The first time I was in London, I was there for a little over 24 hours.

The insanely quick visit from the States was unplanned, and totally spontaneous.

A friend in London surprised me a few hours before departure, asking me to fly in to ring in the New Year with them. 

They already had a ticket with my name waiting at the gate. All I had to do was quickly pack and run to the airport.

I flew into London, arriving a few hours before midnight back out early in the morning on January 2nd—talk about a whirlwind!

Since it was New Year, I was a bit limited thanks to a small hangover and holiday closures, but that didn’t keep me from having the best 24 hours in London.

I fell in love with the city on that trip as my friend took me around town. 

There’s actually something about the overall vibe that reminds me a bit of New York.

After spending more time in London over the years, I’ve gotten to know the city even better. 

These are the things that you shouldn’t miss while spending one day in London.

Things to Do Early Morning in London

Have Breakfast in Notting Hill

notting hill 2

Chances are you either know of Notting Hill as an Instagram hot spot, or from the Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant rom-com from the late 90s.  

If you haven’t heard of it, let me just say it’s a charming little neighborhood with lots of pastel townhouses (making it the perfect IG setting). 

There are a bunch of cute little spots to grab a delicious breakfast in the area. These are a few of my favorites:

Shop Portobello Road

portobello road london

If you’re looking for a unique souvenir to take home, look no further than Portobello Road

It’s known for its cool vintage boutiques, antique stores, and weekly markets. 

Fashion lovers should absolutely shop the vintage boutiques. Some of my favorite stops are:

Take a Look at Kensington Palace

Kensington Palace

In case you aren’t into The Crown, let me fill you in…

Kensington Palace is where Prince William and Kate live with their family. 

Basically, it’s the place most royal family members end up living, since only the Queen lives at Buckingham Palace.

You can either do a quick walk by as you’re entering Hyde Park, or you can book a tour of the palace.

The tours typically include a special royal exhibit, plus entry into the public areas of the palace. When I went, they were showing off Princess Diana’s gowns. 

Walk Through Hyde Park

Hyde Park 2

Hyde Park is the largest of the 4 royal parks in London. It’s lovely to stroll through during almost any time of the year. 

On your walk, check out the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain, or see the swans on Serpentine Lake. Bonus points if you spot the rare black swan that lives there.

You can also walk by Speakers’ Corner, a symbol of free speech, where legendary speakers like Marx and Orwell have addressed crowds. 

Fun Fact: Henry VIII used the park as a private hunting ground and would ride through the park hunting steer. 

Things to Do During the Afternoon in London

Check Out Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace

Unlike Kensington Palace, Buckingham Palace is a tough place to get into.

If you want to visit, plan to be in London between the months of July and October. During those months you can purchase a cheap ticket to view the State Rooms in the palace. 

Or splurge for the pricier ticket that includes access to the Royal Mews (basically the stable) and the Queen’s Gallery.

If you want to watch the famous Changing of the Guard, plan your visit so you’re there at 11 am on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Sunday, and Mondays.

Stroll St. James Park

St. James Park

This is one of my favorite parks to hang out in. I always spend at least one morning per trip walking around it with a coffee in hand.

It’s thought of as the most beautiful park in London and is right in front of Buckingham Palace. 

I love it because it reminds me of my favorite small neighborhood that’s near my old UES apartment in NYC

St. James Park is the location for events like the Trooping of the Colour, and the oldest out of all the Royal Parks. 

It’s also home to a pretty famous colony of pelicans, who were gifted to Charles II by a Russian ambassador in 1664. 

Check Out Westminster Abbey

Westminister Abbey

I think this might be the most famous church in England, it’s certainly the most televised. It’s a Royal church and hosts events like royal weddings, coronations, and funerals.

Westminster Abbey offers timed entries and guided tours if you wish to enter the space.

Since I’d seen the interior when they broadcast William and Kate’s wedding a few years ago, I opted to admire it from the outside.

See the Palace of Westminster

Westminister Palace 2 2

If the Palace of Westminster sounds familiar, but you’re not sure what exactly it is, here’s why.

It serves as the location for the two houses of Parliament, plus the House of Commons, and the House of Lords.

Personally, I was cool with having a look at the outside and didn’t care about investigating this location further. 

If this is a location that really interests you, there are tours available on Saturdays and over holidays. 

Pay a Visit to Big Ben

Big Ben

“Second star to the right, and straight on til morning.” 

Peter pan

I think most of us grew up watching Peter Pan, which is likely why everyone considers Big Ben a must-see attraction. 

He’s recently undergone a three-year face-life, causing some disappointment from tourists. 

Luckily, that spontaneous trip I took let me glimpse him right before the work began.

The scaffolding is slowly coming down, and tourists should be able to fully see Big Ben in all his glory soon.

Grab Lunch

Cafe Royal 1

Chances are by now you’re probably pretty hungry. You can go a couple of different directions: a nice indulgent lunch, afternoon tea, or a savory bite somewhere.

I always head to Cakes and Bubbles at Hotel Cafe Royal on Regent Street. It’s this decadent spot for afternoon tea that has the most delicious and beautiful desserts I’ve ever tasted. 

I always get a glass (or two) of champagne, a dessert that I haven’t had before, and their famous cheesecake. 

