London in 5 Days

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

Start day one with coffee in a charming alleyway just north of St. James's Palace, before being among the first visitors of the day to the 19 impossibly grand State Rooms on a tour of Buckingham Palace. Afterward, join the crowds outside the palace to watch the Queen's Guard in their traditional bearskin hats and red tunics perform the Changing of the Guard ceremony, held at 11:30 am most days. Some Palace tickets include tours of the Queen's Gallery, where you can see some of the finest Old Masters from the impressive Royal Collection. Then stroll through pretty St. James's Park and stop for lunch at at the café within the Institute for Contemporary Art located in The Mall. It's a short walk to the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. Head for the quieter Sainsbury Wing and its early Renaissance masterpieces (pick up an audio guide to enhance your experience). The compelling Holbein portraits of Tudor monarchs in the National Portrait Gallery next door are not to be missed either. Then head up Charing Cross Road to Cecil Court, a browser's paradise of antiquarian booksellers, before 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 tour of history-laden Westminster Abbey guided by one of its vergers, then explore the Houses of Parliament. If in session, you can watch a debate from the Public Galleries or take a 75-minute tour of both houses. The stately Members' Dining Room in the House of Commons is occasionally open to the public for lunch; otherwise have lunch at a nearby pub. Be sure to take some pics of iconic Big Ben (although it's surrounded by scaffolding until 2021) and walk up Whitehall to the beginning of Downing Street, where the Prime Minister lives at No. 10. For a complete change of pace, take the Tube to funkier East London, where you can spend the rest of the day checking out hip emerging artists at the neighborhood's many galleries and have a classic curry for dinner on Brick Lane, the epicenter of London's Bangladeshi community.

Day 3: The South Bank

Start with a ride on the London Eye for spectacular city panoramas. Afterward, walk alongside the Thames to the Southbank Centre, with its performance spaces, shops, cinema, and excellent Hayward Gallery. Keep going on the riverside Queen's Walk until you come to Tate Modern where you can discover a world-class collection of 20th and 21st-century art, then stop for lunch at one of the numerous food stalls or restaurants in foodie heaven Borough Market. Brush up on your Shakespeare with a tour of Shakespeare's Globe, a replica of the Elizabethan theater where many of his play were first performed, then backtrack over the pedestrian Millennium Bridge leading from the Tate for a stunning approach to St. Paul's Cathedral. With any luck you'll get there in time for the catedral's Choral Evensong at 5 pm, then head east toward Bow Lane, one of the City's narrow passageways, for a traditional fish-and-chips pub dinner.

Day 4: The British Museum and Soho

On day four, start early at the British Museum in Bloomsbury; give yourself several hours to explore highlights like Egyptian mummies, the Rosetta Stone, and the 7th-century Anglo-Saxon Sutton Hoo treasures. Afterward, take the Tube to lively Soho where you can stop for Sri Lankan rice-and-curry at Hoppers, before browsing the indie fashion boutiques around Kingly Street. Cut across Regent Street to the reknowned gentlemen's tailors of Savile Row and head south for Fortnum & Mason and the traditional gentlemen's outfitters and bespoke shoe shops of Jermyn Street. Cross Piccadilly to cut back through the Regency grandeur of the Burlington Arcade and take in an exhibition at the venerable Royal Academy before stopping in for afternoon tea at the elegant 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 vast V&A Museum, whose collections of decorative arts and design range from rare Persian rugs to Tudor chalices. Refuel with a crepe on pedestrianized Exhibition Road near the South Kensington Tube, then choose between delving into outer space at the Science Museum or meeting dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum. Afterwards, proceed up Brompton Road to Harrods department store and its famous Food Halls, where fresh seafood, produce, meats, and charcuterie sit beneath spectacular decorative tiles. Then you can pick-up a snazzy new outfit at fashionista-central Harvey Nichols or nip in for an early cocktail at The Ritz by Green Park. Head up Piccadilly toward the bright lights of Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square to take in a West End play or musical, followed by a post-theater dinner in Covent Garden.

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