London

London In A Day Guide: How To See 15+ Major Landmarks!

London In A Day Guide: How To See All The Major Landmarks In Under 24 Hours

Earlier this month, my parents came to visit us for the first time since we moved to London. (I can hardly count the three hours we spent with my dad while he was passing through on business as ‘coming to see us’.) I was so excited I actually screamed amid crowds of people at Heathrow when I caught sight of them. Time passes rather quickly here for us, so I didn’t realize just how much I’d been missing these two people until I saw their faces and received the first of many bone-crushing bear hugs to make up for the past nine months of distance.

It was a bit of a crazy trip. My parents flew in on a Monday, which was spent exploring Chiswick and showing off all the neat little places we’ve discovered out here, and then the next day before we took off to Scotland was spent exploring London. That’s right. London in one day. It’s not something I recommend, but it can be done if you’re just out to see the landmarks vs actually going inside them. Thinking of my own personal favorites and using my parents’ wishlist, I created a pretty-spectacular-if-I-so-say-so-myself London In A Day Guide to help us accomplish this feat of extreme tourism. We mostly walked from place to place, so this was one very tiring day, but we certainly made the most of it!

London In A Day Guide: How To See All The Major Landmarks In Under 24 Hours

London In A Day Guide: How To See All The Major Landmarks In Under 24 Hours

Location One: Buckingham Palace

We started at Buckingham Palace where, thanks to my inability to be a proper morning person or be punctual anywhere, we had the worst position ever for watching the Changing of the Guard. I felt awful because I’d hoped to get there early enough to have a prime spot at the front gates to watch the ceremony, but it wasn’t to be. (I’m sure it didn’t help that it was half-term break for the entire continent.) We stuck it out, though, and watched what we could see before taking a lunch break at the Royal Quarter Cafe. We didn’t have time for the full afternoon tea experience, but it would have been a shame to leave London without at least indulging in a cream tea (scones with cream and jam + hot tea) so that was on the menu for lunch!

London In A Day Guide: How To See All The Major Landmarks In Under 24 Hours

London In A Day Guide: How To See All The Major Landmarks In Under 24 Hours London In A Day Guide: How To See All The Major Landmarks In Under 24 Hours

London In A Day Guide: How To See All The Major Landmarks In Under 24 Hours

London In A Day Guide: How To See All The Major Landmarks In Under 24 Hours

Location Two: Sights Along the Thames

After lunch, we walked to Parliament Square and over the River Thames via Westminster Bridge to the South Bank by the London Eye. This is where the big stuff is, some of London’s most well-known landmarks, as well as the more gimmicky tourist attractions like the London Dungeon and the Sea Life Aquarium. To say this area is busy is an understatement. No matter, though. The sun was shining for the first time in weeks and I was so grateful not to have to walk clear across the city in wet shoes, dodging umbrellas every which way, that the crowds barely even phased me. On any day, even the rainy ones, this area of the city is worth braving the crowds for, though. As far as classic London scenery goes, it doesn’t get more London than this!

In Parliament Square, we said hello to Winston Churchill and the ten other famous men immortalized here, caught a quick glimpse of Westminster Abbey (which is partly covered in scaffolding and not-as-pretty at the moment), tried not to get knocked into the street by performers and selfie-takers as we crossed Westminster Bridge, and took the requisite Big Ben photo from across the River Thames. Afterwards, we walked along the South Bank for a bit, but sadly had no time to ride the London Eye, before crossing back over the bridge.

London In A Day Guide: How To See All The Major Landmarks In Under 24 Hours

London In A Day Guide: How To See All The Major Landmarks In Under 24 Hours

London In A Day Guide: How To See All The Major Landmarks In Under 24 Hours London In A Day Guide: How To See All The Major Landmarks In Under 24 Hours

Location Three: 10 Downing Street & Horse Guards

For our next stop, we were venturing into an area of London I myself hadn’t even seen yet. Dad really wanted to get a photo standing next to one of the Queen’s guards, specifically the ones wearing the fuzzy black hats, and a friend of his told him he had his taken outside 10 Downing Street, so that’s where we walked to next. On arrival, it was obvious he would not be getting that picture he wanted because the whole street was blocked off. I’m not sure if that’s always the case, but the most we saw of Downing Street was a gate crowded with policemen holding machine guns. Not exactly what dad was looking for.

Instead we headed to the Horse Guards, passing by St James’s Park along the way. Here, at the Horse Guards, dad got the next best thing to a picture with a grown man in a fuzzy hat – a picture with a grown man sitting atop a horse, wearing a shiny, metal breastplate and a helmet (with a ponytail, no less!). London is weird sometimes. But so are tourists and we they couldn’t seem to get enough of these guys! (The horse, on the other hand, looked like he’d probably reached his patience threshold three hours ago.)

