Seeing London in a day is practically impossible.
London is an immense city. I have lived there for 8 years and I don’t think I have seen it all – and in case you haven’t noticed, I am the kind of person that goes around quite a bit.
If you are planning a quick getaway or will be in town on your way to a different destination and aim at visiting London in a day, I can tell you that you will only scratch the surface. But I am not going to tell you to give up. Quite the opposite, indeed. I have in fact decided to help you out with an itinerary that will allow you to make the most of London in a day. It pretty much is the same itinerary I’d follow whenever someone came to visit me from home and didn’t have much time in the city – so it is tried and tested.
Continue reading this post for tips on what to see in London in a day, and how to best plan your day to fully make the most of it. At the end of the post, I will also include some practical tips to plan your visit.
Guided Tours Of London
If you follow my guidance, you can see London in a day quite easily even independently. If you are not comfortable exploring on your own, if you’d rather have guidance and the chance of a completely hassle free day, you may want to join a guided tour. I have selected a couple below that go to most of the places I mention in this post. You’ll only have to worry about bringing your camera and wearing comfortable shoes.
Great guided tours to see London in a day:
- London In a Day: Tower of London tour, Westminster Abbey & Changing of the Guard – this is the best tour of London you can hope for. It is pricey, but considering that it lasts 8 full hours and that you see a lot of the city, it actually is great value for money.
- London top sights: fun tour with a local guide – a more budget friendly option.
Using A London Pass
I am a bit reluctant to recommend getting a London Pass if you only have a day in London. All in all, I think it is not good value for money – it may well be more convenient to join a guided tour. Keep in mind that with a London Pass you will have to book all attractions separately too.
If you still think this is a good deal, these are your best options:
- The London Pass with access to over 80 attractions – the one-day pass costs $100 USD.
- London 5 attractions pass – a slightly cheaper option but it only gives you access to 5 attractions.
A Few Notes About This London In A Day Itinerary
Let me get one thing straight first of all: you won’t be able to get inside all of the attractions mentioned in this post – certainly not if you only have a day in London.
In any case, I will be sharing information on how to get tickets for all the attractions I will be mentioning (unless of course they are 100% free to visit, in which case I will specify that too). It’s up to you whether you visit a place inside or not – I certainly recommend going inside the Tower of London and going up the London Eye. In case you decided to go inside, you really need to get skip the line and / or fast track tickets. This will save you a good chunk of time and allow you to visit more.
You see, London is one of the most visited cities in the world. Places like the Tower of London or the London Eye get thousands of visitors every day and there may be a line at the ticket counter.
For the purpose of this itinerary, I will assume you have a day in London – meaning at least 12 full hours in the city, with an early morning arrival and a late evening train or flight to travel back. It would be certainly better if you could count on a full 24 hours though!
Some other helpful tips to make the most of London in a day:
- Eat lunch on the go. Places like Pret-A-Manger but even grocery stores such as Tesco, Sainsbury, Marks and Spencer and even Boots, the pharmacy chain, will have a selection of salads and sandwiches you can grab for a quick lunch.
- If you don’t already have an Oyster Card for public transportation, get a day pass. You really don’t want to pay for a metro ticket every time. More on the Oyster Card below.
- Dress as comfortably as possible!
Finally, without further ado, here is your itinerary to see London in a day.
11 Beautiful Places To Visit In London In A Day
Get a map of your London in a day itinerary here. Make sure to check it out before going to London, to get an idea of the walking distances. Keep in mind that to move from one attraction to the other you may at times have to use the metro.
Tower of London
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: The Tower of London is openTuesday to Saturday from 9:00 am to 5:30 pm and Sunday and Monday from 10:00 am to 5:30 pm.
NEAREST METRO STATION: Tower Hill on the District and Circle lines.
Whether you intend to visit London in a day or in a month, you really can’t skip the Tower of London. A former prison – this is where any unwanted person would be taken and (eventually) executed (the best known case is that of Anne Boleyn, one of the wives of King Henry VIII). Now, it is where the Crown Jewels are held, in a fantastic exhibit.
TIP: Try to be at the Tower of London for its opening time and make sure to get tickets in advance. Here are the best options:
- Tower of London and Crown Jewels exhibition ticket – a basic skip the line option with access to all areas.
- Early Access Crown Jewels with Opening Ceremony and Complete Tower of London Guided Tour – a great guided tour but keep in mind that it lasts 3 hours, so not ideal if you are attempting to see London in a day.
For more information, read my post “How To Get Tower Of London Tickets.”
