“A foggy day, in London town…had me low, had me down!” ? (you know what I’m talking about)
We had just over 24 hours in London, which isn’t all that much considering all of the history, culture, FOOD, scenery, and so much more this city has to offer. But thankfully we didn’t have miserable weather. True to form, she was pretty gloomy and overcast most of the time, but it wasn’t rainy at all, and we did have one glorious moment of blue skies…
Our time in London was at the end of almost two weeks in the U.K., spent mostly down in the south of England. We flew into London but immediately got our rental car and drove south, but then spent our last day there before flying home. So I knew I had to narrow down our itinerary to something manageable, while still seeing as many things as possible on my “must” list.
You might also enjoy seeing the rest of our UK adventures:
(and more to come)
What to do in London with 24 hours
We stayed at the Premier Inn Blackfriars, which was awesome—great location and surprisingly affordable for the area. Below is a rough outline of the route we took in our one full day. I say “rough” because obviously we took some detours, and we actually cabbed it from Tower Bridge over to The Langham for our afternoon tea. I was in a walking cast this entire trip so that particular walk in the time we had was NOT happening. But overall London is a super walkable city, and the Tube (metro) is great as well.
The main thing not captured on here is Notting Hill, which we took the Tube out to in the morning before heading to the airport. It’s out to the left (west) of Hyde Park.
You can get the live map here if it’s being squirrely below.
We started our full day in London by heading from our hotel (right around the corner from St. Paul’s) toward Borough Market for some NOMMY breakfast and shopping.
So let’s get a move on, shall we??
#1: River views for days
I love a city with water views, and the Thames is one of the most famous rivers in the world. You’ll have several opportunities to crisscross your way across London’s many bridges as you go about your sightseeing, and enjoy the view looking both directions.
Also, this sticker made me LOL.
As you head toward Borough Market, you’ll see The Shard from afar, and also make sure to swing past the Golden Hind. It’s a full-size, actually sail-able reconstruction of Sir Francis Drake’s famous ship in which he circumnavigated the globe and privateered (a.k.a. semi-publicly sanctioned pirating). Just worth a quick glance before heading on.
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#2: Get an early start at Borough Market
I also love me a good market, and while London has a ton (like seriously, so many), I was lured in by the sound of Borough Market. Probably the best-known food market in the city, it is a foodie’s dream. From every kind of cheese imaginable to insane amounts of fresh produce, awesome hot street food, baked goods, toastie stands, seafood…you name the food you’re craving and there’s a decent chance Borough’s got it.
We wanted some breakfast that wasn’t just pastry, so got a rainbow cheese toastie from one of the stands. It was filled with colorful veggies that tinted the cheese once melted. So good! We filled up on fresh-squeezed fruit juice and other snacks too. Come hungry!
The market is generally open 10:00-6:00 most days, and is closed on Sundays. But check the official website to be safe. If it’s of interest, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre is right near Borough Market, so would be an easy pairing (the London Eye isn’t far either). Here’s a slightly more in-depth post on Borough Market’s awesomeness!
#3: Obsess over Tower Bridge’s awesomeness
But we had other plans after devouring our rainbow cheese toastie. After a quick coffee stop, we headed back toward the water and the famous Tower Bridge. Not to be confused with the ever-falling London Bridge (which is actually boring), Tower Bridge is gorgeous and photographs like a dream against blue skies! That was really the only real stretch of blue skies we got in London, but it couldn’t have come at a better moment.
I took probably a hundred pics of the bridge from different angles. The way the blue and little bits of gold and red pop was just so fun! It’s very pedestrian-friendly (and crowded), so do make sure to walk across, and always watch out for your valuables in crowds.
If you’re taking the time to visit the Tower of London, that will be immediately on your left (if you’re crossing from the south) once you get off the bridge.
At this point we had to take a detour to make our afternoon tea reservation at The Langham (more on that in a minute!) so grabbed an Uber over to that part of town. You can walk it or take the Tube as well. If you walk it, it’s a good time to catch St. Paul’s (we stayed right next to it, so just saw whenever) or also walk up to the Shoreditch neighborhood and Brick Lane.
#4: Chill in Hyde Park (or head up to Shoreditch)
When we finished up our afternoon tea, some friends of ours were having a picnic in Hyde Park so we headed over there to hang out for a bit. It was close to The Langham, and is definitely a cool place to just hang out on the grass and chill, people watch, or go for a walk.
But what one thing I didn’t get to visit and could make sense from Tower Bridge is the Shoreditch neighborhood. It’s about a 25-30 minute walk or you could Uber or take the Tube. It’s got really vibrant street art, shopping, music, food, a cat cafe…I mean, what more do you want??
