The very notion of exploring a vast and thrilling destination like London in under 24 hours is slightly ridiculous we know, but when you only have one day in this epic city you have to make the most of it! Luckily you have one of the best public transport systems at your disposal and many of London’s best-loved attractions are within walking distance of one another, so with a bit of planning it’s possible to squeeze in visits to a few of the city’s most iconic landmarks. Here are our top picks from among London’s countless must-see attractions:
Buckingham Palace is one of the city’s most iconic sights, and with good reason – it’s the official London residence of the monarchy of the United Kingdom, and also serves as the administrative headquarters where the royal family receives dignitaries and foreign officials on state visits. The State Rooms at Buckingham Palace are open to visitors at certain times of the year, providing access to the incredible works of art that form part of the Royal Collection, which is rated as one of the most important art collections in the world. If the Palace is not open to visitors during your time in London, try to coincide your visit with the changing of the guards. This colourful spectacle is the epitome of British pageantry and lasts around 45 minutes. The ceremony is performed by the Welsh Guards daily from April until July and on alternate days for the rest of the year (weather permitting).
The Palace of Westminster
The Palace of Westminster is where the UK’s two houses of Parliament, the House of Lords and the House of Commons, meet. The site has a long history that dates back to the Middle Ages, and the palace itself has been in existence in one form or another since the first half of the 11th century, when the Danish King Cnut started construction. The palace as it stands today was built after the Great London Fire of 1834. During the summer (while parliament is in recess) and on Saturdays throughout the year, the Houses of Parliament opens up to the public for guided tours that include famous sites like The Queen’s Robing Room, the Royal Gallery, the Lords Chamber and the Commons Chamber, where members of parliament hold their lively debates.
Technically, Big Ben is the name of the enormous 13-ton bell inside Elizabeth Tower, which forms part of the Houses of Parliament, so if you can tick two ‘must see’ boxes in one go when you make your way here. There are a number of city bus routes that go past the tower, and Westminster Tube station is directly across the road, serviced by the Jubilee, District and Circle lines. Westminster pier is next to the tower, which also opens up some river bus travel options.
Important note: Elizabeth Tower is set to undergo extensive repairs throughout 2017 to restore the existing structure and its mechanic components, and bring it up to date with modern health and safety standards. As such, tours of the tower have been halted for the time being.
If you’re really pressed for time and keen to get an eyeful of London’s best-loved attractions, the London Eye is your best bet. At 135 metres tall, this remarkable cantilevered observation wheel is the world’s largest and a true feat of design and engineering. Centrally located in the heart of London, opposite Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, the London Eye provides a breathtaking 360-degree perspective over the capital. A full rotation takes 30 minutes, which gives you plenty of time to view London’s most famous landmarks with the help of an interactive on-board guide.
The Tower of London
Situated on the north bank of the River Thames, the Tower of London is an historic castle that was originally built by William the Conquerer in 1066 to keep hostile Londoners at bay. Today it is best known as being the home of the Crown Jewels, which includes some of the most spectacular diamonds in the world. Other attractions include the awe-inspiring White Tower, one of the most important historic buildings in the world and part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site; the Fusilier Museum; the interactive Armoury in Action exhibit; and walks along the Tower’s walls that explore the Medieval palace and its seven imposing towers.
St Paul’s Cathedral
St Paul’s Cathedral with its world-famous dome is one of the most iconic features of the London skyline. As one of the few buildings to emerge largely unscathed from the bombings of World War II, it became an enduring icon of hope and resilience in the face of adversity. Completed in 1710, it has hosted many auspicious events, including the funerals of Lord Nelson and Sir Winston Churchill, Jubilee celebrations for Queen Victoria, the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana, and the 80th birthday and Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. Today visitors flock here to gaze in wonderment at the awe-inspiring interior and learn more about the fascinating history of this British landmark.
Often mistakenly referred to as ‘London Bridge’, Tower Bridge is one of the most well-known structures throughout the city. The suspension bridge and bascule was built 120 years ago and opens to allow ships to pass beneath it when necessary. The Tower Bridge Exhibition details the history of the structure, including information about the initial construction thereof, fun facts about daredevil stunts performed here over the years, and more. The bridge now features glass floor panels, allowing visitors to see London from a unique angle through a glass floor – a completely unique experience!
Aside from being one of the largest urban parks in the world at a whopping 142 hectares, Hyde Park is also chock full of all sorts of exciting visitor attractions. This includes Kensington Gardens & Palace where Princess Diana lived; the contemporary Serpentine Art Gallery; Speaker’s Corner where London’s most vocal orators have shared their opinions with the world since 1872; as well as a large lake, a meadow and ornamental flower gardens. There’s also a number of rather stunning monuments scattered throughout the park – the Joy of Life Fountain, Achilles statue and the Diana Memorial Fountain to name a few.
Named in honour of the British victory led by Admiral Lord Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, Trafalgar Square was constructed in the 1840s according to a design by Sir Charles Barry who also designed the Houses of Parliament. Erected on the site of the erstwhile Royal Mews, it is home to the imposing 56 metre tall Nelson’s Column, the world’s tiniest police station and two gorgeous fountains amongst much else. Fun fact: Norway sends a 60 feet tall Christmas tree to be displayed in Trafalgar Square every year in gratitude for Britain’s help during the second world war.
Also situated along Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery is home to 2,300+ seminal European paintings from every important art history epoch on permanent display, including world-renowned works by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Titian, Van Gogh and Renoir. This incredible collection of priceless artworks can be viewed free of charge as part of daily scheduled walks or with the help of comprehensive audio guides that can be purchased from the information desk – a must-see for art lovers of all walks of life!
These are our top ten picks among London’s must-see attractions that will allow you to enjoy a taste of this remarkable destination when you have limited exploration time available. Grab a map, lace up your most comfortable walking shoes and get ready for a whirlwind meander through one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world!
Look for any Expat Explore tour departing from London and take an extra day to explore London city! The Best of Europe tour includes a one night stay in London, with a tour of the historic borough of Greenwich.