How to Make the Most of One Day in London
One day in any city is never enough. We all know that – but sometimes your itinerary just necessitates a short stop, and you don’t have the flexibility to change that. I travel a ton, I get it! But when it comes to my favorite city, London, you might wonder if my advice still applies: can you really see London in one day?
My answer is both yes and no. If you only have one day in London, you can definitely pack in a lot, but don’t be surprised if not everything you expect turns up on my list or you leave wanting to immediately plan a return trip.
From Parliament to Tower Bridge, this one-day London itinerary will show you as many of the city’s top sights as possible in a short time – and inspire you to come back and explore for longer in the future.
London One-Day Travel Tips
Before jumping into my itinerary, I want to briefly cover a few important questions I can imagine you might have while planning your trip for one day in London.
Should You Buy the London Pass?
I’ve previously written a review of the London Pass here on my site and generally recommend it for everyone – especially if you’re planning your first trip to London and plan to do a lot of sightseeing. But is the London Pass worth it if you only have one day in London?
The one-day London Pass costs £79. Based on the itinerary I recommend below, you’ll pay up to £122 if you pay to enter all of the sights. That means you’ll save up to £43 by purchasing the London Pass!
So yeah, I think you should by the London Pass for your one-day London trip. But it’s up to you if you plan to not enter all of the sights I recommend or change the itinerary some other way.
Getting Around London
No matter how long you have to visit, the best way to get around London is by using public transport: the London Underground and the buses.
On this itinerary for one day in London, you won’t be taking any buses, just the Tube (Underground).
To help you manage that, I’ve got a different guide about how to ride the London Underground. It covers all the basics you need to know, including maps and apps to help you navigate and etiquette tips for riding the Tube.
What to Pack for London
London has a nicely temperate climate, so it generally doesn’t get too hot in the summer or too cold in the winter. That means you can pack most of the same items no matter when you visit, and my London packing list will help you get started. I’m also working on a special packing list if you’re visiting London and the forecast calls for rain – I’ll add that link once I’ve published it.
How to Spend One Day in London (If You Only Have One Day!)
I’ll be honest: one day is not enough time in London. Heck, I don’t think a lifetime is enough time in London, if I had my way about it! But if you only have one day in London, you want to make the most of it. And I remember well the feeling I had on my first day in London where I wanted to pack it all in. To begin, I’ve put together an interactive map that covers all of the stops I recommend visiting when you have one day in London – and suggested walking routes you can follow. It looks like two brackets on the map, but as you’ll see, I also include rides on the Underground to connect the dots.
Okay, now that you’ve gotten a sneak peak, let’s dive into my itinerary for one day in London.
Begin: Waterloo Station
Start by catching the tube to Waterloo Station. Waterloo is on the Bakerloo, Jubilee, and Northern (Charing Cross Branch) Lines, so you’ve got plenty of options to get to the station no matter where you’re staying in London. When you reach Waterloo station and get off the train, take the exits that point you toward the South Bank.
As you exit the station onto Leake Street, don’t miss out on the Graffiti Tunnel right near the station exit. This is a cool public art gallery where graffiti is legal – it’s a perfect spot for your first photo of the day!
1. Take in the Best View of Parliament
From Leake Street, turn left on York Road and then right on Westminster Bridge Road. Follow Westminster Bridge Road until you reach Westminster Bridge. On the south side of the bridge, take the stairs down to the riverfront path.
From here you can see my absolute favorite view of Parliament with the Thames and Westminster Bridge in the frame. There are plenty of incredible angles to view the Houses of Parliament, also called Westminster Palace, but this one has long been my favorite – and it’s still pretty secret so it’s not as crowded for photos as other views.
2. Visit Westminster Abbey
After you’ve taken in the view, climb back up to Westminster Bridge Road and continue across the Thames. Don’t worry – you’ll have plenty of opportunities to take more photos of Parliament along the way. Once you pass Parliament, you’re in the Westminster area of London. Follow Westminster Bridge Road to Parliament Street and turn left. Westminster Abbey will come into view.
Westminster Abbey is one of the most beautiful buildings in London, and an incredible example of High Gothic architecture. You probably recognize it as the site of many royal weddings throughout the decades – Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, or Prince William and Kate Middleton.
You can choose to walk around the building or pay admission to enter. It’s £23 to enter Westminster Abbey, but it’s also included in your London Pass.
3. Wave to the Queen at Buckingham Palace
From Westminster Abbey, it’s a 15-20 minute walk to Buckingham Palace if you follow the route on my map above. I recommend this route rather than the fastest one that Google Maps suggests because my route takes you along the edge of St. James’s Park.