Yes, I know it’s basically a bunch of desserts for lunch, but you only live once!

Also, they sell more than just dessert here, in fact, they have a lovely lunch menu.

afternoon tea london

If you’re taking the afternoon tea train, I suggest booking reservations ahead of time at one of these spots:

Bob Bob Ricard

Are you craving a savory sit down lunch? Then look at these places:

Stroll Through Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Sq

Okay, so Trafalgar Square isn’t as big or exciting as I thought it would be, considering how famous it is. 

It’s a cool place to walk through, and occasionally you may see a protest or a really great street musician.

The National Portrait Gallery is here and is a magnificent spot. I easily spent an entire afternoon there during one of my visits. The best part is the entry is free!

It’d do a quick stroll through on your way to the Golden Jubilee Bridge, so you can say you saw it. 

Hop on the London Eye

London Eye

You’ll quickly spot the giant ferris wheel, known fondly as the London Eye

Riding it provides a birdseye view of the city from 443 ft. You can either book tickets when you arrive or ahead of time online. 

The line was long when I was there, so I rode the StarFlyer that’s a few yards away from the London Eye.

Basically, it’s the UK’s highest mobile ride attraction, with swings that soar up to 230 ft in the air. 

Fun Fact: Don’t go on the swings if you’re afraid of heights. It doesn’t look that scary from the ground, but when you get up there, it’s a different story. 

Walk Along the Thames

Thames South Bank

One of my favorite things about London is walking along the banks of the Thames.

Both banks have plenty of little shops and snack booths, plus so many popular tourist sights are visible during the walk. 

Check Out the Shakespeare’s Globe

globe theatre

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a theater nerd. So obviously, the Globe Theatre was going to come up at some point. 

In case you didn’t pay attention during English class, let me fill you in. 

Basically, the Globe was an Elizabethan playhouse that Shakespeare would debut his plays in. 

Unfortunately, that Globe Theatre in 1613 to a fire during a performance of Henry VIII when a theatrical cannon misfired. The one standing today is a replica built near the original site in 1997. 

interior globe theatre

I highly recommend taking the tour, especially if you’re a theater nerd, or you love history.

They have a little museum, showcasing relics from the site of the old Globe. Plus set pieces, props, and costumes from plays put on at the new Globe. 

You also get to check out the theatre itself, and hear the history of the people who rebuilt it, and how it might have operated back in Shakespeare’s day.

The tour ends in their gift shop. It’s a place I easily spent an hour perusing plays, acting books, and unique Shakespearian themed souvenirs. 

During the summer months, look ahead to see if you can score tickets to a performance.

Walk Across Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge 2

Turns out what most of us Americans think is London Bridge is actually Tower Bridge. 

I didn’t realize my mistake until I was standing very puzzled at the less impressive London Bridge, located just down the river.

London Bridge is famous because it’s existed in one form or another for nearly 2,000 years.  It looks like your run of the mill basic bridge.

They built Tower Bridge in 1894. It’s got Victorian detailing and towers built into the design, making it much more memorable.

Check Out the Tower of London

Tower of London

You’ll quickly notice the Tower of London as you cross Tower Bridge. Depending on how much you want to see, you can either stroll over and give the exterior a closer look, or book a tour. 

If you opt for the tour of this 1,000-year-old fortress, you’ll see the infamous tower ravens, and hear all about the dark history of the tower.

Things to Do at Night in London

Grab Some Dinner

dinner meat pie london

London has no shortage of delicious spots to eat at. I still have a giant bucket list of restaurants to check out while I’m in town.

These are spots I recommend booking for a delicious dinner:

See a Show on the West End

Harry Potter West End

How anyone could go to London and not see a show is beyond me. 

To stay up to date on shows, I always head to the site Broadway World. It has an entire section for shows playing in London.  

Fun Fact: I love seeing shows in London because their interval snacks include a selection of ice creams!

Walk Around Piccadilly Circus

After the show, head to Piccadilly Circus, which is basically London’s version of Times Square. 

It’s touristy, but worth a look around. I always end up catching an amazing street performance here every time I visit. 

Have a Cocktail

cocktails london

If you aren’t ready for bed yet, grab a nightcap at one of these popular cocktail bars:

Hit a Pub

pub london

If you’re feeling like something more chill to end the night, check out these popular pubs:

Wrapping Up 24 Hours in London

St. Johns Bakery

Before you head to the airport, get over to Neal’s Yard and grab some of St. John’s absolutely mouth-watering pastries. 

Order their chocolate filled doughnuts, and a nice English Breakfast tea. 

In fact, order a dozen to bring home with you because they’re that good!

I kid you not, on my last visit I went here so often that the guy working behind the counter knew me by name before the trip was over. 

Last Advice

St. Johns bakery Doughnut

Well, let’s be honest, I’m officially craving all of my favorite foods from London.

I can’t wait to get back over there soon to see shows, visit with friends, and eat lots of desserts.

Let me know if you need any advice on shows to see while you’re visiting, because on top of being a dessert queen, I’ll always be your go-to theater fanatic. 

I hope this guide has made you excited to spend a day in London soon. I know it’s made me excited to go back!

Drop me a note in the comments below how you would spend just 24 hours in London, and if there’s anything I’m missing that you want me to include!


Check out some of these popular London tours while you’re in town!

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