Answers from Our Experts (4)
One day is barely enough to scratch the surface of Europe's most exciting city, and I would vehemently suggest a longer visit if you want to get a proper sense of the place. But, having said that, with an early start, a comfy pair of shoes and a one-day travelcard you can tick off a decent list of London's best attractions. Here's my suggested itinerary if you are restricted to just one day:
Breakfast in Bloomsbury
Grab an early breakfast at Gails bakery in Bloomsbury, where the pastries are the perfect start to the day. From here it's just a short walk to the British Museum, your first stop.
The British Museum is home to a vast range of artefacts from around the globe. See everything from Egyptian mummies to ancient money, Inca treasures to the infamous Elgin marbles - but limit yourself to two hours here.
Next, jump on the tube at Tottenham Court Road, taking the northern line the two stops to Charing Cross. Take a few minutes to soak up the atmosphere in Trafalgar Square before calling in to the National Portrait Gallery to see portraits of famous Britons past and present, including the royal family.
Next, walk down Whitehall, passing Downing Street (the Prime Minister's residence) and the Cenotaph (where London's official Remembrance Day service takes place) to reach the Houses of Parliament and the river.
Take to the river path, passing the London Eye and walk along the Thames until you reach the Oxo Tower.
The Oxo tower has a restaurant on its 8th floor, with lovely views over the London skyline - so the sightseeing needn't stop just because you have! Lunch here is much cheaper than dinner so you can enjoy some of London's best dining without breaking the bank, too.
Just outside the Oxo Tower, jump on the RV1 bus towards Tower Gateway. You'll cross Tower Bridge and can get off at the end of the route to enter the Tower of London. Here you can see the Crown Jewels and the White Tower, home to suits of armour and royal tales aplenty. From here hop on the tube, taking the Circle line from Tower Hill to Embankment to return to the West End
You can't visit London without seeing a show, so get tickets in advance for one of the top titles - perhaps Singin' in the Rain at the Palace, Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty's Theatre or Les Mis at the Queens Theatre. Grab a burrito at La Perla on Maiden Lane or call in to Cote on Tavistock Street for a great value pre-theatre set menu beforehead. If there's any time to spare, Covent Garden has some great shopping around its cobbled square.
Of course, you can't see London in a day; it's way too big. But the key to seeing as much of it as possible is simple: stay above ground. Every yard traveled on the Underground (or "Tube") is a yard spent admiring the inside of a dark tunnel. You could be almost anywhere in the world.
So, try and get to know the city's bus network. It's more complicated than the Tube, certainly, but a couple of routes ply between the most famous city sights. The 9 passes Green Park, Hyde Park, and Knightsbridge, on the way from the centre to Kensington. The 15 connects Tower Hill (for the Tower of London) with the shops of Regent Street, passing St. Paul's Cathedral and Trafalgar Square en route. The 24 connects Victoria Station with Camden Town's market, and passes Westminster Abbey, Parliament Square, and Horse Guards Parade on the way. Sit on the top deck for a great view on any of those routes. You'll feel like you are getting your own private tour for the price of an Oyster bus fare.
If you want to see the same sights, but in a little more style, book a private tour with Small Car, Big City. A driver in a Mini Copper kitted out in retro Italian Job style will whisk you around the sights of royal London or along the banks of the River Thames. In fact, you can book a tour for as much or as little time as you like—even for a half-hour if you are pressed. Up to three passengers can fit into one Mini.
If you only have one day to see as much as you can see of the capital, my recommendation is simply to walk around, punctuating your day with fantastic meals and poking your nose into any of the galleries, museums and shops that take your fancy as you pass. With so little time, your experience of London will obviously be a fleeting one, but a whole day out and about will certainly give you a good sense of the city.
Start with a full English breakfast at a London institution like The Wolseley. It's open from 7am on weekdays, so you can start your day early. You’ll need to: you’ve got a lot to squeeze in before bedtime.
Head west when you've finished breakfast to explore Mayfair, the most luxurious part of central London, and Hyde Park, one of the city's most impressive green spaces. If you're of an artistic inclination, pop into the Serpentine Gallery.
South of the park you'll find South Kensington, with its historic museums, then curl back east into Knightsbridge, home to Harrods and Harvey Nichols. Keep going and you'll reach Buckingham Palace, the Queen's London residence (which is open for tours in the summer). Continue into Westminster for Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament (also open for tours in the summer and on Saturdays all year round).
Grab an early lunch at the Cinnamon Club, one of London’s best Indian restaurants (Indian food is such an important part of British culture that it’s something you really must try while you’re in the capital), then cross Westminster Bridge to explore the South Bank and Bankside. Tate Modern, Shakespeare’s Globe and the Southbank Centre will all do their best to distract you here.
Stop for coffee at Borough Market, then take the Millennium Bridge (or Wobbly Bridge, as it’s popularly known, a reference to its structurally inauspicious opening weekend) back over the river, finding yourself in the City of London. Admire St. Paul’s Cathedral, before turning towards the West End.
Stroll around Soho and Covent Garden, making time for afternoon tea at The Savoy, one of London’s most prestigious hotels. In the evening, see a show or gig, then reward your epic wanderings up with a late dinner at somewhere like The Ivy, J. Sheekey or Joe Allen.
London may be the largest capital in Europe, but many of its main tourist attractions are within walking distance of one another. So put on a good pair of shoes and prepare for a day pounding the streets—here are Forbes Travel Guide’s editors’ picks for the best way to see London in one day.
Begin at the transport hub of Victoria Railway Station, with breakfast to go from one of the station’s many coffee and pastry stands. From here, follow the crowd to Queen Elizabeth’s primary residence, Buckingham Palace, and after an obligatory snapshot of a Queen’s Guard sentry, head down The Mall (a wide road lined with trees and Union Jacks that connects the palace to Trafalgar Square). If it’s close to 11 a.m., you might witness The Changing of Guard, but if not, you’ll have to console yourself with Clarence House and Horse Guard’s Parade.
At the end of The Mall, take a left onto Trafalgar Square and stroll around Nelson’ Column. The National Gallery, which is just off the square, is also worth a visit, and because it’s free you can stay for as long or as short an amount of time as you wish. Head to one of the surrounding restaurants afterward for lunch.
When you’ve finished your meal, walk it off by heading from the square down Whitehall Street. You’ll find the Ministry of Defense Building, Downing Street and the Cenotaph along here, but it’s as you reach the end that you’ll see the most famous sight of all: the Houses of Parliament.
There is plenty to see around here—stroll the perimeter for great views of Big Ben, the gardens and the river—but once you have finished, cross the road to Westminster Abbey. Don’t think twice about paying to get inside this 1,000 year old landmark: it’s not to be missed.
From here, head across Westminster Bridge to the other side of the river, where you’ll find the London Eye. Hop on for a spectacular view of the capital, including sights like Tower Bridge, St. Paul’s Cathedral and the O2 Arena. After a 30-minute spin on the massive Ferris wheel, hop off and walk just a little further down the river to the renowned Royal Festival Hall—a landmark of Brutalist architecture. Around here you’ll find dozens of excellent restaurants, bars and clubs, so spend your evening in the area. Finally, when the time comes, stroll to Waterloo Railway Station for your journey home.