplies from Waitrose or Marks & Spencer, both with great grab-and-go options.  We take the supplies to the Long Walk on the south end of Windsor Castle to enjoy a lovely picnic.  

The Long Walk, leading away from Windsor Castle

The River Thames has a nice walking path and a footbridge to Eton.  Feed the swans or take a river cruise while here.

The footbridge from Windsor to Eton

Windsor Royal Station is a great little area for shopping and dining.  If coming from London, you’ll walk right through it as you get off the train.  

We have an article all about our favorite things to do in Windsor, you can find that here!  

OPTION 3

  • Hampton Court Palace

Hampton Court Palace in relation to London

Hampton Court Palace is absolutely worth a trek out to Richmond-Upon-Thames, where it is located.  You have a few options to get here if you don’t have a rental car:  

  1. Train from Waterloo Station to Hampton Court Station.  It is then a five minute walk to Hampton Court Palace.
  2. You can actually take a boat here!  This sounds fun but it is definitely the slowest way to get here.  From Westminster, expect a four hour leisurely ride on the River Thames.  
  3. Underground from London to Richmond or Wimbledon.  There is not an actual underground stop for Hampton Court Palace, so if you use this option you’ll have to connect to a bus as well.

Hampton Court Palace was one of Henry VIII’s residences.  Exploring this palace was pretty incredible and is great for kids. 

Hampton Court Palace

A massive spit turning real meat to eat is rolling on a fireplace.  The butcher’s room shows what a Tudor kitchen was like.  In the underground wine cellar you can smell the cool dirt floor beneath your feet as you explore the wine barrels.  All is set up as it would have been during Henry VIII’s time. 

The kitchen and the wine cellar | Hampton Court Palace

Outdoors, the maze and gardens are beautiful and invite anyone to explore.  Kids will especially appreciate this palace!

Hands on fun at Hampton Court Palace

London has so much to offer visitors, no matter how long your stay will be.  Side trips to surrounding destinations only enhance your visit and we highly recommend all of them.  Happy planning!

Read more! 

We have several guides published on visiting London:

Here is our top list of Family Friendly Favorites to See and Do in London.

We love the town of Windsor and have a list of Great Things to do in Windsor, England.  

Combining a trip to London with another city in Europe is easy to do.  We share how we combined a trip to London with Paris in our article, Guide to Visiting Two of Europe’s Greatest Cities, London and Paris.  

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