Seeing London in a Day

The Tower of London
The Tower of London

There’s absolutely no way you can see all there is to see in London in a day. But, if your time is limited, here are some ideas to make the most of precious hours in one of the world’s great cities…

Seeing London in a day? The very idea sounds whimsical—a little like trying to climb Mount Everest in an hour and a half.

If you have the time, allocating 4 or 5 days to London is more like it. You can go at a more relaxed pace, mixing sights, theater, afternoon teas, and good food at historic pubs. And, if you want to experience London’s breathtaking museums (the British Museum, the National Gallery, the Tate Gallery, and the Victoria and Albert Museum—just to name a few) in some depth, you might want to plan to spend a week. The British Museum alone has 2.5 miles of galleries to explore.

But, if a day is all you have and you have to make the hard choices, here are some recommendations to make sure that you have a jolly good time!

  1. Visit Westminster Abby, the Gothic cathedral where nearly every British king or queen since 1066 has been crowned. One site of special interest here is the Henry VII Chapel. Built in 1503, it is one of the most beautiful chapels in Europe. If you have a literary bent, you might also want to visit the abbey’s Poets Corner, which has monuments to, and tombs of, Chaucer, Tennyson, Browning, Thomas Hardy, and other great English poets and writers.
  2. Watch the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. This takes place at 11:30 am on alternating days at this 600-room landmark and official residence of the England’s monarchs. So make sure your schedule syncs up. Filled with plenty of pomp and pageantry, the ceremony is well worth watching.
  3. Take a guided tour of the Tower of London. Built by King William I (better known as “the Conqueror”) in the 11th century, the Tower, which houses the Crown Jewels and much more, is one of London’s great tourist treats. You can tour it on your own, but the guided tours are very well done and highly recommended.
  4. Drop in at St. Paul’s Cathedral, the 17th-century masterpiece of Sir Christopher Wren. With its great dome, it is a site to behold—second only to St. Peter’s in Rome in size among Christian churches. If you can make the climb to the dome, you can get an amazing 360-degree view of London.
  5. Pop into the British Museum. You can’t begin to fully experience this place, of course. So, focus on seeing the Elgin Marbles (from Athens), the Rosetta Stone, the Magna Carta, and the Egyptian mummies.
  6. Have high tea in the late afternoon. Many London hotels and teahouses offer wonderful experiences. In fact, London’s Tea Guild gives annual awards for excellence.
  7. Dine out at a fine London pub. Just a few of many, many good choices are the George Inn, the Grenadier, and the Red Lion.
  8. Take in a play at a West End theater. Here, more than 50 theaters offer some of the best and most varied stage theater in the world. Often, plays will feature distinguished British actors and actresses who are well known to us through their work in movies and television. For listings for what will be playing when you’re in town, a good place to check is www.londontheatre.co.uk.

At this point, it has been a very full day. And it’s probably time to head back to your hotel room for a well-deserved night’s sleep and perhaps a dream or two about other London sights you would like to see on your next visit.

If you have any tips you would like to add, just post a comment. We would love to hear your thoughts!