London In A Day Guide: How To See All The Major Landmarks In Under 24 Hours

London In A Day Guide: How To See All The Major Landmarks In Under 24 Hours

London In A Day Guide: How To See All The Major Landmarks In Under 24 Hours

London In A Day Guide: How To See All The Major Landmarks In Under 24 Hours

Location Four: Trafalgar Square & National Gallery

Even though our feet were begging for a break, we pushed on and walked to Trafalgar Square next. Much like the South Bank, if there’s a time when this area isn’t surging with people, I’ve never seen it. Even still, especially as a first-time visitor, it’s worth a look. Home of the annual Pillow Fight Day as well as the location for holiday celebrations like Chinese New Year, there’s almost always something going on here, even if it is just the guy-on-acoustic-guitar-butchering-Bob-Dylan and the other usual street performing suspects.

We dropped into the National Gallery while we were there, too, which is never quite as crowded inside as you’d assume after glimpsing the steps outside. Lex and I had been here before, but this time we walked in a different direction and got to admire the Monet’s and Van Gogh’s we’d missed last time. The National Gallery is an interesting museum – most of the art is not the kind I can really get into, but I still find myself drawn to this place because of the way the museum looks. It’s beautiful inside, and I love walking from the large galleries into the smaller, more private ones. However, if you’ve only got one day in London, I recommend dropping in only if you really love art.

London In A Day Guide: How To See All The Major Landmarks In Under 24 Hours

London In A Day Guide: How To See All The Major Landmarks In Under 24 Hours

Location Five: St Paul’s Cathedral

We hopped on the bus to reach our next destination, and as luck would have it, were able to ride near the front on the upper deck. (There’s just something about riding at the top of London’s double-decker buses – it never gets old!)

St Paul’s Cathedral is one of my favorite places in London. I’m not usually a fan of shelling out big bucks to go inside churches, but this is one I felt was worth every penny. Even prettier on the inside than the outside, which is saying something, St Paul’s Cathedral is also my favorite place to catch an “above the city” view of London. In fact, if you only have time to go inside one place in London, this is where I’d recommend you go. Since we were losing daylight fast, we were unable to take my parents inside, but I did my best tour guide impression while we stood outside anyway.

Speaking of that, I surprised even myself with how much information I’ve retained during our past two years checking out London’s most famous spots. I know history isn’t everyone’s thing, but I’ve loved making connections between the history of places and people within London and abroad. Everything makes so much more sense to me when I can tie a new place together with places I’ve already been. That probably makes me incredibly nerdy, but it also made me feel pretty darn smart when I was taking my parents around!

London In A Day Guide: How To See All The Major Landmarks In Under 24 Hours London In A Day Guide: How To See All The Major Landmarks In Under 24 Hours

London In A Day Guide: How To See All The Major Landmarks In Under 24 Hours

Location Six: Tower of London & Tower Bridge

Last, but certainly not least, we hopped on the bus again to the Tower of London and Tower Bridge. The Tower of London is sort of a mess right now – scaffolding on the outside, new grass being laid where the Tower of London poppies were just a few months ago – but Tower Bridge was just as beautiful as usual, so we headed that way instead, stopping for an ice cream break along the way. (Whatever happened to the parents who used to deny me one cookie at evening because it might spoil my dinner?!)

The sun was starting to set, so we tried to get some pictures of ourselves by the bridge before all our daylight was gone. My 50mm lens was on my camera because it’s so much lighter to carry than my usual 336-pound lens, but I did not like using it as a travel lens one bit. The lack of “zoom” did force me to get more creative than usual with my shots, which was fun, but it is so much easier to miss focus with this one, hence the many fuzzy faces in these shots. You shoot and learn, I guess!

I don’t think I’ve ever had such an exhausting day in London before, but we did it – we saw London in a day! And now, when I see these places that have become so familiar to me over the past couple of years, I’ll have memories with my parents attached to them, too, which makes this city feel just a little bit more like home.

*For the record, if you’re planning a trip to London, I recommend 4-5 days minimum to truly see the best of the city. But if all you have is one day, you can’t go wrong with an itinerary like this one!

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London In A Day Guide: How To See All The Major Landmarks In Under 24 Hours

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20 Comments

  • Reply
    Jessi @2feet1world
    April 27, 2015 at 8:46 AM

    Wow that’s an impressive effort! Great mini-itinerary for some of London’s landmarks :)

  • Reply
    Jess {JessOnThames}
    April 27, 2015 at 10:46 AM

    Bravo! I am tired just reading this itinerary – and yet smiling at the same time because I know that feeling of wanting to show family all the big sites. And I think you did a fab job with the 50mm!

