How To Spend An Afternoon In London

London long

Last week I was in London and I meant to write a post about it, but then we spent a few days in Askrigg (up in northern England) and I didn’t get a chance to until now. I love London and I’ve been there a few times now. I love the contrast of modern and new with very old and I love the vibe and the size. We were only there for a day, so I’ve put together a list and map of must-see things in London if you’re only there for a day. Whether you have a long layover or only passing through for a day or two, this list covers the most important things in order of how to do them. Some of my favorite travel apps will come in handy here!

The following is a map of all the places I talk about here and a bit more information on some things, like nickname buildings, so check it out if you want more info.

What you’ll see on this route: 

On this walking route you’ll see the the major sights of London from St. Paul’s Cathedral to the Shard, Westminster Palace and Big Ben.

The best way to see London, or any city for that matter, is by walking because you see more and really get a feel for the city. Not to mention the tube can be a bit expensive, so you’re even saving yourself a bit of money.

The place to start for this walking route is the Monument. Built in 1677, the Monument is a tribute to the Great Fire of London of 1666. You can go up to the top for only £4 for an adult, which is pretty reasonable considering this is London and the views are really spectacular. Something to note is that the Monument tube station and the Bank station are linked underground so you can walk between the two places without exiting the station.

From there you can walk about five minutes to the building affectionately known as the Walkie Talkie and you can go to the top to the Sky Garden, which has unbelievable views of the city and is free. Unfortunately when we were there we got stuck on a day they were doing maintenance and we didn’t get to go up. A couple of minutes from the Walkie Talkie you’ll find another affectionately known building, the Gherkin. The Gherkin is right by a church built in the 1200s and it really contrasts the two aspects of London: modern and new versus historic. The Gherkin was finished in 2003 and mainly serves as offices and commercial use, but the top floor is an exclusive private members club, which probably has fantastic views.

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Continuing along, you’ll find the Royal Exchange, which was founded a shocking 444 years ago, but burnt down in the Great Fire of London. However, the current building was built 171 years ago after a second fire demolished the second building. Originally used for the exchange of goods, the building ceased to continue that after WWI broke out and today has been turned into a high-end retail center complete with restaurants and stores. Regardless of whether you’re going inside to buy anything it’s worth a stop in because the architecture is impressive. Next to the Royal Exchange is the Bank of England building.

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A little over a 10 minute walk away is St. Paul’s Cathedral, which is of course a must-see. You can walk the perimeter and get great views from all sides. For £18 you can go inside, but if you purchase tickets online you’ll save £2. St. Paul’s is directly in front of the Millennium Bridge, which gives you both a fantastic view of the cathedral, but also of the London skyline including the Shard, Tower Bridge, the Walkie Talkie and (another affectionately known building) the Cheese Grater.

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The best part about London is the fact that walking from point A to point B is beautiful in its own right, regardless of where you’re headed or coming from. The architecture of every street screams old and history, which is something we don’t experience much in the US, unfortunately. Just behind St. Paul’s is Paternoster Square, home of the London Stock Exchange, sort of the Wall Street of London.

Walking 10 more minutes further you’ll find Temple Church in the heart of the legal district, which has a rich history and lots to see. If you walk from Fleet Street into the Temple Church courtyard you’ll be surrounded by barrister chambers, and if you continue through you’ll come through the gardens which are well-maintained and pleasant. Present day there are 4 main Inns of Court, some which can trace their history back to the 1300s. Traditionally these were where barristers learned, trained, lived and worked, but today they’re only used for working purposes. If you want to read more about the courts you can do so here.

The best part of coming through this area is coming out on Victoria Embankment which gives you fantastic views of the London Eye, Big Ben and Westminster Palace.

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To maximize your time seeing the most things, at this point you should walk along the embankment to the Strand and from there you’ll pass Somerset House (which has the iconic ice rink at Christmas time), the Lyceum Theatre and then further up, Covent Garden, which is a 15 minute walk from Temple Church. If I were you I would take a few minutes to walk onto the Waterloo Bridge because the view you get of the London Skyline from this bridge is iconic and amazing. There are few places where you can get in so many of the recognizable buildings in one shot, so utilize it while you can.

There’s something so cool about London’s skyline and how it’s ever-changing. The skyline has changed even in the few times I’ve been there over the past four years, and that’s crazy. I love the history to it, with St. Paul’s, and I love the modern, slightly peculiar buildings like the Shard or the Gherkin. It’s really something special.

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From this point you’re another 15 minutes from Trafalgar Square which gives you a head on view of Big Ben, plus it’s a cool place to just hang out. Also, if you’re looking for a free bathroom the National Gallery at Trafalgar Square has one. Trafalgar Square gets its name from the Battle Of Trafalgar in 1805, a British victory in the Napoleonic Wars off the coast of Spain.

