Are you planning to spend a day in London but not sure where to begin? It’s not easy, but I’ve got you covered with this step-by-step itinerary. This will give you everything you need to make London your home in just one day.
This guide will be my first.
It is a crazy place that I call home, and 8 million people call it home. 20 million people visit the city each year. If you’re a first-time visitor, it can be overwhelming and large.
It all sounds overwhelming, but there is a way to make it easier.
If you know how, you can spend a whole day in London and see many of the city’s most iconic sights without having to work out.
You could go crazy trying to see everything, running around in complete panic and visiting every museum, taking in all that you can.
But, there’s always a but.
You will be exhausted and have no idea what you saw in the city. This is the absurd way.
It is smart to concentrate on the area in central London that has the most sights. All within walking distance from each other, so you can take the time to see them all. This is what the one-day in London guide does.
What’s more? You can also cut out some things if you prefer to move at a slower pace. Simple.
Are you wondering what you can do in London with just one day? This itinerary will take you to London’s top attractions.
Okay, I get it. You want to see Buckingham Palace. Who am I to deny? This is the official London residence of the monarchy, and a great place to begin your London day trip.
Although the Georgian palace’s impressive size isn’t what you would call the most extravagant in London, it’s certainly one of my favorites.
The palace is enormously large, with 775 rooms and 52 bedrooms. There are also 188 bedrooms for staff.
Although you can’t go inside most of the year they do allow visitors to view the State Rooms up-close and personal.
Buckingham Palace is also a great place to see the Changing of Guard, a formal procession that marks the changing of Royal Guard.
It’s amazing – the guards are accompanied with a full brass band, and it’s quite cool to watch a tradition that’s been going on for centuries. The Changing of Guard is performed every day at 10.45 am in the summer months and alternate days throughout the year.
St James’s Park, my favorite Royal Park, is just a hop and skip away from Buckingham Palace.
St James’s Park in central London is the most beautiful park. It features a large lake, willow-lined banks, and gorgeous flower beds that seem to be bloom year round. This park is perfect for relaxing and enjoying a chat with friends, right in the shadows of the royal palace.
If the weather is good, you can spend some time here, but otherwise, I recommend just walking through towards Westminster, the political center of the city.
PS. PS. The park is framed by landmarks from Westminster and South Bank, including the London Eye.
World Heritage Site Westminster Abbey, one of London’s most impressive churches (the other being St Paul’s Cathedral which we won’t have the time to visit today).
What happens when Gothic architecture is combined with centuries-old history? Answer: A very impressive building.
It isn’t a cathedral, as many people think. It is a “Royal Peculiar”, meaning it is directly responsible for the monarchy. This explains why it is so closely linked to royal events.
All the Royal weddings that you see on TV are here. The same goes for many state funerals and coronations.
The royals are not the only thing that Westminster Abbey has to offer. It also serves as the burial place for some of the UK’s most significant historical and literary figures like Charles Dickens, Stephen Hawking and William Wilberforce.
Even a section called Poet’s Corner is included. It does almost exactly what it says, except that quite a few novelists are also buried there.
To reach the next spot on our London sightseeing itinerary, you barely need to stretch your legs – none other then The Houses of Parliament (to which the clock tower Big Ben is attached).
It seems only fair that I warn you: both the Palace of Westminster (where the Houses of Parliament are situated) and Big Ben are currently undergoing major renovations.
This means that scaffolding and cladding has been used to cover various parts of the palace as well as most of Big Ben. It’s not pretty, but it’s necessary. So you will have to live with the blight on what I’m certain would have been a truly unique and amazing series of Insta photos.
If you have more time in London I would recommend visiting Parliament. You can either take a guided tour, or go to the public galleries to view a debate (one of most favorite free things to do in London). But time is of the essence so I will need to drag you along for a stroll over Westminster Bridge towards our next destination.
For many reasons, I have a special fondness for The London Eye. First, I still remember the pomp and circumstance that surrounded its opening in 2000 (cue Busted song). This was back when it was known as the Millennium Wheel.
Second, I was there for several college and university holidays. I have ridden, stared at and talked about the damn thing enough times to be able to keep it in my head.
Would I recommend you to do it? Yes! You should make it a top priority on your list of the best things to do in London during a single day. It is not worth skipping.
Although the London Eye isn’t the most expensive London sightseeing spot, it offers stunning views on clear days. You can see Windsor Castle 25 miles away.
