London in a day
Welcome to London! So you’ve made it to our capital city but only have one day – challenge accepted! This is going to be a whistle stop tour of the main sightseeing highlights around central London. We won’t be going into any museums or galleries as they will take up most of your day, so check out our 2 and 3 day itineraries for those. Hold onto your hats, here we go!
Start your day with a British staple, a full English breakfast – if you’ve never had one before it is a slap up feast usually including sausages, bacon, baked beans, eggs, mushrooms and toast – and a cup of tea. This is going to fuel a lot of walking. Don’t say we didn’t warn you…wear comfy shoes! We would recommend Henry’s Café Bar at 80 Piccadilly or Caffe In, nearby at 3 Shepherd Street. If you fancy a real treat, the Wolsley has a fantastic, if pricey, breakfast menu. All of these are 5 minutes walk from Green Park underground station. Once you’ve eaten, jump on the Jubilee Line from Green Park one stop to Westminster.
Your itinerary begins at Westminster tube station at 9am. Early start but we have a lot to pack in today! As you exit the station you will emerge onto Parliament Square. Westminster Abbey, where Prince William and Kate Middleton were married in 2011, is bang opposite and the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben are to the left. In the middle, surrounding the grass are statues of several former British Prime Ministers including Winston Churchill, as well as Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Women’s Rights campaigner Millicent Fawcett.
From here, with Big Ben behind you, turn right and walk up Whitehall. Pass the black railings in front of Downing Street on your left and continue past the Cenotaph monument, before cutting through the archway on your left onto Horse Guards Parade. This was originally built by Henry VIII as a jousting courtyard and is now the exercise yard for the household cavalry. Walk through St James’ Park along the water and pop out the top onto the Mall, down to Buckingham Palace, the London residence of the Queen (nearest tube station is Green Park). Check the flag flying on the roof, the Royal Standard means that Liz is home, our Union flag means she isn’t. If you can be here by 10 am then grab a spot near the palace railings and wait -you can watch the Changing of the Guard at the Palace at 11am daily from April – July, and on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays from August – March. If you get there any later than 10 it may well be too busy to get close enough to the railings to see, so it’s worth arriving early and hanging around.
Once the ceremony is over, head up Birdcage Walk back to Parliament Square. Walk past Big Ben and cross Westminster Bridge, then stroll left along the river on the Southbank past the London Eye, the National Theatre, the BFI with its famous book seller stalls under Waterloo Bridge, the Tate Modern Gallery and the Globe Theatre. This is a really lovely walk along one of our favourite places in London, usually with lots of buskers and street performers. Keep going until you run out of waterfront and turn right up Bank End – don’t miss the rainbow Shakespeare mural next to Wagamamas on your left. Carry on up around the corner on Park Street until you reach Borough Market, where you will stop for food! So many amazing stalls are crammed under the arches of London Bridge, selling everything from posh fish and chips to fresh pasta, mussels, Indian food, pies, ice cream, pate, pretty much anything you could want to eat! Do a full circuit trying all the free samples of cheese, olives, bread, then buy yourself some lunch, but spend no more than 45 minutes here.
Cross London Bridge. You will see beautiful Tower Bridge and the HMS Belfast to your right, and once you reach the far side turn around to see the towering glass Shard on the far side. Turn right and walk towards Tower Bridge to reach the Tower of London. The White Tower keep is nearly 1000, having been built by the Normans not long after the Battle of Hastings. As well as being a notorious Tudor prison, the Tower of London was a royal residence, and Medieval monarchs often stayed here before their coronation. Pause by Traitors Gate and consider the poor souls who entered this way, including Queen Anne Boleyn, Sir Thomas More, Queen Katherine Howard and Lady Jane Grey, never to return…
Walk around the left side of the Tower, following the moat, up to the main road. Turn left and walk one mile to St Paul’s Cathedral past All Hallows by the Tower, one of the oldest churches in the city, some 300 years older than even the Tower of London. It survived the Great Fire of London but was badly damaged during the Blitz, and was largely rebuilt in the 50s. Being so close to the Tower of London, this church was used to hold beheaded bodies prior to their proper burial, including those of Sir Thomas More and Bishop Fisher. In 1666 Samuel Pepys watched London burning from the church tower, and IN 1797, John Quincy Adams, sixth president of the United States of America, was married here.
Make your way along Great Tower Street and Eastcheap, past Pudding Lane, where the Great Fire famously began in a bakery.