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A little over 10 minutes walk away is the coveted Westminster Palace and Big Ben. Of course these two are the most iconic images of London and play a large part in the political landscape. To read more about the architecture and role of parliament visit here.

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From Big Ben and Westminster Palace you can continue along Whitehall, which will take you past Downing Street and Horse Guards up toward Piccadilly Circus. We had planned our day so that we would end at Piccadilly Circus once the sun had started to set because it looks much cooler by night. It’s sort of like London’s Time Square with the big screens showing advertisements. In the center of Piccadilly Circus is The Statue of Eros and was built in the late 1800s to commemorate the philanthropic work of Lord Shaftesbury.

At this point you’ll have covered a vast expanse of London so you could head back to where you need to be from the tube stop at Piccadilly Circus, or you could go along Regent Street (which starts by Piccadilly Circus) and stop into some shops or go to Hamleys, which is definitely the world’s coolest and biggest toy store. We chose to walk along Regent Street and catch the tube from Oxford Circus at the other end.

Looking to have a meal? Here are some restaurants that are delicious but good value.

  • Pizza Express: There are a few locations around this area
  • Veeraswamy: A bit pricier, but great reviews for a great curry
  • Apostrophe: Looking for just a light meal or some coffee? This is your place

London is one of the coolest cities and there’s obviously so much more to see and do than just what I’ve featured on this list, but if you’ve got limited time this is the best way to hit all of the major things in the most efficient way possible. We managed to do this itinerary in about five hours and there’s a lot of leeway with what you want to do.

Don’t forget to follow my Instagram account where I regularly post photos from all of my adventures! 

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  • I really want to travel to London. Or just western Europe in general!

    • I hope you do, Alanna! It’s one of my favorite places in Europe 🙂

  • I love London! I studied abroad there a few years ago and it was absolutely amazing!

    • It is! It’s so pretty and interesting, Annie!

  • yay London! I only live around 40 mins from London on the train. I really love all the free museums, there are loads and big enough to provide a whole day out.

    • I’m so jealous, Emma! I would love to live that close to London. The free museums are the best, it’s a lot like Washington DC (where I’m originally from).

  • Ugh I just love London! This seems like a great itinerary for the day! I spent about 5 days there a couple years ago and still felt like there was so much to see and do! Just an excuse for me to plan another trip back 🙂

    • Oh for sure, Rachel! Any excuse to go to London 🙂 There’s so much you could easily spend weeks there and STILL not see everything!

  • Megan Saunders

    I adore London, but I could spend a week there easily. I’m taking friends for 48 hours in June so we’ll have to be efficient like your tips stated!

    • I’m so glad, Rachel! That’ll be so fun 🙂 Be sure to check out the map at the top of the post as well and have a great time!

  • I love London. It’s an easy city to get around and in a time crunch the tube really can get you all over very quickly.

    • That’s so true! The tube is incredibly quick and efficient.

  • I love London! I went to London Tower, Big Ben, Wesminster, Parliament, and the Globe Theatre and the British Museum, as well as the Museum of London!

    • All fantastic places, Tayler! I love the British Museum, I could easily be there for a whole day! I went up in the London Eye the first time I went to London and that was fantastic, but it is also pretty expensive, unfortunately.

  • You are so, sooo lucky. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to visit London. London is literally my dream city. I think I know what you mean about how the walk is pretty from point A to B, regardless of where you are going!

    • It’s my favorite city, Chelsea! It’s got absolutely everything from fascinating history to modern architecture, fashion and amazing culture and food. If it wasn’t so expensive I’d live there tomorrow! Lol. And the walks are sometimes the best bit and it’s always really cool to explore quieter parts of the city. It’s hard to imagine they even exist in such a huge, bustling city!

  • Kelsie Kleinmeyer

    Love this! We did a very similar trip and saw a lot of these sights on our 17 day European Adventure last summer. We are going to Greece this summer and I can’t wait!

    • That sounds so fun, Kelsie! I’ve yet to go to Greece, but I’d love to at some point. Have fun!

  • Joanna Malefaki

    I <3 London. I have been there so many times. There are so many things to do when in london!!! Great post. There are a few things I have to do next time I am there 😀

    • Thanks so much, Joanna! I hope you get to go back and finish up the things you wanted to do 🙂 It’s definitely somewhere you can easily spend weeks there without even doing it all!

  • I would love to go to London one day! When I do, I’ll have to keep this itinerary in mind. I love how thorough all your information is!

    • Thanks, Cassandra! It’s such a fascinating city. I hope you make it there some day!

