Are you going to spend a day in London and looking for the best itinerary? This one is for you!
London is one of the most famous cities in the world and while a day is nowhere near enough to see it all, you can still pack a fair bit!
After living in the UK for so many years, visiting London has kind of become something I master and that’s why I decided to put together this ultimate 1 day in London itinerary.
Here you will discover exactly how to see London in a day. This includes where to go, how to get there and what to do.
So, are you ready? Let’s spend the best one day in London!
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I get a commission if you decide to make a purchase through my links, at no extra cost for you!
Table of Contents
1 day in London Itinerary
Let’s start with the most important bit, which is your London 1-day itinerary. Here you will find instructions on how to spend your day in London.
Please note that we tried to pack as much as possible and while this is entirely feasible, it includes a fair bit of walking so that’s something you should be prepared to do.
If you don’t fancy walking that much, then you should definitely book the hop-on hop-off bus. It will take you to all the famous sights mentioned in this article but will considerably reduce the distances you have to walk.
Also, you won’t have to worry about finding the directions since the bus will leave you as close as possible to the landmarks.
Though it may not be very adventurous, the hop-on-hop-off bus is 100% worth it if you only have one day in London.
London 1-day Itinerary Morning: Westminster
If you decide to opt for the self-guided walking tour of London, then this part is for you!
Please note that it is recommended to start relatively early so you get enough time to explore.
Also, you will be getting a bit of late lunch so make sure to grab a good breakfast beforehand (yes, that’s the perfect time to get a full English!).
Stop 1: Piccadilly Circus
You will be starting your day in London at Piccadilly Circus.
No matter where you’re travelling from, this is a very easy location to get to. There are two tube lines that stop there: Piccadilly and Bakerloo.
You’ll also find loads of buses that go there.
Piccadilly Circus is one of the most famous junctions in London. It’s located in the West End, near all the theatres.
Here you will find a beautiful statue of Eros and giant advertising boards.
Basically, it’s London’s answer to Times Square!
Admittedly, it’s much prettier at night since you get to see all the lights but it’s also a busy place and heading there first thing in the morning will allow you to avoid the crowds.
Once you admire the circus, make your way towards Leicester Square. You will see on your left the entrance to Chinatown.
If you want to stop and take some pictures of the arch, feel free to do so.
Chinatown in London is made of a few streets and while it’s quite a big one for Europe, it’s also quick to explore if you don’t stop for a meal.
After that, keep walking to Leicester Square.
Stop 2: Leicester Square
Leicester Square is another famous place. Here you will find some impressive shops such as the Lego or M&M’s store.
You are in the heart of the theatre district here so you should also see loads of mini box offices and adverts for the musicals.
Leicester Square gets extremely busy so visiting in the morning is a much better experience. You will get to walk around and enjoy it.
You can also find a film-themed sculpture trail on Leicester Square which includes 8 statues of famous characters.
Mary Poppins, Harry Potter… they are all there!
Once you’ve walked around Leicester Square, keep going until you reach Covent Garden.
Stop 3: Covent Garden
Covent Garden is one of the fanciest and most expensive areas in London.
It started as a fruit and vegetable market but has since become a fancy shopping district. Here you will find all sorts of fashion brands and some flagship stores such as the Apple store.
The covered market is absolutely gorgeous in terms of architecture and decorations. It’s always so well decorated!
As a matter of fact, if you are visiting London at Christmas, you’ll get to see some of the most beautiful Christmas decorations and trees in the city, right here!
Make sure to walk around the market and also walk in. Whether you are interested in shopping or not, it’s always worth having a wander.
You will also find loads of cafes around here.
Stop 4: Trafalgar Square
Once you are done with Covent Garden, walk down towards Charing Cross until you reach Trafalgar Square.
This is a very important spot in the city since that’s where a lot of important events (especially political) happen.
This battle was led by Lord Nelson. A statue of him is located on the tall column at the front of the square.
