If you’re planning on spending one day in London, it’s safe to say you have your work cut out for you. With so many iconic attractions and historic buildings (and let’s not forget the pubs!), you may be thinking, “where do I even start?” Well, that’s where I come in. Jump to the beginning of this one-day itinerary in London to explore the best of the UK’s capital city!
Of course, when planning to spend one day in London, there are important things to consider aside from just knowing the best things to do. Where should you stay? What’s the most efficient way to get around the city? Don’t worry – I’ve covered those questions below too. Keep reading to be fully prepared to spend one day in London!
For all the things you need to know about London before you go, check out my travel tips post: London Travel Tips (For Your First Visit!)
Plan on staying in London longer? Check out my itinerary post: 4 Days in London: The Itinerary
For a full list of activities and things to do in London, check out this link from Get Your Guide below
One Day in London: Jump to Section
- Start your day at Tower Bridge
- Visit Big Ben/House of Parliament, The London Eye, and Westminster Abbey
- Walk to Buckingham Palace and Trafalgar Square
- Explore Piccadilly Circus/SoHo
- End Your Night at Leadenhall Market and The Shard
Where is the Best Place to Stay in London?
Without getting too complicated, I’ll explain the layout of the city. London is divided into zones, with central London, aka Zone 1, being the center of the city. Everything listed in this post will take place in Zone 1, and therefore, I recommend you staying in Zone 1 as well.
Places to Stay in London
At the time of this post, I have stayed in London twice. The first time, I stayed at the Great St. Helen Hotel, and the second time, I stayed at Wombat’s City Hostel. The location of both of these places would be justifiable for doing this itinerary as they are both on the east side of Zone 1, and that’s where this itinerary starts.
If you don’t desire to stay at either of these places, I would still recommend finding somewhere in this general vicinity to stay.
What is the Best Way to Get Around London?
London is a LARGE city, and many of the attractions are very spread out. IMO, the best way to get around is either by walking or by getting an Oyster card and taking the Tube. You can also Uber, but Ubers in London are very expensive.
Getting an Oyster Card and Taking the Tube
The “Tube” is what London calls their subway or metro system. Aside from walking, this is how I prefer to get around the city because it’s your cheapest and quickest option.
You are able to purchase an Oyster card at any of the Tube stations which will be your “ticket” to ride the Tube. Since you are only going to be in London for one day, I would recommend getting a card and loading a small amount of money on it so you can scan it as you go.
Throughout this one-day itinerary, I have listed Tube routes for certain places that are too far to walk. For places that you CAN walk to, I have included the time it takes to get from one place to another.
My Biggest Piece of Advice for Taking the Tube
If you’ve ever ridden the subway in New York City, you know that subway trains for multiple different lines can stop at the same station. This is also true for London! Be sure to always look at the name of the Line on the train that is coming to make sure it is the one that you want to get on. The Line name should be electronically displayed on the outside cars of the train.
And Finally…Is One Day in London Enough?
My honest opinion is…no. London has SO many world-famous buildings, legendary attractions, and sightseeing opportunities that it would take days to see everything. That’s why I have created this blog post to what I consider to be the must-see spots on your day trip to London!
How Many Days Do You Need in London?
I recommend spending at least 3-4 days in London if you really want to check a lot of famous things off your bucket list. If you find you are able to stay longer in London or plan on coming back for an extended amount of time, check out my other London post: 4 Days in London: The Itinerary.
The Perfect Itinerary for Your Day Trip to London
Pro Tip: This section is organized by location. I recommend doing the things that I have listed in the order that I list them to maximize your time!
1. Start Your Day at Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge is an iconic medieval-times looking bridge located on the East Side of Zone 1. You are able to purchase tickets and walk across the glass at the top, or just walk from one end of the bridge to the other for free using the pedestrian walkway (which is what I opted to do).
Beside Tower Bridge is the Tower of London, which is a historic castle that you are also able to tour. You can purchase tickets to go inside the Tower of London and see the crown jewels, walk through the different towers, see the fortress, and more.
Breakfast Near Tower Bridge
St. Katharine Docks is a marina located just a 4 minute walk away from Tower Bridge. Not only is it pretty to look at, but it has a plethora of restaurants to choose from. I stopped at White Mulberries the last time I was in London for a day and got amazing smoked salmon on avocado toast! (FYI – there isn’t a lot of seating here, so if your party is big, you might want to choose one of the other restaurants.) I would recommend stopping to eat here first and then making your way to Tower Bridge.
- Pro Tip: With the exception of upscale restaurants, a lot of places in London expect you to go up to the counter to order vs. waiting to be served at a table. The first time I was in London, I sat at my table for 20 minutes because I didn’t know this tip!!
