London in 5 Days

Day 1: Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, and the National Portrait Gallery

Start day one with coffee in a Dickensian alleyway just north of St. James's Palace, before being first into the 19 impossibly grand State Rooms at Buckingham Palace. Afterward, join the crowds outside the palace to watch a sea of bearskin Foot Guards perform the Changing of the Guard ceremony, held 11:30 am most days. Some Palace tickets include tours of the Queen's Gallery, which showcases top Old Masters art from the Royal Collection. Then take a stroll through St. James's Park before lunch at a historic Pall Mall pub. It's a short walk to the National Gallery at Trafalgar Square. Hit its quieter Sainsbury Wing, pick up an audio guide, and hunt down a few choice early Renaissance masterpieces. Enjoy stern portraits of Tudor monarchs at the National Portrait Gallery next door, before browsing the antiquarian booksellers on Charing Cross Road or Cecil Court and enjoying fresh handmade dim sum in Chinatown.

Day 2: Westminster Abbey, Houses of Parliament, and the East End

Devote the early morning of day two to a 90-minute verger guided tour of solemn Westminster Abbey. Then investigate the Houses of Parliament. If in session, you can attend debate in the Public Galleries or take a 75-minute tour of both houses. The stately Members' and Strangers' Dining Rooms in the House of Commons are occasionally open to the public for lunch; otherwise have a ploughman's lunch at a historic pub. Take pics of Big Ben and walk up Whitehall to the gates of No 10. Downing Street, the Prime Minister's residence. For a complete change of tune, take the Tube over to the gritty yet hip East End and Bangladeshi-influenced Brick Lane, where you can stroll along the art galleries and have a classic Indian curry for dinner.

Day 3: The South Bank

Start with a ride on the London Eye for eye-popping city panoramas. Take a long walk along the Thames, popping into any galleries, cinemas, or shops that catch your eye, like the excellent Hayward Gallery. Eventually meander along to Tate Modern for a modern art fix, stopping for lunch nearby. Then enjoy a Shakespeare hit with tours of the replica Elizabethan Shakespeare's Globe. Wiggle along for venison burgers and foodie stall heaven at Borough Market before backtracking over the pedestrian Millennium Bridge for a stunning approach to St. Paul's Cathedral. Hopefully you'll catch Choral Evensong there at 5 pm, then head east toward Bow Lane alleyway for a customary City pub fish-and-chips dinner.

Day 4: The British Museum and Soho

On day four, start early at the British Museum in Bloomsbury and leave a few hours to explore hits like the Egyptian mummies, Rosetta Stone, and 7th-century Anglo-Saxon Sutton Hoo treasures. Afterward, Tube it to restaurant-mad Soho where you can stop for Sri Lankan rice-and-curry at Hoppers, before browsing Carnaby Street and the surrounding indie fashion boutiques. Cut across Regent Street via the dapper gentlemen's tailors of Savile Row and head south for Fortnum & Mason and the old-world gentlemen's outfitters and bespoke shoe shops on Jermyn Street. Work back through the twinkly Regency red-carpet Burlington Arcade and pop into the Royal Academy gallery before taking Afternoon Tea at the cozy Brown's Hotel in Mayfair.

Day 5: Kensington's Museums, Piccadilly, and the West End

Finally on day five, start with a one-hour tour of the V&A Museum of decorative arts and design, whose collection ranges from rare Persian rugs to Tudor chalices. Once out, refuel with a crêpe on pedestrianized Exhibition Road near the South Kensington Tube, then choose either all things science at the Science Museum, or the T. rex dinosaur trail at the Natural History Museum. Then stroll up Knightsbridge to Harrods famous Food Hall, where you can drool over salamis and people-watch to your heart's content. Either duck in for the ace fashion at Harvey Nichols or sip early cocktails at The Ritz at Green Park. Then enjoy the giant neon lights of Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square before having a pretheater dinner in Covent Garden and then catching a West End play or musical.

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