At Buckingham Palace, you can take a tour through the public staterooms; the entrance is located on southern side of the building. Or, you can admire the view from the outside: the Victoria Memorial in the rotunda outside the palace gates is a popular photo spot.
Note: You probably don’t have time to enter both Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace with just one day in London. I recommend choosing to do just one of the two based on your interest.
If you time it right, you can also see the Changing of the Guard which occurs daily at 11am outside Buckingham Palace. This ceremony occurs along The Mall (the street that runs perpendicular to Buckingham Palace) and is a popular spectacle. You can walk up The Mall a bit to find a good spot, since you’ll continue walking along that road to the next stop.
4. Walk to Trafalgar Square
As mentioned, continue on The Mall toward Trafalgar Square. Along the way, you’ll pass Clarence House and St. James’s Palace – the official residence of Charles, The Prince of Wales, and Camilla, The Duchess of Cornwall. Across The Mall you can stroll along St. James’s Park on the The Diana Princess Of Wales Memorial Walk.
Once you reach the end of The Mall, you’ll pass through the neoclassical Admiralty Arch and into Trafalgar Square. Atop the column you can spot Lord Nelson, and the four Landseer Lions around the base. Climb the steps toward the National Gallery and turn around. From here you can peer toward both Buckingham Palace and the Elizabethan Tower of Parliament. It’s another great photo stop – one of many on this one day London Itinerary, if you hadn’t figured that out yet!
5. Enjoy Lunch near Embankment
By this point, it’s time for lunch! The map above will guide you to Villiers Street, where there are a number of diverse restaurants available for dine-in or take-away lunch. My favorite spot on Villiers Street is Herman Ze German, a place that specializes in currywurst – and in my opinion it’s the best spot outside of Berlin!
For another lunch option, you could head to the Sherlock Holmes pub on Northumberland Street. This iconic pub is named for the famous fictional detective and is a perfect option for a pub lunch and pint. (Need inspiration on what to order? Check out my list of must-try London foods.)
6. Ride the Tube to Mansion House Station
After lunch, it’s time to ride the tube to another part of London with more sights to see. Catch the District or Circle Line from Embankment Station, and get off the train at Mansion House Station. This is an easy ride that follows the path of the Thames, and puts you out in the City of London.
7. Visit St. Paul’s Cathedral
From Mansion House Station, exit to Cannon Street and turn left. Follow Cannon Street to St. Paul’s Cathedral, which you should be able to see as you exit the tube station.
St. Paul’s Cathedral is my favorite building in London, and well worth the admission to enter and see from the inside as well as outside. (Pro-tip: admission to St. Paul’s is also included in the London Pass!) You can stroll through the cathedral and possibly climb the dome, depending on the wait time to do so. Honestly, even if you skip on paying to enter other places on this list, don’t do that here – it’s a truly stunning building and the pinnacle of Sir Christopher Wren’s architecture in London.
8. Climb the Monument
Once you’ve gotten your fill of St. Paul’s, head back outside to Cannon Street and make your way back toward Mansion House Station. Continue on past the tube station, until you reach Monument Station (about a 15 minute walk from St. Paul’s). One block down King William Street and you’ll spot The Monument tucked away on Monument Street.
This Monument, also built by Sir Christopher Wren, was designed to commemorate the Great London Fire of 1666, and is located very near the original site of the fire. It’s 311 to the top of the Monument, but if you pay to enter (also included in the London Pass!) and climb, you’ll enjoy panoramic views of the City of London, including The Shard, London Bridge, and other iconic buildings.
9. Learn History at the Tower of London
Getting footsore? We’re not done yet! From The Monument, continue on Cannon Street (now called Eastcheap and eventually called Great Tower Street) to the Tower of London. There’s no more directions than that – you can’t miss it!
The Tower of London is another must-do, which is part of what makes this one-day London itinerary so jam-packed. I highly recommend booking a tour or at least purchasing admission and the self-guided audio tour to explore the Tower of London and interior White Keep on your own. You’ll learn a ton about the history of London and royalty, and get to peek at the Crown Jewels. (Pro-tip: Admission to the Tower of London is also included in the London Pass!)
10. Cross Tower Bridge
From the Tower of London, you can see the iconic Tower Bridge; that’s your next stop!
While you can pay to climb the tower, cross the span, and descend back down to street level, I don’t think there’s time for that during this itinerary for one day in London. (You could however skip entering St. Paul’s Cathedral and/or climbing The Monument if you really want to climb Tower Bridge or are a big engineering buff!) That said, you need to cross the Thames and there’s no more picturesque way to do that than on Tower Bridge!
Once you’ve crossed the bridge, there’s a great photo of the bridge from Potters Fields Park.
