There’s a good reason why London is one of the world’s most visited cities. Thousands of reasons in fact. You could spend months exploring its world-class museums and historic royal palaces, its trendsetting restaurants and cutting-edge cultural institutions. But where to visit if you’ve only got 24 hours in London? Our flexible itinerary will help you pick and choose between the best things to do, see and eat in one day.
Bringing together the best of London attractions, our guide helps you tick off those bucket-list sights when time is tight. Expect sweeping views that stretch across the River Thames to Buckingham Palace (you’ll know the Queen is home if the Royal Standard flag is flying), a tour around South Kensington’s iconic museums and a night at a West End show to round off your day in London. A full English breakfast and fresh British produce from Borough Market will fuel your explorations, of course. These are the best things to do in London.
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There’s nothing like an early-morning stroll around Hyde Park to start the day. In its 350 acres there’s plenty to see and do. Near Marble Arch, walk past Speakers’ Corner – the so-called ‘home of free speech’ – where historic figures such as Karl Marx and George Orwell got on the soapbox. Breathe deep around the Rose Garden, dip your toes in the Diana Memorial Fountain, or head across to the handsome palace in Kensington Gardens where the Princess of Wales once lived.
For breakfast? It has to be a full English and a cup of tea at the Serpentine Bar & Kitchen. Keep your eye out for row boats on the lake as you tuck in.
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Fuelled up, make your way to South Kensington’s Exhibition Road for a culture-fix. The road was first developed during the Great Exhibiton of 1851, and today its world-class museums and institutions offer something to please all visitors.
Trace the origin of species in the Natural History Museum, where exhibits are dedicated to dinosaurs, mammals and inner Earth, and research scientists work in the state-of-the-art ‘Cocoon’. Say hi to the skeleton of ‘Hope’ the blue whale in the Central Hall, or cross the road to the Science Museum where collections offer an insight into scientific, technological and medical achievements across the globe. Lovers of art and design will no doubt be drawn to the Victoria & Albert Museum, however. Expect everything from Renaissance artefacts to photography and fashion through the ages, as well as sell-out temporary exhibitions on subject matter as diverse as David Bowie and the Cult of Beauty. All permanent exhibitions are free to visit.
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Hop on the underground from South Kensington to Waterloo (Circle or District line followed by the Jubilee) for a 30-minute spin on the London Eye – it was the world’s tallest Ferris wheel when it was built back in the year 2000. As your observation capsule rotates up 135m into the air, you’ll spot some of the best of London: Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, the Elizabeth Clock Tower (better know as Big Ben, the name of the bell inside) and St Paul’s Cathedral in the distance.
Take note of how the River Thames snakes through the city, because next you’re following its South Bank east to Borough Market for some (well deserved) lunch. It’s a beautiful stretch that takes in London attractions past and present. Pass the Southbank Centre, National Theatre and British Film Institute. Browse vintage books at the characterful market under Waterloo Bridge, step back in time on a tour of Shakespeare’s Globe, or get a fix of contemporary art in the iconic Tate Modern.
Don’t fancy walking? No problem. Pick up one of the Santander Cycles or hop on board a River Thames bus service from the London Eye Pier to the London Bridge City Pier and soak up the sights as you ride.
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You’ll likely smell the food and hear the traders’ cries before you arrive at Borough Market, where locals have gathered for more than a thousand years. Today, they come for the very best of British produce, sold from overflowing food stalls, small delis and first-rate restaurants. It’s the perfect spot for afternoon nibbling on cured meats from Brindisa, cheese from Neal’s Yard Dairy and globe-trotting street food. Sweet tooth? Bread Ahead’s doughnuts are a must, as is a strong cup of coffee from Monmouth. I
Don’t forget to crane your head skywards to admire the gleaming, 72-storey Shard, the UK’s tallest building, before you get on the tube to the West End for the evening.
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When it comes to things to do in London, browsing Covent Garden’s namesake market and high-end shops is a must on the traveller’s agenda. Walk across the lively piazza and you can almost feel the history in the cobbles, once trodden by coffeehouse thinkers and traders of fruit, veg and flowers. Throw some coins to street performers before choosing from the area’s buffet of good restaurants. Spanish tapas bar Barrafina, New York City-export Balthazar and Italian Cafe Murano are some tried-and-tested favourites. We’d like some extra truffle arrancini, please.
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No day experiencing the best of London would be complete without a West End show. Luckily, you’re in the right place. Covent Garden is the heart of London’s Theatreland, home to The Royal Opera and The Royal Ballet as well as more than 40 theatres showing everything from highbrow performances to mainstream musicals and fringe theatre. Think Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre or The Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre. Haven’t booked ahead? Don’t fret. TKTS in Leicester Square sells discounted tickets for same-day performances.
If you’re not quite ready to call it a night, head to The Savoy’s iconic American Bar for a post-show pick-me-up. It’s Britain’s oldest surviving cocktail bar (it has been pouring drinks since 1893) and one of the best in the world. Expect throwback glamour, live piano, dapper suited waiters and a first-class cocktail menu – or ‘Songbook’, as they call it – inspired by iconic musicians. For something more upbeat, end your one day in London at Ronnie Scott’s legendary jazz club in Soho.
Want to visit the capital? Make the most of the city with our unforgettable London Explorer trip.