London is a popular tourist destination that attracts tens of millions of visitors every year. According to the City of London website, the capital city sees more than 21 million tourists per year. And 19.7 million people visit for just a day.
Spending a single day in London may not seem like enough time to experience all that the city has to offer. Because there are so many sites to visit, it can be challenging to cover it all in such a short time. Fortunately, creating a day itinerary for visiting the city is easier than ever. If you’re short on time, you can still see many of London’s most popular destinations.
When it comes to entertainment, the city is home to many mainstream artists like supermodel Naomi Campbell and actor Idris Elba. Harry Potter fans may be excited to take a Warner Bros. studio tour to get a behind-the-scenes look at exclusive costumes, props, and sets from the Wizarding World.
Whether you’re visiting the city for work or play, you can maximize your short time spent in London. From oyster cards that help travelers save money on public transportation to guided tours of the capital’s most famous sites, one day in London is enough time to experience the city’s best offerings. Here are eight of the best ways to spend a short trip in London:
1. Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace is the official residence of Queen Elizabeth II. The palace holds 775 rooms, including the famous State Dining Room, where presidents, prime ministers, and other global officials meet. It also has a swimming pool, police station, post office, and movie theater.
The monumental building is heavily surveilled and guarded by a famous team of soldiers called The Queen’s Guards. Many recognize the guards for their ability to maintain their composure under all circumstances. Even though many visitors try to make fun to get a reaction from the guards, it’s important to recognize that they’re on duty, so it’s best to take a picture with them instead.
To see Buckingham Palace, guests can take a guided tour. A London guide will show them around the inside and outside of the palace while offering fun facts and historical insights about the building.
2. The National Gallery
Home to nearly 3,000 paintings, the National Gallery is one of London’s most popular tourist destinations. The National Gallery features artwork made by prominent artists such as Vincent Van Gogh, Michelangelo, and Leonardo Da Vinci. Some must-see paintings include Da Vinci’s “Virgin of the Rocks” and Monet’s “Bathers at La Grenouillère”.
With so many paintings to see, it may seem impossible to cover them all. Fortunately, the gallery divides its collection into four rooms based on the time period from the 1200s to the early 1900s. For a list of paintings, check out the gallery’s official website.
There are also plenty of eateries for tourists to grab a bite to eat in between galleries. The museum houses a variety of shops that carry artwork and souvenirs so that visitors can take the experience home with them.
The museum is open daily from 10 am to 6 pm and on Friday until 9 pm. Although visitors can purchase tickets at the venue, tickets can sell out fast as the museum has limited how many guests can visit at one time. Therefore, it’s important to purchase advance tickets online to guarantee your entry into the museum.
3. Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey is a historic church that houses the tombs of many of London’s famous kings, queens, and prominent noblemen. Many tourists appreciate the site’s Gothic architectural style that adds to its medieval and sacred ambiance.
Even though Westminster Abbey is a historical landmark, it still operates as a place of worship. To experience all that Westminster Abbey has to offer, visitors can attend one of their daily church services.
Other notable features at the Abbey include:
- The Coronation Chair, with its over 700-year-old history seating a long list of royals
- The Royal Tombs, home to 30 of London’s most famous and infamous kings and queens
- Pyx Chamber, a vaulted room that once housed London’s most important historical items and information
- The Quire, to hear a live choir sing as part of a tradition dating back as early as the 10th-century
- Britain’s oldest door, constructed in the 1050s during the reign of King Edward the Confessor
Because there are various sites to visit at Westminster Abbey, the church offers guided tours to guests who want to see it all. To get a sneak peek at what to expect before you arrive, check out the Abbey’s virtual tours available on their official website.
4. Explore the Tower of London
The Tower of London is an over 900-year-old castle located in central London. Founded by William the Conqueror, this castle and fortress served as a prison for many notable figures. For example, two of King Henry VIII’s wives, Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard, were imprisoned at the Tower of London.
Unfortunately, the tower is also known as a place of torture and execution. You might recognize the tower as the site where Anne Boleyn was executed in the movie The Other Boleyn Girl. Visitors can explore the exhibition at the Lower Wakefield Tower to learn more about the various torture methods and devices used at the Tower of London.
Other popular features at the Tower of London include:
- The Tower menagerie, where many wild animals like lions, elephants, and even a polar bear were received as gifts
- The White Tower, which houses a grand collection of historic armory
- Traitor’s Gate, that many prisoners passed through, often before their execution
- The Jewel House, with its pool of over 23,000 precious and semi-precious gemstones, including the Crown Jewels
- Beauchamp Tower, to see the wall writings and drawings of prisoners held there centuries ago
5. Walk Along Tower Bridge
Arguably one of London’s most famous landmarks, the Tower Bridge stretches approximately 200 feet above the River Thames. After its construction, the Tower Bridge was considered one of the most sophisticated bascule bridges globally.
Travelers can walk the length of Tower Bridge to get an up-close look at its Neo-Gothic style architecture. Inside, a panoramic view of London city awaits, with the Tower of London, St. Paul’s, and The Shard to the west and Canary Wharf and Shooters Hill to the east.
The Bridge’s glass floors allow guests to watch as riverboats and cruise ships float along the River Thames beneath their feet.
Visitors may purchase tickets to see all of Tower Bridge, including its engine rooms and walkways, online or in-person.
6. Trafalgar Square
History enthusiasts will love learning about England’s incredible history at Trafalgar Square. The site features several famous statues and monuments that honor some of England’s notable leaders. Some popular figures to look out for include Nelson’s Column, King George IV’s statue, and Major General Sir Henry Havelock’s statue.
Visitors may also catch one of the Square’s many events. Trafalgar Square is home to many cultural celebrations, commercial events, and even social justice rallies and protests.
7. Grab a Bite To Eat at Covent Garden
Covent Garden is a great destination to grab a bite to eat after a long day trip in London. The Garden is home to several shops and eateries where visitors can get a taste of London’s local fashions and cuisines.
There are many restaurants to choose from, from cafes selling artisan bread and pastries to restaurants that serve up delicious Hawaiian street food. For an authentic London experience, try the fish and chips at Ben’s Fish and Chips Restaurant, where they’ll serve you one of the city’s most popular meals at an affordable price.
8. See a Performing Arts Show at Leicester Square
Located in the heart of London‘s West End, Leicester Square is a vibrant and immersive entertainment hub. From performing arts theaters to nightclubs, Leicester Square is the perfect place to have a good time.
Scenes in the Square houses a variety of statues dedicated to classic films such as Harry Potter and Mary Poppins. Guests can take a guided audio tour where they’ll learn more about each sculpture as their favorite songs from various movie soundtracks play in the background.
The Hippodrome Casino is another great place to explore. With five gaming floors, a nightclub, and a movie theater, this Victorian-style building is one of the most popular tourist attractions.