Have a long layover or staying close to London with limited time? While it’s impossible to fit all of London into one day, it is still feasible to discover the wonder of this historic capital in just 24 hours. A captivating city with iconic landmarks and a rich cultural heritage, London has plenty to fill up your one day of exploration. Is one day really enough to experience the wonders of this British gem? Join us as we unravel the pros and cons of a brief visit, based on our personal experience with only a day in London.
A little background on our experience… We were dog and house-sitting our way through the UK on TrustedHousesitters (free housing!) and our home was about an hour away from London by train. That’s not bad at all! However, the pup couldn’t be left alone all day so we had to do a lot in a short amount of time! It was a non-stop day but we have no regrets! We walked and tubed from place to place and got some great eats along the way. We only wish that we could’ve spent more time in London! But who wouldn’t?
For those of you with a long layover, it’s important to note the times it takes to get to the city center from the airport. Below are rough train times from some of London’s major airports to the city center:
- Heathrow Airport – 15 minutes
- Stansted Airport – 30 minutes
- Gatwick Airport – 30 minutes
- London City Airport – 30 minutes
- Southend Airport – 1+ hour
Of course, take some time to read up on the official ways to get around London to plan your trip accordingly. Having an idea of how you’re going to get around will save you a lot of time!
Below we are going to jump into some pros and cons of visiting London in just one day. But real talk: London cannot be fully experienced in one day. Even so, we truly think you can have a memorable experience, even in such a short time. We did!
Pros of Visiting London for One Day
Snapshot of Iconic Landmarks
A one-day visit to London allows you to catch a glimpse of its most iconic landmarks, including Big Ben, the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, and the London Eye, to name a few. If you’re like us and love walking in a new place, London is perfect to discover on foot! This is also a great way to stumble upon unplanned locations, like some of London’s beautiful parks! Needing to catch our breath at times, London’s parks served up a perfect chance to take in some nature while still heading toward our next destination.
If you’re on a tight budget or have limited time during your European trip, a one-day London visit can save you a lot of money. You’ll spend less on accommodation and transportation, leaving you with extra funds to indulge in other aspects of your travel. Obviously, there is give and take here. Sure, you’ll save money by spending a limited amount of time in an expensive city like London; however, you will have to make some sacrifices on sightseeing! If London is a layover city or you’re seeing other parts of the British Isles, then saving money for other destinations is definitely a plus.
Speaking of cost-effective travel, Stonehenge is nearby and we’ve put together a guide on how to see Stonehenge for free. It might take you off the beaten path but that’s a good thing, right? Check it out!
Still Experience Culture and History (and Good Eats)
Though short, your day in London can still offer a taste of the city’s rich history and culture. Stroll (quickly and for free) through the British Museum to see iconic artifacts, walk around the Tower of London and catch glimpses of history, or explore the shops and amazing food stalls at the Borough Market. Trust us, you can still experience London in a short amount of time. Just check out our post on 8 hours in London for some things to do in a hurry!
We did not enter any museums during our visit. Since time was short and we had a long list of sights to see, we hurried off to other stops. If you fancy venturing inside a museum, be sure and have a look at London’s free museums. There are many to choose from!
Enhanced Planning and Time Management
A one-day visit forces you to plan and manage your time efficiently. This skill is transferable to other travel experiences, helping you make the most of any future trips with packed itineraries. We’ve had our fair share of short experiences in big-time destinations that resulted in both successes and missed opportunities. We have found that planning ahead will help make the most of a short time in a destination, and it will make you a better traveler going forward.
Before visiting London, we spent quite a bit of time on Google Maps, analyzing how long it would take to walk/transport from one place of interest to another. This was a great help in making a rough outline of the direction we wanted to go and the sights we wanted to see along the way. For example, Borough Market was nowhere on our radar until we scoured Google Maps and made a plan to pop in for lunch. Shakespeare’s Globe was on our must-see list and the market was a short jaunt away. Thanks to planning ahead, we had a fantastic lunch at Borough Market, arguably our favorite stop.
Cons of Visiting London for One Day
A major downside of visiting London in one day is the constant rush. Trying to cram in numerous attractions can lead to a superficial experience, leaving you missing the opportunity to truly immerse yourself in the city’s charm. London is vast, and a single day is hardly enough to explore all its hidden gems. You may find yourself missing out on lesser-known but equally enchanting locations or not getting to spend the amount of time you’d like at a sight. It was disappointing, to say the least, for us to be standing outside 221B Baker Street and not have enough time to visit the Sherlock Holmes museum.
As with any travel destination, London’s weather can be unpredictable. A short visit leaves little room for rescheduling outdoor activities in case of inclement weather, potentially dampening your experience. We visited on a very windy and chilly day in March. Yet London has a special charm with its dreary, overcast days. We have zero regrets about the weather, but more days in the city means you might get some sun!
Transportation Challenges and Tired Feet
London’s extensive public transportation network can be overwhelming for first-time visitors. A limited timeframe may lead to navigation challenges, resulting in time wasted on travel between attractions. It would be advantageous to nail down a few things you want to see and check out the subway map online and/or map out your walking route. With just one day in London, you can travel freely through all major zones with a London Day Travelcard.
We used London’s Underground several times but mostly we used our feet. Cramming so many sights into our day, our feet were more than tired by the end of it!
How To Maximize Your One-Day London Adventure
Try your best to create a well-structured itinerary, prioritizing the attractions you wish to visit. We’re not the type of travelers who like to plan every single thing; however, with just one day in London, it’s necessary to have at least a few pinned down and your route roughly mapped out to ensure you make the most of it. Consider the proximity of landmarks to optimize travel time and avoid wasting precious hours in transit. We always recommend free walking tours when visiting a new city in Europe, but we opted to tour on our own due to the time constraint. A walking tour will show you a lot of sights and offer historical background, all within a couple of hours. This might be a great option depending on how many hours you have in London.
Choose Central Accommodation
We visited London while staying an hour train ride out of the city. If you’re able to stay the night in the city, stay in a central location to minimize travel time between attractions and make the most of your one-day adventure. If waking up in London, start as early as you can. You’ll already have a head start on the day!
London holds endless allure for travelers. While a one-day visit allows you to catch a glimpse of its grandeur, the city’s vastness and depth call for a more extended exploration. If time is a constraint, planning ahead and focusing on specific interests can make your brief visit to London a rewarding experience. So, is one day in London enough? No way. Is one day (or less) in London worth it? Without a doubt!