London in a Day | 13 Best Things to Do on a Tight Schedule

London is a bustling city. It’s busy, it’s beautiful, and it’s so fun! Can you already tell how much we love it? Full of history, culture, diversity, and entertainment, the capital city of England is an ideal destination for travelers looking to explore a new place. But with so much to see and do, it can be overwhelming to try and fit everything into just one day in London.

So, if you have limited time or are on a tight schedule, careful planning and prioritizing are a must if you want to see the highlights of London in a day. 

A busy street in London with colorful banners draped across the streets and red double-decker buses driving down the street
London is a busy metropolitan, and it’s bustling and vibrant atmosphere adds to the fun!

From iconic landmarks to hidden gems, this 1 day in London itinerary provides a realistic look at the top things to do in London for a day.

Where to stay in London

Our room at Megaro Hotel near Kings Cross / St. Pancras Station

Where you stay in London for a day depends on how you are arriving in England’s capital. Mainly, are you flying into Heathrow International Airport or are you arriving by train from another European city like Paris, Amsterdam, or Brussels?

If arriving by train with luggage, it is a good idea to stay somewhere near Kings Cross / St. Pancras Station so you can drop your luggage off when you arrive and hit the ground running, so you don’t waste any time during your one day in London.

For those arriving by train, we have personally stayed at the Megaro Hotel, which is less than a block from Kings Cross / St. Pancras and loved it!

Other options located in Central London near Covent Garden and within walking distance to many of the main attractions include Radisson Blu Edwardian Kenilworth Hotel or the Z Hotel Strand.

Realistic London Itinerary for 1 day

our family taking a selfie on a street in london

To truly appreciate this incredible city, you typically need about 4 days in London, but for those passing through on a stopover with limited time, this one-day London itinerary can help you plan your adventure.

Many of the attractions in London are included in the London Pass, including the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, Tower Bridge experience, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the hop-on hop-off bus and Thames River Cruise. So, it can save you money on admission to purchase the London Pass.

However, if you choose to pick and choose your experiences highlighted in this one day in London itinerary, we’ve also included links to the ticket information for each attraction which requires an admission charge or ticket.

One thing to note about this London itinerary – if you are the type of person who likes to take your time when visiting an historic site or stop into a pub because it looks cool, you will need to cut HALF of this itinerary or spread it over 2 days.

  • 9:00 AM – St. Paul’s Cathedral
  • 10:00AM – Tower of London
  • 11:30AM – London Bridge
  • 12:30PM – River Thames Cruise
  • Lunch at a food stall near the London Eye
  • 1:30 PM – The London Eye
  • 2:45 PM – Big Ben 
  • 3:00 PM – Westminster Abbey
  • 4:00 PM -Buckingham Palace
  • 4:30PM – Trafalgar Square
  • 5:00PM – The National Gallery
  • 7:00PM – Piccadilly Circus
  • 7:30PM – Walk through Chinatown
  • 8:00PM – Late Dinner and drinks Covent Garden

Best things to do during one day in London

Now that you have a general (albeit jam-packed) itinerary to follow, here is a look at what you will see during your one-day London tour. 

St. Paul’s Cathedral

Looking up at the dome outside St. Paul's Cathedral
St. Paul’s Cathedral’s recognizable dome makes the church a London landmark.

St. Paul’s Cathedral is a beautiful Anglican cathedral located about 25 minutes away from the Tower of London, on foot but it is a stop on the hop-on hop-off tours, as well. So, start your day at the church then either walk or take the hop-on hop-off bus to your next stop.

The famous European cathedral is renowned for its magnificent dome, which stands more than 111 meters tall. The interior of the cathedral is equally impressive, with intricate mosaics, stunning stained-glass windows, and ornate carvings. 

It has been the site of many important events in British history, including the funeral of Sir Winston Churchill and the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer. 

Buy an entry ticket to St. Paul’s Cathedral

Tower of London 

Tower of London surrounded by red paper flowers.
The Tower of London is one of the top attractions to see during London in a day.

The Tower of London is a historic fortress situated on the north bank of the River Thames in Central London. Since it was constructed in the early 11th century, it has played a prominent role in English history and has served multiple purposes.

The tower was once a royal palace, prison, armory, and now is a popular tourist museum. 

