Looking to spend a day in London? If you’ve only got 24 hours in the land where royalty lives, you’ll definitely need an itinerary. Here’s how to spend just one day in London, filled with the best things to do, see, and eat, for your short jaunt in the capital. Plus practical tips to make the most of your visit— from a Londoner herself!
Dosed in history and royals, splashed in pretty pastel houses and filled with an ungodly amount of instagrammable locations — London is the perfect place for a once-in-a-lifetime trip. And there’s oh so much to do (here’s my London bucket list with over 150 things to do!).
But if you’re only visiting the very best city in the world (in my very humble opinion) for 24 hours, you’ll want to do it right. Here’s how to spend just one (but very busy!) day in London written by London expert Candace from Candace Abroad! I obviously recommend spending at least 3 days in London, but hey, sometimes there’s more of Europe to discover (say, like Greece, Bosnia, and Iceland!). Take it away, Candace!!!
A Quick Overview of London
If you’ve never been to London you may be wondering what all the fuss is about. Let me fill you in. For over two millennium’s London’s held ranks as one of the world’s most iconic cities. A melting pot of cultures, food, and languages (over 250 spoken in the capital alone!)
London is an international hub spanned across 32 boroughs and 48 neighbourhoods, i.e if you’re wondering how to see all of London in one day…you probably won’t. So plan to revisit!
A Day in London Itinerary Practicals
The Best Time to Visit London
The best time to visit London is…debatable. But for me personally? I love Autumn. Something about the city comes to life when all the streets are lined with crunchy orange and bright red leaves, plus tourist season is low, so you’ll be able to take in more of the city like a local. But, if you can’t make a fall trip, no sweat! Here’s the pros and cons to visiting London for each season:
Pros: You’ll get to see all of London’s amazing Christmas lights dotted throughout the city (Oxford Street, Regent’s Street, and Carnaby Street are must-sees during the season)
Cons: Eyy…the weather’s not the best. Daylight hours are also super short during this time, so the sun will start to set from about 4pm.
Pros: All the spring flowers are in full bloom and the London parks are full of greenery, plus the weather is just right!
Cons: Spring in London usually draws in lots of tourism, meaning your hotel and flight prices might surge.
Pros: Lots of seasonal events and pop-ups on, super warm weather and Buckingham Palace opens for visitors!
Cons: Same as spring, there’s a huge tourism surge when London gets warm, even more so in summer—so don’t say I didn’t warn ya!
Pros: Beautiful fall foliage (need I say more?) and low-tourism, perfect for exploring the city to the fullest!
Cons: Like I said, the weather…isn’t the best. And if you visit at the end of Autumn you may get major FOMO missing out on all the Christmas lights…
What to Pack for London
Packing for London will look a bit different depending on what season you’re visiting (here’s what to pack for each) but in general you’ll want to bring:
- Layers: One thing you can’t count on in London is the weather, one second you’re prancing in a sundress and the next you’re scrambling your tote bag for something warm. Whatever season you visit, make sure you pack layers! This includes a light jacket, scarf/pashmina and/or trench coat (if you’re feeling extra London-y).
- Stylish Hat: There’s nothing like a bad hair day to ruin your day of London exploring; make sure you have a stylish hat or two handy — and no one will even notice!
- Comfortable Flats: The amount of walking you’ll be doing in London will quite frankly be ridonculous (yes, it’s a word). Make sure you pack shoes you’d feel comfortable walking around in for a few hours each day. White sneakers are always stylish and comfy — always my go to!
- International Adapter: In the midst of all your packing it’s easy to forget the UK uses different outlets, so don’t and buy one ASAP! It’s also best to get an international adapter in case you’re pairing your trip to London with somewhere else in Europe.
- Portable Charger: Do you really want to say you missed a snapshot of Queen Lizzie because you forgot to charge your phone? This one’s super tiny and holds a full charge.
- Tote or Small Backpack: It’ll be uber tempting to bring everything with you while you’re exploring London—resist! And stick to a small tote or backpack with all your essentials.
