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  • shanimirwis

The Best One-Day Walking Tour of London

Updated: Jun 10

A bus driving along a road in London on a sunny day with a black cab nearby

You want my advice? You can't really do London in just a day 😁 But if you do only have one day in London, here's an itinerary below to see the very best this city has to offer. It's tightly packed with a lot of walking - but hopefully will show you the bits you can't miss, as well as some hidden gems. You can also use this guide as a springboard for a longer trip - for example, breaking up the walk and doing part of it on one day, including all of the museums, and then picking up where you left off the next day. Wear a good pair of walking shoes/trainers, have your camera in hand, and you're good to go!

The route below is a suggested walking route and I've included a few museums as well, which will obviously add to the time it takes you. So choose to enter or miss them out as you see fit!

Duration: About 4 hours (this is just the actual walking; if you plan to enter museums, this will obviously take a lot longer). The route is flat but does involve some stairs as well.

Best time of year to do this walk: London is magical any time of year. The weather is always a bit risky but for chances of good weather and less crowds, try visiting April-May, or September-November.

Best way to use this guide:

I've mapped out this route in the Komoot app - so if you have the app downloaded, you should be able to navigate my route on there. You can find my walk at this link, and it will give you directions for getting to each point on the map. I've also written all of the stops in the blog post below (it doesn't have turn by turn instructions of how to get to each point - but I have listed out all the points and what you can expect at each place. If you don't have Komoot, you may want to use Google Maps to help you navigate to each stop). I've also included a screenshot below, to use as a guide (note: not all of the stops are numbered in the screenshot, as that's just how it worked out when I was mapping it in Komoot - but I've labelled all the most relevant stops below):

Map of the best one-day walking tour of London
The route

🏁 Starting at Russell Square Underground station, it's less than ten minutes to the British Museum (you could also start at Tottenham Court Road Station and navigate to the British Museum from there, as it's about the same distance).

The amazing glass ceiling inside the Great Court of the British Museum
A great ceiling in the Great Court!

👉 The British Museum

Founded in 1753, it is the world's oldest museum and houses around 8 million objects! Most famous on the list are probably the Rosetta Stone (the key to understanding hieroglyphics in modern times), the Parthenon Sculptures (more widely known as the Elgin Marbles and subject to much controversy), and a fantastic Ancient Egypt collection (most notably, the mummies). Don't forget to look up when you enter the Great Court - you can't miss the phenomenal glass ceiling, and in my opinion the Court is reason enough to visit the museum!

👉 Covent Garden

Once you've had a wander here, next stop is Covent Garden. It's a 15 minute walk from the British Museum and is a lovely car-free outdoor area with shops, cafes and on weekends/in summer, there are street performers a'plenty.

Colourful windows and doors in Neal's Yard
The hidden Neal's Yard

👉 Neal's Yard

On your way to Leicester Square, follow my Komoot map to reach the tucked away Neal's Yard, just off Short's Gardens. Neal's Yard is a hidden space with colourful shopfronts and an instagramy vibe. Once you've taken some photos and stopped for a snack, head out through the exit on Monmouth Street, walking down towards Seven Dials (literally seven roads all meeting in the middle at the Seven Dials Monument - a sundial sculpture).

👉 Leicester Square

This is a world famous culture and entertainment hub in the middle of London - filled with bars, restaurants, cinemas... and the M&M store (the world's largest sweet/candy shop). Of all the places on this list, Leicester Square is probably my least favourite 🫣 but it's still an iconic place in London, so it's worth a visit (and it's anyway along the route). You'll also find the TKTS ticket booth - where you can buy on the day discounted/good priced theatre tickets.

Bright red lanterns hanging over the street in Chinatown

👉 Chinatown

This isn't on my map above as it got a bit complicated to track back to Piccadilly Circus on the app - so I'm adding it to this blog post. If you want to check out Chinatown, it's right here! After the M&M store, turn right onto Wardour Street and you'll see Chinese lanterns hanging in the distance, as well as the big gate, marking the entrance to Chinatown. It's always very busy and there's a great vibe!

👉 Piccadilly Circus

Just a few minutes from Leicester Square and Chinatown is Piccadilly Circus (not an actual circus 😉 but from the Latin word to mean circle). This place has such a great energy and buzz, and it is well worth a visit. It's a junction connecting a few major roads in central London, and is also part of the West End with a lot of theatres nearby. There is always a hive of activity with the neon lights, bright screens and hundreds of people walking. And of course the iconic Eros Fountain in the middle! Piccadilly Circus is a tourist hotspot and a place that shouldn't be missed.