  • Reply
    Katrin
    April 27, 2015 at 12:43 PM

    Oh wow, that does sound exhausting! And also very very cool. I am so glad you got to spend time with your parents! And you should become a tour guide, specializing in discovering London in one day. :)

  • Reply
    Melanie Fontaine
    April 27, 2015 at 8:55 AM

    I totally know what you mean about making connections between the history of different places! It seems that the more I travel, the more often I come across places which somehow connect to places I have visited before and it’s so interesting to see and learn how everything connects with each other. Nothing nerdy about that! ;) You and your parents definitely did a great job seeing London in just a day! I think there are many people who don’t accomplish as much on a longer stay! ;)

  • Reply
    Emma @ AdventuresofaLondonKiwi
    April 27, 2015 at 4:41 PM

    This is an epic whistle-stop tour; all the highlights a tourist could wish for! I bet your parents loved every feet-achey minute (and totally earned that illicit ice cream! :D)
    It is pretty amazing how many facts you can learn accidentally (and totally without any answers on hands *guilty*)

  • Reply
    Rachel @ STCL
    April 27, 2015 at 6:29 PM

    Wow, what a day! We were in London for about 4 and a half days and I still felt like there was SO much more to see/do. You definitely picked some of the best highlights though!

  • Reply
    Robert
    April 27, 2015 at 5:13 PM

    Wow, you guys must have been exhausted by the end of that! I’m kind of tired just reading it. So. Much. Walking. lol. A really great itinerary if you just have one day though, you really got in all the major landmarks.

    • Reply
      Sarah Shumate
      April 30, 2015 at 4:31 PM

      Um, yes. I have never had a more tiring day in London than this. I felt like 100 years old when I woke up the next morning. Ha! It’s definitely much easier to show someone around London when you have a few more days than just the one.

  • Reply
    Stacie Stamper
    April 27, 2015 at 5:59 PM

    I’m exhausted just reading it all! So glad that you got to make these memories with your parents.

  • Reply
    Phill R
    April 27, 2015 at 7:37 PM

    Hi Sarah great post. I love going to London for mini trips. I’ve been going down for 2-3 days at a time and taking in all the tourist-ty thing. I love the galleries and museums which has inspired my latest project on my blog; ‘A Very British Collection.’ I hope you made some great memories with your family, take care and speak soon

    • Reply
      Sarah Shumate
      April 30, 2015 at 4:33 PM

      I will head over to check your project out today! I love London’s museums and galleries, especially since they’re free. Then I don’t feel so bad about only dropping in for an hour and seeing just a portion of what’s on display!

  • Reply
    Amy @ the tide that left
    April 27, 2015 at 8:06 PM

    Fine work! Love the pics of you guys, especially the three ladies in the family. Very cute, all of you.

    I love whizzing around London, but we rarely do it properly these days since we seem to always be visiting for just a couple of hours.

    It’s pretty certain we’ll be moving there in a few months now though, so I can get into checking out some of the tourist hot spots one more time.

    • Reply
      Sarah Shumate
      April 30, 2015 at 4:34 PM

      Yay! I’m very happy to hear you’re coming over this way! Have you decided what part of the city you’d most like to live in yet? Chiswick’s pretty great, just sayin’. ;)

      • Reply
        Amy @ the tide that left
        April 30, 2015 at 7:32 PM

        We’re still yet to decide. Chiswick looks really good, but we’re also looking at the possibility of being closer to the university Mike will be attending.

  • Reply
    Coba
    April 30, 2015 at 10:43 AM

    Oh wow, you did so many things in one day. I really love doing as much as possible, so trips like these would be awesome for me. being exhausted after a trip and having a good nights sleep is one of the best feelings. I’m also very in love with the pictures you took. Glad you had a fun day with your parents ♥

  • Reply
    rorybore
    May 1, 2015 at 3:08 AM

    I feel like I should give you a standing ovation!! wow. and probably I should print this out just in case I ever DO go to London. I am with your dad though – I need a pic with the fuzzy hat guards. LOVE the shot of the man with the bagpipes.

  • Reply
    Sarah Shotts
    May 1, 2015 at 10:25 PM

    I’d love to invite you to link this (or another post!) up to my new adventure link up.

    Cheers,

    Sarah

  • Reply
    Tina @ Girl-Meets-Globe
    May 13, 2015 at 10:24 AM

    Great job! That is quite a feat!

  • Reply
    Emmymom
    May 13, 2015 at 8:35 PM

    Holy cow Lexie looks taller! So awesome that you did that much in one day!

  • Reply
    Rome
    June 20, 2018 at 10:47 AM

    This is just what we’re looking for. I think we can pull off most of it. I’m a firm believer in “I can rest when I get home”.

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