I’ve been in London a few times and I was asked by a friend Susan what to do / see if you only have one day free time.
Walking, for me, is the best way to explore a city so I recommend an itinerary that somehow looks ambitious but still achievable. She wants to see majority, if not all, tourist attractions that symbolizes London. So, I hope this itinerary will cover this idea.
Most of the must-see London images are on the banks of Thames River. So if you walk around it, you’d be able to tell yourself you’ve conquered London! (to an extent haha) Your starting point should depend on your hotel’s location but through this guide, you’ll visually understand my idea of circling the Thames River (by walking) to make the most of London.
I suggest to start in St Paul’s Cathedral to leave a tiny prayer of day’s guidance. This is one of the oldest churches in the world with a baroque architectural theme that houses the Bishop of London. Do you know that there is a whispering gallery inside? Whispers can be heard 112 ft or 34 meters away! The nearest station is St. Paul’s.
Later, walk towards the Thames River and pass by the notorious London Bridge made famous by the song of same title. London bridge is different with the Tower bridge that has become an iconic symbol of the city. So don’t confuse yourself. Grab a coffee in one of the local café’s along the river to boost your energy. You are just beginning your walking marathon.
Move forward until you reach the Tower fortress where Anne Boleyn (and other notable prisoners) was executed on incest and adultery. She’s the so-called most-influential mistress of King Henry VIII who later became Queen made possible by the King’s declaration of a new church independent from Rome. (There is this almost hidden passage near the fort where the history of the Tower is recounted on its walls but I don’t remember how we pass by it.)
Following this route, cross the river into the other side (don’t miss the stairs at the end of the bridge going down the embankment). This area across the Tower fortress is one of the best spots to take photos. So, take more time and just click!
Notice the modern glass building on your left? That is the highest skyscraper in the UK – the Shard. No kidding here! It doesn’t look like it but yes!
Continue walking for five minutes to one of the bests, Borough Market, and replenish your travel zest by sampling street foods. Move on to find a retired galleon (ship) on public display called the Golden Hind or formerly the Pelican that navigated the world in the 16th century. Leave some kisses to its captain, Francis Drake, and walk over to the ancient ruins of Winchester Palace. There’s nothing to see so don’t linger.
Next on the list is Globe Theater! I never get the chance to look inside but it doesn’t lose its appeal of making you feel one step closer to the genius William Shakespeare. Nerd fact: the shape is called icosagon or 20-sided polygon. 🙂
Journey doesn’t end here so wander over to the Millenium Bridge and if you are into museums, get inside the Tate Modern standing nearby. This is the world’s most popular modern art museum. If you are an art junkie, you have to see the exhibitions and displays. It’s free anyway. Now, what’s next? Just the red Lambeth Bridge perfect for taking some few minutes of rest. Take in the beauty of London and gaze over the towering St. Pauls’ dome.
When revitalized, continue walking until you reach London Eye and City Hall. Personally, I don’t recommend riding it. Nothing amazing will come out from it other than a simple brag that yey, I spend cash! By the way, the best spot to take a London eye photo is on the other side.
You are now nearing the end of your Thames River self-guided tour. Can you see the Big Ben? No, you can’t! There is a misconception about this. What you are looking at is the Elizabeth tower (or clock tower). The Big ben is the bell inside not visible from the outside. Cross via the bridge and congratulate yourself infront of the Westminster’s Palace where the House of Lords and House of Commons meet to discuss state’s affairs (Big Ben is at the north end). We tried asking the guards to let us in but they said we need a special permit from the parliament! Hahaha At least we tried. Be careful on this area because it is the paradise of thieves and snatchers.
Next, stroll on the cathedral just few struts of hips and you are on hallowed grounds of Westminster Abbey, a traditional place of coronation, royal weddings and burial site of British monarchs. Do you know this is where Prince Charles married Diana and later on, his so called “mistress” Camilla Parker? Prince William and Catherine also took their marriage vows on the same cathedral. Do you know the scandalous American Wallis Simpson? King Edward VIII gave up his throne for this infamous lady to be her 3rd husband and was later married inside this abbey. (Okay, too much so I’ll stop here).
At this point of your self-guided tour, you have to make a decision. It’s not really a life-changing kind of thing but will determine the level of your stamina. Either you go back to the Thames River into Cleopatra’s needle and Egypt’s sphinx OR continue to Buckingham palace. Both require 16 minutes of walk but on opposite directions.
The palace is the Queen’s official residence. If you see the Royal Standard flag hanging outside, it means the Queen is residing in London (Doesn’t mean that she is inside the building as far as I know but maybe I’m wrong. Maybe she’s having tea with James Bond in Somerset instead). If you want to experience the changing of the guards, then you need to adjust your itinerary because it is 45 minutes daily at 1130 am until end of July.
Now that you’ve reached the end, I assure you that you’ll be overwhelmed with satisfaction Tired but tingling with fulfillment. This is it! You already completed your London one-day list! By the way, you can start in Buckingham palace and reverse the itinerary. It all depends on you!
Don’t forget to take home a perfect English shot! And maybe, a man to decorate your arm? Kidding. Just enjoy and feel the city’s vibe. It has so many things to offer.
If you have more time, I’ll give more suggestions:
- Visit Greenwich Island for the Prime meridian (and Queen’s house). If you are fascinated with Science, you’ll surely find yourself jumping on the invisible line that divides the earth into two – eastern and western hemispheres. Take either the ferry near Westminster or the tube.
- Nature lover? Get some air in Kensington or Hyde Park (this is a 30 minute-walk from Buckingham Palace and 3-minutes from the Marble Arch). If you read classics and historical fictions, this area is popular as one of the most used settings.
- You like shopping? Go to Harrods if you have deep pockets (the former owner is the father of Dodi, Princess Diana’s lover). My favorites are Oxford Street and Covent Garden for a wide array of selection of brands and trinkets within the budget.
- Arts and culture enthusiast? I suggest V&A Museums or National Library (in Trafalgar Square). Please try to be fascinated with Van Gogh’s sunflowers! Fancy taking a peep in Sherlock museum? Or how about a night in West End? Les miserables, anyone? Can I add the famous black door of 10 Downing Street here?
- How about food gastronomy? Not my area of expertise but I’ve been told about afternoon tea in Hotel Cafe Royal; lunch/dinner in Angler or budget Balls and Company. Actually, street foods are the best!