A busy day at Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square with lots of people walking
People milling about Trafalgar Square

👉 Make your way to Trafalgar Square - home to Nelson's Column, four lions and, previously, plenty of pigeons! It's a 10-minute straightforward walk and you can probably just follow the rest of the public there 😉 Opened in 1844, Trafalgar Square was built to commemorate the British victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Nelson's Column is a memorial to Admiral Horatio Nelson who died in battle at Trafalgar. Besides for Nelson's Column, there are four impressive lion statues and two fountains. And in each corner of the square, there is a plinth; three of which hold statues of famous figures. The fourth plinth serves as a place to display contemporary (and sometimes divisive) art, which changes every couple of years. So head here for a look around one of London's most famous spots (often also used as a place where crowds gather to celebrate, protest, eat sandwiches, etc) and see if you can spot Big Ben way off in the distance. Below are some recent fourth plinths (left to right):"The End" by Heather Phillipson from 2020-22, and "Antelope" by Samson Kambalu from 2022-24.

👉 The National Gallery - a beautiful art museum - sits behind Trafalgar Square and is free to enter. If you have time, pop inside to see some super famous paintings from the likes of Monet, Cézanne, Rembrandt and more! The National Gallery houses one of the best collections of paintings in the world and is completely free to enter! It is open daily from 10am-6pm (Fridays until 9pm).

👉 Then it's onto The Mall and Buckingham Palace!

[This part is a 45-minute detour, so you could choose to leave this out and see Buckingham Palace on another day. You could then combine Buckingham Palace with Hyde Park, Green Park, St James's Park and the Natural History Museum - which are all near to each other.]

You'll walk down The Mall to Buckingham Palace - once you've had a look at the guards and waved to the King, make your way to St James's Park opposite (see if you can spot the London Eye peeping out) and rejoin The Mall that way. Fun fact: St James's Park is the oldest of London's Royal Parks.

The Cenotaph war memorial on Whitehall on a sunny day in London
The Cenotaph

👉 Back by Trafalgar Square, you'll then go down Whitehall (the famous road of government buildings). Over halfway down the road, you'll pass Downing Street on your right; you can't actually enter Downing Street anymore but you can wave to Number 10 (home of the Prime Minister) from the gates. There is a lookalike door at 10 Adam Street (just off the Strand) and is about 15 minutes away - so if you fancy a photo, head to this tourist hotspot! Once you've had a look down Downing Street, continue down Whitehall where you'll pass by the Cenotaph (a war memorial in the middle of the road where the National Service of Remembrance takes place every year, attended by servicemen/women and the royal family) and the road becomes Parliament Street.

👉 Continue along this road and you'll soon see the magnificent Elizabeth Tower (AKA Big Ben) on your left! Before turning at the Ben, continue on for about 5 minutes to pop by Westminster Hall and Westminster Abbey. Once you've had a good nosey around, retrace your steps and turn at Big Ben (which is now on your right) to walk along Westminster Bridge; the views of the London Eye from Westminster Bridge are divine!

Elizabeth Tower and Big Ben on a sunny day in London with the London Eye in the background
Elizabeth Tower

As you walk along Westminster Bridge, you'll also see the Houses of Parliament coming into view on your right; you'll get the full view of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament at the end of Westminster Bridge. For a unique viewpoint, once you've reached the end of the bridge, do a slight detour and go down the stairs on the right, and with Parliament in front of you, turn right as if you're going under the bridge - there's a nice little arch here to really frame the buildings in your shot. It's usually packed with tourists, so you'll be lucky if you get a people-free shot! Whilst you're on this side of Westminster Bridge, pop back out of the arch and walk past the touching National Covid Memorial Wall (500 metres of written tributes for people who sadly lost their lives to the Covid pandemic).

The next chunk of this epic one-day walking tour of London is pretty straightforward as you'll be walking alongside the Thames for most of it. Retrace your steps back to the arch and walk through the underpass - you're now officially on South Bank.

The London Eye turning on a sunny day in London

👉 It's impossible to miss the London Eye in front of you. It's the most popular paid tourist attraction in London (over 3 million visitors board it each year!), offering glorious 360-degree views of London's skyline. If you want to board it at this point, it will add about half an hour to your walking tour. It's best to book ahead online, and opening times are 10am-8.30pm daily (Sundays until 5.30pm). Prices vary but if you book online in advance it should be cheaper at roughly £25.50 per adult ticket (£22.50 per child).