You will also find loads of other landmarks here including the fountains, the lion statues, the National Art Gallery and a temporary art sculpture (located in front of the Gallery, on the left).
FUN FACT: Every year, Trafalgar Square hosts a giant Christmas tree gifted by Norway.
Once you are done, head to the Mall which is the road that will lead you to Buckingham Palace.
PRO TIP: This is an excellent place to go on a walking tour. Westminster is full of history and landmarks and if you want to learn more about London in the most efficient way, you can join this walking tour.
The guide will tell you loads of stories about Lord Nelson, the British monarchs and the monuments you’ll see.
It starts at the Ritz hotel at 10 AM (or later but if you can catch the one at 10 AM it would be great!).
Not only will you learn plenty but it’s also very convenient since the guide will take you to all the best spots and you won’t have to worry about anything.
It’s a great thing to do when you only have a limited amount in London. It’s a lot of bang for the buck.
Stop 5: Buckingham Palace
Walk up the Mall all the way to Buckingham Palace.
This is the London residence of the British Monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. It’s one of the most impressive palaces in the world as well as the centre of royal celebrations or mourning.
As you may know, the palace is guarded by the Royal Guard and that’s one of the main reasons to visit.
If you want to see a very unique experience, you should head there for the changing of the guards.
You’ll get to see the guards wearing red coats & bearskin hats marching all the way to St James Palace.
It happens at 11 AM, every day in June and July and on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays from August to May.
While Londoners avoid this area at this time of the day, tourists rush there so it can get extremely busy!
If you want to be at the front, you will need to get there at least 30 minutes in advance.
PRO TIP: If you want to see the guards better and don’t mind whether the palace is in the background or not, head to St James Palace instead. That’s where the guards retrieve and most people don’t know that so it’s not as busy and you get a better view.
PRO TIP 2: If you opted for the walking tour, the guide will bring you to the best spot as well.
Please note that if you want to squeeze all the sites on this itinerary that won’t really give you time to visit the palace.
However, if that’s something you are particularly interested in, you can choose to do so and just skip some of the following stops.
Buckingham Palace also is one of the attractions included in the London Pass. If you choose to spend the entire day in Westminster and also visit the abbey and the London Eye, this will save you money.
If you just want to visit the palace, it will be cheaper to take the ticket separately.
Stop 6: St James Park
St James Park is located right by the Mall and Buckingham Palace. It may not be the biggest park in London but it is extremely well located and one of the 8 royal parks in the city.
It’s a great place to have a little stroll.
You will find a lake in the middle with loads of animals (squirrels, ducks, geese…).
Take the little bridge to cross the lake (this is a good photo spot by the way!) and keep going until you reach the exit on the Horse Guards Road.
Stop 7: Churchill War Rooms
The exit of the park is located right in front of the Churchill War Rooms.
As you may know, Winston Churchill was Prime Minister during the Second World War. He is famous for having worked very hard on the strategy of Britain during both wars and here is where the Cabinet War Rooms were.
Basically, they were secret basement offices where Churchill would work (and live) during the war.
They were turned into a museum and opened to the public in the 80s.
This is a very interesting place to visit if you’d like to know more about Britain’s war effort.
That having been said, you may be a bit short in time if you only have a day to spend in London so if you decide to visit them, you might need to skip some other stops.
Regardless, since you’ll be walking in front of them, it was worth mentioning it!
HOW TO BOOK: You can book your tickets on the official website or opt for the London Pass (if you plan to visit something else).
Stop 8: Parliament Square
Keep walking until you reach Parliament Square. This is an important square since it’s surrounded by many famous landmarks: Westminster Abbey, the Parliament and Big Ben.
Before you rush to the Abbey or Big Ben, make sure to take a look at the statues in this square.
There are 12 statues of very important people here including Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln and Nelson Mandela.
PRO TIP: You’ll see on the side of the square, on Great George St, there are two red phone booths. If you want to get the perfect ‘British photograph’, this is a great place to do so since you’ll have the red phone box and Big Ben in the background!
