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What to do in a day in London? With top London attractions including the Buckingham Palace, Palace of Westminster, Covent Garden, and the Sky Garden, this is classic London in 24 hours.
I’ll be honest, a day is not nearly enough time to see this epic city. But if 24 hours in London is all the time you have, make it worth your while by being strategic about the activities you would like to do.
Such as noteworthy sights and iconic London landmarks you would like to see.
If you’re looking for more on London or planning a trip to the Big Smoke then read my London travel tips guide.
In this London 1 day itinerary for first-time visitors, I’ve focused on the must-see sights like the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, Covent Garden, Tate Modern. As well as the West End and a few other tours like the hop-on-hop-off bus tours.
While the non-touristy things to do in London are amazing, they’re better for longer trips to the city. What is the best way to see London in a day? Read on for my top things to do in London for a day.
How to Spend A Day In London: Tips From A Local
My advice would be to focus on central London and the main tourist attractions if this is your first-time visit.
A bit basic but hear me out. Visiting attractions that are easy to get to and are within walking distance of each other, will make your short trip more manageable.
This London travel guide is laid out to give you a taste of things to do in London in a day.
Without wasting your time on the tube or trying to figure out how to get to these places. Everything mentioned is close to the city centre and within easy reaching distance from each other.
Before you begin, here’s some helpful advice.
Best Coffee Shops To Visit While In London For 24 Hours
With only 24 hours in London to see and do the best things, you’ll need coffee! Locals love good coffee – preferably from one of the many independent coffee shops in London.
You can grab a strong cup of ethically sourced coffee from two of the best coffee shops in central London:
- Soho Grind – Visit from 8 am during the week to 5 pm, or 10 am over the weekend. And enjoy later closing times from Thursday to Sunday.
- Department of Coffee and Social Affairs – Open from 9 am to 4 pm during the week, 10 am to 5 pm on Saturdays, and 11 am to 4 pm on Sundays.
Trust me when I say a cup of coffee from these two places will keep you buzzing far into London’s midnight hours.
Best Breakfast To Start Your 24 Hrs In London
If you’re like me, then starting your day with an amazing breakfast will be on your London to-do list.
With only one day in London, let me introduce you to one of London’s best breakfast and brunching spots—Ottolenghi.
Londoners are eager and will wait 30 minutes for their delicious corn and polenta cakes, avocado salsa, fried egg, and the mouth-watering Middle Eastern Breakfast which includes tomato salad, tahini, chickpeas with lemon and parsley, sheep labneh, mixed olives, lemon marmalade, grilled pita and za’atar focaccia. A real mouth full.
Ottolenghi is where you should visit for breakfast, this place is not your faux brunch pop-up, but a British institution. The menu presents a more simple and inventive selection of options to choose from.
This is a far cry from the more traditional full English fried breakfast that the English are known for, but you will not regret opting to try something more creative and eye-catching.
You’ll drool as you pass by the striking choice of rainbow-coloured salads and fresh buttery pastries on display.
Don’t forget to grab one of the many selections of pastry or their world-famous cookbook, as you leave. Half of London has one of their cookbooks in their kitchen, just in case we feel the need to cook.
Ottolenghi is a small chain of restaurants run by celebrity chef, Yotam Ottolenghi, with restaurants located in Belgravia, Soho, Spitalfields, Notting Hill and Islington.
24 Hours In London Itinerary
So what can you do in London with just one day in London to explore? Lots! If you plan your routes and move at a steady pace, there are many London things to do that you can fit into your trip.
Here’s the best guide on what to do in London for a day if you’re visiting the city for a short, but exciting 24 hours.
Do a Hop-on Hop-off London Tour
A great way to fit in all the best things to do in London in 24 hours in a hop-on-hop-off London tour.
As touristy hop-on hop-off bus tours are London, it’s still a great way of seeing the city from a different perspective, you learn a lot of historical factors quickly about London and you can decide quickly what sights are worth seeing for your one day in London.
