A First-Timer’s Guide to 5 Days in London

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Curated By

Alexandra Gonzalez

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  • Arts & Culture

  • City Travel

  • Couples Travel

  • Food & Wine

  • London

  • England

  • Local Culture

  • Local Food

  • Shopping

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Curator’s statement

This past spring, I finally made it to London for the first time. Its rich history, eclectic neighborhoods, iconic landmarks and international food scene did not disappoint. Included in this guide are local insights, enabling you to fully immerse yourself in a memorable inaugural London experience.

The Fora Difference

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Where to stay

The London EDITION

Boutique style on a grand scale, with richly decorated rooms and some of the best nightlife in London.

Fora Perks
  • $100 food / beverage credit.

  • Breakfast daily.

  • Upgrade & extended check-in/out whenever possible.

11 Cadogan Gardens

This most desirable address in Chelsea featuring quirky twists and traditional afternoon tea for romantic holidays and families.

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  • food / beverage or spa credit

  • Welcome amenity

  • Breakfast daily

  • Upgrade & extended check-in/out whenever possible

The Franklin London - Starhotels Collezione

Posh hotel with opulent rooms set in an elegant Victorian building near Hyde Park in London.

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Day 1: City of London & Southwark

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TOWER OF LONDON

I started my morning with a fresh pastry and a coffee at Gail’s, a local cafe with multiple city-wide outposts (try their cinnamon buns and thank me later). I then hopped on the tube to the London Bridge station and spent the rest of the day exploring that area by foot. Notable sites/stops included:

  • London Bridge - Although rebuilt many times since, London Bridge is the oldest river crossing in London dating to 1209.

  • Tower of London - Discover the history of the city at this historic castle, home to the Crown Jewels and a series of intriguing stories about its use as a royal palace, prison and treasury.

  • Tower Bridge - Built in 1894, this bridge connected East and Central London residents and was the largest and most sophisticated bascule bridge ever completed at the time.

  • Borough Market - A sprawling establishment with over 1,000 years of history, this market offers global cuisine food stands, produce, flowers, spices, pastries, gifts and more. This was a top 3 highlight of my London trip. (Shout out to Padella, a tiny authentic Italian restaurant offering incredible homemade bread and pasta.)

Day 2: Central London - Southbank, Westminster, Soho & Mayfair

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Westminster

I went back to Gail’s for breakfast again, this time ordering the hot porridge (and another cinnamon bun) before taking the tube to the Waterloo stop. Below is a list of popular sites in the area that are clustered together and easy to hit one after another.

  • London Eye - Experience breathtaking panoramic views of the city from this giant observation wheel on the South Bank of the River Thames.

  • Westminster Abbey - A famed church that has been the location of the coronations of 40 English and British monarchs since 1066.

  • The Palace of Westminster - The Palace serves as the meeting place for both Houses of Parliament.

  • Victoria Tower Gardens - A beautiful riverfront public park surrounding the Palace of Westminster.

  • Big Ben - Constructed in 1859, this clock tower was the largest striking and chiming clock in the world at the time.

  • Churchill's War Rooms - Take a guided tour of the underground bunker that served as the British HQ during WWII.

My favorite part of this day was having a traditional afternoon tea at the Ham Yard Hotel in Soho. The ambiance, food and tea were all top-notch (a special shout out to the biscuits and clotted cream). Overall it was a great experience and I will definitely be returning on my next trip.

After eating your body weight in tiny sandwiches and desserts, you can roam around the Soho and Mayfair neighborhoods, as they are known for their incredible shopping. Before you head back to your hotel to clean up for dinner, I recommend stopping at Mercato Mayfair for a drink; it’s an old church (St Mark’s, 1828) turned expansive sustainable community market, with food and drink stalls, a rooftop garden bar, and a weekend DJ. I have never experienced anything like it and it was one of the coolest stops on my trip.

Day 3: West London - Chelsea, Kensington, Hyde Park & Belgravia

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BUCKINGHAM PALACE

West London is known for its posh homes, brick-lined streets, and famed historic sites. I started the morning walking around Chelsea with a cappuccino and then ventured over to Kensington for a wonderful, traditional English breakfast at Ffiona’s. There were a ton of cute shops and boutiques that I popped into as well. Afterwards, I made my way East on foot.

  • Kensington Palace & Gardens - A royal residence of the British royal family since the 17th century and the birthplace of Queen Victoria, you can tour the property and exhibits indoors and then walk through the gardens.

  • Buckingham Palace - This palace has served as the residence of the UK’s sovereigns since 1837 and hosts many royal events and ceremonies each year. The surrounding parks (Green Park, St. James Park and Palace Gardens) are beautiful greenscapes to explore as well.

  • Hyde Park - This historic 350-acre park is a London staple. Have a picnic, hire a boat on the Serpentine Lake or catch a concert or movie on a summer night.

  • Harrods - One of the largest (1 million sqft) and most well-known department stores in the world.

I stayed at the Autograph Collection hotel in Kensington, so I ventured on a 10-minute walk to Cambio De Tercio for dinner, a Spanish restaurant featuring traditional and modern tapas. Another great spot was Steak & Co; it had a solid steak and wine menu, sure to please anyone looking for a hearty meal.

Day 4: North London - Camden & Hampstead

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HAMPSTEAD HEATH

The day I spent in the North London area was my favorite. I took full advantage of the rare London sunshine by spending the day outdoors. This area of the city is home to some of the best green spaces in the entire city, with Regent’s Park and Hampstead Heath.

After a quick tube ride to Camden, I spent the entire afternoon exploring the parks and picturesque neighborhoods on foot, and reading on quaint benches and at cafes. There were plenty of global and independent shops to pop into, cafes to enjoy a cup of coffee or tea, and gorgeous homes to admire while aimlessly wandering around the cobblestone streets. Perrin’s Lane and Primrose Hill were two darling areas I loved.

Day 5: East London - Shoreditch, Hackney & London Fields

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PIDGIN DINING EXPERIENCE

The East London neighborhoods are known for their eclectic vibe, trendy bars and clubs and lively art scene. Noteworthy stops in the area:

  • Brick Lane - Home to curry and vintage shops.

  • Columbia Flower Market (Sundays 8a-3p) - Vendors line the street to sell flowers, plants and everything in between. There are lots of cute shops on the street to stop into for coffee, pastries or a beer.

  • Spitalfields Market - A lively market featuring clothing, home decor and gourmet goods.

  • Broadway Market - A Victorian market featuring food, produce and clothing.

For a unique dining experience, I highly recommend making a reservation at Pidgin. Since 2015, this quaint Hackney establishment has been serving up multi-course tasting menus that change weekly. With fresh ingredients, innovative dishes and art-worthy presentations, you are sure to have a one-of-a-kind, memorable meal.

Other notable neighborhood dining recs I received: Brat, Blue’s Kitchen, Bright and Dishoom.

Need to Know

Looking for more travel inspiration? Check out my guide, 4 Days in Paris for Roland Garros.

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Travel Advisor

Alexandra Gonzalez

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