Only spending 1 Day in London? And wondering what you can see during a short time? To make the most of your day in London, it's important to plan ahead and prioritize your must-see sights. In this guide, I cover a range of London's top attractions that you can easily see in a day, as well as great places to eat and drink.
Watch the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace
If you're visiting London, watching the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace is a must-see event. This traditional ceremony takes place outside Buckingham Palace every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday from 10:45 am and lasts around 45 minutes, with the actual handover taking place at 11 am. Although these times can change, I recommend checking the Changing of the Guard website here for the latest times. The ceremony involves the Old Guard, in their red tunics and bearskin hats, handing over responsibility for protecting Buckingham Palace to the New Guard.
To get the best view of the ceremony, it's recommended that you arrive early to secure a spot and be prepared for crowds It can get quite crowded, especially during the summer.
There are several vantage points from which you can watch the Changing of the Guard. The most popular spot is outside Buckingham Palace, but it can get quite crowded. Another great spot to watch the ceremony is along The Mall, the wide avenue that leads up to the palace. You can also watch the ceremony from the Wellington Barracks, where the New Guard forms up before marching to Buckingham Palace.
Watching the Changing of The Guard is free, and it is one of the best free things you can do in London. But If you want to learn more about the history and traditions of the Changing of the Guard, I recommend taking a guided tour. One highly rated tour is the Changing the Guard Walking Tour from Fun London Tours, which will take you to the best vantage points and give you an insider's view of the ceremony.
Stroll through St. James Park
If you're looking for a peaceful escape from the busy streets of London, look no further than St. James Park. This picturesque park is located in the heart of the city and is surrounded by three royal palaces. It's the perfect spot to take a leisurely stroll and soak up some nature.
As you walk through the park, you'll be surrounded by an array of plants and animals, including resident pelicans. Take a moment to admire the stunning landscapes and fountains, and keep an eye out for the many birds that call the park home.
One of the highlights of St. James Park is the stunning view of Buckingham Palace. As you stroll along the tree-lined mall, you'll be treated to an up-close view of the official residence for the royal family since 1837.
If you're lucky, you may even catch a glimpse of the Changing of the Guard ceremony, which takes place daily during the summer months and every other day during the winter months. It's a fascinating display of British tradition and is not to be missed.
Overall, a stroll through St. James Park is the perfect way to spend a relaxing day in London. Whether you're a nature lover or a history buff, there's something for everyone in this beautiful park.
Visit Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament
Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament are two of London's must-see attractions. These two landmarks are steeped in history and offer a glimpse into the heart of British democracy and religion.
Westminster Abbey is one of London's most iconic religious buildings and has been the coronation church since 1066. As you stroll around the great church, you'll see the coronation site of England's many kings and queens, and admire the striking Gothic architecture.
The Houses of Parliament is steeped in history and political intrigue. This gothic masterpiece is home to the two chambers of the UK Parliament – the House of Commons and the House of Lords. It also tells a compelling story of Britain's past, its political evolution, and its connection to the wider world.
If you'd like to visit the Houses of Parliament, you need to be quick to get tickets. Only a limited number of tickets are released for each day and are only available on certain days. You can check ticket availability here.
To guarantee you'll get tickets to the Houses of Parliament I recommend booking a fully guided tour that'll take you to both Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament.
This tour offers skip-the-line access to Westminster Abbey, so you won't have to wait in long lines to enter. After, in the Houses of Parliament you'll get to see the House of Commons and House of Lords. This tour is an excellent way to experience the history and learn about London's political history.
Ride The London Eye
Located along the Thames River, the London Eye offers breathtaking panoramic views of London's skyline.
To save time and avoid the long queues, I'd recommend getting a fast-track ticket to skip the large queues. You can purchase your ticket online or on-site. I recommend getting tickets online for the best value, you could also opt to get a combination ticket with the London Eye River Cruise or one of London's other attractions.
