Last Updated on November 24, 2022 by Sophie Nadeau
Bold, vibrant, and bursting with life: before embarking on any trip to London, it’s important to note that it would be absolutely impossible to even skim the surface during just 24 hours in London. After all, seeing everything that the Big Smoke has to offer would likely take several decades, if not many generations! However, just because you can’t see it all doesn’t mean you can’t get an authentic taste of London life. Here’s your perfect one day in London itinerary, including insider knowledge from a local!
Things to know before spending a day in London
You could write several books about the amount of things you should know before visiting the UK capital, but I’ll try and round them up in a few simple phrases so as to save time and space! Firstly, if you’re looking for a more in-depth guide, then check out our very best London travel tips.
Otherwise, you should know that the best way to get around London is either via public transportation or on your own two feet. As such, adequate footwear is essential, particularly because in many pedestrian areas cobblestones are still pretty common. In the summer, I tend to wear fashion trainers or comfy flat sandals to explore, while in the wintertime, I revert to cute (but still comfortable) boots.
If you’re taking the tube (don’t call it the metro!), then note that you can pay by contactless card, giving you a reduced fare as opposed to if you were buying a single ticket. Buses operate ‘fare hopper,’ meaning that you can get two journeys for the price of one, provided that you change buses within the first ninety minutes of tapping into the first bus.
Enjoy sunrise at Tower Bridge
Of course, if you’re looking to enjoy the best of London in a single day, then you’ll want to get up bright and early to make the most of the daylight. Bring your camera along because the sunrise at Tower Bridge is simply spectacular and you won’t want to miss a moment!
For the very best view of the iconic Victorian structure (the bridge is the third to have been constructed on site, with the original being home to actual houses spanning the Thames), be sure to visit Tower Pier, where the best candy colours can be photographed in the backdrop.
Otherwise, you should know it’s perfect possible to visit the interior of Tower Bridge (opening hours are typically from 09:30 to 17:00 on a daily basis apart from the 24th- 26th December).
Once there, you’ll soon learn about the history of the bridge, as well as be rewarded with one of the most unique perspectives of the Thames you can hope to find. Purchase your Tower Bridge tickets here in advance.
Spend the morning discovering the City of London
The oldest part of London is that of the City of London district. Now a quirky mix of medieval churches and high sky rises holding corporate offices and banks, you could easily spend several days getting lost in this fascinating part of the city.
After all, for the best view points in town (offering panoramic vistas of Big Ben, the London Eye, and St Paul’s) be sure to head to the Garden at 120 or the Sky Garden.
Though both are free to visit, you’ll need to book tickets in advance if you wish to visit the Sky Garden. Heading here in the early morning is particularly lovely as you can enjoy a coffee at the top while enjoying the view! Book tickets here.
After seeing the city from above, head back to the ground and you’ll soon discover that there are plenty of interactive exhibits, hidden gems, and secret spots worth scouting out.
We particularly enjoying relaxing in the garden of St Dunstan in the East (the ruins of a church turned into a free public park), enjoying the art of the Guildhall (free to visit), or marvelling at the free-to-visit Temple of Mithras (book your tickets here).
Enjoy lunch in Bloomsbury
After living in Bloomsbury for several years as an Undergraduate at UCL, I may well be biased in saying that Bloomsbury is one of the best and most beautiful districts that the city has to offer, but I maintain my stance right to this day!
After all, located close to Euston Station, St Pancras International, and King’s Cross train station, highlights of this London district include seeing the various places where the Bloomsbury Group once met, cosying up in a quaint coffee shop, or visiting one of the many museums that the area has to offer.
Aside from the British Museum (whose permanent collections are free to visit), we highly recommend heading to the Petrie Museum of Egyptology, which hosts one of the largest collections of Egyptian artefacts outside of Egypt. Another particularly unusual museum worth checking out is the Wellcome Collection.
Spend the afternoon visiting Trafalgar Square & the West End
After lunch in the ‘book and publishing’ district of London, head towards Covent Garden and the Theatre area of the Big Smoke. Theatreland in London is a maze of performing institutions, upmarket dining experiences, and of course, the oh-so-famous Covent Garden with its ‘covered apple market’ (perfect for exploring during a rainy day!)
While in the area, be sure not to miss Neal’s Yard. Though less of a hidden gem than even just a few years ago thanks to the rise of Instagram, this pretty courtyard boasts a small selection of shops and quaint eateries. Nearby, Trafalgar Square is the gateway to two more free-to-visit museums, the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery.
Enjoy a traditional pub pint to end your day!
Of course, you can’t visit London and miss out on the opportunity to sample a pint at the end of the day in an authentic British pub. London has no shortage of drinking establishments, and in actual fact, it’s thought that the UK capital has as many as up to four thousand pubs (each time there’s a census, the number changes!)
Some personal favourites include the medieval-looking ‘Cittie of Yorke,’ where you’ll find one of the best-priced pints in Zone One, the rather aptly named ‘Sherlock Holmes Pub,’ which has plenty of memorabilia pertainig to the famous detective, and Ye Olde Mitre, which truly feels akin to stepping back in time!
If you have more time during your one day in London and beyond…
Of course, this itinerary for 24 hours in London by no means covers everything that the city has to offer. In the same vein, if you have a little more time to explore the best that the UK capital has by way of sightseeing and attractions, there are a few areas you simply cannot miss.
Pretty and boasting many a pastel hued house, Notting Hill has been the backdrop for many a film, including the ever-popular Christmas hit of ‘Love Actually’ and the Hugh Grant romantic comedy of the same name ‘Notting Hill’. Perfect to explore for those who love photography, this area of the city is also home to Portobello Road Market, an outdoor antiques fair which is the largest of its kind in the world!
To get a taste of the Museum District of the City, as well as where many of the most exclusive properties are to be found (not to mention all of the beautiful mews streets dotted around the area), be sure to head to South Kensington. Home to the luxury department store of Harrods, other things to do in the London area include visiting the National History Museum, the V & A (Victoria and Albert), and the Science Museum.
If you’re looking for a more rural feel during your stay in the city, then you’ll probably want to head to Greenwich, an area in the East of London which is filled with green spaces and plenty of stunning architecture, not to mention a plethora of free things to do. Some of the best things to do in Greenwich include visiting the Royal Observatory (home to the Prime Meridian), climbing aboard the Cutty Sark, and seeing the National Maritime Museum.