London is a vibrant and sprawling city—it’s actually one of the 15th biggest cities in the world. You could spend years exploring this vibrant city, but many travelers only have a short period of time here—as little as 24 hours. So if you’re trying to make the most of one day in London, here’s exactly how you should spend it.
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I’ve been to London a number of times, but I recently had one day in the city, due to a long layover (woohoo—bonus vacation!). It was my husband, Justin’s, first time in the city so we tried to pack in seeing and doing as many things as we possibly could. And I think we found the perfect itinerary for one day in London!
How to Spend One Day in London
First things first—there are quite literally hundreds of tourist attractions in London, scattered across the city and the surrounding area that you can explore, which, obviously, you won’t be able to get to in just one day. So I’d suggest focusing your one day in London on just a few neighborhoods, so you don’t spend your whole day just taking the Tube around.
Let’s get to it!
Wake up bright and early, grab a coffee (or tea—you are in London, after all!) and a pastry near your hotel, and head off to your first stop of the day.
1. Head to the Tower of London
Visiting the Tower of London is at the top of most visitors’ bucket lists and it’s not hard to see why.
The Tower of London was originally built by William the Conqueror in 1066 as a fortress and gateway to Britain’s capital city. By the 16th century, the complex had slowly evolved to become the gruesome prison and execution site that it’s primarily known as today.
You thankfully won’t find any prisoners or executions here today and instead, you’ll find some remaining connections with the monarchy—for example, the Crown Jewels, including the world’s largest clear cut diamond(!!), are stored here and it’s actually the home of 150 federal employees, including the Yeoman Warders (or “beefeaters”), who were the royal bodyguards and prison wardens at the Tower, instituted by Henry VIII.
Get there as soon as they open, at 9 AM (except on Monday, when they open at 10 AM), and make a beeline for the Crown Jewels, so you can beat the queue and not waste your precious time in line. Afterwards, explore the fascinating historical objects and rooms in the Tower, like the armor of Henry VIII or an allegedly haunted tower, known as the Bloody Tower, where two young princes were rumored to have been murdered by their uncle in order to usurp the throne.
While you’re visiting the Tower, be sure to join a free tour of the grounds with a Beefeater, which departs from the entrance of the moat every half hour, where you’ll learn all about the Tower’s history, some of its most famous residents, such as Anne Boleyn.
Be sure to buy your timed-entry tickets as early as possible—during peak season, they can sell out well in advance! If you want to get a bright and early start, consider buying this ticket option, which allows you into the Tower’s grounds to see the Ceremony of the Keys before it’s open to the public and a private meeting with the chief Beefeater.
2. Admire the Tower Bridge
The Tower Bridge is one of the most iconic structures in London, with striking Gothic architecture and two 213-foot towers that loom over the Thames River. Constructed in 1886, the London Bridge and its lifting mechanisms were engineering marvels when it was originally constructed.
If you’re running a bit behind schedule, you can simply admire the bridge from the Tower Wharf or stroll across it. Check its schedule to see if you’re lucky enough to actually catch one of the 800 times the bridge lifts every year!
Alternatively, if you’re doing well on time, you could consider heading inside.
Tickets to the Tower Bridge are one of the most affordable attractions in London and give you access to the fascinating engine rooms, interesting exhibits about the engineering and architecture of the bridge, and most importantly, an observation deck with jaw-dropping views of London and a glass floor! It’s a bit trippy, but also incredible to look through the glass floor and see the cars on the bridge and the boats on the Thames, right below your feet!
3. Take a scenic boat ride down the Thames to Westminster
Any trip to London should include a trip down the Thames to take in the historic architecture that lines its shores, ranging from the Millenium Bridge (featured in the Harry Potter movies!) to the Globe Theater, a reconstructed version of the building where Shakespeare produced his famous plays.
Plus, a Thames River cruise has a very practical benefit—getting you from the Tower Hamlets neighborhood to your next destination of Westminster, instead of taking some other form of public transit, like the Tube (where you’ll miss getting to see London’s incredible riverfront!).