You can choose from the following tickets and combination tickets:
- London Eye Fast-Track Ticket
- London Eye Standard ticket
- London Eye – Champagne Experience Ticket
- London Eye River Cruise and Standard London Eye Ticket
Once you're on board, sit back and relax as the capsule slowly ascends to a height of 135 meters. The ride takes approximately 30 minutes, during which you'll be treated to stunning views of London's most famous landmarks, including Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, and the Shard. On a clear day, you can even see as far as Windsor Castle, which is located over 25 miles away.
Get Lunch in South Bank
If you're hungry, I recommend stopping for lunch in South Bank, you have plenty of options to choose from. Here are some of the top restaurants to check out during your one-day London itinerary:
- Wahaca Southbank: This Mexican street food chain is a great option if you're in the mood for tacos, quesadillas, or other tasty dishes. The restaurant has a vibrant atmosphere, and the prices are reasonable. Plus, they have a great selection of cocktails and mocktails to choose from.
- Strada Southbank: If you're craving Italian food, Strada is a great choice. They have a variety of pasta dishes, pizzas, and salads to choose from, and the prices are reasonable. The restaurant has a cozy atmosphere, and it's a great place to relax and refuel during your busy day of sightseeing.
- Honest Burgers South Bank: If you're in the mood for a burger, Honest Burgers is a great choice. They use high-quality ingredients and have a variety of burger options to choose from. Plus, they have vegetarian and vegan options available as well. The restaurant has a laid-back atmosphere and is one of my favorite burger restaurants in London.
Visit The Graffiti Tunnel in South Bank
If you're a fan of street art, you won't want to miss the chance to visit the Graffiti Tunnel on Leake St in South Bank. This hidden gem is located just behind Waterloo Station and is a must-see for anyone interested in urban art.
The tunnel is also known as the Leake Street Tunnel, and it's a legal graffiti area that has been used by street artists for years. The tunnel is constantly changing, with new pieces of art being added all the time. It's a great place to see the work of up-and-coming artists, as well as some more established names.
The tunnel is a tribute to Banksy, and it's a fitting place to see some of his work. If you'd like to see more of Banksy's work, I highly recommend heading to Bristol.
To get to the tunnel, simply head to Leake Street, which is just off York Road. The entrance to the tunnel is located under the railway arches, and you'll know you're in the right place when you see the colorful murals adorning the walls.
When you visit the Graffiti Tunnel, be sure to bring your camera, as there are plenty of photo opportunities.
Go Window Shopping on Oxford Street and Regent Street
If you're looking for a shopping experience in London, Oxford Street and Regent Street are the places to be. These two streets are the main shopping destinations in the city and offer a wide range of shops, from high-end luxury brands to affordable high-street stores.
I recommend getting here by taking the tube on the Jubilee line to Bond Street, which is right by Oxford Street and Regent Street.
Oxford Street is known for its large department stores, including Selfridges, John Lewis, and Marks & Spencer. It's also home to popular fashion brands such as Topshop, Zara, and H&M. Regent Street, on the other hand, is known for its luxury fashion brands such as Burberry, Louis Vuitton, and Michael Kors.
At Christmas, both streets are decorated with Christmas lights, and stores set up their Christmas window displays. The shops go all out with their window displays, creating a magical atmosphere that's sure to get you in the holiday spirit.
If you're looking for a break from shopping, there are plenty of cafes and restaurants along both streets where you can grab a bite to eat or a cup of coffee. St Christopher's Place, just off Oxford Street, is a pedestrianized shopping area with a great selection of restaurants, including Carluccio's and Ping Pong.
Visit Piccadilly Circus
Next on the list is Piccadilly Circus, which joins onto the end of Regent Street.
At its most basic, Piccadilly Circus is a road junction and open public space, built in the early 19th century to connect the avenue known as Piccadilly with Regent Street and later Shaftsbury Avenue. Today, it's a vibrant area with loads of shops, and it's famous large screens.
