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The best itinerary for 1 day in London

Updated: Apr 27




Why this itinerary?


Writing a 1-day itinerary for London can feel daunting, even for someone like me who's lived in the city for over 10 years. There are still so many incredible things I haven't seen yet! But I understand that sometimes a day is all you have, so I'll do my best to outline a route that covers the most important sights.  

 

While there are plenty of itineraries online, many don't include the Changing of the Guard ceremony. One reason is that it's not always at a convenient time, and there aren't many things to do around Buckingham Palace early in the morning. Plus, the ceremony only happens a few times a week, usually every other day. With all this in mind, I strongly believe that seeing the Changing of the Guard ceremony is one of the highlights of any visit to London. It's the closest you can get to the King's Guards, and you might even snap some great pictures of them. 

 

Remember, it can get really crowded, but if crowds don't bother you too much, I highly recommend taking the time to see it. 

 

So, keep in mind that this route is for those who want to include the Changing of the Guard. If you'd rather skip it, or you happen to be in London on a day without the ceremony, you can start by heading straight to Buckingham Palace, take some photos, enjoy the views, and then move on to Westminster Abbey via the route I'll describe later on. 



Itinerary overview


  1. Trafalgar Square

  2. Buckingham Palace

  3. St. James Park

  4. Westminster Abbey

  5. Parliament/Big Ben

  6. London Eye

  7. River Cruise Tower

  8. Tower of London

  9. The Shard/Borough Market

  10. Covent Garden



1. Trafalgar Square


trafalgar square

I don't think there's a better way to start your morning than with a traditional English breakfast at one of the many cafe's around Trafalgar Square. Once you're done, feel free to explore Trafalgar Square and its surroundings. The aim is to arrive at St' James's Palace by 10:30, so you have plenty of time to walk around. 


If you've exhausted the sights around Trafalgar Square, head over to Leicester Square, the famous spot where movie premieres happen. There, you can also bring your inner kid out in the LEGO Store and the M&M World.


After exploring Piccadilly, which is a few minutes walk from Leicester Square, start going towards Saint James's Palace. En route, you'll encounter the renowned Fortnum & Mason. If you still have time, make sure you take a peek inside.



2. Buckingham Palace


buckingham palace

Now, most people head straight to Buckingham Palace to see the Changing of the Guard but my advice is to head towards St James's Palace first because that's where the guards start their march. You'll have a much better chance to get a good look at them and snap some great pictures.


It's a spot that most guides take their tourists to, like a secret gem that not everyone knows about. Once you spot the guards moving towards the palace, you can start following them. You might even tag along with some of the guides because they know their way around. Finding a good spot might not always be easy due to the crowds, but you can enjoy the view nonetheless.


Almost every day, a different battalion performs the Changing of the Guard. You can find out which one you'll see by checking their website.



3. St James Park


squirrel

Once you've escaped the crowds at Buckingham Palace, head towards St. James's Park. In my opinion, this is one of the most beautiful parks in London, especially in spring, summer, or autumn. There's just something special about it that keeps drawing me back every time I'm in central London. 


When you get to the end of the park, cross the street to find Horse Guards Parade. Depending on the day you visit, you might see two guards on horseback. It's a popular spot, so have your camera ready, but also expect some crowds.



4. Westminster Abbey


Westminster Abbey

Once you're finished exploring Horse Guards, you can slowly make your way towards Westminster Abbey, which you'll notice when you reach the end of the street, opposite Parliament Square.

 

On your way to Westminster Abbey, you'll come across Downing Street, where the Prime Minister lives. The gates are pretty impressive, and you can sneak a peek inside. If you're lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of some famous Parliament members. But I wouldn't spend too much time there. Head straight to the Abbey instead.


Westminster Abbey is an incredible place steeped in history, where countless kings and queens have been crowned over more than a thousand years. While it's definitely worth going inside for a visit, be prepared for long queues, especially after the Changing of the Guard. Unless you have more than an hour to spare, I'd recommend saving it for a longer visit to the city.