Hop-on, hop-off cruises, like this one, are awesome, because you can jump aboard whenever you like and head to your next stop. Plus, along the way, you’ll learn interesting facts about the historical buildings from commentary that plays as you cruise by—and if you’re feeling a mid-day beer, you can grab one aboard!
Confession—Justin and I used a scenic boat to get from the Tower of London to Westminster but we used the cheapest method possible, Uber Boat. And I instantly regretted it—the windows were absolutely filthy (like, so filthy that we couldn’t see through them) and there was no real outdoor space to take in the views or commentary to learn about the sights that you’re passing. So, I definitely think it’s worth paying a teeny bit extra to have a more enjoyable experience.
4. Explore Westminster Abbey
From Westminster Pier, it’s a short walk to Westminster Abbey, a church that has long been associated with the British monarchy. In fact, since 1066, 40 English and British monarchs have been crowned here and 16 royal weddings have taken place here since 1100!
The architecture of the church is obviously jaw-droppingly gorgeous, with enormous gold statues and impressive stained glass. However, Westminster Abbey is so much more than that.
For example, you can explore the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries, which also happens to be at the top of the cathedral, offering a unique perspective of the cathedral’s vaulted ceiling and its ornate interior. Plus, it’s home to some of the most famous grave sites on the planet—it’s the final resting spot for such influential figures as Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens, Sir Isaac Newton, Laurence Olivier, and 17 monarchs.
Unless you’re visiting the church for individual prayer, you’ll need to purchase a ticket to explore the interior of the church and its gravesites. Be sure to book your ticket ahead of time- this is one of the attractions that can totally sell out several days in advance.
5. Visit Buckingham Palace
When I hear “London”, one of the first things that pops into my head is Buckingham Palace. Since 1837, the building has served as the official London residence of British royalty and, today, functions as the administrative headquarters of the Monarch. The palace is jaw-droppingly massive, with a whopping 775 rooms (including 78 of which are bathrooms!).
If you happen to be visiting from July through October, 19 State rooms in the palace and its opulent gardens are usually open to the public to explore (see here if you’re interested). However, be sure to keep an eye on the time—the palace closes at 4:30 PM every day, so if you’ve been doing your one day in London right, you might not have very much time left to mosey around the palace!
Even if it’s closed to visitors or you don’t have time to pop inside, in my opinion, it’s still worth making the trek here, especially if you’re interested in the monarchy. Head outside of the Victoria Memorial, right outside the front gates; snap a few photos; and soak in almost 200 years of British royalty history.
Tip: You might be wondering if it’s worth it to visit the Changing of the Guard, a ceremony where new soldiers (the New Guard), who are assigned to protect Buckingham Palace and its royal inhabitants, replace the previous batch of soldiers (the Old Guard). The ceremony typically includes the Guard marching, playing instruments, and lots of good ol’ fashioned pomp and circumstance. I’ve visited Buckingham Palace both to see the Changing of the Guard and without it and, to be honest, I wouldn’t recommend going out of my way to see the ceremony, especially if you’ve only got one day in London. For one, the area around Buckingham Palace becomes an ABSOLUTE madhouse, with tens of thousands of onlookers jostling to see the ceremony. And while it’s kind of neat to see, it wasn’t personally worth scheduling our whole day around or the time and effort we spent waiting and pushing through the crowds, as compared to the ultimate payoff. If you have more time in the city, though, you may want to consider carving out some time in your London itinerary to enjoy it—just be aware that it doesn’t take place every single day (check out the official schedule here).
7. Gaze up at the Westminster Palace and Big Ben
Head back towards the Thames River to Westminster Palace. Originally built in the 11th century as a royal palace, you may know this building as something else today—the Houses of Parliament.
