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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!