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What To Do in London in One Day
London, the capital city of England and the United Kingdom, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, and with good reason. A true melting pot, London is famous for historical sites interspersed with modern skyscrapers, Royal traditions, British charm, and elegant green areas hidden amongst vibrant neighbourhoods.
In this London travel guide, you’ll find a complete one day itinerary of all the most important must see London attractions, with an interactive map, organised to make the best use of your time.
We also share recommendations for central places to stay, ideas about where to eat local food, and tips about how to make the most of your 24 hours in London.
When to Visit London
London is a beautiful city no matter what time of year you visit. The summers are not too hot, the winters are not too cold. But I would say that rain is inevitable, so it’s best to embrace it, and don’t leave your hotel without an umbrella!
As a green city, London’s many parks spend the spring and summer months in full bloom with seas of colourful flowers and plants. Summer is also one of the only chances you might get to see inside Buckingham Palace, the Queen’s official London residence. However, summer is also the busiest time in London, especially mid-July to early September, which is when the school holidays are in the UK.
To avoid the crowds, you might want to look at late March to April, or mid-September through to November. It might be cooler, but to have more of the city to yourself and better deals on flights and hotels, so it’s perhaps worth it.
December is a magical time to visit London with many Christmas celebrations, dazzling festive lights and decorations adorning the major streets, outdoor skating rinks and plenty of shopping from busy high street stores to local Christmas markets. Much like summer, December in London can be busy and result in higher prices.
Is this your first time visiting the UK? Get all the information you need in our United Kingdom Travel Guide, including what to pack, the best time of year to go, getting there and practical tips to help you have the best trip!
London Trip Resources
Getting to London
There are five different international airports you can fly into for London, all offer great transport links into the city. Heathrow Airport is only 14 miles west of the city and is London’s main airport. Gatwick Airport is 29 miles south of the city and is London’s second airport.
You can also fly into London City Airport, which is the closest airport to the city being 6 miles east. Stansted Airport is 42 miles northeast of London and is mainly used by economy carriers, as is Luton Airport, which is 28 miles north of London.
From Heathrow Airport, the quickest way to get into central London is on the Heathrow Express, the train is available from all of Heathrow’s terminals, it runs every 15 minutes and takes 15 minutes to get to Paddington Station, you can buy your tickets at the airport train station or pre-buy here.
The Elizabeth Line, which was only opened in 2022, runs from all of Heathrow’s Terminals and the journey takes between 30-35 minutes depending on your chosen stop. The train runs regularly throughout the day, you can touch in and out using your contactless credit or debit card.
The Piccadilly line on the London Underground will be the slowest route but also the cheapest. You can catch the underground from all of Heathrow’s terminals and the trains leave every 5-7 minutes and take just under an hour to get to central London.
However, there are many stops along the way that allow you to move through the underground system to get to your desired location. The Piccadilly line also runs a night service on Friday and Saturday nights, except from Terminal 4. You can touch in and out with your contactless credit or debit card.
From Gatwick Airport the best way to London is on the Gatwick Express, the trains leave every 30 minutes and take between 30-40 minutes to get into the city. You can buy your Gatwick Express tickets here.
From London City Airport you should take the DLR (Docklands Light Railway), the trains leave every 15 minutes and take 21 minutes to get to Bank station, from there you can transfer to the London Underground to get to your final destination. You can touch in and out with your contactless credit or debit card.
From Luton Airport you can catch a train from Luton Airport Parkway Station, which is a 10min shuttle bus ride away, once at the station trains run every 10 minutes and take between 25-40 minutes to get to London St Pancras, you can buy your tickets here.
You can of course, also take taxis, Uber’s or a private transfer from all the airports, however, traffic in and around London is very very busy and journeys can take much longer than expected, it would also be by far the most expensive option.
Where to Stay in London
YHA St Pancras in London is right opposite both St Pancras & Kings Cross Station, and only a 5 minute walk to Euston so all your transport links for the city are covered. If you fancy walking you are only about a 25-30 minute walk to Covent Garden, Soho, and Oxford Street, the British Museum is less than 1km away.
Rooms are dormitory style and some have an en suite bathroom, while others have shared bathroom facilities. There is also a bar with a good selection of food and drinks and laundry facilities.