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: The bridge is always open. The exhibit is open daily from 9:30 am to 5:00 pm.
Leaving the Tower of London, walk left and after a short flight of stairs you will find yourself on Tower Bridge, the most famous one in London. You won’t have time to visit the Tower Bridge Exhibit and walk on the glass walkway connecting the two towers, but if for any reason you want to, make sure to get tickets here. From Tower Bridge, take it right towards the South Bank.
A walk along the South Bank
The South Bank is one of my favorite parts of London and it offers stunning views of the city – the photos of the Tower of London and of Tower Bridge that you can see in this post were taken from there. You won’t have time to walk the length of the South Bank all the way to the London Eye, so once you are done taking photos, head to London Bridge metro station and take a westbound train towards Waterloo.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: London Eye has different opening times depending on the season. It usually opens at 10:00 am and closes between 6:00 and 8:30 pm.
NEAREST METRO STATIONS: Westminster, Charing Cross, Embankment and Waterloo. For the purpose of this itinerary, you will have to get off at Waterloo.
London Eye is a must! This will be your only chance during the day to get birds-eye views of the city and I promise you they won’t disappoint – I went up on a rainy day a few years ago and truly enjoyed it. You will be able to see the Houses of Parliament and the Big Ben, among many other attractions.
GOOD TO KNOW: Close to the London Eye, London Dungeon is one of the most fun places to visit in town. If you decide to drop another attraction in this itinerary, this one is a great alternative. You can get joint tickets to visit both attractions for a discounted price here. Tours of the London Dungeon last 90 minutes.
Houses of Parliament and Big Ben
These are two of London’s most iconic buildings, and the center of the political decisions in the United Kingdom. Though you can take a tour of the Houses of Parliament (such as this Exclusive Houses of Parliament Tour & Skip the Line Westminster Abbey Tour) I actually recommend limiting yourself to taking photos from the bridge before you move to another attraction.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: Open Mondays to Fridays from 9:30 am to 3:30 pm, Saturdays from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm. Closing time is 6:00 pm on Wednesday. Closed on Sundays.
You will only see one church on this day, so you may as well go on! Westminster Abbey is the most famous church in the United Kingdom. Founded in 960 AD, it’s been hosting most coronations and royal wedding ceremonies since 1066. The interior is just as spectacular as the exterior.
It will take an hour or so to visit, and you are probably better off getting a ticket in advance. These are the best options:
- Westminster Abbey entry ticket and multi-media guide – a self guided tour for a flexible entrance.
- Westminster Abbey skip the line ticket with audioguide – similar to the option above.
If you follow this itinerary to see London in a day you won’t arrive at Buckingham Palace in time to see the Changing of the Guard ceremony, and you won’t even have time to visit inside (guided tours last a couple of hours). Home of the Windsor, it is an iconic place and the location, right in front of St. James’ Park, is equally stunning.
Should you have skipped some of the attractions above and find yourself with some extra time on your hand, you may want to visit inside. These are a few good guided tours:
- Buckingham Palace: The State Room entrance tickets – a budget friendly audio-guided tour that lasts about 3 hours. Probably the best option for the purpose of this itinerary as there are two departure times – one at 3:15 pm and one at 3:45 pm.
- Changing of the Guard and Buckingham Palace tour – a good guided tour that includes the Changing of the Guard ceremony.
- Buckingham Palace tickets with Royal walking tour – the tour starts at 1:30 pm and lasts 2.5 hours.
At about 17 minutes walk along St. James’ Park from Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square is one of London’s most beautiful squares and a hangout place for locals and tourists alike. Gone are the days when you could climb the lions and take a photo sitting on them (I have a few of those myself) but regardless of that, this is a place you need to stop by.
The highlight of Trafalgar Square is the National Gallery – London’s best collection of art. It is free to get in, so if you have time or if you are visiting London on a Friday, when it is open late, definitely go in!
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: The National Gallery is open every day from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. It closes at 9:00 pm on Fridays. Admission is free but you can get an audio-guide from the Sainsbury wing for £5 (around $5.2 USD).
TIP: Check out the National Gallery’s website for special exhibits. If there is one on the day you are visiting and you are interested in getting in, definitely book in advance!
Your itinerary to see London in a day continues to take you to Piccadilly Circus, located at short walking distance from Trafalgar Square. Depending on the season, it will be dark by the time you get there, and you will see a completely illuminated square with the flashy lights of the commercial signs. That’s the best! Make sure to capture it on camera (I hope you are a better photographer than I am!).
