What you will see: See the landmarks from the top of the London Eye, then walk around the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus
It’s basically impossible to see all of London in one day – you’re going to have to pick and choose which places to see. That’s why we’ve written four completely different itineraries, so you can select the one that interests you the most. Idea No.1 makes a good introduction to the city because it includes many of the most famous landmarks.
We always recommend riding the London Eye at the beginning because a) it’s quite an exciting thing to do, and b) it will show you a lot of landmarks in a relatively short amount of time. Note: Buy your tickets beforehand as the queues can get very long, and you don’t want to waste time if you’ve only got a day (allow for 30-45 minutes queuing, and 30 minutes on the actual wheel). Read Craig’s review of the London Eye
You should know where Big Ben is now because you just saw it on the wheel, so cross over Westminster Bridge and take some photos of the Houses of Parliament (allow for 15 mins) and then walk over to Westminster Abbey.
Westminster Abbey is one of the most historic buildings in London and is the setting for coronations, Royal weddings and burials. We recommend spending at least 60-90 mins inside if you’ve got the time to spare. Read Craig’s review of Westminster Abbey
Cross over Parliament Square and head down Whitehall towards The Cenotaph. Just beyond that is No.10 Downing Street. You might like to spend 10 minutes in front of the famous gate to see if you can spot the Prime Minister. Read Craig’s review of Downing Street
Thirty seconds further on is one of the most popular tourist spots in London: the mounted soldiers at Horse Guards. Remember to walk through the central arch into the parade ground at the back, because that’s one of the finest sights in London. Read Craig’s review of Horse Guards
Now continue walking down Whitehall until you reach Trafalgar Square and Nelson’s Column. If you’re into art then you might like to spend 60-90 mins inside the National Gallery on the north side of the square. Read Craig’s review of the National Gallery
Head through Admiralty Arch and walk up The Mall towards Buckingham Palace (allow for 10-15 mins walking time). Now turn right into Green Park and keep going until you reach one of London’s poshest shopping streets: Piccadilly (10-15 mins walking time).
As you walk down here you’ll pass the Ritz Hotel, Fortnum & Mason and the Royal Academy of Arts, ending up under the neon lights of Piccadilly Circus. This is another one of London’s best photos. Read Craig’s review of Piccadilly Circus
Depending on what time you arrived in London it will probably be late afternoon or early evening now, so how about spending the rest of the night in the West End? Perhaps you could find a nice West End restaurant or pub and then see a theatre show? Or you might like to watch a movie in one of the big cinemas in Leicester Square.
What you will see: Sightseeing bus around the landmarks, Westminster Abbey, Churchill War Rooms or House of Commons, ceremony at Horse Guards, followed by a meal in the West End
If you just want to visit London and see as many landmarks as possible in 24 hours, then how about a sightseeing bus? The three most popular ones are Golden Tours, Big Bus London and Original Bus Tour. We suggest catching the Original Bus Tour’s Red Route from Trafalgar Square. You can find their big ticket office on the southwest corner of the square. Read Craig’s review of the Original Bus Tour
The bus will take you up Fleet Street past the Royal Courts of Justice and St. Paul’s Cathedral. You will get a great view of The Shard when you cross over the river, before re-crossing over Tower Bridge and then driving round the back of the Tower of London.
You will then see the Globe Theatre before turning left at Trafalgar Square down Whitehall towards Big Ben, which is where we suggest you get off (allow for 70 mins in total, but you might get unlucky with the traffic).
Have a walk around Parliament Square and take some photos (allow for 20 mins). Then stroll over to Westminster Abbey on the south-side of the square. This is the burial place of many of England’s greatest kings and queens. If you want to look inside then allow for 1½-2 hours. Read Craig’s review of Westminster Abbey
Option 1: House of Commons
You know have a choice of two things to do (just choose one). How about watching a debate inside the House of Commons? Tourists are usually surprised to find that not only is it free to get inside the Houses of Parliament, but they don’t even need a ticket. But please remember to check the date first because it closes for extended periods (allow for 1-1½ hours). Read Craig’s review of the House of Commons
Option 2: Churchill War Rooms
Alternatively, if you’re a Second World War buff then you might like to visit the Churchill War Rooms instead (5 mins walk). This atmospheric underground bunker was where Winston Churchill’s wartime government met during the Blitz, and still looks exactly as it did during the war (allow for 1½-2 hours). Read Craig’s review of the Churchill War Rooms
Walk down Whitehall and see if you can spot the Prime Minister through the gates of Downing Street. Read Craig’s review of Downing Street Two mins further along is one of London’s most popular photo-spots: the sentry boxes outside Horse Guards.