The Z Hotel in Holborn is a great option for a budget hotel, located within easy walking distance of Covent Garden, Oxford Street, Southbank, and the London Eye. If you are taking in a west-end show most of the theatres will only be minutes away. This hotel offers real value for money.
The rooms are modern and simply designed, and can be quite small, some are internal without windows (the cheaper option) and all come with a private bathroom. The hotel also has a cool bar for a drink before heading out to sample the famous London nightlife.
The Sea Containers Hotel is located on the banks of the river Thames, housed in the famed Sea Containers House, you are only minutes from Tate Modern, The London Eye, Covent Garden, and the theatre district.
The hotel was designed by Tom Dixon and each room is bespoke, some feature river views and some have a balcony. The hotel is also home to a wonderful riverside restaurant, a fantastic cocktail bar on the ground floor as well as a rooftop bar called 12th Knot. It also houses a 56-seat on-site cinema.
This is a really fun hotel to stay in for 24 hours in London.
If you want to be right in the middle of buzzing London, stay at The Trafalgar St James Hotel. This recently re-opened hotel is tucked into the southwest corner of Trafalgar Square itself, giving unrivaled, on the doorstep access to the beating heart of the city.
With friendly staff, luxe bedrooms, and a to-die-for roof terrace bar, where you can get up close and personal with Lord Nelson atop his column, this is a fantastic spot to lay your head after seeing the best of London in a day.
What to See & Do in London
The great thing about London is that a lot of the major sights you’ll want to see if you’re on a flying visit are located a short distance from each other.
London One Day Itinerary Interactive Map
How to use this map – Use your fingers (or computer mouse) to zoom in and out. Click or touch the icons to get more info about a place, and click the arrow in the box top left to open the index. To add to your own Google Maps account, click the star next to the title of the map.
To try and beat the crowds, and sometimes long lines in busy seasons, start your day at the city’s museums, without doubt one of the best free things to do in London. The Natural History Museum, the Science Musuem and the Victoria and Albert Museum are all great options, and are conveniently situated next to each other on Cromwell Road at the South Kensington Tube station.
The Natural History Museum, with its endless rooms of animals, plants and dinosaurs, will keep kids both young and old occupied for hours, and is a favourite London place to visit for families.
Interactive and thought-provoking, the Science Museum is a great place to see, touch and experience science first-hand. From space travel to IMAX, there’s something for all the family.
The Victoria and Albert Museum next door focuses on the history of art and designs, whilst bringing it to life for the visitor.
It’s a bit less stodgy than the British Museum in Bloomsbury, which has over eight million artefacts and could take you weeks to get around!
St Paul’s Cathedral
There has been a place of worship where St Paul’s Cathedral stands on Ludgate Hill for over 1400 years. This whole area of London is steeped in rich history, from Roman remains and medieval buildings to the the Great Fire of London in 1666, which devastated much of the area, including the ‘old’ St Paul’s Cathedral.
Designed by Sir Christopher Wren and built between 1675 and 1710, this glorious cathedral is famous for its dome, at 111m high it is one of the highest in the world. St Pauls has been a feature on the London skyline, surrounded by the smaller spires of Wren’s city churches, for over 300 years.
Highlights of a visit to St Pauls include the Crypt, where you’ll find the tombs of Sir Christoper Wren himself, as well as those of Admiral Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington, and the Whispering Gallery, which clings to the base of the dome structure and provides fantastic views both above and below. A visit to St Pauls really is one of the unmissable things to do in London in one day.
TOP TIP: It’s probably too far to walk the four miles to St Paul’s Cathedral from South Kensington, so hop on the tube. Take the District and Circle line (the green and yellow one) to Cannon Street station, from there it’s a four minute walk to St Pauls.
Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre
In the afternoon walk off your lunch with a stroll over the Millenium Bridge along Bankside, next to the Thames. Wander past cute local streets and shops while being serenaded by exceptional street musicians, until you arrive at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, where there will no doubt be a “poet for hire” outside to write you a sonnet for a fee.
Although not the original theatre, which burned down centuries earlier, this one stands close to the original site and is an almost identical replica right down to the thatched roof.