  • Greta Hollar

    I’m going to London for two days in September and definitely needed this! Bookmarking!

    • Awesome, Greta! Have a fantastic time! It really is one of my favorite cities 🙂

  • Veronica Pototska

    Such a great plan to spend the day in London

    • Thanks, Veronica! When you look at the map though you really realize how much of the city there is left to do!

  • Heather Gee Davis

    I really want to go go to London. Those pictures are beautiful!

    • Thanks so much, Heather! It’s such a great city and I love it! It’s so photogenic and pretty much ever 3 steps I find something I want to photograph!

  • Rutuja Bhagwat

    I wish I had read this a year back. I have written a whole series of UK Diaries on my blog. London is a beauty! Lots of love!

    http://www.theprettycitygirl.com/

    • Oh awesome, Rutaja, I’ll be checking your blog out! It certainly is a beauty, one of my favorite cities in the world!

  • Belle Vie A Deux

    Great plan! I love London! I did a study abroad there and I wish I could just be an ex-pat! 🙂

    • Girl, I feel you! I’m living in the UK now and I’d move there in a heartbeat if I could, but it’s incredibly expensive!

      • Belle Vie A Deux

        Sooo expensive! At least you get to visit regularly 🙂

  • I am also bookmarking this for my trip to London soon…definitely a city not to be missed… 🙂

    • Awesome! And it is certainly not, it’s the best 🙂 Thanks for reading!

  • lovely photos – I have only been to London once, it’s sooo busy (scarily busy!) but I feel like when I went (with family) it was rushed as we went round SO MANY landmarks
    Jess http://www.beautifulbreakable.com

    • That’s so true, Jess. It’s so easy to feel as though you rushed around because, as you say, there are SO many landmarks it’s crazy. I feel like you really need to go a few times for a week or more to really get to experience everything. I’ve been there multiple times now and I feel like I STILL haven’t done everything!

      • Yes I would love to go back – hopefully will do soon! 🙂 I don’t think you can ever see everything 🙂 x

  • London is on my wish list for travel. I have recently become obsessed with teat time and would love to have an authentic experience in London. Thanks for sharing so many great recommendations on places to visit. I will be using it as a reference for my future travels.
    Marly
    http://www.GirlyLove.org

    • Awesome, Marly! Thanks for reading. I’ve never had a real authentic tea time experience in London but I feel it would be fun to do it just once!

  • So much to do! I’ve always wanted to visit London. It’s high on my travel bucket list 🙂

    • It’s an awesome city, I hope you visit at some point!

  • What a lovely time! This is definitely on my to do list one day!

    • Thanks, Dara! It really is such a wonderful city.

  • Oh, someday I will see London! As a history fanatic I am SURE that I would love it. I have been to there countries in Europe but never the UK, YET!

    • Oh, Amanda, in that case you would LOVE it!! The history is beyond anything I’ve seen before. What I love is that stuff is centuries old but it’s not cordoned off or anything, you can still go in or go up to it and many things are still used (like St. Paul’s) and that’s just so impressive.

  • Lori Lyons Luhrman

    I’ve wanted to go to London for SO LONG! I need to get there! I love this walking tour…it’s super practical and easy to follow. I totally agree with you that the best way to see and experience a city is to walk it. Thanks so much for sharing!

    • Thanks, Lori! It really is the best way because sometimes the best parts of a city aren’t even the major landmarks, they’re the holes in the wall and side paths that take you to places you didn’t know existed!

  • Oh I love London so much. This post makes me miss it!

    • I know how you feel, Audrey! It’s such a wonderful city 🙂

  • A couple of years ago, I had only about 4 hours to tour London at the tail end of a business trip. We did the hop-on hop-off bus and it was great for just getting a glimpse at all the major sites. I hope to get back there and spend more time really exploring!

    • I can see why you chose the hop-on-hop-off if you were only there for 4 hours! Hopefully you can go back and really take your time seeing everything 🙂

  • Dana Brillante-Peller

    London is on my bucket list…your post makes me want to go right now!!!

    • I hope you do go, at some point, Dana! Any excuse to buy an plane ticket 🙂

  • Thank you for sharing this walking tour path! I was lucky enough to go to London 4 years ago and it was one of the best experiences of my life! I loved walking around and seeing all of the historic buildings! I can’t wait to go back!

  • Time for a trip to London, I think. A great post, thanks for sharing this with us 🙂

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  • Amphitrite

    London’s most unusual architectural landmarks. Everywhere you turn, you’ll be presented with examples of fantastic British architecture. Some is quite traditional, others a bit more out there. Some you’ll love and some you’ll hate. So it’s no surprise that millions of tourists descend upon it every year.

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