Updated on May 26th, 2020
“This is the perfect one-day London itinerary. In just 1 walk you can visit 22 amazing London attractions. Come with me for my favourite walk around my favourite city in the world.”
Central London. London Attractions include St Paul’s Cathedral, Millennium Bridge, Tate Modern, London Eye, Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square, Regent Street, Oxford Street & lots more in between!
London is an amazing city & this guide will help you to navigate your way around the iconic capital. If you have ever wondered what to do in London for a day, then this is the perfect walk to start your trip. From here you can decide where you want to spend more time during the remainder of your stay. However, I will always encourage you to take detours along the way & enjoy just exploring anywhere that captures your curiosity. If you do this, I promise you will not be disappointed!
I grew up just outside London & have now travelled to 70 countries. Despite this, for me, London is still the best city in the world. Here, I am going to share what I believe to be one of the best walks around London. I have done this hundreds of times through the years.
“It is my go-to tourist recommendation as this walk takes in so many of the major sites in one go, along with lots of smaller & fascinating places in between.”
Bearing in mind we are currently in the grips of a pandemic, everywhere mentioned in this guide is currently closed. All websites are correct so once the world is open for business again, please check before you leave home. This post also contains some affiliate links & if you use these, I may earn a small commission, but you will not be charged any extra for this.
One Day London Itinerary
Yes…& No! Here, I give you one of the best days out in London. A walk which encapsulates 15 major London attractions & plenty more besides. But for such an iconic & historic capital city, to really do it justice you will need much longer. I have included numerous detours, should you want to take advantage of other sights, experiences, tours, museums, theatres & galleries along the way. All of these will take time (& money!). If you are low on either then there is no better way to get your bearings & see what you would like to discover further, either on another day, or a return visit.
London is not a budget city. Many of these sights have tours which you can choose to take & I have attached links & current prices (April ‘20). However, if I’m honest, I rarely do these & just like to walk the route. Self-guided walks in London are free! So, I hope you enjoy…I know I have…many, many times!
I have included loads of interactive maps for each attraction so with this guide on your Smartphone it’s really all you’ll need to navigate the route. However, I would also suggest using Google Maps or Maps.me should you need them. For the most part, all of these sites are really close together so finding your way should be easy. Also, advantageous would be to download the London Tube Map on your phone so you can cut the tour along the way, or start at a different point. Just make sure you have comfortable shoes & carry a raincoat or umbrella. The total distance is around 8 miles, but it is flat. If you are really lucky, the sun may be shining so don’t forget the sunscreen or a hat. Walking is the best way to see London in a day, but you need to make sure you are ready for anything. It is England after all!
In addition, London is expensive so if you are on a budget, then maybe think about bringing some snacks & a bottle of water which you can refill as you go. Most importantly bring your curiosity, your camera, your energy & enjoy!
Where to begin your 1-day London Itinerary
My starting point is Farringdon Underground Station, ending in Leicester Square but I will include the closest tube station too which will make it easier to customise to your needs (& enthusiasm) as you go. Distances are indicated from the last point.
“You may well find places which draw your attention along the way which I completely encourage you to explore.”
It is going to be a long day with a lot of walking so my recommendation for the first stop is breakfast at Smiths of Smithfield. I love this restaurant & especially the breakfast which offers communal dining & excellent food. Once satiated, it’s time to move!
Smithfield Market is not the most famous or picturesque building along the route but it is the site of the largest wholesale meat market in the UK. The market is 800 years old & housed in a complex which includes 3 listed buildings. It is unlikely that you will visit during the night when this is a bustling market supplying all the restaurants across the city. The market opens at 2am Monday – Friday & closes by mid-morning. I am not suggesting that you try & visit during opening hours, but it is an interesting landmark in the foundations of this fascinating city.
This is a busy, renowned London institution with a lot of history. It is actually the oldest hospital in England & first started treating patients in 1123.
“I’m not recommending that you enter the hospital (fingers crossed you won’t need to), although it does have state of the art treatment facilities!”
But as you walk around the perimeter you will see the Church of Saint Bartholomew The Great which has a historic façade & small courtyard. You don’t have time to dwell, but it also marks the site of the execution of Sir William “Braveheart” Wallace in 1305. There is a small plaque in the courtyard & a bigger memorial built into the wall.
The Old Bailey – 0.2 miles, 4 minutes
This building has been the site of London’s Central Criminal Court since 1673. It has tried the most notorious cases in British History, from Dr Crippen & the Yorkshire Ripper to the Kray Brothers. You can recognize the building due to its domed roof which is topped by a 12-foot gold-leaf statue of a lady holding a sword in one hand and the scales of justice in the other.
