The British capital is a huge city with plenty to see. But if you plan to visit London in one day during a city break, you'll need to explore the most important sites, as it's hard to take it all in. 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'll be able to see them all in one long walk. Put on some comfortable shoes because we're just getting started!
1. London in a day, in the morning
Tower Bridge, another of the most prominent symbols of the city that attracts all the attention. It is a nineteenth-century drawbridge built in a beautiful Victorian style whose photo cannot be missing in your souvenir album.
Although Tower Bridge can be visited inside to learn how it was erected and how its lift system worked, it's not really something I'd advise you to spend time on if you can only see London in a day.
On this side of the river, before continuing your tour of central London, I suggest 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.
Tower of London
The next stop on the route: the Tower of London. You'll be surprised to see a place as well preserved as this, an ancient fortress that has been standing for almost a millennium and that 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 most popular tourist attractions in the city, although there are other reasons to explore the monument such as the Crown Jewels collection, the "Line of Kings" exhibition or the Medieval Palace, to name a few.
In the post What to see in the Tower of London you can read a summary of the highlights to see inside.
St Paul's Cathedral
Continue this tour of London in a day by visiting the fabulous St Paul's Cathedral, one of the largest 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 it occupies? 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 the 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.
If you have time I recommend you go inside because the decoration is marvellous, especially the beautiful ceilings adorned with frescoes.
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 get a completely new and beautiful view of the Palace of Westminster, Big Ben and the Thames itself, but the real treat is riding the London Eye for a bird's eye view of the beautiful cityscape.
This is one of the must-do experiences during your stay in the British capital. Take a look at the London Eye opening hours and London Eye ticket prices to plan your visit and when you have some free time, brave your vertigo to climb to the top.
2. London in a day, in the evening
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.
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 nowadays it 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. If you have time during your trip, I recommend you take a guided tour to enjoy the magnificent architecture of the building, but if you don't, don't worry because you can always take a stroll around the grounds to take some pictures.
There are some areas that are open to the public, such as the beautiful gardens, from 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.
After visiting Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster, keep walking and you will arrive at Westminster Abbey, the oldest Christian church in England 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 the royal coronations are held?
If you're curious, I recommend you read the post What to see in Westminster Abbey where you can discover everything this national shrine has to offer.
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 where Queen Elizabeth II of England currently lives.
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 their Twitter profile to see when it takes place), I recommend you stay because it is a very curious spectacle to see and you will be able to take lots of souvenir photos.
To enjoy the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, I recommend you stand in the Victory Monument area in the centre of the rotunda in front of the palace gate, as you'll have the best views from there.
And if you want to see the inside of the Queen's residence, you can also do so, although only during the summer in London when the monarch goes on holiday. I tell you more about this experience in the post How to see the Changing of the Guard and Buckingham Palace.
St James's Park
You can walk from the gates of Buckingham Palace to St. James's Park, the oldest of the Royal Parks in the city. 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 op 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!
3. London by day, by night
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 Day Tour and do the final stretch.
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 erected in the 19th century to commemorate the British victory in the "Battle of Trafalgar" and nowadays you can see several tourist attractions that you'll want to take some pictures of.
Firstly, there is Nelson's Column erected in honour of the British Admiral Horatio Nelson who died during the battle. It is surrounded by several 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 visit inside when you have time.
In Trafalgar Square you will also see a statue of the American President George Washington donated by the State of Virginia. This monument has a curious fact: it was placed on soil imported from America because he swore never to set foot on British soil again. Curious, isn't it?
And taking Regent Street you will arrive at Piccadilly Circus, the last stop on this one-day tour of London!
This central square will ring a bell for its large illuminated advertising signs and for having the Eros fountain, one of the emblems of the British capital, at its centre.
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 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.
What to do after the tour?
To round off a fabulous day out on the streets of London, how about ending it at Piccadilly Circus and relaxing by watching one of the West End musicals?