Minutes away from Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square used to be the hotspot of London nightlife. I have great memories of dancing the night away at the Hyppodrome and the Equinox. I guess that gives in my age! Now you will find many cinemas, a few touristy restaurants, some souvenir shops and a garden at its center. From there, you can continue walking to Covent Garden.
This is the best place where to conclude a memorable day. Once a covered flower market, it now is a series of upscale shops, some market stalls and a lot of cafés and nice pubs. Street artists are never amiss at Covent Garden, so that is your chance for low cost entertainment.
If you happen to be in London around Christmas time, you really can’t miss it as it is simply gorgeous with all the Christmas lights on!
Practical Tips To Make The Most Of London In A Day
Where to stay in London
Should you need to spend a night in London, you will be glad to know that there is an infinite choice of accommodation options in London. The main issue is that you will need to sort through the places to find something that gives you a decent balance in terms of location, services and cleanliness – which unfortunately is often an issue in London.
My recommendation is to stay somewhere central such as Kensington or Westminster Borough.
These are some places to stay in London I have especially picked for you:
- 41 – a plush hotel in a perfect location; expensive. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- The Duke Rooms London – small but well equipped rooms in a great location. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- The Darlington Hyde Park – clean rooms, great location. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- Locke at Broken Wharf – small equipped apartments in a central location. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- SoHostel – private rooms and dorms for travelers on a budget. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
For more information, read my posts The Best Airbnbs In London and Where To Stay In London: The Best Areas And Hotels.
Map of Where to Stay in London
The map below allows you to compare hotels and Airbnbs in London. You can click to enlarge it and find a place within your budget range and in your favorite location.
When to visit London
A great place to visit year round, London is beautiful at Christmas if you don’t mind the crowds and the bitterly cold weather. Otherwise, I recommend visiting when the days are longer and the weather milder – April and May or September and October.
How to get to London
There are 5 airports in London. London Heathrow, London Gatwick and London City are all served by main airlines; Stansted and Luton are served by budget airlines. London City is in the Docklands so in theory the closes to the center of London. You can get there by bus.
The easiest way to get from all the airports to the city is by train – it’s faster, more comfortable and you can get tickets in advance. Here is a breakdown of the main airports and their transportation options:
Heathrow: Express train to Paddington; trains runt every 15 minutes. You can get your train tickets here.
Gatwick: Express train to Victoria Station; trains run every 15 minutes. You can get your train tickets here.
Stansted: Express train to London Liverpool Street; trains run every 15 minutes. You can get your train tickets here.
Alternatively, these are some good transfer options
Make sure to check out my post “How To Get From Heathrow To London.”
How to move around London
London has an incredible web of buses and metro (called underground or tube). For the purpose of this itinerary, you are better off using London Underground. I shall warn you: it can be slow; metro stations are not accessible; and it doesn’t run 24/7.
To save some money on transportation, get an Oyster Card. You use it to touch in and touch out every time you travel, and you can top it up at any metro station. You can get it at the airport or even online and have it mailed. You can get yours here.
Luggage storage in London
You will find luggage storage pretty much in any train station in London. Stasher is a good, reliable company for that. You need to book in advance.
Other useful tips
Bring a guide book
There are some pocket size guide books you may want to bring with you – pick one that has a map and is up-to-date.
These are some good ones:
Get a data plan for your smartphone
Your day in London will be a whole lot better if you can use Google Maps to check your whereabouts. Make sure your have enough data to navigate the web or use apps even in London.
Mind the scams
You got it! Scams are as much of an issue in London as they are in any other city crowded with tourists. Don’t fall for the 3 cups or 3 cards game you may seen on the South Bank and definitely don’t fall for the fake theater tickets sold in Leicester Square or the fake charity collectors. Mind pickpockets in crowded places, especially metro stations and the metro.
Get a good travel insurance
Further readings about London
If you are looking for more itineraries, check out these other posts:
- My Favorite Secret Destinations in London
- 15 Amazing Day Trips From Paris
- The Best 5 Days London Itinerary
- An Easy To Follow Itinerary For 4 Days London
- A Perfect Itinerary To See London In 3 Days
- How To See London In 2 Days
- 10 Cool Things To Do In Covent Garden
- 15 Great Day Trips From London
- 5 Easy Ways Of Getting London Dungeon Tickets
- 7 Easy Ways Of Getting London Eye Tickets
- Where To Get The Most Impressive Views Of London
- How To Get Madame Tussauds London Tickets And Skip The Lines
- The 20 Best Museums In London
- The Best Sunday Markets In London