The UNESCO World Heritage Site is best known for its use as a prison during the 16th and 17th centuries when it held many high-profile prisoners, including Sir Walter Raleigh and Queen Elizabeth I. 

Today, the Tower Museum is home to the Crown Jewels of England, a collection of valuable ceremonial objects used by the monarchs of England at coronations and other important state occasions.

The line or queue to see the Crown Jewels can become lengthy, but it is shorter in the morning, so plan your visit for 10 a.m. when the Tower of London opens for the day. You could spend hours at the Tower of London, but in the interest of time, plan to spend about 2 1/2 hours between the Tower of London and the connecting Tower Bridge.

Book tickets to Tower of London in advance

Tower Bridge

The Tower Bridge lifting the draw bridge to let a boat pass through
Next to the Tower of London, Tower Bridge is one of the most famous bridges in the world. | Photo by Richard Ley from Pixabay

The Tower Bridge is one of the most famous bridges in Europe – if not the entire world.

Visitors can actually tour the Tower Bridge original steam engine rooms which once powered the bridge and walk over the glass walkway which extends across the iconic London landmark. 

The ticketed tour takes visitors through the Tower Bridge Exhibition, where they can learn about the bridge’s construction and design, as well as its role in London’s transportation history. 

But for many, the highlight of the tour is walking across the high-level walkways, which offer breathtaking views of the city skyline and the Thames River. With its fascinating exhibits, stunning views, and rich history, the Tower Bridge tour is a must-see attraction for anyone visiting London.

Buy your entry ticket to the Tower Bridge experience

The London Eye

The London Eye towering prominently over the River Thames.
The London Eye towers prominently over the River Thames.

Your next stop on this London in a day itinerary is The London Eye, but it can be a fairly long walk. So, with limited time in London you will want to take the 40-minute River Thames Hop-On Hop-Off Cruise from Tower Bridge to The London Eye Pier.

The London Eye is another one of those extremely recognizable landmarks. The massive observation wheel located on the South Bank of the River Thames stands 135 meters tall, making it one of the tallest observation wheels in the world.

From inside each of the 32 capsules, visitors get stunning panoramic views of the city’s skyline and other attractions like Big Ben and Parliament of the United Kingdom. 

The London Eye moves ever so slowly around in the giant circle taking approximately 30 minutes to complete a full rotation. 

Something to note, the line or queue to board the London Eye can get quite long since it is one of London’s most popular tourist attractions. For this reason, you may want to consider buying tickets in advance and booking the fast-track option to skip the queue.

Buy your London Eye tickets (with an option for a fast-track pass) 

Big Ben

The Great Clock of Westminster, often called Big Ben, attached to Westminster Palace
The iconic Great Clock of Westminster, often referred to as Big Ben is a must-see during your one day in London.

Across the Thames in walking distance to the London Eye, Big Ben is a prominent clock tower – and perhaps one of the most notable clocks in the world. 

Big Ben is the nickname for the largest bell in the Great Clock of Westminster, although many people refer to the iconic 96-meter-tall tower itself as Big Ben.

Located at the north end of the Palace of Westminster, where the two houses of Parliament meet, the clock tower is famous for its accurate timekeeping and the distinct sound of its bell, which chimes on the hour. 

The tower was completed in 1859 and has since become a symbol of London and one of the most recognizable landmarks in the world. 

Westminster Abbey

The outside of Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey is one of the most famous churches in Europe.

Westminster Abbey is a historic church located by the Westminster Palace and Parliament building. 

The abbey has been the site of coronations and royal weddings since the 11th century and is the final resting place of many monarchs and notable figures in British history.

Originally built in the 7th century, the church has undergone many renovations and additions over the years, resulting in a mix of architectural styles. 

The interior of the abbey is adorned with intricate carvings and stained-glass windows. But the most fascinating things to see in Westminster Abbey are the memorials and tombs of famous figures such as Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, and William Shakespeare.

Be sure to get an audio guide, which is included with your Westminster Abbey tour ticket, so you don’t miss any of the famous tombs tucked away in the church. 

Book your Westminster Abbey Entrance Ticket (Audio guide included)

Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace and a statue in front of it.
Home to the British monarch, Buckingham Palace is a top London attraction for anyone interested in the Royal Family.

