Things to do in London in 1 day

If you only have one day to see London and it's your first time in the city, you need to read this route!

Isabel Catalán

Isabel Catalán

9 min read

Things to do in London in 1 day

Big Ben, London | ©Lucas Davies

The British capital is a huge city with a lot to see. But if you plan to visit London in one day during a city break you will have to explore the most important sites, as it is very difficult to cover everything, especially if it is your first time there. Especially if it's your first time there.

So that you can see some of London's most important sights in one day, I've put together this short route to help guide you. All the sites are relatively close to each other so you can get to know them all in one long walk. Wear comfortable shoes because we're getting started!

London in a day, in the morning

Tower Bridge - London - UK|©Jan Voorhaar
Tower Bridge - London - UK|©Jan Voorhaar

We start the day at Tower Bridge, which can be reached by tube from Tower Hill station or the London Sightseeing Bus stop 362 Tower Hill, both of which are very close to the Tower of London.

Tour Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge is one of London's most prominent and eye-catching landmarks. It is a 19th century drawbridge built in a beautiful Victorian style and a must-see photo in your memory album.

Book your ticket to Tower Bridge to learn how it was built and how its lifting system worked.

On this side of the river, before continuing your tour of central London, I recommend you take a break and recharge your batteries. In the post Where to eat near the Tower of London you will find several suggestions and restaurants to go to.

Learn about the history of the Tower of London

The next stop on the route: the Tower of London. You will be surprised to see a place as well preserved as this, a very old fortress that has been standing for almost a millennium and that over time has witnessed many important chapters in the history of England. The Tower of London is surrounded by a halo of mystery and fear due to several sinister events that took place within its walls.

Perhaps this is why it is one of the city's most popular tourist attractions, although there are other reasons to explore the monument, such as the Crown Jewels collection, the Line of Kings exhibition and the Medieval Palace, to name but a few. Due to the large number of visitors, I recommend that you book your ticket for the Tower of London in advance.

In the post What to see in the Tower of London you can read a summary of the most outstanding places to see inside.

Book tickets for the Tower of London

Enter St Paul's Cathedral

St Paul's Cathedral| ©Olga Lioncat
St Paul's Cathedral| ©Olga Lioncat

Continue this one-day tour of London with a visit to St Paul's Cathedral, one of the largest cathedrals in the world and the second largest after St Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. Did you know that there have always been religious buildings on the site of St Paul's Cathedral? There is evidence that a dolmen and a Greek temple were built here, and by the 6th century AD there was already a church on this site.

Before the present St. Paul's Cathedral, there was another one made of wood that was destroyed by fire during the Great Fire of London in 1666. A few years later the architect Christopher Wren was commissioned to rebuild it and the work was completed in 1710. Fortunately, nothing happened to it again and it survived the bombings of World War II.

The decoration is a marvel, especially the beautiful ceilings adorned with frescoes.

Book tickets for St. Paul's Cathedral

Ride the London Eye

Cross Westminster Bridge to go across the river to the London Eye, the spectacular Ferris wheel on the banks of the River Thames that changed the city's skyline until the arrival of the towering skyscraper The Shard.

From this side of the river you'll have a completely new and beautiful view of the Palace of Westminster, Big Ben and the Thames itself, but the real treat is to ride the London Eye for a bird's eye view of the beautiful cityscape. You have several ticket options to get on:

This is one of the must-do experiences during your stay in the British capital. Check out the London Eye opening times and London Eye ticket prices to plan your visit and when you have some free time, brave your vertigo to climb to the top.

Book your ticket for the London Eye

London in a day, in the afternoon

Palace of Westminster|©Jhonnilo Soares Cunha
Palace of Westminster|©Jhonnilo Soares Cunha

After a lunch break, the early afternoon is a good time to take a guided walking tour of London through the Westminster area and Buckingham Palace. It's a great way to learn all the secrets of central London from a guide, as well as curious anecdotes that will add value to your trip.

Be dazzled by Big Ben and Palace of Westminster

The next stop on this one-day tour of London is Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster. Also known as the Houses of Parliament, this fabulous Victorian Gothic building has always been a symbol of political power both when it was a royal residence and now houses the two chambers that make up the British Parliament.

The rooms of the Palace of Westminster are decorated in an exquisite classical English style. I recommend taking a guided tour to enjoy the magnificent architecture of the building and stroll around the grounds to take some photographs. There are some areas that are open to the public, such as the beautiful gardens, where you can get a closer look at the Houses of Parliament. Don't forget to take a photo with Big Ben in the background, the legendary clock of the Palace of Westminster which is an icon of the city in itself.