2. Head to Big Ben/House of Parliament, The London Eye, and Westminster Abbey
From Tower Bridge, you can take the Tube to Big Ben/House of Parliament. From here, you can see these 2 iconic attractions, plus the London Eye, and then take a short walk to Westminster Abbey.
- GETTING THERE: Go to the TOWER HILL tube station and take the Circle District Line towards Wimbledon.
- Get off at the WESTMINSTER station.
- Time: ~20 minutes (if no Tube delays)
Big Ben/House of Parliament
Ahhh Big Ben…the clock that needs no introduction. It is one of the most iconic symbols in the world and is attached to the Palace of Westminster, which today is better known as the House of Parliament.
The House of Parliament is the oldest royal palace in London and a freaking sight to behold. The richness of the gold, the intricacy of the architecture, the details…THE DETAILS!!! I stop and walk through this area every time I visit London just because the palace in all its enormity is so amazing.
- Pro Tip: There are a LOT of tourists in this area – watch your belongings and beware of pickpockets!
The London Eye
Okay…here’s where I’m going to be controversial.
The London Eye is a famous ferris wheel situated close to Big Ben/House of Parliament. You are able to purchase tickets to ride it and get great views of the city.
A lot of other blogs that I have read will tell you that riding the London Eye is a must-do when you go to London. I am going to tell you that you can ride a ferris wheel at your local county fair in America. Why? Simple:
- The lines will be long, and you only have ONE DAY to spend in London!
- They have a “skip the line” ticket option (which is what I did when I went for 4 days), but guess what? There’s still a line, and it is still long. It just moves a bit faster.
If you are sitting there about to slam your laptop shut because you want the views, don’t worry! I’m still going to give you that option later on in this post when I tell you to go to The Shard. Not only will you get city views, but you’ll get to see the city all lit up at night AND you’ll have a drink in your hand. You’re welcome.
- Pro Tip: If you do decide that you want to ride the London Eye or even walk around and see it up close, a great way to do this is to walk the Westminster Bridge. Not only is the bridge beautiful, but the views and photos you’ll get from the bridge are stunning.
Tour Westminster Abbey
I have never gotten to tour Westminster Abbey, and I blame it all on bad luck. The first time I went to London, they were having a ceremony and not offering tours that day. The second time I went was Sunday, and they never do tours on Sunday. Sighhhhh.
The next time I go to London, I fully intend on planning my day around touring Westminster Abbey since I have never gotten to see it from the inside. Assuming your day trip to London does not fall on a Sunday, this is the one building that I AM going to recommend that you tour. Everyone I have talked to has told me that it’s a must-do, and the photos online are incredible. You can tag me in your photos on Instagram and I’ll cry while living vicariously through you :).
3. Walk to Buckingham Palace and Trafalgar Square
From Westminster Abbey, it’s about a 15 minute walk to Buckingham Palace. From here, you can admire the home of countless British royals and imagine what it would be like to be queen for a day! Buckingham Palace offers tours, but they are only in the summer and you are limited on what you get to see. For this reason, I have never toured the palace.
You are able to watch the Changing of the Guards at Buckingham Palace every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday at 10:45am. If you decide to tour Westminster Abbey, it is unlikely that you will make it to Buckingham Palace in time for this. If watching Changing of the Guards is on your bucket list, I would opt to not tour Westminster Abbey and do this instead.
Relax at Trafalgar Square and Get Some Afternoon Tea
From the palace, you can walk to Trafalgar Square, a lively square with a picturesque fountain that is surrounded by restaurants and pubs, statues, and historic buildings. This walk will take you roughly ~20 minutes.
Since you have crammed a LOT into your day so far, Trafalgar Square would be a good place to stop and get some afternoon tea, a popular British tradition. Or, just catch your breath and admire the views of the square! I loved taking a moment to relax while sitting on the edge of the fountain when I went.
- Pro Tip: A LOT of places and pubs in London serve afternoon tea, and it’s something very culturally relevant that I would recommend doing. If I’m being honest with you, I hate hot tea…but when in Rome – err, I mean London, right?
4. Explore Piccadilly Circus/SoHo, And Visit an Authentic British Pub
Walk to Piccadilly Circus
Piccadilly Circus is about a ~10 minute walk from Trafalgar Square and a popular tourist destination in the West End of London. It serves as a junction that connects 6 very busy streets. There are giant, “Times Square” looking screens showing advertisements on buildings, and the whole area is buzzing with people.
For the Harry Potter fans, this is a fun area to walk through as it was used as one of the filming locations for the movies! The scene in Part 1 of the Deathly Hallows where Harry, Ron, and Hermione escape the Death Eaters while attending Bill and Fleur’s wedding was shot here.
