Thanks to work obligations, I recently had the opportunity to travel to England for the first time. And when you spend that amount of time on a plane, you extend the trip through the weekend in order to explore! With only a free weekend, I had to figure out how to see London in a day.
Everyone has their own travel style, and when I’m visiting a new city mine is to explore on foot. I love to take in the feeling of a place by walking and taking in as many sights as possible. Instead of ‘going deep’ on one or two attractions, I prefer to absorb as much as possible. I figure that I can go back to the places that appealed to me the most if I ever return.
With that in mind, I reached out to my network of friends and colleagues for advice. I was super happy with the walking itinerary that I put together based on that advice, so I wanted to share it here for anyone else who has a day to explore London on foot.
Due to my work obligations I was staying in Windsor, about an hour train ride from London city center. Instead of moving my hotel for the weekend, I decided to do a day trip to London. The trains were extremely easy to navigate, and I highly recommend the London Travelcard if you are using public transportation from outside the core of London. It costs a bit more than if you purchased each transportation leg individually, but it was worth it to me. It works on every public transit service I wanted to use, from trains to the London Underground to the Buses to ferries. This gave me flexibility in my day – if I wandered too far from an Underground station I could hop on a bus without worrying about having the proper fare.
With Travelcard in hand, here is how to explore London on foot in a day. This route includes ~6-7 miles of walking, depending on how many side roads you decide to wander and check out. Time of day framing is approximate, but describes how my day was broken up based on the time I spent in each location.
9:00 – 11:00 am: Get to and explore the British Museum
Leaving my hotel at approximately 8:00 am, I took the train from Windsor into London via National Rail and hopped onto the Underground at Paddington Station. I rode on one of the lines that would take me close to the British Museum. You can use several apps to figure out public transit – I used a combo of Google Maps and CityMapper. But seriously, public transit is so simple. Don’t stress about it. I had no problem hopping on and off and getting where I needed. Just note that there is no cell phone service on the Underground, so look up what you’ll need before getting on.
The British Museum opens at 10 am and is free. Arriving at about 9:45, I breezed through security and was in the atrium at 9:50. The doors to the main galleries open at 10. I picked a few things that I wanted to see and targeted them first. Within ~45 minutes I had seen what I wanted and then some.
Leaving the museum at 11 am, I walked by a very long line to get in and I was glad that I arrived early.
11:00 am – 1:00 pm: Walk to Trafalgar Square and visit the National Gallery
From the British Museum I wandered down towards Charing Cross road and through the theatre district. This eventually spit me out at Trafalgar Square.
Trafalgar Square is a hubbub of activity, with tourists, buses, street entertainers, and circling vehicles. Overlooking it all is the National Gallery. Another free museum, make sure to step inside and see some world famous pieces. The galleries are arranged by eras, so you can explore your favorite style. Or, do some pre-planning and use this list to hit the highlights. I prefer wandering art museums open-minded. People were crowding Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, but I was completely enraptured by the Van Gogh painting hanging next to it – this colorful painting of crabs.
1:00 – 2:00 pm: St James’s Park and Buckingham Palace
After the National Gallery and Trafalgar Square, walk under the arch and follow the paths through St James’s Park to Buckingham Palace. While I was there, in September, the flowers were still brightly blooming and hundreds of varieties of waterfowl hopped through the grass and paddled on the lake. Though crowded with tourists, I found it quite lovely!
As an American who really doesn’t follow the royal family, Buckingham Palace wasn’t high on my list to visit, but it was still kind of fun to see the iconic building and the chaos of ecstatic visitors.
2:00 – 3:00 pm: Westminster Abbey and Big Ben
From Buckingham Palace, wander back along the south side of St James’s Park towards Westminster Abbey. If you have time, I heard the tour is quite interesting. But since we’re trying to see a lot in a day, take in the view of this amazing structure and continue on towards Big Ben.
3:00 – 4:00 pm: Cross the Westminster Bridge and walk the Thames
When you cross Westminster Bridge you’ll be near the London Eye. I found this to be the thickest tourist crowds and I tried to move quickly through the mess. Once past the Eye I enjoyed walking along the Thames. The water was unwelcoming and turbid from recent storms – in fact, there was some major flooding in London the day prior to my visit. My energy was fading so I stopped for a late lunch and some caffeine along this stretch!
4:00 – 5:00 pm: Millennium Bridge and St Paul’s Cathedral
At the Millennium Bridge I crossed back to the other side of the Thames and walked towards the large dome of St Paul’s Cathedral. I circled the building, electing not to pay to explore inside, marveling at the exterior architecture.
5:00 pm: Wrap up your day!
My batteries were definitely running low by this time, so it was time to seek out a pub. I decided on a flight of tasters at BrewDog Clerkenwell before hopping back on public transit for a dinner date with my coworkers in Windsor.
I thought this was a great itinerary to fit London in a Day! It didn’t give me the time to do the longer tours of some of the iconic sights like Buckingham Palace or Westminster Abbey, but this route goes for quantity over quality. Coming up next will be how to spend a bonus day in England by slowing down and touring two more iconic sights – Windsor Castle and the Tower of London!
Check out more photos from this walking tour of London!