Once you hit the main road (Ludgate Hill) turn left & soon the first world-famous name on this walk will come into view.
St Paul’s world-famous dome marks the highest point in the city & the Cathedral has occupied this spot for 1400 years. However, this is the 5th building which has stood on the site. The present Cathedral is the masterpiece of Sir Christopher Wren (remember him for later). This is an icon. If you would like to go inside, it is best to buy tickets online which cost £17 for adults (£20 if you just walk up).
“If you can, climb the 259 steps up to the Whispering Gallery. Once at the top, face the wall & whisper, it can be heard on the opposite side of the dome.”
If you choose not to enter the Cathedral, head to the right-hand side for the next stop & here is where the big names start to come thick & fast.
Nearest Tube: St Paul’s
This is known to all locals as the “Wobbly Bridge”. It was built to commemorate the turn of the century. However, when it first opened, the structure moved when people walked across so it had to be closed & reinforced! The bridge is for pedestrians only & takes you across the Thames from St Paul’s to the Tate Modern. To your left, you will see the Shard (the tallest building in London) & the beautiful Tower Bridge. To your right is where you are heading for, the London Eye. Don’t forget to look behind you as this is also the best view of St Paul’s.
Once you’ve crossed the river, you’re on the Southbank & there are lots of interesting & historic buildings right in front of you.
This is a reconstruction of the original Globe Theatre which the famous playwright originally helped to build & perform his plays. The current theatre was rebuilt close to the original site using construction methods from the time (1599). It was opened as a theatre in 1997. If you would like to visit for a tour or a performance then you can book tickets here.
Sir Christopher Wrens House …or is it? – Right next to the Globe
Remember Sir Christopher Wren from St Paul’s? The architect’s house is an icon in itself on the Southbank, marked with a plaque & very distinct. The plaque also states that Catherine of Aragon, one of Henry VIII’s wives also lived here. However, while researching this blog post I discovered that this is totally made up. Welcome to the classic English eccentricity! Apparently, the plaque was just put up by somebody who used to live in the house.
“The building was however, once a pub called The Cardinals Hat which was frequented by famous diarist Samuel Pepys…& probably Shakespeare & his friends while they were building & performing at the Globe. Maybe…!”
Here is the first of my suggestions if you would like to take in a few other options. If you missed breakfast or are hungry in any way, then turn left & head for Borough Market.
“This is one of my favourite spots to visit in the whole of London as it combines 2 of my key drivers for loving this city, beautiful iconic landmarks & food!”
Borough Market is London’s oldest food market, operating for 1000 years. It is a mix of food from around the world & the Best of British. A visit here will allow you to buy excellent products directly from those who produced it: “the farmer who reared the animal, the fisherman who caught the fish, the baker who baked the bread”. Borough Market is a feast for the eyes, nose & above all, the taste buds. Whether you are hungry or not…you soon will be! 😉
Nearest Tube: London Bridge
Detour 2 (distances indicated are from The Globe).
If you are more interested in visiting Tower Bridge & the Tower of London, then this is where you head left. Tower Bridge is the most iconic bridge over the River Thames. It is NOT London Bridge which is not nearly as impressive! Walking across the bridge is free but if you choose to purchase a ticket for £10.60 you can get access to the walkways at the top. These have glass floors giving a unique outlook from 42 metres above the Thames. If you’re lucky, you may even time your visit to watch the bridge lift! You can also explore the exhibitions taking place in the Engine Rooms & get access to the towers.
The Tower of London could be a whole blog post in itself. A castle in the centre of London. It is home to the Crown Jewels & the Yeoman Warders (or ‘Beefeaters’), guarding the gates & providing tours. In addition, it houses the infamous ravens.
“Legend has it that if the ravens ever leave, both the Tower of London & the British Empire would fall. Therefore…they are important!”
The Tower was also a notorious prison, central to some of the most brutal of English history. You can visit yourself for £28.90.
Also, if you would like to see London with a view from one of the tallest buildings in Western Europe, then you can make a detour to The Shard for a drink. If you feel like treating yourself, then why not go to one of the restaurants for a meal?