Buckingham Palace is the official London residence of the British monarch. The palace has been the home of the British monarchs since 1837 and is often used for official ceremonies and state occasions.

While you can’t tour the palace and its 775 rooms, it’s worth stopping by after your visit to Westminster. It’s a lovely stroll through a beautiful garden from the church to the palace.

Outside the palace at 10:45 am every day during June and July and every other day from August through May, visitors can watch the Changing of the Guard ceremony.

This royal ceremony draws crowds, so if you want to experience it, you will want to be in place at 10 a.m. to catch the parade and guard change. 

However, if you are planning to see London in a day, skip the changing of the guards. While it is unique, you will spend a lot of time waiting around to watch British guards’ march. 

Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery

Hundreds of people gathered in Trafalgar Square in London - one of the best places to visit during 1 day in London.
Trafalgar Square is a popular place for gathering or public events.

Trafalgar Square is one of the most well-known public squares in London.

The square is a popular gathering place and is often used for public events and celebrations. At the north end of the square is the National Gallery, one of the world’s most renowned art museums.

The gallery houses a vast collection of over 2,300 paintings, including works by Leonardo da Vinci, Vincent van Gogh, and Claude Monet. Although free to visit, you will need to book a ticket. Doing so in advance will save you time, which is necessary if you only have one day in London. 

Be sure to get to the National Gallery before 6 p.m. when it closes. Our itinerary gets you to the National Gallery at 5 p.m., which will give you one hour to see some of the gallery’s famous works. 

Piccadilly Circus

Piccadilly Circus at night with neon billboards in the background and hundreds of people in the square
Piccadilly Circus is to London what Time Square is to New York City. | Photo by StockSnap from Pixabay

Another famous public square in London, Piccadilly Circus is like London’s version of Time Square in New York City. It is known for its iconic neon signs and billboards, which light up the area at night and a prominent central fountain where people tend to hang out.

A major commercial hub and a popular tourist destination, you’ll find lots of shops, theaters, and restaurants in the surrounding area. 

You can easily walk to Piccadilly Circus from Trafalgar or directly from Buckingham Palace, but there are several bus and metro stations that will take you directly to the famous square, also. 

Located in the center of the square, a statue of Eros graces the top of a prominent fountain. This vibrant area truly captures the energy and unique atmosphere of London.


Red lanterns hanging over the street in Chinatown
Chinatown is a fun neighborhood to walk through and explore during your one day in London.

Chinatown is another fun and busy area in the heart of the city. Just a few blocks from Piccadilly Circus, around the streets of Gerrard, Lisle, and Wardour, Chinatown is a hub for Chinese culture, cuisine, and commerce. 

It is characterized by its colorful decorations, hanging red lanterns, and traditional arches. Here you’ll find a variety of authentic Chinese restaurants and shops selling goods and souvenirs. 

Although you don’t have to spend much time, it is worth walking through Chinatown on your way to Covent Garden. It is a unique cultural experience and a great place to grab a quick bite to eat if you are craving Chinese cuisine.

Covent Garden

Neal's Yard, a small, colorful alleyway in London's Covent Garden neighborhood.
Neal’s Yard, a small, colorful alleyway in London’s Covent Garden neighborhood.

Covent Garden is one of our personal favorite neighborhoods in London. Located in the heart of the West End, Covent Garden is the perfect place to end your one day in London.

It is home to a range of restaurants, cafes, and bars, offering a diverse range of cuisine. So, find a restaurant that suits your fancy, grab a table and enjoy a relaxing dinner and a cold pint. 

The neighborhood is characterized by its elegant architecture and cobbled streets. You’ll find colorful courtyards like Neal’s Yard, and major attractions like the Covent Garden Market, Royal Opera House, and London Transport Museum located in the area.

It is a fun mix of historical and contemporary experiences that makes it a must-visit destination for anyone exploring London in a day.

Getting Around London

London is an easy city to get around. It is well connected by public transport, and some – although not all – of the main things on this London in a day itinerary – are close enough that you can walk between them. 

Tube (London Underground)

a sign for the Underground and Big Ben in the background.
The Underground, or Tube, is an easy way to get around London in a day.

