It’s not always easy to know what to do in London, as it’s constantly changing, and always packed with (sometimes too many!) things to do – even the locals have to research what’s going on before making their weekend plans! You can easily fill up a 10-day stay, with plenty of time to see it all, but what if you’re only here for 1 day? It can be really overwhelming trying to decide what to do, where to go and what to see. How do you capture London’s authenticity, vibrance and culture in such a short time?
Well… this guide is for you! Here, we explain realistically what you should see if you’re only here for a day. We cover the highlights of our fast-paced city, and share the exact routes to take to make sure you don’t waste time, but don’t feel too rushed either.
First on our list of making a plan in London, is preparing for that plan! If you’re visiting for a day, you need to think about a few things – mainly, how you’ll travel and what you’ll do with your bags.
The best way to get into London is by car or train. There are pro’s and cons to all options which we’ll run you through.
The pros – By getting a taxi you get door to door service, and don’t have to work out the train connections, which are a little confusing at times, even for the locals. Taxi drivers have to pass London Knowledge tests so know the city very well and are a safe, licensed option.
The Cons – Taxis are expensive, they work by a meter and so if you get stuck in traffic, the price can really set you back. Although some taxis are electric now, not all are eco-friendly so if you’re a planet-conscious traveller you might be stuck trying to find a green option.
The Pros – An alternative to a taxi, would be our fully electric car transfer service. We operate in Heathrow Airport as their only official car transfer service, and you’ll find our desks and London experts in all arrivals terminals. We can, of course, accommodate transfers from all airports into London, and all our rides are fixed rates – we don’t run on meters so you don’t get caught out paying more than you expected.
The Cons – Our electric vehicles get booked up quickly, so it’s always best to pre-book to guarantee your ride, but you can arrive at our desks on the day and we will find a suitable transfer for you (but it might not be electric!).
The Pros – All airports have train connections to London, the easiest being from Heathrow or Gatwick with their express trains to London. The Heathrow Express lands you at Paddington Station, and the Gatwick Express will take you to London Victoria. You can buy tickets online for the Heathrow Express or Gatwick Express, or on the day.
The Cons – If you’re travelling with large suitcases, trains can get a little crowded and if you’ve got small children it can be a real challenge to juggle luggage as well as kids! The trains also have dedicated end-points so you will need to make your way to the more central parts of London as well, taking up more of your time.
Once you’re in London, the public transport network is vast, and you can get from one end of London to the other relatively fast. That being said, the best way to travel around London if you only have one day, is by foot. Only when you walk the streets do you take in all the city’s culture and atmosphere. You’ll hear the street music and encounter people from all across the world. It’s on the streets of London, that you really experience it all. Our itinerary is set out for you to mostly walk, with clear routes and great sights along the way, but if you do want to travel by tube more than we suggest, you should look into getting an Oyster Visitors Card.
If you’re only in London for a short while but have suitcases with you, you probably don’t want to be lugging them around all day! The best thing to do is find a luggage storage facility that will look after your bags for you until you’re ready to collect them. LuggageHero have multiple shops around London, and they will safely secure your bags for the day for never more than just £8. Your bags are insured, and secured with a security seal. Booking a space is easy, but we recommend doing this in advance and for your security you must pre-book online. Then simply drop off your bags and enjoy your day without the weight of your luggage! You do have to pick up your bags from the same place, but don’t worry, in this itinerary we have ensured our route starts and finishes near a LuggageHero shop, to make your day as seamless as possible.
We’ll start our day at Waterloo Station and to make the most of your day, we recommend getting here for 10:00. If you’ve travelled by car, you can request to be dropped off here. If you’ve travelled by the Heathrow Express, you will need to get a tube from Paddington to Waterloo Station (Bakerloo Line, 19mins). For the Gatwick Express you’ll arrive at London Victoria and will need to get the tube and train to Waterloo (Victoria Line to Vaxhall Station, then the South Western Railway to Waterloo, 11mins).
First stop is to get rid of that luggage! Go to the LuggageHero dedicated shop to drop off your bags. This is just a short walk from the station. You’re now free from your bags, and ready to enjoy your day!
Our first stop is the iconic Coca-Cola London Eye, located just outside Waterloo Station. On weekdays it opens at 11am, but weekends it’s open an hour earlier at 10:00am. If you wish to ride on the Eye (30-mins), make sure you book your tickets in advance to avoid long queues, as this attraction is one of London’s most popular and at busy times of year the queues start building up before it even opens! Ride the wheel and enjoy some fantastic views of the London Skyline.