There are also lots of hop-on hop-off bus tour operators that are around Trafalgar Square, so if you were thinking of doing a bus tour this would be a great place to grab one of the many buses there.
With only one day in London, you want to be able to move around the city quickly while still seeing all the major attractions.
Book Here | Save time and see more with a combined hop-on-hop-off bus and river cruise trip through London.
Wander Covent Garden
With only 1 day in London, Covent Garden is one of those landmarks you must see, even if all you have is one day to explore London.
First visit Ottolenghi Soho, then make your way from Soho to Covent Garden (10 minutes’ walk) and wander around one of London’s busiest piazzas.
Once an orchard garden of Westminster Abbey, you can now find the Royal Opera House, and cute flower swings, along with the quirky characters of the many street performers displaying their talents.
Plus, if you’re not yet full from that hearty breakfast, there are some delicious brunch spots in Covent Garden to enjoy.
I suggest visiting the apple market, which is filled with artisanal stalls selling handmade goods such as prints, watercolours and jewellery, Tuesday to Sunday, and antiques on Mondays.
Covent Garden should be at the top of your list of places to visit in London in one day.
It’s definitely one of the top things to do in London in 24 hours. This is one sight you must visit in London even if you only have a day to visit.
Book Here | Hidden London Walking Tour
READ MORE | THINGS TO DO IN COVENT GARDEN
Stop in at Neal’s Yard Covent Garden
Just six minutes’ walk from Covent Garden tucked away off Neal Street you’ll find one of London’s most colourful little corners, Neal’s Yard London.
Wander through the small alleyway of Neal’s Yard and you’ll be taken aback by the bright, quirky, picturesque multi-coloured buildings. As well as the windows and shops, which will put a smile on your face.
There you’ll find salad bars, cafés and independent shops such as:
- Neal’s Yard Dairy,
- Neal’s Yard Remedies shop,
- Casanova & daughters
- and alternative plant-based restaurants such as Wild Food Cafe.
Neal’s Yard is in Seven Dials, and gets its name from Thomas Neale, who received land from William III in 1690, and created the Seven Dials area.
To really appreciate this gem, it’s best to get there early to avoid other tourists and Londoners as space and shops/restaurants there are very small, so they become busy and crowded quickly.
If you want the space to yourself then wake up even earlier, or visit on a weekday.
Visit the National Portrait Gallery
You can’t spend 24 hours in London without visiting one of the many free museums that are on offer. With the museums being free there is no excuse not to take advantage while visiting this beautiful city.
The National Portrait Gallery houses one of the most extensive collections of portraits, made up of historically and famous British people both past and present.
Located in Trafalgar Square, there is no reason not to pay the interesting gallery a visit. This is one of the many free things to do in London.
Admission | Free
Open daily: 10:00 – 18:00| Late night opening: Thursday and Friday until 21:00.
Closed | 24 – 26 December
If you are short on time why not check out some of the best walking tours in London.
READ MORE | NON-TOURISTY TO DO IN LONDON
Check Out the Tate Modern and St Paul’s Cathedral
Another thing you must do in London is check out the Tate Modern Gallery. It’s a London landmark with countless ongoing exhibitions.
Have Lunch at the Duck and Waffle
The Duck and Waffle is not only notorious for its crispy leg confit, fried duck egg and waffle premier view of central London.
Duck & Waffle is located on the 40th floor of 110 Bishopsgate in London, 110 Bishopsgate is one of London’s tallest buildings.
Thus you’ll get a spectacular view of the Gherkin and the Shard. Duck and Waffle is also known as one of the top 24 hour restaurants in London.
Enjoy a Cocktail at Blues Kitchen Shoreditch
Finish your 24 hours in London at Blues Kitchen Shoreditch, a blues kitchen and bar in Shoreditch, where the cocktails are strong, the chicken wings crispy and a live band that plays swing blues into the early morning.
Things To Do In London In One Day
While there are many activities to keep you moving through London in one day, there are also many landmarks that simply have to be admired. Here are the main things to see in London.