How are you going so far on one of the best days out in London? If you’re enjoying the walk then there are loads more iconic landmarks still to come (the London Eye, Houses of Parliament, Big Ben & Buckingham Palace to name just a few). As long as I haven’t lost you to the temptations of The Tower, then we are turning right along the Southbank. As you exit the Millennium Bridge, straight ahead of you is where we start…
If you are a fan of modern art, then you’re in for a treat! Even if you’re not, it’s well worth heading inside to see the installation on offer in the massive Turbine Hall. As with most of London’s Museums, Tate Modern is free (donations are encouraged) although you do need to book ahead & pay to visit some of the exhibitions & events. Check the link here to see what is on & how much it will cost to visit.
Southbank – the path you will follow for 20 minutes along the Thames
During the summer months particularly, the Southbank is a buzz of activity for the Underbelly Festival. Here, you find buskers creating an ambience, food trucks & stalls to satisfy any hunger pangs and plenty of shopping opportunities to spend your well-earned pounds. Nearest Tube: Blackfriars
Along the way you can also be distracted by Gabriel’s Wharf (shopping & eating), OXO Tower (shopping, eating or go to the 8th floor for a view & a drink), Festival Hall (skate park), Barbican & the National Theatre.
If you would like to see THE view in London, then you can’t beat the London Eye as a memorable experience. It costs £27.50 to take a “flight” online (£30 if you don’t book ahead). They also offer all sorts of champagne & combination tickets. You can opt for the Fast Track which, for a bit more money, enables you to skip the queue.
County Hall – 250 feet, 1 minute
This was once the headquarters of the London County Council but is now the location of numerous experiences such as Shrek’s Adventure & the London Dungeons. Don’t let that distract you from this beautiful & historic building right on the river. It is now also home to a Marriott Hotel.
“If you go around the corner & across the courtyard, you can get away from the crowds. Having tea in the lounge, overlooking the river is a memorable & very British experience!”
How are you enjoying London in a day so far? Whatever you decide to do at this point, if you’re staying with the walk, there’s a lot more still to come. First, cross back over the river on Westminster Bridge towards…
Home of the British Parliament, this majestic & iconic building still takes my breath away every time I see it. Whatever your views on the politics at work, it’s hard not to marvel at the beauty outside. Unfortunately, at this moment in time, there’s a lot of work going on around the facade of Big Ben & Westminster. The clock has even been silenced (usually it chimes every hour, on the hour) until 2021. Be warned that you may be disappointed if you’re looking for those Instagram worthy shots. You can take a tour of the parliament buildings which will need to be booked online for £26.50.
Nearest Tube: Embankment
“Since 1066 it has been the home of all coronations & the final resting place of 17 monarchs. That’s over 10 centuries of British History!”
Even more impressive is that it is still a place of worship, which needs to be considered if you plan on taking a tour(£22 – £24). I like to just focus on the outside & head through the archway into Deans Yard for a different perspective. This also offers a great place for a bit of peace in the chaos of the city full of tourists.
St James’s Park – 0.3 miles, 7 minutes
Here, you may need to double-check your maps to find Birdcage Walk (I have to admit even I do at this point!) & enter one of my favourite London parks. It’s hard to believe that you can find this peaceful oasis of park life so close to all the big sites. Enjoy the green space, friendly squirrels, pretty lakes, swans & aim for the bridge where you can get great photos with a backdrop of our next stop…
I’ve used the word iconic a lot, but this “house” truly is a one-off! The London home of The Queen (check the flagpole & if the flag is flying, it means she’s home). Buckingham Palace is the backdrop for any royal occasion & well worth closer inspection. The State Rooms are available to tour for 10 weeks in the summer (£26.50). The gardens just outside set the house off beautifully & the Victoria Memorial is also worth a few photos.
If you’ve done the rest of the walk super quick, then you may be in luck to see the Changing of the Guard between 10.30 – 11am. This is a real sight of traditional British pageantry as the current guards go off duty & the new crew arrive. You can check the schedule here before you visit.
If you’re fed up of the sites (not many more to go now though) & want a bit more park action then you can peel off here & head into Hyde Park.
If you’re sticking with me, walk up The Mall towards another landmark, Admiralty Arch. Before you reach the impressive arches, which lead you to Trafalgar Square, you will find…
The sinister-looking square building covered in ivy is part of the Imperial War Museum, Churchill War Rooms. As a result, it is easy to miss. It was home to the underground nerve centre where this famous Prime Minister & his team directed the victory of the Second World War. Tickets for a tour cost £23.
Horse Guards Parade – 0.8 miles, 16 minutes from Buckingham Palace
Walk across the parade ground & under the archway to see the equally well turned out (& very unsmiling) guards of the Household Cavalry. On the other side of the building, you will find 2 mounted cavalry troopers of The Queens Lifeguard (as long as you make it here between 11am & 4pm). They change guards every day at 11am (10am on Sundays).