After riding the London Eye, turn right and walk along the Thames towards Westminster Bridge. This short stretch of the waterfront is home to a few of London’s top attractions including The London Dungeon, SEA LIFE London Aquarium and Shrek’s Adventure. If you want to, there’s definitely time in your day to see one of these top attractions, especially if the weather isn’t the best, as these are all indoors, away from the wind and rain.
Photographers, take note, walking across Westminster Bridge presents you with those iconic shots of Big Ben (even though it’s currently covered in scaffolding, it still makes for a really memorable photo!) and The House’s of Parliament.
At the end of Westminster Bridge, turn right and walk back towards the London Eye (from the other side of the Thames). Take left turn straight after the Metropolitan Police Station and walk down towards 10 Downing Street. Here you can see where the Prime Minister lives. The house is, of course, heavily armed, and you are not permitted to enter the gated area, however you can look through the gates and see the street sign.
Looking towards 10 Downing Street, turn left down Parliament Street. Continue down this street until you reach Sir Winston Churchill’s Statue and then turn right down One Great George Street. (Here, you can visit the Imperial War Museum and Churchill War Rooms.) You will now have reached St. James’s Park, a 57 acre royal park featuring a grand lake that attracts many birds including a colony of pelicans that were donated in 1664 to Charles II by a Russian ambassador. St. James’s Cafe is located in the park, and is a great place to stop off and enjoy some Brunch!
Having crossed the park, you will reach The Mall, a road that leads towards Buckingham Palace, home to her majesty the Queen. This is the famous road that you will have seen if you’ve ever watched a royal public display and the yearly London Marathon finishes here. It’s also where the Changing of The Guards takes place every day at 11:00, or 10:00 on Sundays.
Walking back up The Mall leads you to Trafalgar Square, officially named in 1830. It’s surrounded by museums, galleries and historic buildings, as well as statues and fountains. Nelson’s Column stands 5 meters tall, designed in honour of Admiral Nelson after his victory in the Battle of Trafalgar Square. You can also find what’s thought of as the smallest police box ever built on the southeast corner of the Square.
Turn left towards St Martin’s Street and walk up past The National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery. Keep walking, until you get to Leicester Square, a central hub in London that’s home to many London film premieres. Theres also the Lego Store, and M&M World (FOUR whole floors of M&M merch) sure to excite both adults and kids! After seeing M&M and/or Lego Store, turn right onto Wardour Street. Walk up and your second right leads you to Chinatown. Although it’s only a couple of street, walking into it is like stepping into an entirely new country. The food is almost always prepared by authentic chefs and it’s some of the best Chinese food you can find in the UK.
After devouring some delicious Chinese, carry on up Wardour Street past the Sondheim Theatre until you reach Broadwick Street on your left. If you continue down here, you will reach Carnaby Street on the right. If you’ve ever heard of the sayings “Swinging London” and the “Swinging Sixties” you now know where they come from. Carnaby Street, nicknamed “Capital of Cool” was the epicentre of the British youth revolution and fashion during the 60’s. Today, you can still find unique clothing stores that you won’t find anywhere else in the world.
After you’ve explored Carnaby Street, head back down and turn left onto Beak Street. Take your first left when you see Bob Bob Ricard onto Sherwood Street. Following this road will lead you to Piccadilly Circus, a sight seen on many travel guides. If you keep walking you will get to Regent Street, leading onto Oxford Street. Regent Street is home to Hamleys, an attraction in itself as the oldest and largest toy shop in the world. Even without children, its a magnificent place and definitely worth a look. Especially at Christmas time, make sure you don’t miss Regents Street, as with all the lights sparkling up above you and people selling roasted nuts on the streets, it’s a truly unique experience. Oxford Street is packed with flagship shops and restaurants, a perfect place to grab a bite, and pick up something to remember your stay, and finish day around London.
Depending on the time you have, instead of walking back, we recommend taking the tube, as it only takes 8 minutes. Get the Bakerloo Line (the brown line!) from Piccadilly Circus Station to Waterloo Underground Station. Once you get there, you can pick up your bags, and get your onward travel to your next stop.
We guarantee you’ll enjoy this culture packed 1-day itinerary in London! Below are some quick links to some of the attractions in this guide so you can pre-purchase your tickets!
Followed this itinerary? Share your experience using the hashtag #1DayInLondon!