London in 1 day

Just have one day to spend in the capital? Get a feel for the city by visiting famous sites, topping up your energy and people-watching in the afternoon.

Morning

If you only have one day in the capital you won’t want to miss out the major sites. Buckingham Palace is perhaps the most famous of all British attractions, and although the Queen still lives here parts of it are open to the public between June and October. Once you’re done visiting the palace, you can watch the Changing of the Guard, which takes place in the forecourt at 11.30 am. While military music blares, the Foot Guards (complete with furry bear skin hats) change over. You can catch this 30 minute ceremony daily in the summertime, or on alternate days throughout the year.

For a moment’s respite, take a stroll through Green Park. Despite its central location it is the quietest of the main parks. Adjacent is St. James’s Park, and between the two is Clarence House, former residence of the Queen Mother. By walking along Birdcage Walk, which circles St. James’s Park, and crossing onto Victoria Street via Storey’s Gate, you will get to Parliament Square in around 15 minutes. In case there is bad weather and you fancy a quick tube journey, it’s one stop from St. James’s Park to Westminster on the District or Circle lines. Facing the river are the Houses of Parliament, where politicians make and break promises, as well as being the setting for many a recent protest. The iconic Big Ben stands proud outside Parliament, and Westminster Abbey, the royal wedding venue of choice, is here too.

The bridge closest to the Houses of Parliament is Westminster Bridge. Cross over to the other side of the Thames, where you will find the London Eye, an attraction opened in time for the Millennium celebrations that has turned out to be a huge success. Slightly more ill-fated was the Millennium Bridge, between Westminster and Waterloo Bridges, which was closed just days after its unveiling when passengers complained of it swaying violently from side to side. Thankfully the problems were fixed and it remains open to the public without incident.

While you’re on the south side of the river, check out the Southbank Centre, which encompasses the Royal Festival Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall and Hayward Gallery. Free lunchtime concerts occasionally take place here, and the Hayward Gallery patronises modern art. You’ll also find the 3D IMAX cinema a few minutes’ walk away by Waterloo station, as well as the Tate Modern, a fantastic, free museum filled with 20th century art, and a great place to wile away an afternoon. (Its sister museum, the Tate Britain, focuses on British art and is located in Pimlico).
Afternoon

If you do decide to peruse the Tate, you can have lunch in the seventh floor restaurant, which boasts impressive views (St. Paul’s Cathedral is directly opposite). If you’re after something a little more elaborate, Brasserie Joël, situated within the Park Plaza Westminster Hotel, has a great set lunch of classic French dishes.

If museums aren’t your thing, walk back to the other side of the river via Waterloo or Millennium Bridge and carry on north towards Covent Garden. This bustling square is full of tourists and performers, but the narrow streets around it are filled with shops. This is also the start of Theatreland, so-called because of the high concentration of theatres in the area between Drury Lane and Shaftesbury Avenue. If you’re still trying to find a spot for lunch you’re best not stopping here, as most restaurants have inflated prices to cater to tourists. If you head down Long Acre you will eventually come to Leicester Square, another place reserved for tourists but one worth a quick look nonetheless. This is where major film premieres take place and suburbanites pile into flashy clubs at the weekends, but there is little else to recommend. Chinatown, with its array of Oriental supermarkets and shops is to the north, and west of here you will find Soho, famed for its sex shops and all round sleazy reputation. While the peep shows and strip joints are still here, Soho is also home to many of London’s media companies, heaps of bars and some fantastic eateries. For a cheap, tasty lunch, try Koya, Yalla Yalla or Princi, or spend a bit more on the delicious tapas at Copita.

Soho has for many years been regarded as the gay capital of London (however Vauxhall, south of the river, is hot on its heels now). Old Compton Street has several gay bars such as Village, The Admiral Duncan, and GAY. From here head north up Wardour Street, which will take you to Oxford Street, London’s busiest shopping street. Most Londoners hate it as the pavements are always crowded, however all the main high street shops and more are here. You’ll also find department stores like Selfridges, Debenhams and House of Fraser.
Evening

As evening sets in, there is no shortage of things to do. Some museums and galleries have late nights; the National Gallery for instance, which has European art from the 13th to the 19th centuries, is open till 9pm on a Friday. Alternatively, catch a show at one of the theatres if you have time, or head back to the Thames for a walk at night, when Tower Bridge is brilliantly lit up. Rest weary feet over dinner (see here for where to eat) or stop by a pub for refreshments. If you’re still within walking distance of Covent Garden, The White Hart and Nell Gwynne Tavern both claim to be the oldest pub in London. The latter in particular is popular among local thesps rather than tourists, so don’t miss the opportunity to eavesdrop.

Credits


Looking for other things to do in London? Be sure to check out the best events in London every year, month by month.
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