While there are tours that will take you inside of Parliament (like this option), I’m not sure it’s worth your limited time in the city, unless you’re REALLY into British politics. However, it’s absolutely worth taking in the views of one of the most iconic buildings in London (it’s been featured in over five James Bond movies, y’all!), in all of its Gothic glory.
Attached to the north end of the Houses of Parliament is Big Ben, arguably the world’s most famous clock. The clock towers 315 feet above the London street below, with its minute hand measuring an impressive 14 feet long.
For years, there were some serious restrictions on entering the Tower—at times, no one from the general public was allowed in and, at others, only United Kingdom citizens could enter.
Recently, however, tours to all visitors opened—but the tickets are extremely limited and sell out quite fast. Similar to visiting the Houses of Parliament, I’m not sure this would be the best use of your time in London, but if you’re interested in booking a tour, check here for availability.
Otherwise, walk across Westminster Bridge and admire the iconic clock from there.
7. Enjoy the Views from the London Eye
Continue across Westminster Bridge to the most popular paid attraction in London—the London Eye!
Standing at 443 feet tall, it’s the fourth tallest Ferris wheel on the planet and one of the tallest structures in London. Accordingly, during your 30 minutes on the Eye, you’ll get to see 360° views of the Thames River and the sprawling city around it.
We specifically saved the Eye as the last attraction for this itinerary for one day in London, given that it stays open later than most of the attractions in the city—until 6 PM on weekdays and 8:30 PM on weekends—and is one of the best places to watch sunset in London.
So grab your timed entry tickets for the Eye around sunset so that you can see the glow from the punchy colors of the sky illuminate the historic buildings and the Thames River and watch the lights of the city flicker to life.
One caveat to take note of—London sees its fair share of gloomy days. In my opinion, it’s not worth the ticket price if the weather is foggy or rainy, given that the clouds can obscure the views (which is kind of the whole point!). So, keep an eye on the weather before your trip and get a refundable ticket, like this one, so that you can cancel if the weather doesn’t cooperate.
8. Grab some fish and chips for dinner and head to a charming pub by your accommodations
British food is often the butt of culinary jokes, but I’ve always found plenty of delicious food while in London. And there’s certain types of food that Londoners definitely do right—hearty pub food, like fish and chips!
There’s endless fish and chips shops to choose from, but, during our last visit, Justin and I LOVED the fish and chips at Hobson’s Fish and Chips, a family-owned and operated business for the last 25 years, located in the trendy Soho neighborhood.
After dinner, pop into a cozy pub for a pint or two.
If you really want to hit up one of the most historic pubs in London, consider heading to George, tucked away by the London Bridge. This local favorite has been around since the 17th century and is one of the last surviving coach house inns in the United Kingdom. Plus, it’s rumored that Charles Dickens frequented the joint and that it was the inspiration for some of the locations in his books.
To be honest, this location is a bit out of the way, though, and, given that there’s a charming historic pub around basically every corner, you should have plenty of options near wherever you’re staying. For example, we stayed near King’s Cross Station (yup, the home of Platform 9 ¾ from Harry Potter!) and wound up enjoying some beers at King Charles I, a charming pub from the early 20th century with a super cozy fire in the wintertime.
One Day in London Overview
In a nutshell, our one day itinerary in London is as follows:
- Tower of London
- Tower Bridge
- Scenic boat tour down the Thames
- Westminster Abbey
- Buckingham Palace
- Westminster Palace and Big Ben
- London Eye
- Fish and chips and an English pub
Hopefully, I made this clear above but, to reiterate, you’ll need tickets to enter most of these attractions.
You almost certainly won’t have time to go inside all of them, so just pick two or three of them that interest you the most and enjoy the rest from the outside. As mentioned above, the London Eye stays open longer than most of the attractions in the city, especially on weekends, so it’s a bit easier to tack this one on to your itinerary.
For any of the attractions that you want to explore their interiors, I’d strongly suggest only booking timed-entry tickets (and fast lane versions, where available), given that otherwise, you’ll wind up spending hours and hours of your precious one day in London just standing in line.