The circular shape helps achieve the best possible sound quality for the performances, there are cheap standing tickets and only certain seats (the more expensive ones) are covered in case it rains.
And it’s London, so it very well might! Otherwise the theatre is open to the elements, but well worth a tour, or if you have time and the performances line up, catch a matinee.
TOP TIP: If you have the energy, why not come back and catch a midnight matinee? Starting at 11.59pm, as the city is going to sleep (as much as it ever does), you’ll enjoy an atmospheric performance, with the added drama of watching the play under the stars.
If you prefer your art to be a little more contemporary, skip the Globe Theatre and make for the Tate Modern, home to the nation’s collection of British and international modern art from 1900 to the present day.
The Tate Modern London is housed in the former Bankside Power Station. The building is almost the same size as Westminster Abbey, with the iconic central chimney standing 99 meters tall. The building was converted and opened to the public in 2000.
TOP TIP: The best bit of this building is the top floor of the Switch House, which has a viewing terrace with far-reaching views over the London skyline, and can be accessed free of charge! The view of the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral is particularly impressive.
With historical buildings at every turn, gorgeous views of this iconic city, and a less frantic feel than being in the centre of London, you’re guaranteed to love the walk from Shakespeare’s Globe and the Tate Modern, all the way along Bankside and the South Bank.
You’ll pass the Royal Festival Hall, and the elegant steel pedestrian Golden Jubilee Bridges on the way, as well as a colourful and eclectic collection of market vendors, food trucks and street performers.
The London Eye is a fantastic way to see the city, with panoramic views over all of London’s historic and iconic buildings. You’ll have plenty of time to take photos and check out the key tourist attractions from the air!
The eye is one of the tallest observation wheels in the world, and London’s top attraction, so you need to book well in advance. We recommend choosing the fast track option with your ticket – you’ll get on board in half the time.
SEA LIFE Centre London Aquarium
Home to over 500 species in fouteen themed zones, SEA LIFE is a popular attraction, especially if you’re visiting London with kids.
Explore the frozen extremities of the Antarctic and meet Gentoo penguins, step into an incredible interactive jellyfish experience (if you dare!), stroke a starfish and discover the UK’s largest living coral reef.
Houses of Parliament
As you reach Westminster Bridge you’ll get an impressive view of the Houses of Parliament, also known as the Palace of Westminster, and Big Ben, which just gets more amazing the closer you are, walking across the bridge.
The British government buildings are anything but stuffy and boring. Consider spending longer here and plan a tour of the buildings.
Explore the area around Parliament Square Garden to see Big Ben and Westminster Abbey, before take a right into Parliament Street for a quick view of Downing Street, where the Prime Minister lives.
Parliament Street becomes Whitehall at this point, and if you continue along, you’ll see mounted soldiers of one of the Household Cavalry regiments guarding the entrance to Horse Guards Parade. Unless there is an event on, their role is purely ceremonial and you can pass through, whilst admiring their very shiny boots, to the parade ground itself.
You’ll notice an ivy clad building on the corner of the parade square, this is the Old Admiralty Building, which is opposite the War Rooms (part of the Imperial War Museums), from where Churchill planned his World War Two victory.
From here, head right through pretty St James’s Park to The Mall. Stroll down this famous London street towards Buckingham Palace, known affectionately by Brits as ‘Buck House’, residence of the Queen and her family.
The Palace, if you’re not at a time of year to be able to explore inside, is still one of the top attractions in London. It’s easy to see why, with its regal status and the ever-present hope that the Queen might be waving back from one of the windows. She probably won’t be, but fans of The Crown can pretend!
TOP TIP: To see the Queens Guard close-up, heading back towards the Admiralty Arch from Buckingham Palace, take a left after the Africa Statue before taking a right into Cleveland Row. Here you’ll find the ‘back door’ to Clarence House and St James’s Palace, which is guarded by a soldier in full ceremonial gear, including a bearskin. Have a photo taken, but don’t try and engage – you’ll just get silence!
The West End
From Buckingham Palace you can walk back along The Mall or Picadilly until you reach Trafalgar Square. This famous large square is home to Nelson’s Column and the four enormous Landseer Lion statues, and the gateway to London’s West End theatre district.