Stop 9: Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey is one of the most famous religious sites in the world and you will, for sure, be impressed by it.
This is where William the Conqueror was crowned in 1066 and all coronations of British monarchs have been happening here ever since.
It’s also where the monarchs and other important British people are buried. Amongst them, you’ll find Isaac Newton, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen and many others.
Westminster Abbey is also known for its fantastic royal weddings! This includes William and Kate but also the Queen and Prince Phillip.
You will need to book a ticket to visit the abbey. While this is a beautiful abbey to visit, it also means you may need to skip a stop or two on this itinerary so it’s entirely up to you.
Stop 10: Parliament and Big Ben
If you are wondering what to see in London in a day, chances are that Big Ben is already on your list!
Big Ben is a nickname given to the tower located at the north end of the Palace of Westminster.
The official name of the tower is Elizabeth Tower. This was to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II.
When it was completed in 1859, it was the largest clock of the kind. It is pretty impressive since there are actually not one but four clocks on this tower. One on each side!
The rest of the building you can see is the Parliament, otherwise known as the Palace of Westminster.
This is one of the most important buildings in London.
The parliament is still in use today and that’s where all the MPs gather.
The palace of Westminster is also known for another important event in British history, the gunpowder plot.
This was an attack conducted by a group of Catholics on the 5th of November 1605. The aim was to kill King James I by blowing up the parliament.
Fortunately, this did not happen since Guy Fawkes (the man who was supposed to light everything up) was found in the basement with the powder.
Since that day, the 5th of November has become an annual commemoration in England. It’s marked by thousands of firework displays all around the country.
Now, let’s go back to the practical side of things.
You can admire Big Ben and the Parliament from Parliament Square. Then cross the road in front of Westminster Abbey and walk on the pavement towards Westminster tube station.
From there you’ll get to see the gardens of the parliament.
Then turn right and go on the Westminster Bridge.
From there, you’ll see the palace from a very different angle and it’s very pretty with the Thames just underneath.
While a lot of people stop on the bridge to take photos, this is actually not the best spot so don’t worry about those and keep walking on the bridge.
PRO TIP: Once you reach the end of the bridge, take the stairs on your right (instead of rushing on the left to the London Eye). You will then reach the Queen’s walk. There is a small wall and it faces the parliament and Big Ben. This is the best photo spot for Big Ben!
Also, it’s not as busy so you can take as many pictures as you won’t without having strangers in your photos.
Stop 11: London Eye
Now is the time to head to one of the most famous and best things to see in London in one day, the London Eye.
This is the tallest observation wheel in Europe and it’s definitely an important landmark in the London skyline.
It’s 135 metres high and boasts fantastic views of the city. At the time it opened, it was the highest wheel in the world and that’s part of the reason why it became so famous.
FUN FACT: The London Eye was inaugurated in 2000 and that’s why it’s sometimes referred to as the Millennium Wheel.
It’s also the most visited paid attraction in London and if you have to choose only one place to visit during your day in London, it should be it.
PRO TIP: The Tower of London is also a must-do but it takes at least 3 hours to visit so it would take most of your day. You only need 30 minutes to 1 hour to do the London Eye.
HOW TO BOOK: The best way is to book your ticket in advance online. You can also select the fast-track option to avoid having to waste time queueing. Tickets can be booked here.
I’d advise booking your ticket for around 1 PM. If you chose to do the walking tour, opt for 1:30 PM.
London 1-day Itinerary Afternoon: City of London
Now, by the time you are done with London Eye, it should be between 1 PM and 2 PM.
I appreciate that it is a bit late for lunch but if you can make it until then, it will be well worth it since we are going to head to Borough Market, which is one of the best spots to get street food in London.
However, if you are really hungry and are visiting on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday, you can head to South Bank Market which is only a couple of minutes walk from the wheel.
This is a much smaller but great street food market.
You’ll find delicious food here and it’s very affordable.