Continue walking to Trafalgar Square and take some photos of Nelson’s Column. How about ending your sightseeing day trip with an evening meal in the West End? There are plenty of great restaurants around Leicester Square (5 mins walk), or how about an authentic Chinese meal in Chinatown? Or you could try eating in Covent Garden as well (10-15 mins walk).
What you will see: A ride on the London Eye to see the landmarks from above, then walk along the river to see the Tate Modern, Globe Theatre and St. Paul’s, or carry on walking and climb up The Shard
One day is nowhere near enough time to see the whole of London, but lots of people try and rush around at supersonic speed trying to cram everything in. We think it’s much better to concentrate on just a few of the best attractions, so you can enjoy them, and then climb up something tall to see the rest. That’s what Idea No.3 is all about: you’re going to see plenty of landmarks, but from the 1,000 feet in the sky!
The London Eye is a great place to start your day (it’s No.2 in our London Bucket List). It’s also a great way to see lots of London landmarks in a very short time. Time is your enemy when you’re only in London for 24 hours, and if you get lucky with the queue you can be on and off the Eye inside an hour. It’s probably wise to buy your tickets beforehand, though (allow for 30-45 mins queuing, and 30 mins on the actual wheel). Read Craig’s review of the London Eye
Let’s have a walk along the Southbank past the Royal Festival Hall. If you look across the river then you’ll be able to see Cleopatra’s Needle. Once you get past Blackfriars Bridge you should see the tall chimney Tate Modern loom up on your right (allow for 20-30 mins walking time in total).
Option 1: Tate Modern and St. Paul’s Cathedral
This is home to Britain’s largest collection of modern art and ranks at No.2 in the list of London’s most visited attractions, but it’s fair to say that not everyone is going to enjoy it, so that’s why we’ve given you a few different options. You should pick two out of the three. If you’d like to have a look around the Tate then allow yourself 60-90 mins. Read Craig’s review of the Tate Modern
Now cross over the Millennium Bridge to St. Paul’s Cathedral. Christoper Wren’s masterpiece contains the tombs of Admiral Nelson and the Duke of Wellington, but tourists probably remember it as the place Charles and Diana got married. Try climbing up to the Whispering Gallery for a fantastic view of the cathedral floor. If you’re a bit braver then you can climb higher to the outside dome – or even higher to the top of the dome! (allow for 2 hours).
If it’s getting late and you’ve missed the last entry at 4 PM then don’t worry, because you can still enjoy the Evensong church service at 5 PM. This is one of our Top 10 free attractions and is a great way to round off the day. Read Craig’s review of St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Evensong service
Option 2: Globe Theatre and St. Paul’s Cathedral
Alternatively you could visit Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. If you come during the summer then you might be able to watch a Shakespeare play (it’s an open-air theatre so they always hold them in the afternoon). Otherwise you can settle for a guided tour of the playhouse instead (allow at least 3 hours for the play and 90 mins for the tour). Craig has reviewed both: watching a play and a guided tour
Depending on the time you should follow the Globe with either St. Paul’s Cathedral or the Evensong service.
If you don’t fancy either of those two options then how about ending your itinerary with The Shard? If you keep walking down the river then you’ll pass a couple of nice pubs and Francis Drake’s Golden Hinde. We recommend taking a detour into Borough Market for something to eat as this is no ordinary market – it’s full of gourmet food stalls. Read Craig’s review of Borough Market
The highlight of your day-trip will be the view from the top of the Shard. This is the tallest observation point in London and towers 1,000 feet above the skyline. You can see absolutely everything from up there. It almost feels as if your coming in to land at Heathrow Airport on an airplane, that’s how tall it is. Read Craig’s review of the Shard’s observation deck
What you will see: Changing the Guard, afternoon tea at The Ritz or Fortnum & Mason, Piccadilly Circus, shopping in Regent Street and Oxford Street, show in the West End
One of the first things that tourists put on their holiday itinerary is Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace, but it’s really really busy and you need to get there quite early to secure a decent view, so we recommend reading read Craig’s review before you go to see if you’ll like it.
