5 Days in London When It's Not Your First Visit

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Advisor - Nicole Whelan
Curated By

Nicole Whelan

  • Arts & Culture

  • City Travel

  • Couples Travel

  • Food & Wine

  • England

  • London

  • Local Culture

  • Shopping

  • Sightseeing

A Lancaster at daytime filled with people
Curator’s statement

I just got back from a 5-day trip to London, which continues to be one of the most dynamic and interesting cities in the world. This was my third time here and it’s still like I'm barely scratching the surface. Each time I go, I find myself mixing in “traditional” tourist attractions with smaller local gems and day trips outside London too. I break down my trip to show you just how much you can do in five days as a visitor trying to feel more like a local, especially if you’re a foodie and history buff.

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Day 1: Arrive & get a taste of London


We flew out of JFK to LHR on JetBlue on a red-eye. The route is fairly new for the carrier, but their customer service and experience on board all felt smooth and wrinkle free. They also just started a morning flight to better help adjust to jet lag that I’ll probably take advantage of next time.

Once we got through customs, we took the new Elizabeth Line from London Heathrow to Liverpool St station which was only a 3-minute walk from our hotel. We couldn’t believe how fast and easy it was to take this train, which started service in May 2022. It connects you to more stops faster and easier than ever before and is a substantially cheaper transport option than taxis, rideshares and even the Heathrow Express that only goes as far as Paddington Station before you have to transfer again.

We dropped our bags at our hotel, South Place Hotel. While waiting for our room to be ready, we took the train to Victoria Station and had lunch at Seafresh in Belgravia, known for the high quality of its seafood. The fish and chips were crispy and soul-satisfying with a cold beer. We people watched out the window since Belgravia is a lively neighborhood with tons of restaurants and interesting shops to explore, especially as you make your way toward Hyde Park like we did.

Hyde Park provides points of interest throughout the area, no matter which side of the lake you begin your walk. The fresh air, pedal boats, geese, greenery, monuments and people made it a great way to acclimate to our first day in London. We did a loop around the lake to see the Diana Memorial Fountain and Peter Pan monument then hopped back on a train to our hotel. We managed to do this entire trip almost exclusively taking the London Underground or walking (well…except for our private tour to Bath and Stonehenge, but more about that later!)

For this trip, we stayed at the 5-star luxury South Place Hotel conveniently located just a few blocks from Liverpool St. station on the northern edge of the City of London. Their team is friendly and accommodating, and the rooms were large and modern. I also loved their soaps and scents provided by Heeley London – light, gorgeous refreshing citrus scents all the time please!

We rested and took a power nap to get ready for our dinner at Angler, the Michelin star restaurant atop the hotel. We did the tasting menu and it did not disappoint. Bite after bite came out and we enjoyed it with a Welsh white wine recommended by the sommelier. We made a conscious decision to have most of our meals be British dishes, either traditional or modern takes. Service was friendly and on point, and the open windows of the rooftop let it the remaining sunlight as it began to set on the city.

Day 2: Globe Theatre & National Portrait Gallery


We started the day early with a 9am guided tour of the Globe Theatre located on the banks of the River Thames, walking across the Southwark Bridge to get a view of the Globe and the Millennium Bridge as we did.

Just to keep expectations realistic, this is NOT the original Globe Theatre Shakespeare used in his time, but the history of this modern representation is fascinating in its own right. Taking the guided tour (which you can book through the Globe Theatre’s website) provides much more context to the unique structure’s modern day uses and touches that are almost exact replications of its namesake. If you can’t take a tour, try to catch one of their many productions. If you’re lucky, your tour will catch them in the middle of a rehearsal and you can get a sneak peek of what’s ahead.

Being on this side of the Thames situated us perfectly to walk from the Globe Theatre to Borough Market – a foodie’s outdoor market dream. Fresh oysters, grilled kebab, chocolate covered strawberries, artisanal cheeses, fresh squeezed juices, cuisine from every corner of the world: you can find it at Borough Market.

