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Making the Most of London in a Day: A Whirlwind Adventure

Making the Most of London in a Day: A Whirlwind Adventure

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Are you planning a trip to London? Keep scrolling for my London in a day itinerary that is perfect for couples or a girls getaway!
This 1 day London itinerary was written by family travel expert Marcie Cheung and may contain affiliate links, which means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. All opinions remain my own.

My family visited London last summer and we had a blast! It was my kids’ first time to London and we did a lot of stuff.

So, when I decided to take my bestie to London for the first time, I asked my kids what I should show her.

My oldest instantly suggested the Tower of London and Buckingham Palace. So, we built our entire 1 day in London itinerary based on those main London attractions.

Keep scrolling to see exactly what we did with our one full day in London itinerary.

Don’t have time to read a bunch of London blog posts and reviews? Here are some of our top picks for visiting London with kids.

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How to Get to London

Kicking Off Your London Adventure: From Heathrow to the Heart of the City

London, with its majestic blend of history, culture, and cosmopolitan flair, offers endless avenues for exploration.

If you’re on a tight schedule and have just one day to soak in the essence of this iconic city, the adventure begins the moment your plane touches the tarmac at Heathrow Airport.

But how do you efficiently and comfortably transition from this international hub to the bustling streets of London?

Heathrow Express

Arguably the quickest way to travel from Heathrow to central London is via the Heathrow Express train.

Departing every 15 minutes, this service will whisk you away to Paddington Station in a mere 15-20 minutes.

From Paddington, London’s vast underground network – affectionately dubbed ‘The Tube’ – is at your fingertips, ready to connect you to any corner of the city.

Tube (Piccadilly Line)

For budget-conscious travelers or those looking for a direct route to areas such as Covent Garden, Leicester Square, or King’s Cross, the Piccadilly Line is a fantastic option.

The Tube is really easy to use.

The journey takes approximately 45-60 minutes to Central London, but offers a real-time introduction to the city’s pulse.

National Express Coaches

If you’re not in a rush and prefer to see a bit of the cityscape as you travel, the National Express offers coaches from Heathrow to Victoria Coach Station.

The journey might be longer, around 45 minutes to an hour, but it’s a comfortable and scenic way to ease into your London experience.

Taxis and Rideshares

For those with hefty luggage, or perhaps traveling in a group, hailing a classic London black cab or booking a rideshare service might be the best choice.

LONDON - MARCH 9: London red bus on March 9, 2014, London, UK.  London bus crossing Westminster Bridge in the United Kingdom on March 9, 2014 in London, England
We love the black cabs in London!

While this option offers door-to-door convenience, keep in mind that London traffic can be unpredictable. The ride might take anywhere from 40 minutes to an hour or more, depending on traffic conditions.

With these options at your disposal, transitioning from Heathrow to London’s vibrant heart becomes a seamless part of your 24-hour adventure.

From St. Pancras International to the City’s Core

The journey to discover the magic of London often begins from many gateways, but there’s something especially enchanting about arriving via the historic St. Pancras International train station.

This is where we arrived from Paris via the Chunnel.

Image of St. Pancras station in London, UK
St. Pancras train station is really beautiful.

With its Victorian Gothic architecture and a history dating back to 1868, you’ll feel as though you’re stepping into a story the moment you disembark.

But once the awe of the station’s grandeur settles, how do you transition from this railway marvel to the vibrant heartbeat of London, especially if you’ve only got a day?

The Tube

St. Pancras International, seamlessly connected with King’s Cross Station, is a major hub for the London Underground. From here, six Tube lines are at your disposal, making any corner of London easily accessible.

The popular Piccadilly Line, for instance, can ferry you directly to attractions like Leicester Square, Covent Garden, or the British Museum within minutes.

London Buses

Just outside the station, you’ll find a fleet of London’s iconic red buses waiting.

Image of London with red bus against Big Ben in England, UK
The red double decker buses in London are always fun!

Not only are they an efficient way to move around, but they also offer a more scenic view of the city as you navigate to your destinations. Routes are aplenty, so you’re sure to find one that aligns with your itinerary.

Taxis & Rideshares

If you’re looking for a direct route or traveling with luggage, the classic London black cabs are readily available outside St. Pancras. Alternatively, rideshare apps like Uber are operational and can be a quicker option during peak times.

Starting your one-day London adventure from St. Pancras International places you in the heart of the city, with every experience just a short journey away.

One Day in London Itinerary

Before I dive into this London in a day itinerary, I wanted to point out that we spend two days in Paris first. So, we weren’t jetlagged by the time we got to London.

We also took the Chunnel from Paris to London and arrived at our hotel just in time to have afternoon tea at the Bloomsbury.