- Umbrella: Expected I know, but worth the reminder!
The good news about London is that it’s never too hot and never too cold. Here’s a climate breakdown:
- Spring: Highs from 53°F (12°C) to 64°F (18°C) and lows from 43°F (6°C) and 55°F (13°C)
- Summer: Highs from 70°F (21°C) to 73°F (23°C) and lows from 59°F (15°C)
- Autumn: Highs from 68°F (20°C) to 53°F (12°C), and lows of about 50°F (10°C)
- Winter: Highs from 48°F (9°C) with the average low about 41°F (5°C) (but over the past couple years we’ve had some days below freezing—so be prepared!)
The ‘pound’ or GBP (Great British Pound) is the national currency of the U.K. Thankfully for you, the GBP has gone down a lot over the years, and is exchanged at around 1.35 US Dollars per pound now.
Apple Pay is literally everywhere here, so if you don’t already, consider setting it up before your trip. Since the panny…more and more businesses have opted for cashless operations (even to pay for the toilets!), so plan to use your credit or debit card for the majority of your trip. If you do need cash, there are thousands of ATM’s dotted around the city.
Although there’s hundreds of languages spoken in the capital, English is still the official language.
Time to school you on some culture before you head across the pond! Here’s some etiquette tips to keep in mind for your one day in London:
- Mind the queue: A queue’ means a line, and Brits take them very seriously. Always hop to the back (and make sure it is the back) to avoid judgy eyes.
- Stand on the left: In London (and a lot of other cities apparently) it’s common practice to stand on the left and walk on the right when riding the escalator. So make sure you follow this rule, especially if you have luggage with you!
- Manners: If there’s anywhere to mind your manners, it’s in London. But I’ll make it easy, overuse ‘sorry’ and ‘excuse me’ here and you’ll be good to go.
- Tipping: Tipping is more common in London now, so be sure to leave around 15% (or more if the service was good) at the end of each sit-down meal. You’ll also want to check your receipt to see if service was included in the bill already before you pay.
- Talking about the weather: If you’re ever lost for a conversation starter in London, this is it!
Getting to and from London Heathrow or London Gatwick
If you’re traveling to London internationally, you’ll most likely be arriving in London Heathrow or London Gatwick.
The best way to get from London Heathrow to your accommodation is to take the train. Once you leave departures, just follow the sign to the Heathrow Express — this is the fastest option as it’ll take you to London Paddington station in just 15 minutes (P.S – you can also save up to 75% off on your ticket if you book in advance!).
Otherwise, you can take the London Underground. This is the most cost-effective option starting at just £5.30. Use your contactless or Oyster card (you can purchase one at the station) and hop on the Piccadilly line to your accommodation—it’ll take about 50-60 minutes!
To get from London Gatwick to your accommodation you can take the Gatwick Express which will take you to Victoria station in 30 minutes. Otherwise, you can take the Southern Railway or Thameslink train to get to Central London.
P.S – You can purchase your tickets at the airport for each, so don’t stress if you haven’t planned in advance.
How to Get Around London
With dozens of boroughs and neighborhoods to explore (in so little time!) you’ll want to get around as quickly and efficiently as possible. The best ways to get around in London are:
- The Tube: The London Underground or “The Tube” as we call it is by far the quickest and easiest way to get around the city. Before you get to London, it’s worth giving this map a quick glance to familiarize yourself with all the lines and stations (especially the ones near your accommodation). But getting around is pretty easy as there’s signage everywhere and tons of TfL staff around to help.
- Bus: Although it’s a bit slower, my favorite way to get around London will always be by bus (that one gives you all-day access and allows you to hop-on hop-off at all the touristy sites). Be sure to snag a seat at the front of the top deck for some extra sightseeing opps!
- Citymapper: Every Londoner lives and breathes Citymapper—and you should too! From helping you find your nearest station to timing and pricing your journeys it’s a must-have for your one day in London.
- Contactless or Oyster Card: To pay for your journeys, you’ll use your Contactless card or Oyster. To use, just ‘tap in’ on the yellow card machines at the start of your journey and ‘tap out’ when you exit—easy peasy!