The London Underground, also called the Tube, is the city’s metro system. It connects all of London and is fairly easy to navigate for those who are accustomed to using a metro.

You can tap your credit card on the stall to enter and tap again when you exit, and it will calculate the cost without you having to buy a metro ticket.

Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour

The hop-on hop-off bus tour is one of the most popular ways to see London in a day. The recognizable red, double-decker buses stop at all London’s most popular sites, letting you get on and off at any stop along the way.

While onboard, the tour guides provide fun and engaging commentary. The buses stop at each attraction every 20 minutes, so it is a quick way to see the city, and you are never waiting very long. 

Private Tours

Finally, if you prefer a completely organized private tour guide, this is also an option. You can hire a taxi to drive you to all of London’s top attractions. Of course, while convenient it is also the most expensive way to see London in a day. 

FAQs about visiting London in a Day

a street in Camden Garden
One day in London gives you just enough time to see a few of the top attractions and explore a neighborhood or two.

If you are visiting London on a day trip or passing through on the way to another destination, here are some of the most frequently asked questions about visiting the popular Bristish city. 

Is 1 day in London enough?

Shortest answer: No. While one day in London is not enough to see everything in the famous city, you can still have a great time exploring some of the city’s top attractions and landmarks in that short amount of time.

London is a massive city with countless attractions, so it’s difficult to see everything in just one day. However, if you are only in London for a day, you can still get a taste of the city’s history, culture, and landmarks like Big Ben, the London Eye, and Buckingham Palace. 

However, you may not make it to all of London’s famous neighborhoods like Notting Hill, Camden, and SoHo. You also won’t have time to stop for an impromptu carousel ride or stop in for a pint at a British pub. Those are the things that truly make London special.

Still, you can see a fair amount of London’s top sites in one day because London has an excellent public transportation system, including buses and the famous Underground (also known as the Tube), which can make it easy to get around the city quickly.

Is it worth going to London for one day?

Although one day in London isn’t enough time to truly experience this incredible city, if you are nearby and only have a day, then yes, it is definitely worth going to London. If for no other reason, you’ll get to see some of Europe’s most famous churches and even one of the most iconic bridges in Europe.  

If the city’s popular landmarks don’t interest you, there are plenty of cultural experiences like museums, theaters, and great restaurants and English pubs to visit.

Or, for Harry Potter fanatics, you can book a walking tour of some of the Harry Potter filming sites or spend a day at the Harry Potter Studios.

Can you visit London on a long layover at Heathrow?

windsor castle
You may not be able to make it to London unless you have a very long layover, but you can make it to Windsor Castle

Heathrow airport is well-connected to central London by public transportation, such as the London Underground (Piccadilly line and Elizabeth Line), which takes approximately 50 minutes to reach central London. There are also other options such as taxis or private transfers, which may be quicker but more expensive.

With that said, Heathrow is a busy airport and you have to account for the amount of time it takes you to go through customs. We’ve flown through Heathrow, gotten to the airport 3 hours early and still barely made our flight. 

Personally, we wouldn’t recommend trying to visit London on a long layover at Heathrow. Instead, plan to visit somewhere closer to the airport, like a day tour of Windsor Castle.   

Do you need a car for one day in London?

You do not need a car if you want to visit London. You can easily explore the city on foot and using public transportation. The hop-on hop-off bus is also an option to get to the tourist attractions quicker.

However, if you plan to take a day trip to the Cotswolds and see some of the most beautiful Cotswolds villages like Bibury or Castle Combe, you will need to rent or hire a car to do so.

Additionally, if you want to venture to the English coast to explore places like Dover or Margate, a car is beneficial.

What is the best time to visit London?

flower pots with the UK flag hanging off a building in london
Summertime is your best chance for nice weather in London, but it is also when the city is most crowded.

Although London can be a beautiful winter wonderland, the winter season can get quite cold and a bit dreary. The city is also known to be rainy and cloudy quiet frequently, so for the best weather, visit London in summer.

Keep in mind though, summer is the peak tourism season, so it is the most expensive and most crowded time to visit.

I tend to think London is magical year-round though, so if you do happen to visit in winter, especially around the holidays, you’ll find the city is one of the best Christmas destinations in Europe!

Have a question or comment about any of the attractions on this London in a day itinerary? We’d love to hear from you! Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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