The next left, Fish Street Hill, leads down to a huge column designed by Sir Christopher Wren, which is the Monument, a memorial to the Great Fire of London. Once you’ve seen it, go back to the main road and continue stomping along Cannon Street until you reach the magnificence that is St Paul’s Cathedral. Also designed by Sir Christopher Wren (busy man – he did rather well after the Great Fire!), the building sits on Ludgate Hill at the highest point of the City of London. The glorious dome and sweeping steps make the Cathedral one of the most recognisable sights in London. It was the site of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer’s wedding and the funerals of Admiral Nelson, the Duke of Wellington, and former Prime Ministers Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher. Out front is a large statue of Queen Anne, with 4 female figures around the base representing Britannia, France, North America and Ireland. The original statue was placed here to celebrate the completion of the rebuilding of St Paul’s Cathedral in 1712, during Queen Anne’s reign, but the one you see today is a replacement from 1886 after the original deteriorated. It has often been debated whether Anne is looking out proudly surveying her capital city, or whether she is turning her back on the church after having tragically lost 17 babies in 16 years.
From here it’s time to take the tube! Head to St Paul’s Underground station and take the central line to Oxford Circus. Home to Oxford Street, Selfridges and every shop you can think of, this is London shopping heaven. If you’re visiting towards the end of the year, the Christmas lights will be up! Follow the curve of beautiful Regent’s Street. Take a sneaky left onto Great Marlborough Street to see the black and white timbered 1920s “Tudor revival” façade of Liberty, possibly London’s most beautiful department store. If you have time, pop inside and go up a few floors to see the lovely wooden galleries and atriums, it feels like exploring a stately home. The top floor is more like a museum with a huge array of rugs and antiquities from around the world, and keep an eye out for the famous fabulously floral Liberty print fabrics. Pop out of the back door via the chocolate department and emerge onto Carnaby Street, once a shopping mecca in the swinging 60s, now full of more modern (and expensive) clothes shops.
Back on Regent Street, look up at the gorgeous Georgian architecture, and admire the huge flagship stores including Apple and Hamleys. The curve of the road brings you round to Piccadilly Circus, the Time Square of London, with huge neon signs and heaving traffic. Walk up Shaftsbury Avenue past several West End Theatres, and take a right onto Wardour Street to reach the spectacular gate to Chinatown. Wander the streets, take in the red lanterns, Chinese supermarkets and countless restaurants, before heading back down Wardour Street to Leicester Square. Always busy, this is home to the Lego Store and M&M’s World, the Odeon Cinema where many film premieres are held, and a statue of Shakespeare.
Walk to the back of the square, down St Martin’s Street, past the National Gallery and into Trafalgar Square, home to Nelson’s Column. On the far side of the square is a fantastic pub, The Admiralty, where it’s time for a well deserved pit stop and a pint! As well as having a fantastic bar, this is the perfect place to get your dinner. The Admiralty specialises in outrageously good pies, as well as other British staples like fish and chips, roast chicken, sausages and mash and ham, eggs and chips.
Alternatively, once you’ve seen Nelson’s Column, you could walk 10 minutes to visit Covent Garden and get your dinner in the famous covered market. This is a brilliant, historic part of London, thriving and busy with so many fantastic shops and a plethora of street entertainers. The beautiful market building dates from 1830, and the church at the far end of the cobbled Piazza is St Paul’s, or the Actor’s Church is where Henry Higgins first encountered Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion.
Foodwise we LOVE Battersea Pie Station downstairs in the main market building – what says London more than traditional pie and mash? Their menu is mouth-watering, including steak and Meantime stout, and chicken and mushroom, with side orders of creamy mash and buttered garden peas with mint. Our favourite pub in the area is the cozy Lamb and Flag on Rose Street, but there is also the 18th century Punch and Judy actually upstairs in the market with a balcony overlooking the Piazza. It is named after the puppet shows which were performed for the first time in the square for the flower seller’s children, and written about by Samuel Pepys.
From here, it’s time to head back to Leicester Square and Theatreland – the West End has some of the best theatre in the world and a trip to London wouldn’t be complete without taking in a show. Pre book your tickets in advance to avoid disappointment, and collect them 30 minutes before curtain up. Most plays begin at 7:30pm so bear this in mind while you’re eating your dinner!
Well done, you did it! The best of London in one day. Of course this has barely scratched the surface, so if you have more time, check out our 2 and 3 day itineraries!
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