To purchase your Oyster card, just head to your nearest Underground station, where you can “top-up” to pre-pay for your journeys. If you want to be extra prepared you can purchase a ‘Visitor Oyster’ in advance.
How to Save Money for Your One Day in London
There’s no getting around it, London is one of the most expensive cities in Europe—and the world! Even though you’ll only be in London for one day it’s still worth it to save where you can, here’s how:
- Save on Accommodation: Accommodation will always be your biggest expense while traveling, so consider staying in a budget-friendly hotel or hostel in London if you’re looking to save money for your visit (P.S – I’ve listed accommodation recs for each budget type at the end!)
- Get the London Pass: If you’re keen on going inside a few of the attractions during your visit, you may want to consider the London Pass. The London Pass lets you access over 80 attractions in the city all for the price of one (with options for fast track tickets too). How’s that for savings?!
- Use the Hopper Fare: To save on transport, consider taking the bus over the Tube. Using London’s Hopper Fare you can cash in on unlimited journeys within one hour, all for £1.55.
- Try the Market Scene: Since you’re on a time limit, there’s no need to spend the day splashing the cash at every London restaurant in sight. Test out the market scene over sit-down meals if you’re keen to save some pounds.
A Day in London Itinerary
What To Do and See in London in One Day: Morning Itinerary
If you only have a day in London, it’s best to make the most of it! To do so, I suggest starting your day around 8am. This gives you plenty of time to have an early breakfast and catch the tube or have a lazy walk to your first sightseeing destination before the queues get too long.
But if I’m being honest, I don’t think you should spend your one day in London in attraction queues, so consider skipping most of the landmarks (I’d say you only have time to go inside 1-2) and simply admire from afar.
Tower of London
Built in 1097 the Tower of London is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the UK’s most visited landmarks for its historic and cultural significance.
The ‘White Tower’ has been everything from a fortress to an execution site, and royal residence, (Oh, and a zoo apparently?). Here you’ll be able to step back in time, gawk at treasured crown jewels, and catch the ‘Beefeaters’ (which is just a super fancy name for ceremonial guards).
Practicals: I would spend around 1 ½- 2 hours here if you want the full experience. I recommend buying skip-the-line tickets to the Tower of London (time is of the essence when you only have a day in London) or go for free if you have the London Pass.
Another pit-worthy spot is Tower Bridge, and lucky for you it’s literally right next to the Tower of London (we’re talking a 5 minute walk).
As one of London’s most famous bridges (also, not to be confused with London Bridge) you can walk along and get some nice shots of the Thames while you carry on for your one day in London.
If you’re extra keen you could walk along the glass walkway at the top for iconic views of the city. But if you’re only spending one day in London I suggest just passing through. You’ll see it next time!
If you’re still good on time, consider making a quick stroll along the Southbank. You can peek at the HMS Belfast warship, dip into Hay’s Galleria’s market stalls for some independent shopping and if you’re really good on time, pay a visit to the (free!) Tate Modern museum.
Once you’ve left the Tower of London and Tower Bridge it’s time to pop over to London’s best attraction—the London Eye! The giant observation wheel offers spectacular views of London and of course, gives you all the street cred you need to say you’ve been to the Big Smoke.
Practicals: For the best-priced tickets be sure to book in advance. Since you’re only spending one day in London, time is of the essence, so consider getting a Fast Track Ticket if you want to skip the lines.
Houses of Parliament/Big Ben
If you’re at the London Eye you’ll inevitably see the Houses of Parliament in full view—time to walk over!
Unfortunately Big Ben is still under construction, so I wouldn’t hold out for that gram shot. But this is where the UK government makes new laws, holds debates and all the other important stuff that comes with running a country and that.
Unbeknownst to many tourists, you can also visit inside the Houses of Parliament if you wish (check the latest updates here).
P.S – For an extra treat, make a left after Big Ben until you stumble on Victoria Tower Gardens—a secret green space behind the Houses of Parliament and a frequent filming spot for the BBC!
