How To Make The Most Of London In A Day

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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. if you only have one day in London, you will only be able to see a fraction of what the city has to offer. Some may tell you not to even bother going, but I won’t. In fact, I have in fact decided to help you out with an itinerary that will allow you to make the most of your day in London.

It pretty much is the same itinerary I used to follow whenever someone came to visit me from Italy and didn’t have much time in the city – so it is tried and tested.

Continue reading to discover the best places to visit in London in a day, with lots of free things to do in London and for tips on how to best plan your day to fully make the most of it.

St Paul's seen from the Millennium Bridge
St Paul’s Cathedral as seen from the Millennium Bridge

A Few Notes About This Itinerary

If you only have one day in London, you won’t actually be able to walk inside all of the attractions mentioned in this post – you will need to make a choice of what to see more in depth, and what to skip. I certainly recommend going inside the Tower of London and up the London Eye, for which however you really need to get skip the line and / or fast track tickets.  

London is one of the most visited cities in the world. Places like the Tower of London or the London Eye (among others) get thousands of visitors every day and there may be a line at the ticket counter. 

I will be sharing information on how to get tickets for all the places to visit in London mentioned in this post, and will point out whenever an attraction is free to access.

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. It would be certainly better if you could count on 24 full hours though! 

Finally, I recommend having lunch on the go – you will find that a lot of places offer good sandwiches and salad options; and dress comfortably.

Make sure to also read my post What To Wear In London.

Finally, without further ado, here is your itinerary to see the best of London in a day.

Tower of London
Photo by Xann Marketing @shutterstock

11 Places To Visit In London In A Day

Get a map of your 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

This is one of my favorite places to visit in London. The Tower of London was built in the 11th century upon wishes of William the Conqueror. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, throughout the centuries it served many purposes. Once a royal palace, it the became an armory, a treasury, a menagerie and as the Royal Mint.

Eventually, it was turned into a prison, 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.

In fact, Henry VIII had four people beheaded there (but many more right outside, on Tower Hill). During WWI and WWII 12 men who had been accused of espionage were executed at the Tower of London – the last was Josef Jakobs, a German spy that was executed in 1941.

Today, the Tower of London is where the Crown Jewels are held, in a fantastic exhibit. When you visit you can also see the prisoners’ graffiti in the Beauchamp and Salt Towers; and the Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula.

Try to be at the Tower of London for its opening time and make sure to get tickets in advance. You can get your Tower of London tickets here.

The Tower of London is open daily from 9:00 am to 5:30 pm. The closest metro station is Tower Hill on the District and Circle lines. 

For more information, read my post How To Get Tower Of London Tickets.

Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge

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 (suspended at 40 meters / 131 feet from the ground) connecting the two towers, but if for any reason you want to, make sure to get tickets tickets in advance.

Once you cross Tower Bridge, take it right towards the South Bank.

The bridge is always open. The exhibit is open daily from 9:30 am to 6:00 pm.

Tower of London
A view of the Tower of London from the South Bank

A walk along the South Bank

The walk along the South Bank is one of my favorites in 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.

You should also read my post Where To Get The Best Views Of London.

Group photo on the London Eye
Group photo during our last visit of the London Eye

London Eye

Even with just a day in London, a ride on the 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, and again on my last trip to London (I visited 3 times in the last 3 months) and yes, I was still impressed!

The London Eye measures 135 meters (about 443 feet) in height, and it is one of the world’s tallest ferris wheel, after the Star of Nanchang in China and the Ain Dubai.

This impressive Ferris Wheel was designed as a temporary structure by David Marks and Julia Barfield to celebrate the millennium. Construction took seven years, and once it opened it soon became clear that both locals and tourists appreciated it so much that it became a permanent part of the city’s landscape.

London Eye

The London Eye has 32 pods, each holding up to 25 passengers. A ride lasts 30 minutes, and it goes nice and slow so that you can enjoy the views, which span all the way to the Houses of Parliament and the Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, the Shard, the O2 Arena, Wembley Stadium and the Battersea Power Station.

There is often a line to get on the London Eye, so you will be better off getting skip the line or even fast track tickets. You can get your tickets on the official London Eye website here.

The London Eye has different opening times depending on the season. Check the official website for more information. The nearest subway stations are Westminster, Charing Cross, Embankment and Waterloo. For the purpose of this itinerary, you will have to get off at Waterloo.

Close to the London Eye, the 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 on the official website. Tours of the London Dungeon last 90 minutes.

You should also read my post 7 Easy Ways Of Getting London Eye Tickets.

views of London
The Houses of Parliament and the Big Ben as seen from London Eye

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. The Houses of Parliament is the seat of the British Parliament. The Big Ben is – quite simply – the most iconic clock tower in the world.

Though you can take a tour of the Houses of Parliament I actually recommend limiting yourself to taking photos from the bridge before you move to the next attraction.

Westminster Abbey
Photo by Marco Rubino @shutterstock

Westminster Abbey

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. It’s also where Isaac Newton and many other notable Brits are buried. The interior is just as spectacular as the exterior. 

Westminster Abbey is open Mondays to Fridays. It’s only open for services on Sundays. It will take an hour or so to visit, and you are probably better off getting a ticket in advance. You can do that get your tickets on GetYourGuide here.

2 days in London
Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace

Home of the Windsor, Buckingham Palace is an iconic place and the location, right in front of St. James’ Park, is equally stunning. 

According to this itinerary you won’t arrive at Buckingham Palace in time to see the Changing of the Guard ceremony (which starts at 10:45 am).