11. Ascend The Shard
Continue along the Thames, using The Shard as your guide. What is The Shard, you ask? Why it’s that huge building towering above the city from the south side of the Thames – and you’re going to the top of it!
The View from The Shard is definitely one of the best views in London, and it’s located on the 69th to 72nd floors of the building. It costs £34 to access these views, but you can also use your London Pass for free entry. From there, you can enjoy a cocktail or just take in the panoramic sight.
12. Enjoy Dinner at The George
Before the final sight of your one day in London, it’s time for a quick dinner. The George is located near the Shard, down Borough High Street, and tucked back on an alley. I discovered this pub on my first trip to London and love that it’s tucked off the main street and retains a much older charm than some other pubs converted to new and modern style over the past decade. This because it dates back to the 17th century!
Tuck in here for a pint and bite to eat before heading back up Borough High Street to London Bridge Station. Don’t delay too long though – you need to time your meal so you have time to make it to the London Eye for sunset.
(In the event you’re visiting London in the late autumn, winter, or early spring, I recommend skipping dinner now, and riding the London Eye before you eat.)
13. Ride the Tube from London Bridge to Waterloo
Making your way back up to London Bridge Station, catch the Jubilee Line to Waterloo Station again – it’s all full circle on this one-day London itinerary!
Exit Waterloo Station through the same exit as earlier in the day, and head up Chicheley Street toward the London Eye. That’s your destination!
14. Enjoy Sunset on the London Eye
Arrive at the London Eye around 45 minutes before sunset; you’ll want to purchase timed tickets in advance (before you arrive in London) for 30 minutes before sunset so you can check in, do the 15-minute introduction, and get in line to board the London Eye before the sun goes down.
Once you board the London Eye, you can enjoy a 30-minute ride. As you do, the sun will set and you’ll see London light up, including the Houses of Parliament just before you disembark. Everyone has the same photos from the Eye, but it’s honestly still one of my favorite “tourist spots” in London and definitely something you must do if you only have one day in London.
End: Stroll to the London Tube & Catch Your Ride
Back on the ground after your ride on the London Eye, it’s time to make your way back to your hotel. You may want to head back to Waterloo station, or cross the Thames to Embankment station depending on which Underground line you need. (Don’t forget, I have a guide for riding the tube including recommended apps.) If you haven’t had dinner yet, that’s also important to find too – if you need a suggestion, let me know in the comments.
And with that, you’ve had an absolutely jam-packed day in London. Despite being short on time, you’ll have seen most of London’s must-see sights and hopefully you’ve also fallen in love with the city and want to plan a return trip back.
Where to Stay in London for 1 Day
A lot of people will advise you to stay in Central London on your first trip… Normally I advise against that, but if you only have one day in London, you don’t want to spend them all on the Tube getting to and from your hotel! If you have your heart set on staying in Central London, look at neighborhoods like Hoxton or Clerkenwell. These neighborhoods are away from the crowds but within walking distance of attractions like Covent Garden, the West End, and the British Museum, which you can squeeze into this itinerary.
Otherwise, if you need to save or are open to staying in another part of town, look at:
- West London, like Kensington, Chelsea, or even Brompton, is still the poshest part of town. It’s a bit more spendy but has a more residential vibe.
- North London, or should I say near-North London like Angel or King’s Cross, is in close proximity to Central London but often quieter and a bit cheaper.
- East London, including Brick Lane, Shoreditch, and Aldgate East, is the place to be especially if you love nightlife, street food, and street art.
- South London, like Bankside or Bermondsey, is a lesser-visited part of the city, but still has an urban feel and great public transit access (mostly bus).
Need more advice on where to stay in London? Take my quiz for a specific neighborhood suggestion:
Other London Itineraries to Consider
Are you inspired to spend even more time in London? Here are other London itineraries I’ve written to help you plan:
- How to Make the Most of 2 Days in London
- 3 Days in London: A Jam-Packed Itinerary in the Best City on Earth
- 4 Days in London: A Perfect Long Weekend Itinerary
- 5 Days in London: How to Plan a Short Week Itinerary
- 6 Days in London: A Perfect First-Time Itinerary
- 7 Days in London: The Best Things to Do for a Week
- 8 Days in London: A Lovely Long-Week Itinerary
- 9 Days in London: How to Plan a Perfect, PTO-Maximizing Itinerary
- 10 Days in London: How to Plan Your Itinerary
- 11 Days in London: A Lovely, Leisurely U.K. Visit (+12 Day-Option)
- 2 Weeks in London: The Ultimate Itinerary for 13-14 Days
Have any questions about spending one day in London or my suggested one-day itinerary? Let me know in the comments!