The views of London from Trafalgar Square are stunning to everyone, whether you’ve been in London for five minutes or 50 years. Trafalgar Square is one of the major London attractions and is worth a visit.
You can’t deny the grandeur of the square with the striking Nelson’s Column, and the fountain with the bronze lions placed on guard (designed by Edwin Landseer) at the base of Nelson’s Column.
Trafalgar Square is a sight to behold, and it will fulfil all the selfie photos your little heart could desire. The best place to take a photo is standing next to the lions or looking straight ahead in the direction of Big Ben.
This is one of those sites to see the iconic big red buses of London, you can easily also catch the hop on hop off London bus from here as well.
Trafalgar Square is also the main stage for numerous celebrations in London, such as the Chinese New Year Celebration; it is also home to the National Portrait Gallery.
Westminster Abbey, Big Ben & The House of Parliament
Walking from Trafalgar Square to Westminster Abbey only takes 13 minutes and this allows you to take in the sights around you.
Plus, these are some of the London attractions you’ll pass as you walk along Whitehall.
- The Monument to the Women of World War II, just before you reach Downing Street.
- 10 Downing Street, the home of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and the Chancellor of the Exchequer is on Whitehall Road.
- Once you hit Parliament Street you’ll see the majestic Westminster Abbey in all its glory. This gothic church is London’s most famous church. This 700-year old structure was where the famous wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton happened in 2011.
- Not even a stone’s throw away you’ll see Big Ben (currently under maintenance until 2021) and the Houses of Parliament.
- Walk across Westminster Bridge to the South Bank, where you can visit the famous London Eye (make sure it’s a clear day if you want to ride the London eye as if there is heavy fog, the view is not worth it) and the London Dungeon.
Walking this route gives you the layout of where some of the major attractions are in London and that you can easily reach them on foot and it’s free.
Plus, if you are visiting on a weekend the Westminster Underground station can be a nightmare.
With loads of tourists wondering how to get out of the station and buses. It can take forever to reach Westminster Bridge due to diversions or road works.
So it is much easier to walk and really take in London and you will get some bomb-ass photos along the way.
READ MORE | THINGS TO DO IN WESTMINSTER LONDON
Take in the city lights of London by wandering through Piccadilly Square, and listening to the street music as you see London really come alive.
The neon lights from the signs of Piccadilly Square seem to light up the city, giving London a whole new party vibe.
There are also many well-known clubs and bars close to the area, so you’ll get to see how Londoners let their hair down.
I think visiting the Sky Garden is one of the best things you can do here. So, round off your day in London with views over this beautiful city for free, backed by amazing live music at Sky Garden.
This is a place you absolutely must visit in London. If you’re deciding between the three major viewing platforms in London, for those who only have one day, I would say visit the Sky Garden.
Unlike the Shard, it’s free and you’ll get a 360-degree view of London. There are great views over the city and the atmosphere is honestly slightly better than the Shard.
Top Tip: Make sure you book the Sky Garden a minimum of three weeks in advance through their booking system.
Take in a West End Show
24 hours in London would not be complete without taking in a West End show in London. You can pick discounted tickets up if you visit the TKTS Official Booth, in Leicester Square.
Try to get there early so you don’t miss out on the (up to 50% discounted tickets) as these tend to go fast. I recommend seeing ‘The Lion King’ or ‘The Book of Mormon’.
Seeing a show at the Theatre is one of the things to do in London for a day.
Find all the cool things you can do in London after dark.
READ MORE | 43 UNUSUAL THINGS TO DO IN LONDON BY A LOCAL
London in 24 Hours Summary
When people ask me how many days are needed for a London trip, I also say no less than 3 days to really enjoy your time. However, for those short on time, some strategic planning and preparing can mean a stunning London day trip.
Planning a London 1 day tour can provide you with some of the city’s highlights, while still leaving you with plenty to see and do when you decide to come back.
Now you know what to do in London in 24 hours, how would you spend one day in the city?
If you do have a little more time to spend in London then check out my posts on:
- 2 days in London, 3 days in London,
- Or 5 days in London,
- There are even more fun things to do in London.