Very close by you’ll find Westminster Abbey, home to 17 royal weddings, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site dosed in hundreds of years of British history.
With striking medieval architecture, royal memorials, ancient tombs, and grand statues you’ll definitely want to give it a quick gawk before you continue on your one day in London.
Practicals: If you’d like to add this to your attractions to visit, you can purchase your tickets here.
St James Park
To get to Buckingham Palace (coming up next!) you’ll need to make your way through the ever-so-lovely St James Park—with buckets of bright flowers, lush greenery, amazing views and a plethora of bird-watching opps.
Can you even say you’ve been to London if you haven’t been to Buckingham Palace? It’d be a sin to spend one day in London and not visit the monarchy’s London crib.
If you’d like to get up close and personal (and are visiting in summer) you can book a tour of the State Rooms to gawk at the royal thrones.
If you happen to be visiting London on a Monday, Wednesday, Friday or Sunday you can even catch the Changing of the Guards (from 10:45am)
What To Do and See in a day in London: Afternoon Itinerary
You’ve made it through the morning! If you’re not completely exhausted yet, get ready to take in an afternoon of soaking in street art, hopping around pastel houses, and lazying down charming London canals. For time’s sake, plan to spend no more than 1 to 1½ hours in each neighbourhood.
If you can only explore one neighborhood for your one day in London, let it be Shoreditch.
The official ‘hip’ side of London boasts tons of vibrant street art and culture, independent shops and the infamous Brick Lane Market housing some of the Big Smoke’s most classic street food.
Given your time limit here you’ll probably want to stick to taking in the street art, having a quick browse on Brick Lane Market and grabbing a sweet treat at Beigel Bake (thank me later).
Whether you’re looking to have your Julia Robert’s moment (or just get a glimpse of Hugh Grant) Notting Hill’s charm will instantly make you feel like you’ve stepped into a movie.
While here, you can potter about Portobello Market for a unique souvenir, take some gram-worthy pics in front of oodles of colourful houses or of course, visit the Notting Hill Travel Bookshop IRL!
P.S – If you’d like to indulge in some extra time in Notting Hill for your one day in London, check out my full Notting Hill Guide!)
And we’re off to Camden! Nestled in the heart of North London Camden is filled with eclectic charm, punk rock, and buzzing markets.
Try your luck at haggling alongside Camden High Street before picking up dessert in the ever-delicious Camden Market (the Dutch Pancakes are the best!). Once you’ve got your grub, take a brisk walk (about 15 minutes) up to Primrose Hill, for one of the best views in London.
Before you head into the evening, you can stroll through Regent’s Park and do a quick jaunt along Regent’s canal to take in a few minutes of lazy boats, local Londoners and candy-colored houses on the river.
P.S – If you’re vegan or vegetarian, I highly suggest visiting Buck Street Market on Camden High Street in lieu of Camden Market—it’s London’s first eco market with dozens of vegan and vegetarian stalls!
What To Do and See in London in One Day: Evening Itinerary
Evening already? Let’s make the most of it! To forgo hopping around the city for your last hour in London, we’re slowing it down for the rest of your trip, with a balmy evening in Covent Garden.
Covent Garden Dinner, Drinks & Comedy
Covent Garden is where Londoners go to unwind, whether it’s taking up an afternoon aperitif or listening to the sound of live performers pulsating through the streets, there’s never a dull moment here. Grab dinner in the Main Piazza or stumble through Seven Dial’s Market—Covent Garden’s secret cobbled stoned market for every cuisine under the sun.
After that, you’ll want to grab a cocktail and take in the interiors at insanely pretty Mr Fogg’s Tavern. Then it’s showtime baby! End your evening in London with some British humor at the Top Secret Comedy Club.
Where to Stay for Your One-Day in London
Your one day in London will mainly take place in Zone 1 (Central London) so I recommend staying close by. Here’s some recs!