MORNING

Tube to Tower of London

We weren’t sure how long it would really take us to get from our hotel to the Tower of London. So we headed there early just in case we got lost.

It was actually pretty easy to buy tickets at the station and use our GPS to figure out where to get out.

Coffee Near the Tower of London

After we got out at our station, we headed to Paul and grabbed some coffee.

Image of takeaway coffee in front of Tower of London sign
There are several cafes at the Tower of London. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

There are lots of benches located along the river, so we picked one and enjoyed our beverages.

Tower Bridge

We got to our Tower of London tour a bit early so we had enough time to go over and look at Tower Bridge.

Image of a woman in front of Tower Bridge in London
There are great views of Tower Bridge right next to the Tower of London. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

I think it’s one of the coolest bridges in Europe and a top London landmark. Even though it was a little hazy out that morning, it was still pretty impressive to see.

Tower of London Tour with a Beefeater

When I first visited London when I was a high school student, our teacher booked us on a tour with a Beefeater and it was so cool that I still remember it twenty-some years later.

Image of a woman in front of the Tower of London
Quick selfie before we headed inside the Tower of London. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

So, when I brought my friend to London for the first time, I knew this was the tour I wanted to start with.

Our guide Yeoman Gary was fantastic! He had a booming voice and a hilarious personality. He really made history come to life and kept our group fully engaged.

Image of a beefeater at the Tower of London
Yeoman Gary at Tower of London. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

His portion of the tour was only 30 minutes long (which was a bummer) but then we had time to explore the Tower of London on our own.

We headed straight for the Crown Jewels before that exhibit area got too crowded. It always amazes me that the crowns are REAL because I just can’t wrap my head around that!

Image of a bedchamber inside the Tower of London
I highly recommend exploring the tower exhibits on your own. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

Most people then head for the White Tower to see more historical exhibits. But, I’d seen it before and my friend wasn’t super interested, so we decided to walk through all the rest of the towers.

There were lots of cool exhibits, including one that was all about what it takes to be a Beefeater!

We spent about an hour total inside the Tower of London (30 minutes with the Beefeater and 30 minutes on our own) before deciding to move on. Check the latest rates and availability.

AFTERNOON

Lunch at Buckingham Arms

Since we knew we had a tour of Buckingham Palace in the afternoon, we figured we should head in that direction to find lunch. So we popped down to the Tube and made our way over to that area.

We tried to eat at SO many places, but hardly anything was open at 11:30 a.m. But, we did find Buckingham Arms and it was a pretty good find!

Image of a sandwich and fries at Buckingham Arms in London
This lunch spot is just steps away from the palace. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

Since it was such a hot day, I knew I needed to hydrate with something non-alcoholic. Luckily, they have quite a range of mocktails. I had the St. James Garden and it was incredible.

It’s not really a traditional London pub. I had a VBLT (that had vegetarian bacon) and my friend had a grilled cheese sandwich with leeks.

St. James’s Park

We still had a little time before our tour, so we sat at St. James’s Park and enjoyed the beautiful weather. There were lots of families and other people probably waiting for tours who had the same idea.

Buckingham Palace Tour

So Buckingham Palace is only open for tourists a few months of the year. We visited in September and we were able to snag tickets as part of a group tour.

It really wasn’t an actual group tour. We were funneled into the group ticket area, did a bag check, grabbed an audio guide, and then we were on our own.

Image of a woman posing in front of Buckinham Palace in London
Here’s the front of Buckingham Palace. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

They don’t allow any photos inside Buckingham Palace, so I followed the rules and didn’t take any.

The audio tour is really cool and you can pick and choose what you want to learn about. I ended up just doing the introductions for each room and that’s all the info I needed. But they also went in depth for certain items in the room.

We visited Buckingham Palace a few months after the coronation, so there was a big section dedicated to that special event. This included a bunch of photos as well as the coronation outfits for King Charles III and Queen Camilla.

Image of a woman posing with a backdrop of the King and Queen of England
This photo op was right as we exited the palace. Photo credit: Tara Wong

They even had an interactive kids play area that looked super fun for families once we exited Buckingham Palace!

You also have access to the gardens, which are fine. It’s pretty much just a big lawn with a pond and it’s all roped off so you can’t sit out there.

Image of a woman posing in a cardboard carriage at Buckingham Palace.
This photo op is in the kids play area. Photo credit: Tara Wong

But, you can pop by their cafe, get an ice cream, or check out their massive gift shop full of unique London souvenirs.

If you’re able to do a Buckingham Palace tour, I highly recommend it! Check the latest rates and availability.