If I had one day in London, I’d personally prioritize going into the Tower of London, taking a scenic boat tour down to Westminster, going inside of Westminster Abbey, and ending the day at the London Eye. But feel free to pick and choose what interests you—London is your oyster!
Tip: I'd suggest taking a look at the cost of the tickets for the attractions that you want to visit and seeing whether it would be cheaper to get a London Explorer Pass, which allows you to visit a set number of attractions for a fixed rate. It won't make sense for everyone, but you can definitely save quite a bit of money by purchasing it, especially if you're planning on visiting some of the attractions that are on the pricier end of the spectrum!
Alternative One Day in London Itinerary
If your visit happens to coincide with your typical gloomy London weather, such that going up in the Eye isn’t worth the ticket price, I’d suggest rearranging the schedule a bit.
Since most visitors just enjoy Buckingham Palace from the outside, which you can do at any time of the day, I’d suggest starting there, so you can start your day earlier to have more time to explore.
So if you go this route, I’d suggest the following itinerary:
- Buckingham Palace
- Westminster Abbey (get there as soon as they open to beat the queue!)
- Westminster Palace and Big Ben
- Scenic boat tour down the Thames (this is a great option)
- Tower of London
- Tower Bridge
This itinerary for one day in London is also a good option if you’re visiting on a weekday and you want a teeny bit more breathing room than visiting the London Eye, which closes at 6 PM, would allow.
A great alternative to the Eye—and just a short walk from the Tower of London and Tower Bridge at the end of your day—is the Shard, a unique glass structure with an outdoor observation deck on its 72nd floor that closes at 7 PM on weekdays and 10 PM on Fridays and Saturdays.
The Shard boasts lots of titles—towering at 1,016 feet tall, it’s the tallest building in London and one of the top 100 tallest structures on the planet. Accordingly, it offers some of the best views in the city, especially around sunset.
You can get tickets here.
Where to Stay in London
Given how fantastic the public transportation is, there’s plenty of excellent centrally located options for visitors with just one day in London to stay.
That being said, if I had to pick one area to stay, it would be Charing Cross in Westminster, which is just a short walk from the neighborhood’s most popular attractions, like Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, or the London Eye.
Consider staying at:
Z Hotel Covent Garden: This Z Hotel has an incredible location that’s almost unbelievable, given the reasonable price point. The hotel is simple, yet modern and although the rooms are small (like most hotels in London), they’ve creatively engineered a variety of options that can comfortably accommodate anyone from solo travelers to larger groups.
The Resident Covent Garden: The Resident is an upscale hotel, just a three minute walk from Convent Garden, a hub in London that offers a plethora of bars, restaurants, and shopping opportunities. Each room is furnished with bespoke furniture that was actually made in West London and textiles that were woven in Scotland. Plus, given how teeny most rooms are in London, the surprisingly spacious rooms come equipped with something super special—a mini kitchen, with a microwave, fridge, and Nespresso machine.
The Savoy: If you’re looking for a more bougie experience, look no further than The Savoy, an iconic hotel that dates back to 1889 and has hosted the likes of Winston Churchhill, Frank Sinatra, and Katherine Hepburn. Everything about the hotel screams elegant, from its marble bathrooms to its roomy suites, decorated with art deco furniture, and stunning views of the Thames River.
How to Get Around London
If you follow the itinerary suggested above, you’ll generally be able to get around to all of the attractions, simply between taking the Thames River cruise and walking. That being said, you’ll be walking quite a lot (at least three miles)—so be sure to wear comfortable shoes!
In terms of getting from and back to your hotel and any spots that you want to enjoy dinner and drinks, I’d suggest taking the Tube, which is an intuitive, affordable, and efficient way to zip around London. You can find more information about the Tube here.
Well, I hope you have an incredible day in London—it’s one of the most fascinating cities on the planet! Do you have any questions about visiting the city? Let us know in the comments below!