How To Spend One Day In London: An Itinerary For First-Time Visitors

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Have One Day in London? Here’s What To See, Eat, and Drink!

Heading for London but short on time? If you are looking for the perfect day in London, you are not alone!

Because there is just SO much to see and do in the capital city, the best London day itinerary can be super difficult to plan. Luckily, you got us!

We’ve both played tourist in London multiple times (Eric a bit more than Lisa). Each time, we’ve seen and done loads of fun things.

Having said that, this guide will cover how to see much of central London in a day. We will be sticking to the best attractions in the centre/close to the river Thames – and we chose food places that we’ve experienced before!

The best way to see London in a day is to use a combination of The Tube (metro), walking, and perhaps a bus (but we will get to that).

Walking is important because if you drive between everything you might miss the essence of London life! So, if you’re ready, here’s our itinerary for seeing London in a day!

Oh, and if you do end up staying a night, you can check here for accommodations in London.

Check out The Sanctuary House Hotel for a beautiful hotel and Clink 78 for a great hostel (both in the city centre) and well-connected/close to all the best attractions. Clink actually made our list of hostels in Europe we loved.

Wake Up Activity: Catch the Sunrise

Good morning! If you are already in the city and planning to maximize the day, you might want to be up right at the crack of sunrise.

If this is you, – depending on where you are staying – then there are a few nice places to experience it. The first place that you could head for is Oxford Street.

Since the street is busy with shoppers and cars/buses during the day, the sun coming up on the quiet version of the street is like the calm before the storm.

If you want more of an open area with a bit of green space, then you could head for Hyde Park. There are plenty of walking paths and even smaller ponds to walk along as the city wakes up. 

If you aren’t in the city yet or want more sleep, then skip this and head right for breakfast!

Breakfast: Riding House Café

Now it’s breakfast so it’s important you get a good meal in – you are going to need it! Since we suggest starting the day on the north side of the river and working your way down, breakfast “up there” makes the most sense. For this, we’d suggest The Riding House Cafe.

Situated just a short walk north of Oxford Circus Tube Station, this bright brunch place has something on the menu for everyone.

Eric went with a buddy he was staying with (who lived in London) and it was a great place to head for a great – and filling – London brunch.

If you want to check out the awesome menu, you can see it here.

Address: 43-51 Great Titchfield St, Fitzrovia, London W1W 7PQ

Morning Activity: Explore North of the Thames

large white palace with gates in front buckingham one day in london
The one, the only, Buckingham Palace!

Once you are done breakfast, it’s time to get walking because there’s lots to explore on this side of the river!

For this itinerary, we suggest you start closer to Oxford Street and work your way down to the river.

Passing through Hyde Park, you can make it to Buckingham Palace, walk the Mall, and head right for Westminster.

There, you’ll get an iconic photo of Big Ben in Victor Tower (assuming there is no restoration work), and you can even stop by Westminster Abbey.

Also, up closer to where you started there are various areas you can wander through like Mayfair, Piccadilly Circus, Soho, Chinatown, and more!

For a great photo, walk Oxford Street to where it crosses Regent Street. The curved street of Regent usually has flags along it so you can snap a great shot!

london clock tower with fence in front and blue sky one day in london
If you go to London and don’t see the clock tower – did you even go?!

If you keep walking, you’ll eventually hit Trafalgar Square, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and other things along the northern bank of the river (like the Tower of London – with the Crown Jewels) right beside Tower Bridge!

You’ll look across to the London Eye, The Globe Theatre, and the Shard, but you will see those in the afternoon.

Getting Around London Options:

If you want to use public transportation, here is the official website for London Transport. You can use a reloadable Oyster card and even a Contactless card (like a credit card with “tap” available) to pay for fares. You can also use the machines to buy single tickets between places. We’d suggest a Travelcard which can be used for 24 hours and is good for different zones – perfect if you are hopping around the centre.

If you want to make it even easier on yourself, you could also buy a hop-on hop-off bus ticket and use it as a way to get between top attractions or areas around London! This tour also comes with a river cruise pass and a free walking tour which is handy for learning as much as you can in one day!

Another way to see more of London is via a boat cruise on the Thames. This offers a very different perspective than on land and sometimes it’s just nicer to be on the water than on the busy London streets!