😴 If you're exhausted, now would be a good time to grab some food or a snack from the Southbank Centre Food Market, which sells lots of street food and drinks. And if you want to split your walk over two days, this would be a good halfway point (Waterloo Underground Station is nearby).

👉 If you're continuing the walk, it's then about 25 minutes along the Thames, until you get to Millennium Bridge. On the way, look out for a skateboarding area (Southbank Skate Space) which also has a backdrop of awesome graffiti. You'll soon pass Waterloo Bridge, Blackfriars Bridge, and you can do a detour around here to the Tate Modern. Definitely stop off at Millennium Bridge for cool views towards St Paul's Cathedral - this is one of my favourite views in London!

Standing on Millennium Bridge looking at St Paul's Cathedral just after sunset
Purple skies over St Paul's Cathedral 😍

👉 Two minutes from Millennium Bridge (still on the same side) is the impressive Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. The original theatre was built on South Bank in 1599 but was destroyed by a fire in 1613. This replacement Globe Theatre was built very close to the site of the original theatre in 1997. It is an open-air theatre meaning it is completely open to the elements - and performances go ahead whatever the weather!

👉 Borough Market on Southwark Street is up next and is a 10 minute walk from the Globe Theatre. You'll probably need to use Google Maps for this part as there are a few twists and turns. Borough Market is a historic food market and is thought to have existed since 1014 (or possible even earlier than this). Head here for a bite to eat, or just to take in the atmosphere. It is open every day except Mondays and you can see all the opening times here.

👉 Just five stops remain in this best one-day walking tour of London! And this is arguably the best bit of the walk. After Borough Market, make your way back to the Thames, towards London Bridge - specifically to the The Queen's Walk, where you'll continue walking alongside the Thames. After about 10 minutes, you'll see HMS Belfast - the Royal Navy ship - that is permanently moored at this spot. It was used during the Second World War and finally decommissioned in 1963. It was nearly scrapped but after campaigns to preserve it were successful, it was saved and opened to the public in 1971! Amazing 🤩 The City of London Sea Cadets meet on HMS Belfast twice a week 😊 You can board the ship yourself; it is open daily from 10am-5pm (tickets are £28 per adult, £14 for children aged 5-15, under 5's go free).

A bus passing on Tower Bridge with traffic trails and bright lights
Tower Bridge at night
Autumn leaves cover the ground of the garden at St Dunstan in the East

👉 You'll see Tower Bridge ahead of you - woop woop! 🙌 This is the bridge that opens to let boats pass underneath (not to be confused with London Bridge, which absolutely doesn't open). Once you get here, walk along the bridge and take photos a'plenty. Walk across the bridge and it's a whole different vibe - you're suddenly amongst skyscrapers and businesspeople. You'll also see the Tower of London at this point.

👉 If you continue 10 minutes or so along the Thames path, you'll reach a secluded little garden called St Dunstan in the East. Originally a church, after bombing in the Blitz, the church wasn't ever rebuilt and now remains a public space and garden (opened to the public in 1970). It's a lovely hidden gem in the bustle of the city - so be sure to check it out!

The Monument to the Great Fire of London in between modern buildings in London
The Monument

👉 We're nearly done! Head to the Monument to the Great Fire of London - a 62 metre column built in 1677 to commemorate the Great Fire of London. Look up to spot the gold at the top. Not many people know that you can step inside, climb the spiral staircase of 345 steps, and see a panoramic view of London from the top! The Monument is open daily from 9.30am-6pm (but closed between 1-2pm each day). Tickets are £6 per adult, £3 per child aged 5-15, and free for children under 5. You can't book tickets in advance and need to just turn up on the day!

👉 And finally, after a long day of walking and museum-ing, make your way to the Sky Garden - an indoor rooftop garden at the top of the Walkie Talkie Building, with 360 views of London, as well as a balcony with epic views of the River Thames and the Shard. Tickets are completely free but booking is required during peak hours - so if you want to bag that sunset slot, you'll need to book in advance. You can book your 1-hour slot here (they release tickets weekly, and you can book up to 3 weeks in advance - but they sell out fast). Otherwise just turn up and hope for the best! You'll need ID to get in.

And that concludes our best one-day walking tour of London! If you did it in one day, congrats! You've definitely earned a pint. Would love to hear if you manage all or part of the walk, so please let me know below! And if you're planning a longer trip in London, check out my other helpful post of the best free things to do in London 🤩

Happy travels,

Shani x

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