Explore SoHo and Visit an Authentic British Pub
SoHo is about an ~8 minute walk from Piccadilly Circus and was my favorite neighborhood that I explored while I was in London. It is lively and fun with tons of bars, restaurants, and shops. I spent a lot of time exploring this area of town. It is especially pretty when it starts to get dark and the multicolored string lights illuminate the alleyways!
I loved popping in and out of the shops here. This entire area is so cute and was so much fun to walk through!
- GETTING HERE: While in Piccadilly Circus, put “Shakespeare’s Head” into Google maps, select the Great Marlborough Street location, and walk here. This will take you to the heart of SoHo!
- You can also type in “Kingly Court,” which is a cute plaza area I stumbled upon my last time in SoHo.
Shakespeare’s Head is an authentic British pub in SoHo and a great place to stop and get a beer and people watch! I make sure to grab a pint here every time I visit London. This is a great place to check “visit an authentic British pub” off of your bucket list.
Speaking of trying an authentic British pub, I also recommend trying some of the culturally popular food while there. Fish & chips has always been my go-to. If you only want to stop and grab a drink at Shakespeare’s head, I will give you an area to check out containing more bars & restaurants in the next section.
Selfridges (If You Desire More Shopping)
**Note** – this is not a must-do; however, if you desire a more extensive shopping experience than the boutiques of SoHo, or even just want to grab some wine and snacks from London to take home, this is a good place to do it!
If you desire even more shopping, there is an absolutely massive department store called Selfridges that is close to SoHo. Think of Nordstrom in America except on steroids. Selfridges has all of your typical departments store things but also has a supermarket, restaurants, flowers and plants, a whole section devoted to wine, spirits, and charcuterie…you get the idea. There is also a massive designer section, and every makeup brand you can imagine.
5. End Your Day at Leadenhall Market and The Shard
Leadenhall Market is a lively area back towards the East Side of Zone 1 with shops, food, events, and more. If you didn’t eat dinner in SoHo, this area is a great place to find something for dinner. Not only are there multiple restaurants in Leadenhall Market, but there are numerous pubs and restaurants within walking distance nearby. Some highly rated restaurants near Leadenhall Market that you can walk to include:
- The Moniker – a cocktail bar/restaurant (~4 minute walk)
- The Crosse Keys – restaurant located in what used to be a bank (~3 minute walk)
- All Bar One – wine bar near the Tower of London (~8 minute walk)
Wherever you decide, I would recommend trying a traditional London meal such as fish & chips, roast and potatoes, or shepherd’s pie. If you ate dinner in SoHo, you could technically skip this area, although it is pretty to walk around!
- GETTING HERE: From SoHo, walk to the OXFORD CIRCUS tube station and take the Central Line towards Hainault.
- Get off at the BANK STATION and walk 7 minutes.
- Time: ~20 minutes (if no Tube delays)
I mention in my 4 Days in London post that the aesthetic of London is NYC meets medieval times. Close to this area is where you will find a lot of NYC-type architecture. It is also a 5 minute walk from the Great St. Helen Hotel that I mentioned staying at.
End Your Night with City Views From The Shard
The Shard is the perfect place to end your night. It is the tallest building in the UK and one of the most recognizable buildings in London. It is unique in that it houses a variety of different things, from offices to hotel rooms to a public viewing gallery and more. There are also 7 different restaurants and bars to choose from.
The bar that I would recommend visiting is called Aqua Shard. It is located on the 31st floor of the building and will give you incredible views of the city all lit up at night. You can grab a cocktail here and unwind before your next adventure!
- GETTING HERE: It is a ~18 minute walk from Leadenhall Market to the Shard. If you don’t want to walk, you can take the Tube by getting on at the BANK STATION and riding the Northern Line towards Morden.
- Get off at the LONDON BRIDGE station and walk 6 minutes
- Taking the Tube here will take you ~12 minutes (if no Tube delays)
- Get off at the LONDON BRIDGE station and walk 6 minutes
One Day in London – The Recap
Congratulations! You can now officially say you’ve gone sightseeing in London and explored some of the city’s top attractions! If you plan to come back for an extended period of time, I would recommend checking out 2 of my other London posts: 4 Days in London: The Itinerary, and London Travel Tips (for Your First Visit!), to really explore the best of what the city has to offer.
Other Things to See and Do in London
If you have extra time or are already planning your next trip back, here are other attractions that I recommend checking out:
- King’s Cross Station
- St. Pancras Hotel
- Abbey Road
- Covent Garden
- Leicester Square
- Take a hop-on/hop-off bus tour or do a walking tour
- Take a river cruise on the Thames River
- Create your own pub crawl