When you arrive at Piccadilly Circus, you'll be greeted by the famous statue of Eros (also known as Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain), which is a popular meeting point for locals and visitors alike. You can also take some photos in front of the iconic advertising screens that light up the area.
If you're interested in shopping, there are plenty of options nearby such as Japan Centre and Fortnum & Mason. There are also plenty of restaurants and cafes in the area, so you can grab a bite to eat while you take in the sights.
Piccadilly is located right next to Soho and Chinatown. So after a stroll around this area, I recommend heading over there.
Stroll around Soho, Chinatown, and Leicester Square
If you want to explore London's vibrant entertainment district, Soho and Leicester Square are the perfect places to start. You can easily spend an entire day wandering around these areas and taking in the sights and sounds.
Soho is known for its bustling nightlife, trendy bars, and restaurants. It's also home to some of London's best theaters, including the Soho Theatre and the Palace Theatre. Take a stroll down Dean Street and explore the many independent shops, art galleries, and vintage clothing stores.
If you're a foodie, head to Chinatown to try some of the best international cuisine London has to offer. One of my favorite places is Candy Cafe (not wheelchair accessible sadly), their Mango Lover shaved ice is so good. If you're on a budget, Young Cheng Buffet is great for all-you-can-eat Chinese food and Misato is great if you fancy Japanese food.
Leicester Square is located just a stone's throw away from Soho and is famous for its cinemas and theaters. It's also a popular spot for street performers and hosts many events throughout the year. Take a walk around the square and admire the iconic architecture, including the Odeon Leicester Square and the Hippodrome Casino.
If you're a Harry Potter fan, you could book tickets to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child theater, located on Shaftesbury Avenue. You can also visit the nearby House of MinaLima, which showcases the graphic design work of the Harry Potter films.
Overall, Soho and Leicester Square are must-visit destinations for anyone exploring London's cultural and entertainment scene.
Take The Twilight Soho Food Tour
Experience the vibrant and buzzing nightlife of Soho with an after-hours food tour that will tantalize your taste buds. Led by a fellow foodie guide, you will discover hidden cafes, restaurants, and local haunts that are off the beaten path.
The Twilight Soho Food Tour is a walking tour that will take you through the lively streets of Soho at night. The 3.5-hour tour is the perfect way to explore London's international food scene and see the city illuminated by night. You will get to sample a variety of delicious foods such as Spanish Jamón and Chinese dumplings. The tour includes 9 samples, at 6 different locations.
Play Games at The Las Vegas Arcade Soho
If you're looking for a fun way to spend your day in London, head over to the Las Vegas Arcade Soho. This gaming arcade is located in the heart of London and offers entertainment for the whole family.
The Las Vegas Arcade Soho has a great selection of Japanese-themed video games, including dancing, racing, and fighter games. You can take your pick from a wide range of games and enjoy hours of fun with your friends and family. Upstairs, you'll find a selection of casino-themed games and machines. You can also test your skills at air hockey, pool, and even a drumming game.
If you do have noise sensitivity (e.g. Misophonia) I recommend wearing some earplugs such as these Loop Quiet earplugs (which is what I use), when you visit the arcade as it can get really loud.
The arcade is open from 9:00 AM to 6:00 AM, so you can visit at any time of the day or night.
More things to do in London
If you still have free time, or something on the above itinerary doesn't interest you here are some other things you might enjoy doing:
- The Tower of London: If you're interested in history, you can also visit the Tower of London, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that dates back to the 11th century. Here, you can see the Crown Jewels, learn about the city's medieval past, and even see the famous ravens that are said to protect the tower. You could opt for an early-access tour with a beefeater for a more unique experience. Get tickets here.
- The Beatles Evening Tour in London: If you're a fan of the Beatles you could take a tour that'll take you to London's famous Beatles sights including Abbey Road and Paul McCartney’s house. Get tickets here.