Watching the mounted guards means you are now in Whitehall.
Detour 5. Downing Street – 0.2 miles, 3 minutes
If you want to get your final fix of politics then you can head right on Whitehall to the Prime Ministers home of 10 Downing Street. There are police guards & gates, so any photos or close-ups of the door are pretty much impossible. Along Whitehall, you can also spot Scotland Yard, the headquarters of the London Metropolitan Police.
For the final part of the walk, as you leave Horse Guards Parade, turn left which brings you to…
Named after Britain’s victory in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 & towered over by its victor, in the form of Nelsons Column.
“He is guarded by some impressive lions, surrounded by beautiful fountains & populated by a lot of pigeons & tourists.”
At weekends, in particular, there’s always a lot of activity in the square as it’s a key congregation site for protests, marches & events.
When you are in Trafalgar Square, have a look at each corner. You will see a statue placed on a high concrete plinth. 3 of these are traditional soldiers on horses. The fourth changes & could be anything modern from a giant blue cockerel to a sphinx made of syrup cans, to a very tall thumbs up!
Detour 6. The National Gallery (on Trafalgar Square)
The entrance for this amazing gallery forms the backdrop for Trafalgar Square & is an impressive construction in itself. It is free to enter (donations again) & houses classics in the form of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers as well as works by Turner, Constable, Michelangelo, Da Vinci & too many more masters to mention.
Nearest Tube: Charing Cross.
Leicester Square is very touristy & kind of unimpressive in comparison to most of the other sites here. The Square is famous as the centre of cinema in London & if there is a UK premiere on the cards, it will be held here. It is also the site of street performers & where you can pick up cheaper, last-minute West End theatre tickets.
Nearest Tube: Leicester Square.
Just next door to Leicester Square is the final destination on my epic walk, Piccadilly Circus. This spot is famed for its bright city lights which form a great backdrop for bus & taxi shots.
Nearest Tube: Piccadilly Circus
And if you still want to keep going & spend some of your hard-earned cash…
By this time, I’m usually very ready to finish. If you do still have a bit of energy in your legs & fancy sampling the famous shopping streets of London, then take a slow stroll up Regent Street. You can then finally finish at the junction with infamous Oxford Street.
Liberty of London is famous for its prints & a quintessentially (expensive!) British shopping experience.
“There really is no store in the world which can really rival the grandeur of Liberty, inside & out. In my opinion, it is much better than Harrods!”
Nearest Tube: Oxford Circus or head back to Leicester Square.
That’s it! You must be exhausted! Now it’s time to rest your weary feet & settle in for a couple of drinks & something to eat.
The eating & drinking establishments in London can be overwhelming & you can easily find yourself in a tourist trap serving average food for high prices. In London, you can literally find anything you are looking for. Some of the best budget food can be found next door to one of the most prestigious restaurants in the world. Here are my top tips on where to focus your attention. If you head to these areas, you will have lots of choices, no matter what your budget & taste. If you particularly want to sample one of the more upmarket restaurants, then I recommend booking a table ahead.
Soho & Chinatown
Soho is one of my favourite areas in London & if you head here you will have plenty of choices from traditional pubs to high-end restaurants as well as a number of reliable chains in between. Wardour Street will bring you into the centre of Soho but walk around Dean Street, Old Compton Street & Frith Street for more choice than you need! Whether you like Chinese food or not, Chinatown is worth a visit. Head to Gerrard St for some oriental flavours. Nearest Tube: Leicester Square
Carnaby Street is just around the corner & was the epicentre of London’s “Swinging 60’s” scene. Nowadays the focus is on shopping & eating. For some great choice, go to Kingly Court. Nearest Tube: Leicester Square or Oxford Street
“You may be serenaded by amazing opera singers & musicians. Alternatively, go to The Piazza to be entertained by street performers while you decide on where to go from all the choice available to you.”
Nearest Tube: Covent Garden
Less well known is the area around Charlotte St, therefore you will see more locals than tourists but also have a good choice of places to eat & unique spots to relax & have a drink. Nearest Tube: Goodge Street
Where to Stay?
Again, London has an endless supply of high & lower end hotels & guesthouses looking to make your stay more comfortable. Bear in mind that most rooms I have ever stayed in the city are small. Space is at a premium so don’t expect a palatial suite unless you are prepared to pay top dollar. I am trying to share a few of my favourites, as well as a few I like the look of!