From Hyde Park we made our way back down to Buckingham Palace. It’s a really nice walk, very pretty scenery. On the corner of Hyde Park you’ll walk through the Wellington Arch, pass the Memorial Pillars (bearing the names of the armed forces of commonwealth countries who fought for Britain), then follow the road down Constitution Hill. There’s another arch (Marble Arch??) right before you get to Buckingham Palace as well.
#5: Swing by Buckingham Palace
Our path led us right to the gates of Buckingham Palace, which kind of caught us by surprise…we weren’t quite positive that it was the palace when we got there. The building itself was kind of drab (on a drab day), so just were a bit underwhelmed at first.
But the gates are beautiful, and I bet this place would really pop on a pretty, blue-skied day. If you’re wanting to take a tour of the inside, in which case you can visit the official website to see when it’s open, prices, and more.
Otherwise, pretend you caught a glimpse of Wills and Kate, blow a kiss to Harry and Meghan, then move on.
#6: Complete the Loop with Westminster Abbey
Westminster is a super short walk from Buckingham Palace, toward the river. Built (mostly) in the Gothic style, it’s a beautiful, ornate old building. It’s been the site of all English (and then British) coronations since William the Conqueror’s in 1066, and a fair few royal weddings since the 11th century. The current building isn’t *quite* that old, dating back only to the 12th century.
We didn’t go inside, but you generally can. Check the opening times here, it is a working church so sometimes is closed somewhat randomly.
#7: Remember Big Ben is under construction…
Just a few minutes from Westminster, we got our biggest WOMP WOMP of the day. We walked back toward the Thames to see the Houses of Parliament and the famous Big Ben clock tower. But we didn’t know that Big Ben is under construction, and will be for quite a long time (probably til late 2020), so it was under scaffolding and we couldn’t really see much. You can check on the status before your visit here, if you want.
The Houses of Parliament are still cool (and would look awesome on a sunny day), but we didn’t realize that we wouldn’t have been able to see Big Ben and were really bummed.
#8: Enjoy the view of (or from) the London Eye
My ankle was killing me at this point, so we decided to head back toward our hotel, and dinner. So instead of going all the way across the river to see the London Eye, we headed along the river on the Big Ben side to enjoy the view. Even on a gloomy day it was a great scene, and we found some secret Egyptian artifacts, to boot.
#9: Soak in the details
One of the things that I loved SO much about London (similar to Dublin) was just the charming, fussy, and quirky little details that are found around every corner. From pretty doors to old-timey details to this adorable tableau below, the absolute best way to
Side note, isn’t this maybe the most British scene you’ve ever seen??
#10: Book yourself a fancy afternoon tea
There are SO many different options for afternoon tea in London, and I did quite a lot of research before choosing The Langham hotel’s Palm Court for our special occasion. If you want to see how our tea went (and ogle all the delicious food and gorgeous decor), I’ve written all about it here!
We were both celebrating September birthdays, and enjoyed our champagne to start with, then our waiter helped us choose a perfect tea to have with our food. We felt so fancy sipping our tea while the pianist played and the room sparkled, then stuffed ourselves with little sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and jam, and tiny pastries. They even surprised us with “Happy Birthday” and a special little dessert for both of us.
Want to know the difference between afternoon tea and high tea? I’ve got you covered.
Bonus #11: Soak in Notting Hill’s famous colors
If you’ve got an extra few hours to spare, I recommend you head over to Notting Hill and enjoy the pretty, colorful houses, delicious hipster restaurants, and quirky little boutiques. On Sunday morning before flying back home, we did just that. Taking the Tube from near our hotel to the Notting Hill station was super easy.
Even without blue skies and sun, the colors of Notting Hill are kind of unreal, but can you imagine on a nice day?! I was definitely bummed about that. And in love with the blue and pink houses side-by-side in the second pic below.
I even managed to match some of the houses 🙂
If you do head to Notting Hill, make sure to save time for brunch (or lunch) at Farm Girl Cafe. It’s soooo good, and has such an interesting menu! We shared buckwheat pancakes and shaksuka, stared longingly the colorful pastries, and each tried the rose latte (which is interesting but I wouldn’t have more than one).
WHEW! We sure managed to fit a ton into our 24 hours (with a bonus morning) in London!
Where to stay: Premier Inn Blackfriars
If you’d like to see the rest of my London research to see what else you’d like to add to your itinerary, it’s a bit messy but you are welcome to download Ideas For What To Do In London.
Other whirlwind city explorations you might like:
- 10 Tips for the Best 24 Hours in Lisbon
- Falling in Love with Quirky Reykjavik
- Spending (Less Than) 24 Hours in Lucerne, Switzerland
- 24 Hours in Edinburgh: A First-Timer’s Guide
- A Guide to 2 Days in Dublin
- 14 of the Best Photo Spots in Rome
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