If you can wait another 30 minutes though, follow the instructions and get something at Borough Market!
Lunch: Borough Market
Borough Market is one of the oldest and largest markets in London. It’s located by London Bridge and is home to hundreds of stalls selling delicious street food and local products.
It’s a must-see in London and one of the best places to get lunch (especially if you are on a budget).
Technically, you can walk there from the South Bank however, it takes about 30 minutes (1.5 miles).
To save yourself some steps and a bit of time, you can take the tube from Waterloo. The Jubilee line will take you directly to London Bridge.
From there it’s about 1 to 2 minutes walk.
Borough Market is huge and you will find all sorts of food including Greek, Italian, Spanish, French, Chinese, Korean and plenty more.
You can’t really get it wrong here so just walk around the market and pick something you’d like to eat.
You can then take the food away and eat it by the river (that way you can enjoy the view), standing or on one of the benches in the market.
FUN FACT: Borough Market was also used as a filming location in Bridget Jones and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
The rest of the itinerary is self guided however, if you want to get more information, you can join the Old City of London tour.
It starts at 3 PM which is quite handy and you will get to see all the sites below. Click here to see the latest prices.
Stop 1: Shakespeare Globe
Your next stop on this London one day itinerary is Shakespeare Globe. It’s located on the side of the Queen’s walk and is a very unique timber-framed circular theatre.
Not only is it very pretty but it’s also one of the most important landmarks in England.
Shakespeare used to write for this theatre (back then it was known as the Globe Theatre) and that’s where most of his master pieces premiered.
Even now most of the plays here are classics from Shakespeare!
There are two ways you can visit it, you can buy a ticket for a guided tour or book a ticket for a show.
You probably won’t have time to squeeze any of these in one day but if you come back, it’s worth keeping it in mind.
You can then keep going towards the Millennium Bridge.
Stop 2: Millennium Bridge
The Millennium Bridge is a very recent bridge compared to the other ones but it has made a name for itself very quickly!
It was inaugurated in 2000 (hence the name) and gained within a few hours the nickname of ‘wobbly bridge’.
If you hear some locals talking, you might hear this nickname. Don’t worry about it, the bridge is very safe but it is true that it was wobbly on the day it was inaugurated and that’s why it got that nickname.
It’s located right in front of the Tate Modern (one of the best museums as well as a great free thing to do in London) and goes all the way to St Paul’s cathedral.
It got pretty famous in 2009 as it was featured in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
READ MORE: 20 Best Harry Potter Things to do in London
This bridge is also great for photos since it creates beautiful lines that lead you straight to St Paul’s.
Stop 3: St Paul’s Cathedral
Once you’ve crossed the Millennium Bridge, you will arrive at St Paul’s Cathedral.
This is the most important cathedral in the city and home to the Bishop of London. It is 111 metres tall and was the tallest building in the city until 1963.
Now you have quite a few buildings such as the Shard or the Walkie Talkie that are much higher but it’s still the tallest dome in the world!
St Paul’s is also famous for its connections with the royal family. This is where Prince Charles and Diana Spencer got married in 1981.
The cathedral has also hosted the services for the Silver, Golden, Diamond Jubilees as well as the 80th and 90th birthdays of Queen Elizabeth II.
HOW TO VISIT: You can walk around the cathedral and in the gardens at the back. If you want to go inside and walk up to the dome (the views over the city are amazing from there), you will need to book your ticket in advance.
Once you are done with St Paul’s Cathedral, make your way to the Tower of London.
If you can, it’s worth going on foot. It takes about 20 minutes and you will walk by St Dunstan of the East which is one of the most beautiful hidden gems in London!
Alternatively, you can take the district line from Mansion House to Tower Hill or bus 15 to Great Tower Street.
Stop 4: Tower of London
It would be impossible to put together a 1-day London itinerary without mentioning the Tower of London.
This is the most important place in the city!
This historic castle was built in 1078 by William the Conqueror. It was used as a prison until the 1950s.