First, let us look around the start of this walk…
Farringdon: Zetter Hotel, Malmaison Hotel, Club Quarters or try The One Tun Pub & Rooms
Or if you want something around the middle…
Westminster: Marriott County Hall, Park Plaza Westminster Bridge or Sonder – The Arts Council
Or at the end…
Leicester Square: St Martins Lane, Z Hotel Soho or Victory House
What is the best way to get around?
“When I was younger, I used to find it hard to understand how the city was connected above ground. We used to navigate so much by using the Tube. But many years of walking the streets of the city, following my husband has converted me.”
However, you do need to get to the start & finish & navigate the city to your accommodation & there are a number of different options available to you.
More affectionately known as the Tube & the best way to get around the city. For all the information you need to plan your journey then head to the Transport For London (TFL) website. The London Underground in itself is a historic icon as the oldest underground train network in the world. Today it has 11 lines & carries over 5 million passengers a day. On this point, if you are planning to travel during the week, avoid rush hour…you will thank me for it!
The key difference between the London underground & every other one I have used across the world is how the map is laid out. In London, the lines are named independently & do not necessarily refer to the final destination, as elsewhere. Each line has a set colour which is replicated across all maps & throughout the system. Know the name & the colour you need & you’re partway there. Next is your direction – North, South, East or Westbound…simple (except the moments when you want to go north & your only option is east or west!).
If you are making a single journey, then you can use the contactless payment system at the terminals as you enter & leave the station (make sure you tap in & out correctly). A single journey is around £2.40 but will depend on how far you are going. If you plan to use the Tube for a number of journeys in a day & maybe take the bus as well, then a Travelcard may be more worth it for you. This will be relevant especially if you are staying outside the city. If you are in London for a few days, then investing in an Oyster Card maybe your best option. All the information you need to decide your best fit is on the TFL website.
This brings us neatly to the next option, buses. There is a very comprehensive bus network across the city which can be a fantastic way to cover more ground while watching the world go by around you. The red London buses are once again iconic & if you have a longer journey to take then try & get upstairs & at the front for the best view & experience! The disadvantage is that buses can get caught in traffic so if you are in a rush, it’s best to avoid. Navigating the system & finding the correct bus stop can be more challenging too. Check out the TFL website again for maps & more information. As before, if you can, avoid rush hour.
Once again, a ride in a black London taxi cab is a truly British experience which you should try at least once. They are the most expensive way of getting around the city but also the most direct. You can hail them anywhere on the side of the road.
The fact is that they are important to support as a tradition & for the amount of knowledge they have to pass to get a licence in the first place.
“Once you tell a black cab driver where you are headed, they will not ask you another question about the location. They will not use a satnav to navigate & they will take the most direct route. All black London cab drivers need to pass “The Knowledge”, renowned as one of the hardest tests in the world.”
They need to know all the streets in London & how best to get between them before they are presented with their licence. Each London cabbie has an encyclopaedic brain of all things London…& a lot of opinions. They will often liberally share both, hence the iconic nature of the black London taxi ride!
How Do You Get To & From the Airport?
All of the above are ways that you can arrive at your chosen destination in or around London. Bear in mind that London has 5 airports which serve International visitors. Only Heathrow & City Airports are on the London Underground. Other than this you will need to get a train, or bus into the city.
The quickest route into the city is using the Heathrow Express, a train which brings you into Paddington Station. Trains depart every 15 minutes, takes around 15 minutes & costs at least £22 for a single or £37 for a return trip. For all other options, follow THIS LINK.
The quickest route into the city is using the Gatwick Express, a train which brings you into Victoria Station. Trains depart every 15 minutes, takes around 30 minutes & costs at least £17.80 for a single or £34.70 for a return trip. For all other options, check HERE.
Luton Airport again offers a range of options to get into the city via their website. Although buses are probably the cheapest option, they will take their time. As before the best choice if you want to get there quickly is a train which takes you into London St Pancras or Farringdon, perfect to start the walk!
Stansted will take 47 minutes via the Stansted Express train which brings you into London Liverpool Street Station. It costs a minimum of £9.45 as long as you book ahead online. All other options are available, just pick your best one based on the time & budget you have available.
Finally, a few international flights may come into City Airport. This is closer to Central London & therefore you can choose the Tube or Docklands Light Railway (DLR) for another option.
“London is an amazing city & all I can do is encourage you to meander at your leisure. It’s a great route to start your trip so you can then decide where you want to spend more time during the remainder of your stay.”
However, I will always encourage you to take detours along the way & enjoy just exploring the smaller areas which capture your curiosity. If you do this, I promise you will rarely be disappointed!
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