Big Ben, Parliament, London Eye, and Red Phone Booths

We were done with our Buckingham Palace tour around 3:30 p.m. so we figured we should hit up a few more iconic London landmarks.

Image of Big Ben, a London Underground sign, and a red double decker bus
I was stoked to get Big Ben, a bus, and the Underground sign all in one shot! Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

We hopped back on the Tube and headed to see Big Ben. It was really fun to snap some selfies with Big Ben as well as walk across the bridge to see the London Eye.

I’ve done the London Eye with my kids and they love it, but we decided not to do it this trip.

Image of a woman posing in a red phone booth in front of Big Ben in London.
This is a popular London photo spot. Photo credit: Tara Wong

Instead, we headed to the red phone booth where you can get a photo with Big Ben in the background. Usually, there’s a huge line but we lucked out with only about 10 people ahead of us.

At this point, we felt like we saw all the sights in London in a day that we could really manage.

EVENING

Dinner at Farmacy in Notting Hill

We happened to have friends staying in Notting Hill so we thought it would be cool to meet up with them and see this London neighborhood.

Image of carrots on top of beet root hummus
Beet Hummus at Farmacy in London. Photo credit: Vanessa Hunt

It’s a bit of a trek on the Tube but totally worth the extra time and energy because it’s a really cute area that has a different vibe than other parts of London.

Farmacy was super delicious and I’d definitely recommend it to anyone looking for colorful, flavorful, healthy food.

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    Shopping on Oxford Street

    Since our hotel was pretty close to Oxford Street, we spent some time walking around and checking out the shopping scene.

    It’s a mix of European and American stores, restaurants, and lots of souvenir shops.

    We ended up walking about 10 miles over the course of the entire day in London.

    Spending 2 or 3 Days in London?

    If you end up having more time in London, there are tons of cool things to do!

    Do a Flytographer Photo Shoot

    We actually squeezed in a London photography session right before we flew back home to Seattle. We met up with our photographer at the Tower Bridge and it was such a fun way to end our trip!

    Image of two woman on Tower Bridge in London
    Photo credit: Jackie with Flytographer

    Our photographer Jackie was super fun to chat with and she knew ALL the right places to get cool shots of Tower Bridge with minimal people (even on a crazy busy day).

    Book a Family Photo Shoot

    Whenever we travel, we almost always book a family photo shoot with Flytographer. They are super easy, affordable, AND guarantee that I’ll be in some photos. You can get $25 off if you book through this link or use the code HAWAIITRAVEL.

    Changing of the Guard

    We did this last summer and it was really cool! You can do it on your own but we booked a cheap tour so that we could learn a bit about what we were seeing and get some background information.

    Changing-of-the-Guard-in-London-960x720.jpg
    It’s always fun to see the Changing of the Guard. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

    It ended up raining when we went and our guide knew exactly where to go so we could get a good view as they went into their rain protocol. Check the latest rates and availability.

    Shopping & Afternoon Tea at Harrods

    Harrods is one of the most iconic stores in London. Not only is it an impressive department store that carries a variety of amazing items, but it also has restaurants.

    Harrod’s has the best-tasting afternoon tea nibbles! Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

    I highly suggest making a reservation for afternoon tea at Harrods. The food and tea are delicious and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time (but it a good way).

    After you fill your belly, peruse a few floors of the department store and snap a photo with one of their teddy bears!

    Westminster Abbey

    Westminster Abbey is one of London’s most iconic landmarks with a history spanning over a thousand years.

    Westminster Abbey is pretty famous.

    When you step inside, you can see the resting places of famous kings, queens, and other notable figures. It’s a must-visit to truly appreciate the rich heritage and beauty of England’s capital city.

    Kings Cross Station

    Harry Potter fans will definitely want to stop by Kings Cross station to take a photo with Platform 3/4. It’s a cute photo spot where you can push the trolley through the wall (at least it will look like that in your picture).

    There’s also a Harry Potter shop right next to the photo spot that has some really, really cool items.

    See a London Show

    We actually came back to London later in our trip and got to see Mathilda the Musical, which was fantastic!

    Image of a woman in front of the stage of Matilda the Musical in London.
    Matilda the Musical exceeded my expectations! Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

    When we visited London last summer, my husband and oldest son saw Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which they raved about.

    You can also see a Shakespeare play at the Globe Theatre. We saw Macbeth one time and it was such an engaging experience.

    Image of a woman inside a red phone booth in London
    Photo credit: Jackie with Flytographer

    Tips for Visiting London for the First Time

    Stay Within Walking Distance of London Attractions

    I always suggest figuring out what you want to do before you book your hotel. We really wanted to do afternoon tea as soon as we arrived so we picked a hotel that offered it (the Bloomsbury).