- Budget-Friendly £: To get the most bang for your buck during your London stay I’d suggest SoHostel. Beautiful and affordable, their smack-dab-in-the-middle-of-London location is hard to beat as you’re literally a hop away from Oxford Street (or you know, a five minute walk). With only a day in London, you don’t wanna stay in your hotel anyways!
- Mid-Range ££: Trendy and colorful with excellent views of Tower Bridge—the citizenM Tower of London isn’t the kind of hotel you forget easily. Perched on top of Tower Hill you’ll be able to access all of Central London with ease and stop off for a cocktail at their 7th-floor cloudMbar to end your night in the city.
- Luxury £££: Set in the heart of Covent Garden, The Aldwych is London’s most luxury independent hotel. From elegant suites to a superb on-site restaurant and swimming pool with underwater music (yes, really) it’s the perfect place to end your day of Londoning in style.
What to Eat for Your One Day in London
Don’t worry foodies—I won’t leave you hanging! Here are some foodie spots to pop into (and leave very happy), all close to my itinerary recommendations, so let’s eat!
P.S – Many of the recommendations below will be for international cuisine—but outside of English Breakfast and Fish and Chips, the international influence is what really makes the food scene in London!
- Where the Pancakes Are: A few minutes from Tower Bridge will lead you into the arms of London’s best pancake spot (seriously). Perfect for grabbing some fresh and fluffy breakfast before heading back into exploring mode—btw, the Forest Berries Pancakes are to die for!
- Borough Market: You’ll also be effortlessly close to Borough Market in the AM, so might as well make the pit stop! There’s so much to try here, but the artisanal cheese at Neal’s Yard Dairy and Indian vegetarian street food at Horn OK Please (especially the spicy potato-filled chickpea dosas)…are heavenly.
- Granger & Co. (or Farm Girl Cafe): Granger & Co. is a charming all-day restaurant and Aussie-favorite plopped in Notting Hill with quote ‘sunshine food and sunny vibes’. Their lunch sandwiches are amazing! But if you’re not in the mood for a big meal, consider popping in for a coffee at the equally Australian owned (and very instagrammable) Farm Girl Cafe.
- Brick Lane Market: With all the foodie goodness that lies in Brick Lane Market it can be hard to sort your options — so let me help! First off, you have to try the Salt beef Beigel from Beigel Bake (a day in London just isn’t complete without one). For a sweet vegan treat (especially their rainbow cake) head to Vida’s Bakery, and of course, don’t leave without trying a famous Brick Lane Curry.
- Camden Market (or Poppies): For Camden Market…if you love Middle Eastern food, Zala Grill will hit all your taste buds just right. For homemade Arepas (that practically transport you to Venezuela right then and there) go to Arepazo Bros. And you can find the Dutch Pancakes I recommended before at A Party of Poffertjes.
If you’re in the mood for a more traditional British lunch, head down the street from Camden Market to Poppies for some of the best fish and chips in London.
- Casanova & Daughters: Casanova & Daughters gives you an excuse to enjoy Neal’s Yard while you’re in Covent Garden—and their wine selection is out of this world! The Italian staple serves fresh Silician deli over dripping olive oils and a warm and welcoming staff (unmissable balcony views included).
- Seven Dials Market: The banana warehouse has over a dozen food stalls, so it’s easy to get overwhelmed. But if you’re vegan, you have to try Club Mexicana’s plant-based menu. There’s pillow-soft Bao buns at Yum Bun worth biting into, and delicious cocktails calling your name at The Downstairs Bar.
If you’re less of the DIY type when it comes to travel, consider skipping some of the itinerary for a niche tour of London. And if you’ve got more than just a day in London, definitely check these out! Here are some of my favorites:
- Classic Afternoon Tea Bus Tour with Brigit’s Bakery
- Magical London: Harry Potter Guided Walking Tour
- 3-Hour Secret British Food Tour
- London by Night Sightseeing Open-Top Bus Tour
- Alternative London: 2-Hour Street Art Walking Tour
I hope you enjoyed this 1 day in London guide, let me know what you get up to in the city! Until then…