- Toot Bus Hop-on Hop-off Tour – If you're traveling with children you could consider hopping on the Toot Bus hop-on hop-off tour bus. The tour is family-friendly with a special audio guide for children. Get tickets here.
- Madame Tussauds London: Spend a few hours taking photos with celebrity wax models such as The Royal Family and Ed Sheeran. If you're a Star Wars fan, I recommend checking out the Star Wars experience. Get tickets here.
- Chelsea Football Club Stadium and Museum Tour – If you're a Chelsea Fan, you could visit The Chelsea Football Club stadium and get to see behind the scenes of the UK's best football clubs. The tour lasts 1 hour with a visit to the museum afterward, so you'll still have plenty of time to enjoy London. Check the ticket availability here.
When is the best time to visit London?
London is a city that can be visited all year round. The best time to visit London depends on your preferences, budget, and what you want to do during your one-day itinerary. Here are some things to consider when planning your trip:
London's weather is unpredictable, and it can rain at any time of the year. However, the best time to visit London for good weather is from late May to early September. During this time, the temperature is usually between 18°C to 23°C (64°F to 73°F), and it's less likely to rain. If you prefer cooler weather, you can visit London in the spring (March to May) or autumn (September to November), where the temperature is around 10°C to 15°C (50°F to 59°F).
London is a popular tourist destination, and it can get crowded, especially during peak season. If you want to avoid the crowds, it's best to visit London during the low season, which is from November to February. During this time, the crowds are smaller, and the prices are lower. However, keep in mind that some attractions may have shorter opening hours during the low season.
London is a city that always has something going on, from festivals to concerts to sporting events. If you're interested in attending a specific event, it's best to plan your trip around it. For example, if you're a fan of tennis, you can visit London during Wimbledon, which takes place in late June to early July. If you're interested in Christmas shopping, I recommend going to London in late November or December, as this is when Oxford Street, Regent Street, and other famous shopping streets around London have their Christmas window displays.
London can be an expensive city to visit, especially during peak season. If you're on a budget, it's best to visit London during winter, where the prices for accommodation and attractions are lower. Just make sure to avoid holidays, such as New Year's Eve and Bonfire Night (5th November) as accommodation gets more expensive around these dates. You can also save money by using public transportation instead of taxis and getting lunch from convenience stores such as Tesco Express.
Getting around London
Getting around London can be overwhelming, but with a little bit of planning, it can be an enjoyable experience. Here are some transportation options to consider when exploring London:
London's Public Transport
London has an extensive public transport system that includes buses, the underground (also known as the tube), overground trains, and trams. The underground is the most popular and efficient way to get around London, with 11 lines covering the city and trains running every few minutes. You can use an Oyster card or contactless payment to pay for your journey, and fares are calculated based on the zones you travel through.
Buses are another option, with a vast network of routes covering the city. They are a great way to see the sights, but keep in mind that they can be slower than the underground, especially during peak hours. You can also use your Oyster card or contactless payment on buses.
Taxis in London
Black cabs are a familiar sight on London streets, and they are a convenient way to get around if you don't want to use public transport. They are metered, and fares are calculated based on distance and time. You can hail a black cab on the street, or you can book one in advance using an app.
If you do use an app, I recommend using Freenow. If you are a new user, you can get a discount on your first ride.
Cycling and Electric Scooters
Cycling or hiring an electric scooter is a great way to explore London, and there are many cycle routes and bike lanes throughout the city. You can rent a bike from one of the many Santander Cycles docking stations located around London. You can use your credit card to rent a bike, and prices start at £2 for 24 hours.
Electric scooters can be hired in a similar way to bikes. Electric scooter hire starts at £1 to begin the journey, and there's 3 companies to pick from; Lime, TIER and
Walking is the best way to see London up close and personal. Many of London's top attractions are located within walking distance of each other, such as Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, and the Houses of Parliament. Wear comfortable shoes and be prepared for some crowds, especially in popular tourist areas.