5. Big Ben and The Houses of Parliament


big ben

From Westminster Abbey, you can cross the street and marvel at the Houses of Parliament. The palace is at the center of political life in the United Kingdom. Like many other famous buildings in London, it's several hundred years old.


Keep in mind that this area gets quite busy, so after admiring the Big Ben, there's no need to linger. You can head straight to the London Eye by crossing the river.



6. London Eye


london eye

The amount of people that go on the London Eye every day still blows my mind. It's by far the most popular attraction in London. While I can't say I'm a huge fan myself, as I'd rather go to the top of the Shard for a better view, I can't disagree with the fact that it's a symbol of London and offers a nice experience. 


If you decide to go, there are a few things to keep in mind. The queues can be really long and I mean realy long. They do offer a fast-track ticket option, but it's extremely expensive and I'm not sure it's worth it. Also, if you decide to visit it, it's better to purchase tickets a few days in advance, as they tend to be 10 to 20% cheaper than buying them on the same day at the door. 


Once you're done with the London Eye, head straight to the river cruise, it's right next to it.



7. River Cruise


tower bridge

There's no doubt that the best way to get from the London Eye to the next big attraction is by boat. Make sure you pick the right river cruise though, it's called City Cruises. They have the most frequent service and some amazing guides who are highly rated. They even have a bar on board where you can get some snacks and drinks for the ride


The cruise lasts 40 minutes and it takes you from the London Eye to the Tower of London. You can relax, listen to the nice commentary, learn some interesting facts, and in the end, enjoy some spectacular views of the Tower Bridge that you wouldn't get otherwise.



8. Tower of London


tower

We've made it to my favorite attraction . The Tower of London is the oldest castle in London, and if you ask me, the best attraction you can visit. If you had to choose just one, this would be it without a shadow of a doubt.


Once inside, make sure you join a guided tour with the Beefeaters, the people who live inside the Tower. They're extremely knowledgeable, funny, and amazing tour guides.


You get to see the Crown Jewels, which are simply spectacular and a feast for the eyes. Don't forget it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site where you can easily spend two hours exploring its hidden rooms, armory, and little towers. It has a pretty grim history too, which I'm sure the Beefeaters will point out. It's just simply something that you shouldn't miss.



9. The Shard/Borough Market


shard

Once you're done with the Tower of London, head over to the Tower Bridge. If you still have energy, take the nice river walk for about 15 minutes until you reach The Shard


Now, if you've already done the London Eye, there's no need to visit the Shard. But if you want to enjoy some great views from one of the highest points in London, this is the place. It's much less crowded than the London Eye, so you won't have any trouble getting in. There's also a restaurant at the top, so you could opt for having a drink there if you don't  mind the prices.

 

Not far from the Shard, you can find Borough Market, which is one of the oldest markets in London, a place that I highly recommend. But be aware that it closes at 5 o'clock.



10. Covent Garden/Oxford Street


covent garden

Once you're done with the Shard and Borough Market, you can head to Covent Garden for lunch. If you fancy catching a famous play in one of the many theaters located here, that could be a great way to end your evening. 


Otherwise, if you still have some energy left, head over to Oxford Street for some shopping. This is one of the biggest shopping streets in Europe, it can be extremely tiring and very busy.



Conclusion


We've reached the end of our itinerary, and while I want to emphasize that this is a route I've taken many times and am very familiar with, there are countless other ways to explore the city in just one day.


Don't forget about the sightseeing tours if you're not up for too much walking – they'll take you to all the attractions, including the river cruise, without you having to exert too much effort.


Also, don't forget about the London Pass! You can use the hop-on hop-off bus for the day, you can enter the Tower of London, The Shard, Westminster Abbey, you can even jump on the cruise. The only one we mentioned above that it's not included is the London Eye, but as long as you visit the Shard, you won't miss much.


Feel free to follow this itinerary, but also feel free to improvise and adapt it to your own needs and preferences as necessary. You can't go wrong when you visit this amazing city, there's something cool at every corner.

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