Before you leave the square, make sure to admire the architectural gem, St Martin-in-the-Fields church. From here, you can loop up to to the ever-busy Piccadilly Circus, before meandering on to Leicester Square and Chinatown.
From there, make your way into the delightful tangle of lanes between Charring Cross Road and lively Covent Garden. Lined with bookshops, independent traders, cool cafes and traditional pubs, these alleys are a lively place in the late afternoon.
After a filling dinner at a traditional British pub the best way to top off any night in London is a trip to the London theatre. The West End is littered with theatres big and small, showing everything from world-wide hits like Phantom of the Opera and Lion King, to independent plays featuring a celebrity actor or two if you’re lucky.
Take the opportunity to get a little dressed up and soak in the majestic splendour of an old West End theatre. If your show finishes early enough, enjoy a night cap in a cool and quirky Soho bar before going back to your hotel.
Other United Kingdom Travel Guides
Where to Eat in London
This mid-19th century market standing under the south end of London Bridge is about at traditionally English as you can get and is the perfect place to find a variety of food for lunch.
On a nice day, grabbing some locally made food here then wandering over to Bankside, just a couple minutes away, to sit on the wall and eat your lunch with a fabulous view of the city, is one of the best things to do when in London.
One side of Borough Market is mostly produce, fresh meats and locally crafted deli items that you can take home. The other side has stalls stocked with crafts, baked goods, delectable sweets and hot food where you can sample many different cuisines.
The Old Bank of England
A proper British pub, the Old Bank of England serves traditional English pub food such as fish & chips and steak pie, alongside more modern, but equally delicious dishes. The food is excellent, but the setting is even more so.
The pub is within the building that was the law courts branch of the Bank of England up until the 1970s, it makes the ideal setting for a hearty meal and cold pint of beer when you’re visiting London.
Top Five London Travel Tips
- Get an Oyster Card. The Tube is expensive, but it will save you time (and feet). Getting a reloadable Oyster travel card gives you single fares for about half the price of paying cash, so even being in London for one day means you will save on getting around.
- Skip the London Pass, buying the pass will actually cost you more than if you follow our itinerary, where many of the suggested attractions are free, thus giving you a relatively cheap day in London.
- If you want to time your visit with the Changing of the Guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace, you might need to switch your morning and afternoon activities as it happens daily around 11am (10am on Sundays). But whatever time you go you’ll see the guards on duty outside the palace.
- Plan indoor activities and be prepared to flip your itinerary depending on the weather. London can be rainy, but having a museum, exhibition or other indoor activity as a backup plan is a great idea.
- Head to one of the ticket booths around Piccadilly Circus or Leicester Square for cheap ‘day of show’ tickets. The best way to see a West End show for less, if you’re not fussy what you see.
More Than One Day in London
If you have just another half or one day in London, add these things to do in London and day trips to your London itinerary;
Explore the Tower of London
The Tower of London is an almost 1000 year old castle in central London with a long and gory history. Two of Henry VIII’s wives were imprisoned here before they were beheaded. Today you can see the Beefeaters and ravens that guard the Tower, learn of the torture devices used on prisoners and see the priceless crown jewels up close. You’ll also have great views of the famous Tower Bridge from here.
The ancient stone circle of Stonehenge is even more incredible in real life than it is in any pictures you’ve ever seen. This fantastic, highly reviewed, full day trip from London to Stonehenge also covers the Royal Windsor Castle and Roman Bath, giving you three historic British destinations in one!
Visit Harry Potter!
Discover behind-the-scenes secrets and hear about the filmmaking techniques used to make the magic of the Harry Potter films. Visit sets including the Great Hall, Dumbledore’s office, the Gryffindor common room, the Ministry of Magic, 4 Privet Drive, the Weasley kitchen and Diagon Alley.
Or why not take a Harry Potter London walking tour and visit famous filming locations like the Ministry of Magic, The Leaky Cauldron, Diagon Alley and Platform 9¾ at King’s Cross, where the Hogwarts Express leaves at the beginning of term.
Written for The Gap Decaders by Emma of Forever Lost in Travel.