Cities: Oxford, Cotswolds, London
Highlights: University of Oxford, Cotswold Villages, Buckingham Palace, London Eye, Westminster Abbey, Harry Potter tour
If you’ve been to London before, you know that 3 days is just NOT enough to see everything. Unfortunately, that was all the time we had on this trip, as we were there for a wedding and on to other countries after, so we decided to squeeze in as much as we could in 3 short days. If this is your first time to London, we definitely recommend staying longer, but if like us, 3 days is all you have, consider this itinerary for a nice variety of activities.
Day 1: Arrival and Cotswold Villages
To be honest, we actually arrived LATE at night and did Cotswold Villages the next morning, but at this point, I will consider it all one day. Depending on the time of your flight, it may be possible to get this all in, or shift your itinerary around to do this one Day 2. As far as where to stay, we ended up staying near Battersea Park, since that is where the wedding was taking place, in a quaint Airbnb. I actually loved the location, as it was quiet but still walkable or had easy transportation access to many of the main sites of London.
Alas, we had pre-booked a 1 day tour to Oxford and the Cotswold Villages with Rabbie’s, a highly rated tour company. We met up with the tour group early that morning and joined a small group of people and our tour guide and headed out towards Oxford.
Upon arrival in Oxford, we were given a map with a suggested walking itinerary and several hours of free time. You can find a similar map here. Our first stop would be the famous Turf Tavern, for lunch and a pint. This pub was adorable, had great food and service, and had interesting facts on the walls about the various historic events that have taken place there (including being where Bill Clinton “did not inhale” marijuana). Definitely recommend a stop!
Eventually we arrived at Christ Church, where many Harry Potter scenes were inspired by and/or filmed. Unfortunately, tickets were sold out for the day, so I highly recommend booking these tickets in advance if this is something that would interest you. It was still a lovely view from the outside, and surrounded by a beautiful park.
We had a bit of time to kill, so we decided to go up the Carfax Tower. This tower was from the 12th century and had 99 steps to the top, so we could get a bird’s eye view of the city! It was rather affordable and we were the only people up there, so I enjoyed the stop. I might not recommend it if you’re short on time, however.
It was about time to get back on the tour bus and head to our next stop, but before that I couldn’t help but notice this REALLY cool looking building. It’s just a hat shop, but I loved the look of it.
Our next stop would be Burford, in the Cotswolds. This is a charming little town with a very cool church and several interesting shops to explore. We walked up and down “the hill”, before stopping for some afternoon cakes and milkshakes at Huffkins. It was a delicious stop and one I’d definitely recommend.
Our next stop would be Bibury, which is one of the most photographed Cotswold Villages and for good reason. Originally built in 1380, the building was later converted into a row of weavers’ cottages in the 17th century. Now people live there, and you can even stay in a few as Airbnbs!
I will be completely honest here – Bibury was a bit of a let down. In pictures, it looks so quaint and beautiful and serene. In reality, it is a non-stop line of tourists (ourselves included) going around in a loop. It’s cute, don’t get me wrong, but not what I expected.
There’s also not much else to do there. There was one restaurant and a public restroom. Most of the tour group ended up sitting by the creek, which was lovely as it was a nice afternoon.
After that, it was time to head back to London. Overall, I enjoyed the tour, but I think if I was to do it again, I would have rented a car and done it on my own. It was a bit stressful being part of the tour mob, and we probably could have seen more places if we had done it on our own.
Once back in London, we grabbed dinner nearby and headed out for live music at the Magic Garden. We loved this bar – great music, cool vibes, and overall a fun time!
Day 2: London sight-seeing
Now we wanted to really see the beautiful sights London has to offer! Our first stop would be Buckingham Palace. You can book tickets to see the inside of the Palace, but since we were short on time, we simply went for the Changing of the Guards. The Changing of the Guards does NOT happen every day, so be sure to check the schedule. Additionally, it gets VERY crowded, so we recommend arriving early. We arrived maybe 5 minutes early and it was nearly impossible to find a good viewing location. We ended up leaving early, unfortunately.
We next booked a tour of the London Eye, which I would recommend you book in advance if at all possible. We were lucky enough to get last minute seats, and actually combined it with the River Cruise.
Although a bit touristy, we happened to be in London on one of the hottest days of the year, and the London Eye was AIR CONDITIONED! Not many locations were, so we welcomed the 30 minute respite from the heat and got to see London from above for a new perspective. Would I do this again? Probably not, but it was nice to see once!
Next we hopped on the River Cruise and got to see a different area of London. It was awesome hearing about the history of the bridges and surrounding neighborhoods, even if we didn’t get to explore them. If you have several days in London, I would recommend starting with this tour to determine where you might want to explore next. Not a ton of great picture opportunities, but definitely educational!
Next we headed back to Westminster Abbey for a tour we had booked in advance. I HIGHLY recommend doing this, as this was one of my favorite stops in London. You are given a headset with an audio guide and are free to wander as you please. I LOVED soaking in the architecture and seeing the tombs of the great writers, scientists, and scholars of our time.
We even got to see the Coronation Throne AND feel like we were in Harry Potter.
After the tour, it was around dinner time and we were meeting up with friends for pre-wedding festivities. We all went to Battersea Power Station, which was SO much fun. I love this neighborhood. The bars and restaurants are all built into the arches under the railway, there are quaint shops, and overall great vibes. I highly recommend checking this area out! For late night drinks, we ended up at a BEAUTIFUL pub called Duchess Belle. Great spot for some fun photos!
Day 3: Harry Potter Tour
As a big Harry Potter fan, I couldn’t make it to London and NOT do a Harry Potter tour (again). I had already done the Universal Studios tour which was AMAZING, but as we were short on time, we opted for a FREE walking tour. There are many options available for Harry Potter free walking tours, but we went with this one. (Note that although the tour is free, tips are always appreciated!)
This was such a fun tour! We stopped at locations that JK Rowling herself had been to (and possibly been inspired by), as well as movie filming locations. We saw inspiration for Diagon Alley and Knockturn Alley, and learned a lot of fun facts about the books and movies! If you’re a Harry Potter fan, I think you’ll love it as much as we did.
The rest of our time in London was spent visiting with friends and attending a beautiful wedding, but there are SO MANY more interesting and fun things to do. Check out some ideas here! The Tower of London comes highly recommended, as well as participating in High Tea with friends.
From here, my now husband and I ventured onto Switzerland for our honeymoon (!!). I know this is Two GIRLS Getaway, but I think he can get a pass. 🙂