Here are some suggestions for visiting both places and their surroundings:

Book a guided tour of Westminster Abbey

Marvel at Westminster Abbey

After visiting Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster, keep walking and you'll arrive at Westminster Abbey, England's oldest Christian church and one of its most important monuments. So much so that it is considered a living piece of the country's history. That's why you shouldn't miss it on your one-day tour of London.

From the outside it is beautiful, but you will enjoy this Gothic jewel the most if you take a guided tour inside Westminster Abbey, as it houses a lot of wonderful artistic works and amazing places such as the Royal Pantheon, the Poets' Corner or the Chapter House, among many others. Did you know that it is the church where royal coronations are held?

If you are curious, I recommend you to read the post What to see in Westminster Abbey where you can discover all that this national shrine has to offer.

Book a guided tour of Westminster Abbey

Don't miss Buckingham Palace

Exterior of Buckingham Palace| ©Craige McGonigle
Exterior of Buckingham Palace| ©Craige McGonigle

The next stop on this one-day tour of London is the famous Buckingham Palace, the residence of the British royal family since the time of Queen Victoria and currently home to Queen Elizabeth II of England. And this is precisely where its charm lies: it is one of the few working palaces in the world. Many visitors come here to see the spectacular Changing of the Guard ceremony in London.

If you have a bit of time and your visit coincides with the day this event is scheduled (check on their Twitter profile when it takes place), I recommend you stay because it is a very curious spectacle to see and you can take lots of souvenir photos.

To enjoy the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, I recommend you stand in the area of the Victoria Monument in the centre of the rotunda in front of the palace gate, as from there you'll have the best views. And if you want to see the Queen's residence from the inside, you can book a tour of Westminster with tickets to Buckingham Palace. Read more about the changing of the guard experience and Buckingham Palace.

Book a tour of Westminster with tickets to Buckingham Palace

Stroll to James's Park

You can walk from the gates of Buckingham Palace to St. James's Park, the oldest of the city's Royal Parks. In the 16th century King Henry VIII acquired the land to make it his private hunting ground, but it wasn't until the 17th century that the park as it is known today was erected.

Although not one of the most famous parks in the city, St. James's Park is located very close to Buckingham Palace, so its plants and flowers look very well cared for. It's the perfect backdrop for a nice photo shoot on a sunny morning with the palace in the background.

I recommend a visit to the artificial lake surrounded by trees. There are beautiful views of the park and a sense of tranquillity only interrupted by birdsong - you won't feel like you're in the heart of bustling London!

Book the best London sightseeing bus

London by day, by night

Trafalgar Square at night|©Leena22
Trafalgar Square at night|©Leena22

After taking a break in St. James's Park and taking some pictures of the scenery at sunset it's a good time to continue this London in a Day tour and do the final leg.

Walk through Trafalgar Square

As you leave St. James's Park, take The Mall and you'll come to Trafalgar Square, another of London's liveliest and most famous squares. This square was built in the 19th century to commemorate the British victory in the "Battle of Trafalgar" and nowadays you can see several tourist attractions that you will want to take some pictures of.

Firstly, there is Nelson's Column erected in honour of the English Admiral Horatio Nelson who died during the battle. It is surrounded by lions made from the molten bronze of French cannons. On the other side, the National Gallery, the most important art museum in the city, which I recommend you to visit inside when you have time. Through the Hellotickets website you have several guided tours available:

In Trafalgar Square you can also see a statue of US President George Washington donated by the Commonwealth of Virginia. This monument has a curious fact: it was placed on soil imported from America because Washington swore never to set foot on British soil again. Curious, isn't it?

Guided tour of the National Gallery in London

Get to Piccadilly Circus

And taking Regent Street you'll reach Piccadilly Circus, the last stop on this one-day tour of London! This central square will ring a bell with its large illuminated advertising signs and the Eros fountain, one of the emblems of the British capital.

Located in the West End, Piccadilly Circus is always crowded at any time of the day because there are plenty of restaurants, shops, theatres and cinemas in the surrounding area.

You'll find that it's a lively place where Londoners and tourists alike come together to have a good time. Especially at night, when the neon lights glow from the neon signs on the buildings in the square, giving it a very cool futuristic and magical look. In fact, it's one of the stops if you book the London Night Sightseeing Bus.

Book the London Night Bus Tour

End the tour with the best musical

To end a day as fabulous as this one touring the streets of London, how about taking advantage of ending at Piccadilly Circus to relax and watch one of the West End musicals?

Their shows are a marvel and rival those of New York's world-famous Broadway, and London' s musicals are sure to leave you in awe! However, I recommend that you buy your tickets for London musicals in advance.

Buy tickets for London musicals