Lunch: Shake Shack at Covent Garden

So it’s lunchtime, and you might be looking for a great place to eat. Well, you have options – too many to be frank with you.

A classic decision is to head to Covent Garden and make up your mind once you are there. This open square is free from cars and home to many shops, cafes, restaurants, etc. It’s also close to/part of the Theatre area with the Royal Opera House very close by.

In the middle of Coven Garden is the central mall/market area. Inside, there are places to eat – one of which is Shake Shack.

Now, you might be thinking “did they really just send me to an American burger place in downtown London”.

The answer would be yes – but it’s super popular in London so it’s a pretty fun experience. Eric went there for lunch and sat outside in the square. It was such a cool overall experience.

Of course, you can literally choose any bar/pub/restaurant/cafe you can find. You’ll likely have a great lunch!

If you wanted to go big, you could walk over to the Sky Garden at the Walkie Talkie building… but that would be expensive and you’d likely need a reservation. Plus, you will get your views of the city a little later!

Address for Shake Shack in Covent Garden: 24 Market Building, The Piazza, Covent Garden, London WC2E 8RD

Afternoon Activity: Explore The South Side of the Thames

white ferris wheel with river and boat in front one day in london
Boat tours or the London Eye – tough choice!

Alright, so it’s the afternoon and it’s time to head a little south of the river Thames to explore what is on that side!

You can choose any bridge to cross – from the Westminster Bridge at the parliament or the “Harry Potter Bridge” (Millennium Bridge).

Depending on where you ate lunch, you would walk the Tower Bridge or you could even walk the famous London Bridge. Eric did the whole Tower Bridge museum and tour and it was really, really interesting!

Once you get on the other side, one of the first big attractions that you can check out (closer to the Westminster Bridge) is the London Eye.

The massive ferris wheel is honestly worth the money for the experience and the views. Eric has been and loved the ride – and the photos!

You can look into London Eye line-skip tickets here. Lisa on the other hand has never been on the London Eye because she didn’t think it was worth the money.

london parliament from above on london eye with clouds one day in london
The views of the city are incredible on the Eye…

If you didn’t already, you could use this as the opportunity to check out other attractions on the South Bank like the London Dungeon

Once you are done on the Eye, follow the river north then east. It will curve around and you will find yourself walking the river bank.

You’ll eventually start to sneak through brick alleys paths following signs for The Shard. There are pubs and hidden gems along the way.

We suggest you head for Borough Market – this market area under the train tracks is full of places to eat. This is also a place where you can buy fresh groceries and generally immerse yourself in London life!

We’ve walked through many times and loved each time. There’s always something new that you haven’t seen before!

Another attraction on the South Bank of the river is the Tate Modern. The Tate is one of two Tate Museums in the city.

The other one is the Tate Britain near Westminster on the other side of the river. Tate Modern is more international art while Tate Britain is more.. yup, British art!

Afternoon Break: The Founder’s Arms for Afternoon Drink

river with bridge over and large clock tower london in a day
Views like this from across the river!

Now that you have had a chance to explore the South Bank, you can head back towards the Tate Modern (maybe you never left the area) and grab a drink and a sit down.

For this, you will want river views from the very popular Founder’s Arms pub. It’s right by the Globe Theatre and Millennium Bridge, too.

The Founder’s Arms – located right on the river’s edge basically – is the perfect British pub for an afternoon drink.

You can’t beat the views and the experience – plus might want to have a sit down (and maybe even a small bit to eat) before your early evening activity! If you want to book a table or check out the website/menu, you can do so here.

Address: 52 Hopton St, London SE1 9JH

Early Evening Activity: Sunset at The Shard

tall glass building and old church tower one day in london
The Shard looking all fancy on the skyline…

Now that you’ve had a rest, it’s time to end off the day before dinner. Your sightseeing (depending on the time of year) can include a breathtaking sunset from none other than The Shard.

This massive glass skyscraper stands at 95 floors and has the tallest observation deck in Western Europe. It’s also the tallest building in the United Kingdom and the EU!

Eric has been up and absolutely loved the whole experience from start to finish. The best part is you can stay up there as long as you like.

Since The Shard is so popular for this kind of thing (you can do sunset and champagne, if you like!) it’s suggested to book ahead to reserve your elevator/viewing time for The View from The Shard.

view from the shard of tower bridge and thames river one day in london
The Views from the Shard are pretty incredible in all directions… there’s Tower Bridge!