    But we also wanted to be able to walk around to check out attractions in London like the British Museum.

    Get the Skip the Line Tickets

    Popular attractions like the London Eye or the Harry Potter Studio Tour can get booked up. Reserve your spot in advance to avoid disappointment.

    I also suggest skip-the-line tickets for the Tower of London.

    Oyster Card is Essential

    Purchase an Oyster card for use on London’s public transport, including the Underground, buses, and even some river services.

    It’s far cheaper and more convenient than buying single tickets (ask me how I know).

    Wear Layers

    London’s weather is notoriously unpredictable. Always carry a compact umbrella, and layer your clothing so you can easily adapt.

    Stand on the Right

    Londoners are particular about escalator etiquette. Always stand on the right to allow people in a hurry to pass on the left.

    Walk to the Left

    If you’re from the U.S., you’re used to always keeping to the right when you walk. It’s flipped for London.

    People in London naturally walk to the left, so it’s best to follow suit.

    Visit Free Museums

    Many of London’s top museums, like the British Museum and Tate Modern, offer free admission (though donations are appreciated).

    Visit a Local Market

    From Borough Market’s culinary delights to Portobello Road’s antiques, London’s markets are full of treasures waiting to be discovered.

    Adjust Your Pace

    London is vast, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. It’s impossible to see everything in one trip, so focus on your top priorities and remember to enjoy the journey.

    Keep Some Cash

    While most places accept credit or debit cards, having some British pounds on hand can be useful for smaller purchases or in places that don’t accept cards.

    Image of two women on a bench in front of Tower Bridge in London
    Photo credit: Jackie with Flytographer

    1 Day in London FAQs

    Can you see London in 1 day?

    No, it’s impossible to see all major attractions in a single day. However, with careful planning, you can cover several iconic sites.

    What are the must-see attractions for a one-day trip?

    Prioritize based on your interests, but generally, the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament with Big Ben, the London Eye, and a quick stroll along the Thames could be considered.

    Are London Bridge and Tower Bridge the same thing?

    No, London Bridge and Tower Bridge are two distinct bridges in London.

    What’s the best way to get around London quickly?

    The London Underground (Tube) is the fastest way to navigate between distant attractions. For places closer together, walking can sometimes be quicker and offers a richer experience.

    Can I purchase a day pass for public transportation?

    Yes, consider getting a Visitor Oyster card or a one-day Travelcard. Both offer unlimited travel on buses and trains within specific zones.

    Are there any guided tours suitable for a one-day visit?

    Absolutely! Several companies offer day-long tours, both on foot and via bus, that focus on London’s main attractions. The Hop-On Hop-Off buses are popular choices.

    Where should I eat during my one-day visit?

    London is packed with dining options. Consider a quick lunch at Borough Market for a variety of gourmet choices, or pop into a traditional pub for classic British fare.

    How early should I start my day to maximize my visit?

    Ideally, start as early as possible, especially if you’re aiming to visit attractions that require tickets. Many places open by 9 or 10 a.m.

    Should I book tickets to attractions in advance?

    Yes, for popular attractions with potential long wait times, like the London Eye or Tower of London, booking in advance can save you both time and occasionally money.

    If I only have one evening in London, what should I do?

    Consider a stroll along the South Bank of the Thames to see the city lights, catch a play in the West End, or enjoy a panoramic view from Sky Garden or The Shard.

    How can I enjoy a day in London?

    To enjoy a day in London, start by prioritizing a few iconic attractions such as Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, and the Tower of London.

    Use the London Underground for efficient travel between sites, take a stroll along the River Thames, and consider dining at a traditional pub or exploring one of London’s vibrant markets like Borough Market for a unique culinary experience.

    Are day trips from London worth it?

    Yes, day trips from London are definitely worth it. The city’s excellent transport connections provide easy access to historic sites like Stonehenge, the university town of Oxford, the picturesque Cotswolds, and even coastal destinations like Brighton.

    How many days do you need to see London?

    To get a comprehensive feel for London and explore its major attractions at a comfortable pace, a visit of at least 4 to 5 days is recommended.

    However, even with a week or more, there will always be more to discover in this dynamic and historically rich city.

    What to See in London in a Day Wrap-Up

    This is just one example of how you can spend one day in London. You could also do a double-decker bus tour that would take you around Hyde Park, Trafalgar Square, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Regent Street, Covent Garden, Tower Hill, and so much more.

    Looking for more London travel resources? Check out my top London travel tips, hidden gems in London, things to do in London at night, family-friendly hotels in London, top London photography spots, best weekend trips in Europe, Europe travel tips, and how to book a London family photographer!

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