In my opinion, London is one of the greatest cities in the world for tourists. You just can't ever get bored, there is so much to see and do. However, what if you have only one day to visit and explore London? Maybe you have a long layover at one of London's many airports and want to see London but need to cram it in as short a timeframe as possible. This guide will explain what you need to see, and includes some other tips and advice for travelling to London.
1 day London Itinerary Plan Basic Overview - all within walking distance
We have a full guide on how to get from London airports to central London here. There are several airports, with multiple ways to get to central London so that page goes over every option. Last updated: 2018
We also have a full guide to how to use London's public transport (underground tube, bus, taxis etc) here. Please check it out, so you know how to use their extensive and reliable public transport network.
If you have only one day, then you have to go where most of the tourist attractions and landmarks are. You really could spend a couple of weeks (or more!) in London and still find things to do, but the following set of landmarks are most of the major ones, and luckily they are within walking distance. You can follow them in order (we do backtrack and go through Leicester Square twice, but the second time we include China Town and other bits).
A link to a map is provided at the bottom of this page.
Covent Gardens is a really cool area, with lots of small independent shops in a former fruit-and-vegetable market.
You can often find very talented street performers inside it - they get big audiences. But watch your belongings as pick pockets are known to operate while you watch the shows.
You can also get something to eat in Covent Gardens, but it is a bit expensive (even for London!)
Leicester Square is what I've always thought of as the main 'center' of London. It is where London film premieres are shown (in the Odeon cinema on the square). At christmas time there is a big christmas market in the middle of the square.
It is quite touristy - you can find many souviner shops near here. And one of the best/worst shops in London: M&M's World. You have to go inside it to see it! 4 floors with everything you can think of wit the M&M's logo on it. It is really expensive, don't bother buying any sweets here. Just go to any of the normal shops nearby to buy a packet of M&M's much cheaper.
There is also the sort of recent Lego shop there too, directly opposite M&M's.
You will see photos of Piccadilly Circus on a lot of London postcards and travel guides. It is quite an iconic scene and a popular tourist attraction, although that means that nowadays it is just surrounded by tourist souvenir shops.
If you keep walking you will get to Regent Street, which leads to Oxford Street (they meet at Oxford Circus). These are the two main shopping streets. They are especially busy at christmas times (so busy that I would recommend avoiding it at peak times). But during non christmas period it can be nice to walk up and down.
The famous Hamleys toy store is on Regent Street. It is the worlds largest toy shop. Even if you have no kids with you, go and check it out. It is a huge shop, and quite a bit tourist attraction.
Once you are done with the shops in this area, head to Trafalgar Square via Leicester Square.
On the way back to Leicester Square you can make a slight detour, and go to Carnaby Street. This detour is only a couple of minutes walking time, and nice to see a cool little shopping area.
Also while you are on the way to Leicester Square, go to Chinatown. It is a couple of streets 'behind' Leicester Square.
For me, China Town is one of the coolest things in London. It is just a couple of streets, but it really feels like a different country than UK! This is a fantastic place to get some very tasty and cheap chinese food. There are lots of restaurants here, with authentic and delicious food. They often do lunchtime buffet deals.
Another key landmark in London is Trafalgar Square.
This is a tourist hotspot. Years ago it used to be a pigeon hotspot, as the tourists could buy bird food and feed the pigeons. But they banned that, and now it is just full of people.
At the top of Trafalgar Square you can always see some kind of street performers. There are the actual, talented street performers (that draw in a big crowd), and also people dressed up as Yoda or Pikachu. Apparently there are turf wars about this: see here.
At the top of Trafalgar Square is the National Gallery. This is completely free to enter, and includes many works of art such as many Van Gogh pieces (there are at least a couple of enterences to the National Gallery. You want to enter the building on the left, and go to room 43 for his famous paintings. Of course there is much, much more to see than just Van Gogh there though!
The Mall is a road that leads to Buckingham Palace from Trafalgar Square, and goes under the famous Admiralty Arch.
This is a famous road, and if you have ever seen a royal public display (such as royal weddings and more) then you will have seen this road. The London Marathon also finishes here every year. It is closed to traffic on Sundays.
Go see old queenie! You won't see her, but there are lots of guards to see. And even more police. This area only contains tourists. So many tourists!
If you want to see something interesting, then time your visit so you see the Changing of the Guard.
As you were walking along The Mall to Buckingham Palace, you would have seen a big park on your left side. This is St. James's Park.
Walk through it! It is a 23 hectare (57 acre) park that is well kept and popular with tourists and locals alike. There is a lake in the middle of it, which attracts many birds. Including a colony of pelicans, which have been there since they were donated in 1664 by a Russian ambassador to Charles II. Their wings are often clipped so they don't fly away. There is also one pelican who can fly, and often goes to London Zoo to try and get some food.
Horse Guards is a building which is at the end of St. James's park. If you walk under the arches and towards to road you will see the mounted trooper of the Household Cavalry. They are soldiers on the back of horses (see photo above). Get more detail (including when they Changing the Life Guard happens here.
Once you are done with this area, get to the main road (Whitehall) and turn right.
Soon you will come across a heavily guarded gate. This is the entrance to Downing Street (the Prime Minister lives at 10 Downing Street).
You can't enter the gated area, but you can look through the gate and see the street sign with the street name.
Next is to carry on walking for maybe 5-10 minutes until you see the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben.
You will also see the River Thames and in the background of your view you should see London Eye. That is where you should head next.
You should be able to see London Eye - the big wheel. Cost: £27 (but see below on how to get a 2 for 1 deal).
The side of the river with the London Eye is known as South Bank. Walk along the river down there, you can often find very entertaining and skilled street performers there. You can also pop in to the SEA LIFE London Aquarium there. Again, scroll to the bottom of this guide to find out how to save money and get a 2 for 1 discount voucher for SEA LIFE by using your train ticket...
London is great for nightlife, and has you covered no matter what your interests are:
This is split over several maps, on Google Maps (they have a maximum of 10 items per map). This also shows the time it takes to walk between each item. Please note that you cannot actually see 10 Downing Street, but just the entrance to Downing Street. Also despite what Google Maps shows, you should walk straight through St. James's Park.
This shows the total walking time of around an hour and a half, but this isn't including stopping at each attraction, taking photos, etc.
Buy a train ticket! Seriously! Look for brochures in any train station (you won't find them in London tube stations) for "2FOR1". They let you go to most of the big London tourist attractions with a 2-for-1 ticket. So go with a friend, and split the costs of just one ticket. You can also organise it on DaysOutGuide.co.uk.
They include London Eye (normal price: £27 - but you can get two tickets for that price if you buy a train ticket). Tower of London (Normally £28 for one ticket). London Dungeon (normally £30), London Zoo and many many more attractions.
Just buy the cheapest train ticket from whatever station you were at. Full details can be found on the link above - but you can get train tickets for just £2 or £3. I've used tickets for 2FOR1 before without actually travelling with those tickets.
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