Going up the Shard is not something we’d suggest you skip since the views of the city below in all directions are easily worth the money!

If you want (and plan ahead) you can actually have dinner up The Shard. There are a variety of restaurants and bars to choose from which offer high-class dining experiences. You can read more on that here.

That would be a way to end off your evening! Just make sure you go early to get through security before you get on the elevator!

Address: 32 London Bridge St, London SE1 9SG

Dinner: The Duck and Rice

For dinner, we’d suggest heading back over to the north side of the Thames to Soho for dinner.

The area is so rich with places to go out for dinner that even if you don’t like our suggestion it’s easy to find a restaurant that suits you.

It’s also only 30 minutes by tube from the Shard to Soho.  Eating dinner here also sets you up well for your evening activity – whichever you choose.

Our pick for dinner is The Duck and Rice. This Chinese restaurant is super popular – so much so that in 2018 they won the “Golden Chopsticks” for best Asian Restaurant in the UK! We can see why.

Eric went there a few years back and loved the atmosphere and every bit of dinner. He and his friend had – of course – the Quarter Duck. It was really good. 

Also, they have a great bar area on the main floor where you can enjoy a fresh pint of Pilsner Urquell while you wait for your table.

You should book ahead if you know you want to do, though! You can check out the website here.

Address: 90 Berwick St, Soho, London W1F 0QB

Evening: Drinks, Darts, a Show, or Night Tour (Your Choice)

tower bridge at night with cars crossing it one day in london
Crossing Tower Bridge at night is something to be experienced!

Okay, so it’s nighttime in London and – well – you’ve got options!

London nightlife is always exciting and with no idea what your interests are – we wanted to give you four different options to end off your perfect day in London!

If you are looking for a cool place for drinks, you might want to check out The Luggage Room. This “speakeasy” type of place in Mayfair is super cool.

The area is really nice so prepare for a more upscale place! Just be sure to knock on the right door! You can learn more or book a table at the website here.

Address: Grosvenor Square, Mayfair, London W1K 6JP

If you want to have a bit of fun, head to Flight Club for a classic game (or two or 5) of darts! Eric went here with a few friends and the place was lively and super fun.

The dart boards are electronically tallied so you don’t have to keep score – just drink and throw!

If you want to check out the place, you can learn more here and reserve a board/lane!

Address: 55 New Oxford St, London WC1A 1BS

Depending on the weather and the season, you might want to get a bit of theatre in before you leave. In our opinion, there is no better place than Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre!

Located on the south bank of the Thames close to the Founder’s Arms pub (if you didn’t already notice), the Globe is an amazing overall experience.

stage with lighting and purple Shakespeare's globe london one day
The elaborate stage design of the round Globe Theatre!

Watching Shakespeare done is one thing, but doing it in the Globe as it was originally intended – standing on the ground floor with a classic ale in hand was amazing.

Eric has been to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream and it was AMAZINGLY done. The best part? “Floor” tickets are cheap – only like 5 pounds… but you have to book in advance.

(They do have seats that are covered from the rain – but they are more expensive, obviously!)

You CAN just show up on performance night – usually, they have a log of tickets that have been bought back and you can snatch one! If you want to check the schedule for the Globe, you can check here.

Address: 21 New Globe Walk, London SE1 9DT

Finally, if you are tired of walking and you just want to experience the city lights without a care in the world, you can simply hop on a charming London lights by night tour.

This bus will take you to all the best sights and allow you to take in the sights form a totally different perspective.

Address: Pick up varies based on selected tour!

And there you have it, our sample itinerary for one day in London! Honestly, this is just one version of literally thousands of London itineraries you can do.

However, these are some of the things that we loved doing so we’re happy to share our experiences with you!

Admittedly, our itinerary is a little more touristy and intended for people who don’t know the city that well yet.

If you’ve been to London numerous times before, you might have already ticked off some of the attractions! Have a great time exploring London – and let us know what you get up to!

As always, Happy London Day Waddlin’,
– L&E

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Booking Your Trip Soon? This Is How We Do It:
  • Compare flights on Skyscanner
  • Check for Hotel Deals or Book A Hostel
  • Get A Rental Car (depending on the destination)
  • Research plug types and possibly get a travel adapter
  • Go over our packing list
  • Pin it for later!

    Tips for one day in London England