Have you ever wondered what to do in London in 24 hours? Read on and find out about the best places to go and the best things to do.
Last updated: September 3, 2023
The Best Things to Do in London in One Day: A Complete Guide for First-Time Visitors
Embark on your 24-hour adventure in London! A city famous for red double-decker buses, afternoon tea, classic cabs, and strict unwritten rules when it comes to forming a queue… Oh, and don’t forget Queen’s Guard with their signature bright red coats and Napoleonic bearskins. This is certainly another interesting thing to see in London during your first day.
So what makes the city so special? Which sites make you want to spend at least one full day in London?
At first glance, the capital of the United Kingdom looks like a unique blend of old and new traditions. From time to time, modern buildings distort uninterrupted flow of the charming architecture of the old time.
If it’s not enough, London is a place where Sherlock Holmes accompanied by his assistant and dear friend Dr. Watson solved many great mysteries. In London, wired for success, the Beatles gave their early performances.
Taking everything into account, 24 hours never seems like enough time to experience all the great things London has to offer. Yet it’s not impossible.
London in 24 Hours with Hop-on Hop-off Tours
To make as much as possible from our first day in London, we considered a few tour options. Original London Sightseeing Tour: Hop-on Hop-off became our ultimate winner. Along with narrated commentary, the tour gives you flexibility to travel and discover the highlights of the city at your own pace.
The Hop-on Hop-off tour has three main routes. You can get off one double-decker bus at any location along these routes and get on the next bus when you’re ready for your next destination. As a bonus, with your Hop-on Hop-off ticket, you can spend a few hours discovering London from a River Thames sightseeing cruise. If boat rides are not your cup of tea, you are welcome to join three city walking tours.
As you can see your first day on exploring London can get pretty packed. But let’s hop on that London tour bus and see where it takes us.
FIRST TIME IN LONDON: THE BEST THINGS TO DO AND PLACES TO VISIT
We started our London adventure at Piccadilly Circus. Located at intersection of five main roads, it’s one of the busiest and most popular destinations in the city. Thanks to its big neon billboards, Piccadilly Circus is often called the Mini Time Square of London.
The place indeed has a lot to offer to the first-time visitors of London, including such famous attractions as the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain or the Statue of Eros, the London Pavilion, and Criterion Theatre.
With just 24 hours on our hands to explore London before heading to Paris, we were determined to see as much as possible. After visiting Piccadilly Circus, we quickly hopped on the bus. About 15 minutes later, we hopped off at our next destination, Trafalgar Square.
Named after the Battle of Trafalgar, the square is home to Nelson’s Column, the Fourth Plinth, and four Landseer’s Lions. On the north side of the square, the National Gallery presents more than 2,000 exhibits originated in Western Europe. Ample restaurants and cafes surround Trafalgar Square, ensuring that you have the best lunch you can possibly get in London.
A short 15-minute walk from Trafalgar Square takes you to Big Ben, the London’s most famous landmark. Located in the Elizabeth Tower at the north end of the Houses of Parliament, the prominent tower clock is worldwide known for its accuracy.
Unfortunately, tours of the tower are available only for residents of the United Kingdom. But even the locals must reached out to the Members of Parliament with a written request to schedule a private tour.
Palace of Westminster
Home to Big Ben, the Palace of Westminster or the Houses of Parliament is a place where two houses of Parliament come together to discuss current issues and make laws.
Unlike the Great Clock, the Palace of Westminster offers public tours to the residents and foreigners alike. Make sure to book your tour beforehand, though. The place can booked for weeks and even months in advance.
At this point you can forget about hopping on the tour bus for a while as the next attraction is located just a short walk away.
The London Eye, the newest attraction in the city, is set on the south bank of the River Thames. It invites the visitors to take a look at the capital of the United Kingdom from the height of 443 feet.
Slowly moving, this colossal observation wheel makes a full turn in about 30 minutes while rewarding its guests with a 360-degree city view. Among the best landmarks you can see from the London Eye are the Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, and St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Your first day in London can’t be complete without seeing the London Bridge, one of the most famous and oldest bridges in the world. Interestingly, throughout its history, the city has owned a few bridges called the London Bridge. The current structure was installed in 1973.
The Tower Bridge is one of London’s most beautiful bridges. It’s also one of the most photographed bridges in the world. Walking across the Tower Bridge with its two Gothic Revival bridge towers can easily become the highlight of your first day excursions in London.
But don’t stop just here. Get inside the marvelous structure, visit its engine room, and learn about its history. Moreover, make sure to observe river traffic from the Bridge Walkway (famous for its glass floor), set some 131 feet above the river.
How can you talk about the bridges without first mentioning the River Thames? The second longest river in the United Kingdom, it’s an integral part of London and London’s lifestyle. Traditionally, numerous art galleries, museums, attractions, pubs, and restaurants have clustered around the river, entertaining locals and visitors from all over the world.
TIP: Unfortunately, with only 24 hours to explore London, you can see one or two of these sites. Increase your observation area by taking a sightseeing boat tour or a leisurely stroll along the river banks.
For a spectacular view of the city, head to the Shard. This glass skyscraper is nestled a few-minute walk from the London Bridge. The peculiar structure towers over all other buildings in the area and raises a lot of interest.
The most alluring part of the tallest building in Western Europe is its 72nd floor. The place offers panoramic views of the capital of the United Kingdom that extend for more than 40 miles. If a cloudy day spoils this unique London experience, you’re welcome to come back for free.
Last but not least, stop at Hyde Park, the largest of royal parks in London, and observe its ample memorials and monuments. Famous for its long history as a place where most of the protests took place, the park hosts all kinds of marches and demonstrations up to this day.
Visit Speakers’ Corner of the park on a Sunday morning to hear people from all walks of life express their views.
Final Thoughts on Your First 24 Hours in London
Visiting all these landmarks of London in 24 hours is quite an accomplishment. Now you can hop off your tour bus or stay for another round of the city’s top attractions.