You have ample time to enjoy the ever-changing views and take lots of photos during your 25-minute ride.
Book tickets to The London Eye or purchase a London Explorer Pass. This pass covers entry to The London Eye.
It’s time to cross the River Thames via Golden Jubilee Bridge and head towards another landmark in London – Trafalgar Square.
Personally, I feel the square is not worth the effort. The eclectic mix of architectural styles and random sculptures scattered throughout the area are charming but not spectacular. Still, do I think it’s worth a visit? Totally.
You can also swing by the famous lion statues. (Here’s a fun fact: Edward Landseer, the sculptor, had never seen a Lion when he was given the task of making the statues. He had to wait for a lion to die at London Zoo before he could use the animal as a model.
Keep your eyes peeled and you will see an old Tardis-style structure that doubled up as a holding station and police watchpoint. It was later dubbed Britain’s smallest police station.
It’s crunch time, people.
Trafalgar Square is flanked both by the National Gallery, and next to it, The National Portrait Gallery.
If you are into art, I suggest that you spend the afternoon exploring at most one of these and then picking up at West End Show / Theatre Point.
The National Gallery houses over 2,300 works that date back to the 13th century and 1900. It also contains a wide range of pieces by leading artists like Vincent Van Gogh’s Sunflowers or Leonardo da Vinci’s The Virgin on the Rocks.
The National Portrait Gallery is smaller, but just as impressive – it has a collection of 215,000 pieces to explore. Both museums are free to enter.
You can skip museums if you so choose. Then it’s time for the London one-day tour.
Covent Garden Market is a top choice for Londoners looking for things to do during a day. It’s located in the heart of London’s theatreland and is a vibrant area with many bars, pubs, restaurants, and other activities.
The Apple Market is a must-see. It’s a lovely covered market, but I wouldn’t go there to shop. Most of the independent shops have been replaced by many of the same brands that you can find around the globe. Yawn.
Charminger still is the charming little Cecil Court, a 17th-century alley lined by bookshops and that’s rumoured have inspired Diagon Alley in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books.
Find out if you can find the quirky Neal’s Yard. It is accessed via two small passages which open up to a cool courtyard with brightly colored buildings that bring sunshine to even the most grey London days. This area is becoming increasingly dominated with large brands, so it’s refreshing to find independent businesses here – bars, shops and restaurants.
If you have the time, take a walk to Somerset House, an ex-Thameside royal palace and now one of London’s most important cultural and arts venues. The striking courtyard is free to visit and is a great place to relax with a cup of coffee in central London.
Although I may be biased, I will not hide it. London is home to one of the most thrilling theatrical scenes anywhere in the world. You should definitely book tickets to see a West End play or play while you’re in London.
You can browse Ticketmaster to find tickets to all the major shows at the West End Theatres, including Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts I and II.
Another option is to choose an “Off West End” show. This is a play that takes place in a different venue than the one located in London’s West End. This covers many great venues, including The National Theatre or The Young Vic. These are two of my favorite theatres in London.
It’s easy to squeeze in the National Theatre into your London day trip. Although it is on the opposite side of the river, the National Theatre is just a short walk from Covent Garden. The Young Vic is about 15 minutes away. You can also choose from three theatres within the National Theatre.
Whatever your preference, a trip the the theatre can make you cultured and b) allow you to fully immerse yourself in London during your one-day stay.
That’s it! You’re done with all the hard work. (I don’t blame you for taking the time to give yourself a congratulatory pat. I am). Now, you can go to Soho and enjoy a few drinks. Drinks and dinner are easy compared to the rest.
Soho is full of options for places to drink or eat.
It all depends on your goals. If you are looking for a fun night out, I recommend Disrepute or Swift Bar followed with a meal at Bob Bob Ricard. You know, the one that has the champagne booths and the best food.
Yauatcha, another option, is the best place to get delicious dim sum.
Bodega Negra is a great option if you are looking for something more affordable. They offer delicious Mexican food and some amazing cocktails. Flat Iron serves up delicious steaks, Pizza Pilgrims Hawt, and fresh-made pizzas at affordable prices.
If you feel like you have some life left, Soho has Ronnie Scotts, which is one of London’s top jazz clubs. (There are many other clubs, too, if your heart desires to be large or go home, but these days I go home).
You’re done! I hope that you enjoyed your time in London. It’s time to go to bed and get some beauty sleep.