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Carsten Holler, beds on Oxford Street

How to spend 72 hours in London

Got three days to have fun in the capital? Lucky you! Mix and match iconic attractions and quirky experiences with our guide to what to do and where to go

By Laura Lee Davies
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On a mini-break or taking a long weekend to chill out and explore? There’s plenty to do, whether shopping, arts, history or live shows are your passion. Even better, mix all of these into a busy schedule and take the chance to sample London’s best five-star and street food eating while you’re at it, exploring central London and beyond in 72 hours.

RECOMMENDED: Alternative attractions in London

British Museum
© Darrell Godliman

British Museum

Museums History Bloomsbury

It’s the UK’s most visited attraction and for good reason – the British Museum is not just the home of artefacts spanning centuries, but dating back thousands of years. Explore world cultures through everything from Egyptian mummies and Roman treasure to saucy ornaments from ancient Asia.

Oxford Street

Shopping

A short walk from the British Museum brings you to Tottenham Court Road. Here you’re at the east end of Oxford Street. These days it’s mostly high street shopping along here, but hop on the bus or tube to Bond Street to go straight to the more interesting Selfridges end of Oxford Street, or take the Central Line to the next stop which is Marble Arch, at the top north east corner of Hyde Park.

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Hyde Park

Attractions Sightseeing Hyde Park

With Mayfair to its east side, Knightsbridge to the south and Kensington to the west, Hyde Park’s pretty avenues link central London’s most wealthy districts. Hire a bike and explore, or head for the Serpentine Lake for lunch by the water, a walk around the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain, a fun half an hour rowing a boat or even go for a swim.

Kensington Palace

Attractions Sightseeing Kensington

Walking west, Hyde Park turns into Kensington Gardens, which includes the Serpentine Gallery and, if you have kids with you, the excellent Diana Memorial Playground. Kensington Palace is at the western end of the gardens. Home to Victoria in her youth and later to Princess Diana, it’s a beautiful palace to visit. Have lunch overlooking its gardens.

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West End musical

Theatre Musicals

London’s Theatreland is as busy as ever, and while hot tickets sell out months in advance, there is usually a chance to grab seats for something good if you check online or go along to Tkts booth in Leicester Square. If you can’t decide what to see, check out our latest reviews of the best London musicals.

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© The London Dungeon

London Dungeon Lates

Attractions South Bank

Fancy doing something rather different? Why not head to London Dungeon – a quirky and gruesome interactive tour of the city’s nastiest moments in history. Suitable for older children and adults, it’s great fun with plenty of screams, and their grown-ups-only evening sessions include a drink in the Victorian-style bar at the end of your visit. Check the website for upcoming dates.

White Lyan

Bars and pubs Cocktail bars Hoxton

If you want to hang out with the in-crowd, head for Hoxton and Spitalfields to sample some of London’s famous mixology. One of the best bars is the White Lyan on Hoxton Street, for cocktails featuring weirdly wonderful ingredients like pollen, peat and ‘lettuce opium’. You’ll find great bars across London in our top 50 cocktail bars list.

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CellarDoor

Nightlife Nightlife venues Covent Garden

If you’ve got the stamina, this place has got the time – with live shows at midnight, in fact. It’s not the only place in town for great late entertainment (check out our pick of the best cabaret clubs in London) but you’ll find this intimate basement bar on Aldwych is one of the finest.

Hampton Court Palace

Attractions Historic buildings and sites Hampton

When you’ve got more time to explore, make the most of it and venture further afield. Hampton Court Palace is about 35 minutes’ train ride direct from Waterloo and it’s worth the trip. A royal residence from Tudor to Georgian times, the palace has been beautifully maintained and you can wander in the very rooms where incredible moments in British history were lived out. In summer, make a full day out of it and head back into central London by river cruise.

Booking.com

Cutty Sark and National Maritime Museum

Hotels Rental apartments Greenwich

Alternatively, head east to Greenwich. A short ride by Docklands Light Railway (DLR) from Bank station takes you to this villagey quarter in south east London. Located on the Thames, Greenwich is rich in naval history. Climb onboard the Victorian tea clipper the Cutty Sark then wander up to the National Maritime Museum, where you can see exhibits including the uniform Nelson was wearing when he was fatally wounded at the Battle of Trafalgar.

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Royal Observatory

Attractions Towers and viewpoints Greenwich

A stroll up the hill through Greenwich Park brings you to the Royal Observatory. This is where centuries of scientific study helped establish a world class understanding of time, navigation and astronomy. A line in the courtyard shows you where Greenwich Mean Time is measured from – stand over it and take a selfie with one foot in the ‘east’ and one in the ‘west’.