A lot of traitors were imprisoned and tortured here including Guy Fawkes.
The tower was also used as a royal residence and is where you can find the Crown Jewels.
For all these reasons, the Tower of London is an iconic landmark and such an important castle.
Please note that it has been on the UNESCO list since 1988.
HOW TO VISIT: Visiting the Tower of London is a must-do for any history buff however, it takes at least 3 hours so it’s pretty unlikely you’d be able to squeeze in your day trip to London.
If you do want to visit it anyway, make sure to book your tickets in advance.
Even if you don’t visit it inside, you can still walk around the Tower of London and admire it. You’ll get to see the walls of the towers, maybe some guards walking around and even a site showing the original Roman wall of the city of London.
Stop 5: Tower Bridge
Once you reach the road, walk up to Tower Bridge.
This is the prettiest bridge in the city. It features a very unique neo-gothic style.
It was built at the end of the 19th century and is an incredible piece of engineering since it’s both a bascule and a suspension bridge.
It is still used for this purpose today and if a large ship is on the Thames, the traffic will be stopped so the bridge can be lifted up.
It’s a very impressive thing to see however, it’s literally impossible to know when that will happen since there isn’t a regular schedule for that.
FUN FACT: Tower Bridge is often confused with London Bridge which is the previous bridge on the Thames. Most people, especially tourists, call Tower Bridge, London Bridge, so it’s worth checking if you are talking about the same thing.
Once you take a couple of photos, you can cross the bridge. About half-way through, you’ll find a desk selling tickets.
Please note that these tickets are just to go in the towers and not to cross the bridge. There is no need to go back, you can simply go around and keep walking.
Once you’ve crossed, you’ll find some stairs on the right hand side of the pavement, take them and they will lead you back to the Queen’s walk.
This is the best photo spot to take pictures of Tower Bridge.
Stop 6: HMS Belfast
If you keep walking for a few minutes on the Queen’s walk, you will reach HMS Belfast.
This is a must-see if you are particularly interested in learning more about WWII.
This ship was built for the Royal Navy and is the only British ship that made it back from the landings on the Normandy beaches for D-Day.
It was since turned into a ship museum that you can visit!
HOW TO VISIT: Again, you probably won’t have time for it but if you do want to visit it, you can buy your ticket straight there or online on their official website.
Evening: Jack The Ripper Walking tour or West End Show
We are pretty much done with the day activities. By now, you should have seen quite a lot!
That having been said, if you are spending 24 hours in London then you might be looking for some things to do.
London is a very lively city so there are thousands of things you can do at night however, here are two of the very best activities.
Jack The Ripper Walking tour. Jack The Ripper was a serial killer who is known for having murdered a lot of women in East London.
Not only were his crimes awful but we still don’t know who he was!
The story is very interesting and if you have an interest in thrillers, you should join the Jack the Ripper tour.
You will learn plenty about the crimes and will see the exact locations where they were committed.
Seeing a West End Show. London is the best place in Europe to see musicals and plays.
The West End is the equivalent of broadway and there are so many shows you can see here.
This is a bucket list item so if you are spending an evening in London, you should definitely consider it.
You’ll find loads of ticket booths in central London, especially near Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square, but if you can it would be better to book your tickets in advance.
Here are some examples of great musicals you can see in London:
- The Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre
- Mamma Mia! At the Novello Theatre
- Matilda at the Cambridge Theatre
- Wicked at the Apollo Victoria Theatre
- Les Misérables at the Sondheim Theatre
- The Book of Mormon at Prince of Wales Theatre
Now that you know exactly what to do in London for a day, we hope you have a fantastic time!
You may also be interested in:
- London 2-day itinerary: Exactly How To Spend 2 Days in London
- The Ultimate London Bucket List: 61 Best Things to do and Experiences you must have in London
- The Best London Quiz: 105 Questions and Answers about London (including picture rounds!)
- 23 Festive Things to do for Christmas in London
- 10 Beautiful Hidden Gems in London You Must See