After taking a midday rest at the hotel, we ventured back out to the famed Soho neighborhood in the early afternoon – it's still as cool and hip as it ever was, with excellent pubs, record stores, fashion boutiques and spaces for artists filling the neighborhood with an infectious energy. Also just opened is the brand new Broadwick Soho, which has beautifully appointed rooms with a more personal level of hospitality and a rooftop bar and lounge to enjoy the classic “Mary Poppins” roof view. I can’t wait to go back and grab a cocktail!

After winding our way through Soho, we stopped at the finally re-opened National Portrait Gallery. Famous portraits of important figures throughout history are carefully curated for the public, giving a wonderful sense of time, social, political and creative development.

Wandering art galleries can work up an appetite, so we wandered back toward Soho through Leicester Square and stopped to do a bit of people watching in this loud, bright, sometimes chaotic space. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you can stop to take a picture with the statue there.

We had dinner at Quo Vadis in Soho, a space with a colorful history (formerly a brothel and at one point the home of Karl Marx) and modern updated takes on traditional British food. If you’re looking for proof against the stereotype that British food isn’t innovative or delicious, this is the spot.

Day 3: Tower of London & Wembley Stadium


For some reason in my two past trips to London, I would walk past the Tower of London but somehow didn’t manage to make it inside. I was determined this time to finally explore, and I wish I had checked it out sooner! The structure itself is deceptively larger than it seems, full of history literally in every corner. If you’re a fan of the Royal Family, seeing the Crown Jewels up close is a treat – unfortunately, no pictures are allowed so prepare to capture mental photos! This is the perfect destination to book a private tour with a Beefeater to bypass crowded lines and truly understand the significance of the Tower of London.

Later in the day, we took the train to watch Blur play at Wembley Stadium! Wembley Stadium is the national stadium of England and has hosted some of the world’s greatest sporting and entertainment events such as the Olympics, the World Cup and Live Aid. Try to catch a football match or show there if you can to experience this world class facility.

Day 4: Sunday Roast


Our fourth day landed on a Sunday – which meant we absolutely needed to have a Sunday Roast. We slept in and enjoyed a relaxed meal at The Drapers Arms in Islington, a neighborhood and city-wide favorite. If you’re there in the warmer months, take advantage of their backyard patio seating. The baked camembert, bone marrow, toast and pickles was indulgent and the rare roast 48 day aged sirloin, Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, carrots, greens and gravy felt like being wrapped in a warm familiar hug.

We hopped on the train to Covent Garden Market Building and Piazza to see what kind of wares we could find at this eclectic indoor and outdoor market. Small entrepreneurs, artists and craftspeople were selling clothes, hand crafted tsatskis, souvenirs, collectible toys, etc. Alongside major retailers of fine teas, chocolates, skincare, fashions and other goods. Watch performers in the square and toss them a pound or two if you’re moved!

For dinner, we hopped over to Sheba located on Brick Lane in the East End to enjoy some spicy and rich curries with rice and naan, enjoying the theater of restauranteurs from the dozens of Indian eateries along the street all trying to convince passersby to go to their spot instead.

Day 5: Bath and Stonehenge


We took a day trip from London to Bath and Stonehenge on a private tour by company Discover Real London. Our guide Neil picked us up from our hotel and drove us in his classic black cab, with our first stop being Bath. It felt appropriately dramatic with the deep gray clouds overhead as Neil explained the history of the area, pointing out architectural details of the famed Royal Crescent, the Circus and Jane Austen’s home during her time there.

Neil then walked us to the Roman Baths, where we picked up audio tours (since outside tour guides aren’t allowed) and listened to the descriptions while wandering the ancient grounds. The scheduled entrance times made sure it wasn’t overcrowded and you could take in the ancient spa as they did hundreds of years ago. They even let you taste some of the water (through a tap, not the pool) and I won’t be buying a bottle anytime soon.

After a quick lunch in Bath, we hopped back into the car and drove to Stonehenge. This was a bucket list moment for me, and I walked the perimeter of those stones with glee as wind and rain whipped into my face. There’s something really magical standing in places other humans stood, lived and celebrated hundreds of years before you.

Need to Know

Looking for more travel inspiration? Check out my guide, Become Enchanted with Edinburgh in a Day.

Advisor - Nicole Whelan

Travel Advisor

Nicole Whelan

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This guide is part of our ongoing series on travel to London.