Greenwich Hospital, Greenwich Market at Christmas, Xmas Lights, 2015
Robert Greshoff

Greenwich Market

Shopping Markets and fairs Greenwich

If you’ve opted for a trip to Greenwich, stop off for a browse in the charming covered market – one of the best places to get one-off and vintage fashions, art and crafts, often sold directly from their designer-makers. There are food stalls here too, cooking up global cuisine in front of you. Perfect for lunch.

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ArcelorMittal Orbit

Attractions Olympic Park

Get back on the DLR train at Cutty Sark station and head up to Stratford. Much of your journey is above ground, with great views of east London old and new. At Stratford, it’s a short walk to the vast Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park where most of the London 2012 Games happened. Here you’ll find Anish Kapoor’s strangely twisting ArcelorMittal Orbit tower. Take the lift to the top then walk or take the thrilling slide back down again.

Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

Sport and fitness Parks and gardens Olympic Park

The Orbit tower is right by the main Olympic Stadium and situated in what has been transformed into a beautiful leisure park. Book ahead and get sporty just like an Olympian: take a swim in Zaha Hadid’s stunningly designed Aquatics Centre or hire a bike and try the Lee Valley Velodrome for yourself.

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Pizza Express Jazz Club

Music Music venues Soho

If you’ve had an active day, relax in the evening by doing two things at once – having dinner and listening to great jazz. The branch of Pizza Express in Soho has been one of the most respected jazz venues in central London for decades and is popular for soulful and Latin styles, as well as being a great place to hear solo singers. (Lunchtime shows bookable, too).

Regent Street Cinema

Cinemas Regent Street

You can see a movie anytime, but how about going to the first cinema in the country to ever show moving pictures? Recently revived and beautifully refurbished, the Regent Street Cinema is a late Victorian classic. This lovely little cinema offers a great programme of films and talks, and has a charming bar.

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XOYO

Music Music venues Shoreditch

Got the energy for something late night? London’s nightclubbing is among the best in the world, but the good spots change with the in-crowd and many of the favourites are farther out. One fairly central gem is XOYO, a minute’s walk from Old Street station and with efficient street-level management when you want to get in.

MarketPorter004.jpg
© Ming Tang Evans

Market Porter

Bars and pubs Borough

Sleepless in Southwark? In the old days, pubs around the markets opened early in the morning to serve workers on duty through the night to get produce ready for early morning buyers. A few such pubs still open early, including the Market Porter in Borough Market. It has a breakfast session from 6am!

Borough Market

Things to do Borough

In the last decade Borough Market has become the epicentre of London’s foodie passions. The stalls nestled within the beautiful old ironwork market building will sell you fruits, veg, exotic ingredients and prime cuts of meat to take home, but if you can’t wait, sample artisan street food right here for brunch. It gets busy so a morning visit is advised.

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The View from the Shard

Attractions Towers and viewpoints London Bridge

It’s your last day so bid your farewells to the whole of London in one go, with a bird’s eye view, from the top of the tallest tower in Western Europe. The Shard is a hotel and office block with several excellent restaurants, but you can take the super-speedy lift all the way to the summit for The View from the Shard, two levels offering panoramic views from every side of the building.

Tate to Tate Boat

Attractions Ships and boats Bankside

From the Shard, head down to the riverside and take a stroll alongside the Thames. Your walk takes you past Shakespeare’s Globe, with views across to St Paul’s Cathedral and to right outside Tate Modern. If you’re an art lover, stop off here for a look at the latest exhibitions, then jump on the Tate to Tate riverboat service run by Thames Clippers. It’s not expensive and it’s a brilliant way to see London’s sights as you travel upstream to Tate Britain in Pimlico.

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Warner Bros. Studio Tour London - The Making of Harry Potter

Attractions Hertfordshire

Alternatively, make another day out of it and head just north of London to Leavesden, where a large part of the studios used to film the Harry Potter epics has been turned into a genuinely exciting exhibition dedicated to the movies’ making. You can walk onto various sets, including the Great Hall and Platform 9¾ and see how the special effects turned JK Rowling’s adventures into cinema magic.

Barrafina

Restaurants Spanish Covent Garden

Sign off with a taste of London’s first rate dining culture. Barrafina is a mid-price gem that makes the top spot in Time Out's 100 best restaurants for its Barcelona-style tapas. Even if you have to queue, enjoy drinks and snacks while you wait for a table. However the top 100 also features many cheaper options that reflect the best global dishes on offer in the capital – across town and particularly in nearby Soho.

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Go to a gig

Music

London’s music scene has spawned generations of great bands but deciding where to go really depends on what you want to hear. From soul and folk to indie rock and improve jazz, find good places for great music across London, in our guide to London’s best music venues.

Ain't Nothin' But...

Bars and pubs Soho

This blues bar a couple of minutes from Oxford Circus is a popular spot for late night live music. Open until 1am and free to get in Monday to Thursday, while on Friday and Saturday it's open until 2am (free entry until 8.30pm). It’s a reliable choice if you’re a night owl.

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