In case you are set on seeing the Changing of the Guard ceremony, you may actually want to leave extra early to visit the other attractions and hire a guide to make the most of the experience. It is recommended you arrive there no later than 10:15 am.

I recommend this Changing of the Guard tour – it literally walks you along the various steps of the ceremony.

You may want to visit the palace, but unfortunately at the time of writing, visits are suspended so you can’t really go inside anyways. Make sure to check the official website of Buckingham Palace for information on re-openings.

winter in London

Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery

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 – in fact, this is one of the best free things to do in London – so if you have time or if you are visiting London on a Friday, when it is open till late, definitely go in! It will take you a minimum of two hours to explore.

When it first opened, in 1824, the National Gallery was located at a house at Pall Mall, and only had 38 pictures. The museum in its current location opened in 1838 and has a permanent exhibit of more than 2,300 paintings that range from medieval art to impressionism.

Highlights of the visit will likely be the pieces by Van Gogh and Cezanne.

The National Gallery is open every day from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. It closes at 9:00 pm on Fridays. There is no admission fee. However, you must pay to get an audioguide. 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!  

You should also read my post 22 Best Museums In London.

London itinerary
Piccadilly Circus is one of the most popular places to visit in London

Piccadilly Circus

Your itinerary to see London in a day continues to take you to Piccadilly Circus, a 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!).

Leicester Square
Photo by Claudio Divizia @shutterstock

Leicester Square

Minutes away from Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square used to be the hotspot of London nightlife when I first visited in the 1990s. I have great memories of dancing the night away at the Hyppodrome and the Equinox.

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.

London itinerary
Covent Garden

Covent Garden

This is one of the best places to visit in London to conclude a memorable day. Once strictly a covered flower market, it now is home to a covered market (Apple Market), the Jubilee Market (where you can shop for classic souvenirs), and a series of upscale shops, some market stalls and a lot of cafés and nice pubs.

Street artists are never amiss in Covent Garden, so that is your chance for low cost entertainment too. 

Apple Market

Also located in Covent Garden you’ll find London Transport Museum, but chances are it will be closed by the time you get there. Don’t worry though: Covent Garden is the perfect place to enjoy some spontaneous time!

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!

Finally, if you want to grab dinner at the end of the day, I can wholeheartedly recommend two places:

DIN TAI FUNG – This Taiwanese restaurant is a local institution. I visited on a recent trip and enjoyed the many different kinds of dumplings. It may not be your typical pub, but locals love it and you should too! Make sure to book in advance as it is very popular.

PETERSHAM NURSERIES – Another fantastic restaurant in Covent Garden, this one has more of a focus on Italian fusion cuisine, with the use of strictly seasonal ingredients cooked to perfection. The menu changes on a regular basis. It’s quite expensive, but worth it. Again, you will have to book a table in advance.

You should also read my post 11 Best Things To Do In Covent Garden.

Views of St. Paul's from Tate Modern
The views of St. Paul’s Cathedral and Millennium Bridge from Tate Modern

Guided Tours Of London

I appreciate that even with this itinerary to see the best of London in a day you may still feel overwhelmed. If you are not comfortable exploring on your own, and would rather have guidance and the chance of a completely hassle free day, you should want to join a guided tour.

This London In a Day: Tower of London tour, Westminster Abbey & Changing of the Guard goes to most of the places to visit in London mentioned in this post and it is very highly rated. You’ll only have to worry about bringing your camera and wearing comfortable shoes. 

The Shard

Using A London Pass

If you only have a day in London, a London Pass is probably not worth it, and considering you would only be able to see some of the attractions it includes it may not be good value for money. In fact, you may find it more convenient to just join the guided tour I mentioned above.

Another thing to keep in mind is that with a London Pass you will have to book all attractions separately.

If you are still keen on exploring independently, you may want to get a London Pass here.

Better than the London Pass may actually be getting hop-on hop-off bus pass or even a hop-on hop-off cruise. It is a fun and hassle free way of getting from one attraction to the other. You can book your bus pass here or here and book the cruise here.

Big Ben from London Eye
A stunning view of the Big Ben and Houses of Parliament from the London Eye

Practical Guide

Where to stay in London

Should you need to spend a night in London, you will be glad to know that there is a wide range of accommodation options. 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, but there are some places I love that are in lesser known (yet very central) areas.

These are some places to stay in London I have especially picked for you:

For more information, read my posts The Best Airbnbs In London and Where To Stay In London: The Best Areas And Hotels.

London City Airport

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 closest to the center of London. You can get to central London from there by bus.

If you are landing in one of the other airports, the easiest way to get to the center of London is by train – it’s faster, more comfortable and you can get tickets in advance.

Otherwise, you can book your private transfer from the airport to the city center via Welcome Pickups here.

Make sure to check out my post How To Get From Heathrow To London.

London in a day
London Underground

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 the London Underground, though at times it can be slow; most metro stations are not easily accessible to travelers with limited mobility; and not all lines run 24/7 (most have very reduced service at night).

To save some money on transportation, use your contactless credit or debit card to tap in and out of the subway, or get an Oyster Card, which you also use to tap in and out every time you travel, and you can top it up at any metro station if necessary. 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.

Regent Street

Other useful tips 

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 and use apps even in London.

Mind the scams

Scams are not uncommon in London, so keep your eyes open. 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 on the metro.

Get a good travel insurance

Yes, even if you are planning to spend just a day in London you will need to get travel insurance.

Check out my post Why You Need A Good Travel Insurance and get your travel insurance here.

Further Readings

If you are looking for more itineraries, check out these other posts:

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Discover what to see and do in London in a day - via @clautavani

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