London is a walking city and in 24 hours, you can explore its best landmarks just on foot. No heavy expenses on taxis or private tours, instead let that wanderlust guide your journey. Walking through Central London simply takes your breath away. The architecture completely surrounds your environment and it feels like being transported into a different world. At the time, I had a full paper map coupled with mobile apps, I was determined to conquer this beautiful city. But there’s so much to uncover just by following the streets and trusting your instincts. The best starting point to explore London is from Trafalgar Square, as it is close to everything and most major landmarks are within walking distance from here.
Trafalgar Square is a significant landmark to commemorate the Napoleonic Wars, and is an important part of British history. The atmosphere here is always lively and street performers are a sight to see. I’d spend about 30 minutes here, just sitting on the benches watching the London traffic speed by.
- Landmarks within the Square: Nelson’s Column, National Gallery and Fountains with statues of mermaids.
- Easily accessible by Charring Cross station.
- Tip: A tall-serving of Americano from Starbucks.
The iconic Nelson Column and four stone lions guarding it are within Trafalgar Square. The Nelson Column was named in honor of Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson who led the British victory in the Battle of Trafalgar in the 1810s. The place is often packed with tourists so it’s best to go earlier in the day!
The National Gallery is an art museum holding over 2,300 collections of paintings from the 18th century. It is located within Trafalgar Square so it’s hard to miss.
- Admission is free, but take note of their varied opening times, bag policies and room closures here.
Admiralty Arch and The Mall
Admiralty Arch is just 3-min away from Trafalgar Square and leads up to Buckingham Palace. It’s definitely one of my favourite landmarks in London. The enormous gate resembles the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and is worth stopping to take photographs from both sides of the archway.
- Commissioned by King Edward VII in memory of Queen Victoria, hence the latin inscriptions on the top.
The latin description:
“ANNO DECIMO EDWARDI SEPTIMI REGIS VICTORIÆ REGINÆ CIVES GRATISSIMI MDCCCCX”
which translates in English;
“In the tenth year of King Edward VII, to Queen Victoria, from most grateful citizens, 1910”
Horse Guards Building, Whitehall
The Horse Guards Parade is a huge open space used for changing of the royal horse guards, one of the Queen’s household cavalry. This is a more scenic route to Buckingham Palace where the horse guards ceremony ends. It is worth it to spend 30-mins here to see the horse guards in action. However, it’s likely to miss this ceremonial activity unless you’re on a private tour.
Also, this historical building was once the office of the Commander in Chief of the British Army. Currently, it serves as the formal entrance to St. James Palace.
It is a 10-min walk from The Mall to Buckingham Palace and the road ahead is glorious. Upon reaching, you’d be overwhelmed by the sense of grandeur and status of the compound. The palace’s exterior is decorated with gold and beautiful ornaments, and incredible architecture surrounds it. Spend a bit more time here to take it all in.
As you can imagine, London is a walking city and there’s really no better way to soak in its beauty than on foot. Up next, the Big Ben and Westminster Abbey are just 16-min walk away. It’s a straight path down from Birdcage Walk. If there’s anything you MUST DO in London, visit the Big Ben and see the clock – Elizabeth Tower. Continue walking to see the Palace of Westminster and Houses of Parliament.
Head to Cellarium Cafe & Terrace for lunch, they have plenty of gluten-free and vegan options. Try to get there early and get a seat upstairs which offers a fantastic view of Westminster Abbey. It’s located on the left toward Deans Yard and just 6-min walk away.
London Tower Bridge
Visit the Tower Bridge and experience the exhibition and step into the engine rooms (last admission at 5:30pm). Ticket prices for adults is £9.80. Alternatively, you can take a romantic river cruise on the River Thames which has great views of the bridge as well.
- Accessible by Tube: Tower Hill station or London Bridge station.
Piccadilly Circus pulsates with life and bustle, and it serves as a central junction connecting shopping areas and major theatres. At the center lies Shaftesbury Memorial Statue which is a great photo opportunity too.
- For Shopping: Definitely try Oxford Street (Selfridges is great for designer collections). Bond Street for luxury shopping, even if you don’t have the budget, talk a walk down this road to peek into their glamorous windows.
- Afternoon tea at Fortnum & Mason, they’ve got the best marmalades to take home as souvenirs and the most exquisite fine dining options.
- Leicester Square: 5-min walk from Coventry Street. Check out the M&M’s World Factory , Shakespeare Monument.
- Convent Garden: This market is perfect for handcrafted goods, collectibles and souvenirs. Convent Garden is a 7-min walk away from Leicester Square via Cranbourn street.
Her Majesty’s Theatre
Now that we’ve gotten most of the sightseeing done, end the day with a classic performance at Her Majesty’s Theatre just 3-min away from Piccadilly Circus. My absolute favourite part of this trip was watching Phantom of the Opera. There is nothing closer to a grandeur live performance than at Her Majesty’s Theatre, to top it all off with the exhilarating Phantom. I’ve since went to watch the performance twice and it remains deeply etched in my mind.
Here’s a snippet of the performance on YouTube. You can buy tickets online here. I recommend buying it early online just to get good seats as there are seats with pillars in front that block your view. However, there’s a chance you might get cheaper prices at the booth on the day itself.
The performances usually begin at 2pm or 7:30pm. So plan this part either earlier in the day or towards the end as it takes up 2hr 30mins. I’d usually put this in the itinerary when I’m en route to Piccadilly Circus.
- Cost: £57.00 – £97.00 (premium seats).
- Location: Haymarket London, SW1Y 4QL
- Performance duration: 2hr 30mins