Bear in mind that you need to get there by 9.30 AM if you want an okay view, and even earlier if you want to stand against the railings, and most of the big attractions don’t open until 10 AM, which means you won’t have enough time to do anything beforehand (especially when you remember that it’s an extra 10-15 min walk down the Mall to Buckingham Palace), so perhaps you can kill some time taking photos around Trafalgar Square and walking through St. James’s Park.
One of the best photo spots in the park is standing on the central bridge over the lake. If you look one way then you’ll see Buckingham Palace beyond the trees, and if you look the other then you’ll see Horse Guards Parade behind a fountain. Read Craig’s review of St. James’s Park
How about treating yourself to one of their famous afternoon teas? You should be able to make the sitting at 1.30 PM okay – but you’ll have to book up at least 2-3 months in advance (seriously!). They also have a very smart dress code (definitely no jeans, trainers or t-shirts), so check the details first. You should be out by 3 PM.
If you can’t reserve a table at The Ritz then try the afternoon tea at Fortnum & Mason instead, which is second only to Harrods as the poshest shop in London. You only have to book that about 1-2 weeks in advance for that one, and you should be out by 2.30 PM.
At the end of Piccadilly is Piccadilly Circus (10 min walk). You can return here in the evening, but the next 3-4 hours you might like to do some holiday shopping down Regent Street and Oxford Street – two of London’s busiest shopping streets. You’ll find Hamleys down Regent Street, Carnaby Street close to Oxford Circus, and Selfridges up the Marble Arch end of Oxford Street.
You can spend the evening watching a West End show Most of the big shows start at 7 PM or 7.30 PM. The cheapest tickets are from the TKTS booth in Leicester Square (that’s where they sell all of the unsold seats for knockdown prices).
What you will see: Visit Tower Bridge and the Tower of London, then walk around The City and see St. Paul’s Cathedral, and end your day with a meal and a show in the West End
Idea No.1 showed you the best landmarks around the City of Westminster, and this one does the City of London – the so-called ‘Square Mile’. Let’s start by taking some pictures of Tower Bridge (No.5 in our list of Top 10 photos) You might want to check the scheduled lift times before you go to see if you can catch it when the drawbridge opens. We don’t recommend going inside, but allow yourself 45 mins if you do. Read Craig’s review of Tower Bridge
Spend the next 2½ hours visiting the Tower of London. We’d normally suggest 3-4 hours for this, but seeing as you’re only in London for one day you’re going to have to rush it – sorry! Try a Yeoman Warder Tour with one of the Beefeaters (60 mins), and then nip into the White Tower and Waterloo Barracks afterwards for the Crown Jewels. Read Craig’s reviews of the Yeoman Warder Tour and Tower of London
Option 1: The Monument
You’ll need to get a map out now or you’ll probably get lost: head down Great Tower Street and then Eastcheap, and turn left when you see Pudding Lane. This was where the Great Fire of London started in 1666, but it’s a rather ugly street these days. What we’s come to see is Christopher Wren’s Monument. Allow yourself 45 mins to climb out (and another 10 mins to recover afterwards!) Read Craig’s review of The Monument
Option 2: Sky Garden
If you don’t fancy climbing up The Monument then this next one has got a lift: the Sky Garden (allow for 1 hour). This skyscraper has got a tropical garden at the top – a bit like the Palm House at Kew. It also has some fantastic views of the London skyline. Bear in mind that you need to book a time slot on their website in advance, so you’re going to have to rigidly stick to our timings in this itinerary if you want to squeeze everything in. Read Craig’s review of the Sky Garden
After you’ve completed either of those two options walk to Leadenhall Market and then down Cornhill towards Bank. This intersection has three of London’s finest buildings: the Bank of England, Mansion House and Royal Exchange. Read about Craig’s walk around The City
Now walk down Cheapside and you’ll end up at the rear of St. Paul’s Cathedral. If you’ve been dawdling then it may already be too late to enter, but if took our advice and skipped Tower Bridge and stuck with the timings then you should be able to see inside. If you fancy another climb then head up to the highest dome for another great view of the London skyline (allow for 1½ hours). Read Craig’s review of St. Paul’s Cathedral
You’ll probably be totally knackered from all that walking by now, so catch the No.23 bus towards Trafalgar Square from the south side of the Cathedral. This will take you straight up Fleet Street and past the Royal Courts of Justice.
What you decide to do with the rest of your night is up to you, but you have a couple of good choices from here. If you fancy something to eat then try one of the restaurants around Covent Garden Read Craig’s review of Covent Garden. Or you could stay on the bus until you reach Trafalgar Square and then take a five-minute stroll to Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus. This is the heart of the West End and there are plenty of good pubs around. Read Craig’s review of the West End. Or maybe you could get tickets for a theatre show or musical?
What you will see: Two of London’s best museums, then on to Harrods to do some shopping, ending with a concert at the Royal Albert Hall or an evening ride on the London Eye
Not everybody wants to see the famous landmarks when they come to London. Maybe they’ve seen them before, or maybe they’d rather just have a nice quiet day walking around the museums. That’s what this next itinerary is all about: you’re going to see two of London’s best museums and end it with a concert at the Royal Albert Hall or a nighttime ride on the London Eye.
These three museums are all next-door to each other, and you have to choose two of them.
Option 1: Natural History Museum
If you’re into nature then choose the Natural History Museum. They call this place the ‘dead zoo’ because it’s full of stuffed animals and fossilised skeletons. They have a whole zoo’s worth of exhibits inside here: lions, tigers, zebras, elephants, monkeys, gorillas, giraffes, birds, fish, insects… everything! Except they’re all stuffed. They also have a huge collection of dinosaur skeletons and an animatronic T Rex (allow for 2-3 hours). Read Craig’s review of the Natural History Museum
Option 2: Science Museum
If you’re more interested in technology then try the Science Museum. You can see machines from the Industrial Revolution, and trace the evolution of computers, clocks and cars. They’ve also got a hangar full of airplanes and some model rockets and space probes, including a full-size lander from the Apollo moon missions (allow for 2-3 hours). Read Craig’s review of the Science Museum
Option 3: Victoria & Albert Museum
The Victoria & Albert Museum is for people interested art and design. They have centuries-old furniture, fashions and jewellery from all over the world, plus an impressive collection of art by the likes of Constable, Turner and Raphael. Their Cast Room contains life-size models of the world’s greatest monuments and statues (allow for 2 hours). Read Craig’s review of the Victoria & Albert Museum
All three of those museums are free, so once you’ve seen two of them you should have plenty of money left over for some shopping at Harrods. If you’re going to buy some holiday gifts for your friends then you may as well do it at the world’s most famous (and expensive!) shop. You’ll find it a short walk down the Brompton Road (allow for 1 hour). Read Craig’s review of Harrods
We’re going to give you two choices for what to do in the evening:
Option A: Concert at the Royal Albert Hall
If you enjoy classical music then how about a concert at the Royal Albert Hall? Check their listings beforehand though, because they show everything from rock and pop concerts to comedy here. You can walk it from Harrods: just return to the museums and continue up Exhibition Road until you reach the park. The Royal Albert Hall is to the left (allow for 3 hours).
Option B: Evening ride on the London Eye
If there’s nothing worth seeing at the Royal Albert Hall then catch the No.14 to Piccadilly Circus (20 mins ride time) and enjoy a 20-min walk to the London Eye. We recommend a route through Leicester Square, Trafalgar Square and Nelson’s Column, then down Whitehall to Big Ben and Parliament. You can then cross over Westminster Bridge to the London Eye.
The great thing about the London Eye is that it stays open late so you can enjoy a view of the skyline with all the twinkling lights – quite a memorable way to end your day (allow for 30-45 mins queueing and 30 mins on the wheel, but less if you buy your tickets online in advance) Read Craig’s review of the London Eye.
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|Cash||Oyster & Contactless||Travelcards||London Pass|
|Peak||Off-peak||Peak||Off-peak||Anytime||Off-peak||Just pass||With Oyster|
|Train (z1)||£4.90||£2.40||£2.40||£7||£7||£13.10 (z1-4)||£13.10 (z1-6)||£35.10 (z1-2)|
|Train (z1-2)||£4.90||£2.90||£2.40||£7||£7||£13.10 (z1-4)||£13.10 (z1-6)||£35.10|
Note: For Oyster and contactless ‘off peak’ is outside the hours of 6.30-9.30 AM and 4-7 PM (Mon-Fri). For travelcards it’s after 9.30 AM (Mon-Fri) and all day Sat-Sun. Prices are based on what time your journey begins – not when it ends
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