Booking a London day room is the first step to exploring ‘The Big Smoke’ — but you’ll still need to decide how to spend your day in this world-class city filled with ancient and modern monuments, hidden markets and fabulous theaters. While you won’t be able to see everything in a day, there are a few must-dos for any type of visitor. 

Grab your Oyster card and get moving! Just remember: don’t feed the pigeons, stand on the right, and take an umbrella.

How to Spend a Day in London: 11 Ways

Visit the Waterfowl and the Royals in St James’s Park

How to Spend a Day in London? See a Black swan at St. James Park.

At St James’s Park (Underground station: Embankment), the Royal Mall leading to Buckingham Palace is home to at least ten species of duck, pelicans, various other water birds and, of course, the ubiquitous but charming pigeons. At 10:30 a.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays, you can watch the Changing of the Guard as they ride down the Mall and hand over duties at Buckingham Palace. Look for the flag on top of the palace; if it’s flying, the Queen is in residence.

The Queen’s Gallery and The Royal Mews, with its working stables, are well worth visiting if the Palace itself is closed. At the other end of the park is the Horse Guards Parade, home of the Household Cavalry Museum where you can visit the guards’ horses.

Visit a Museum (or Two)

The British Museum (Underground station: Tottenham Court Road) is the classic tourist destination for a reason: it’s the oldest public museum in the world. While the museum’s website has a “1 hour at the British Museum guide to hit all the most famous displays, those are also the most crowded parts of the museum. Avoid the crowds at the Rosetta Stone and explore the Sir Joseph Hutong Gallery instead, featuring rare jade artefacts, Ming dynasty dragon tiles and experimental modern calligraphy by up-and-coming Chinese artists.

If ancient culture isn’t your style, the Bond in Motion exhibit at the London Film Museum (Underground station: Leicester Square) features Aston Martins, boats, and other props from all 24 James Bond movies. Visit the Old Operating Theatre Museum (Underground station: London Bridge) for a step back to 19th-century medicine or Pollock’s Toy Museum (Underground station: Goodge Street) for the world’s oldest surviving teddy bear, a 4,000-year-old toy mouse from Egypt, and Victorian-era games. The best museum in London, though, may just be The Chocolate Museum in Brixton. If you have to ask why I’m questioning your soul.

Get Out on the Water

A backdrop from the Thames River of London's modern architecture juxtaposed by smaller, historical buildings.

Transport for London’s River Bus routes run between 22 piers on the Thames from Putney in the southwest to Greenwich in the east. Just tap your Oyster card and climb into the rain-safe boat for a picturesque view of London’s sights. Be sure to download the in:flow app to learn more about the landmark as you pass them.

For a closer view of the river and London’s many canals, you can kayak or canoe with Moo Canoes. For the brave, there are outdoor swimming spots (known as lidos) at Hampstead Heath, the Serepentine in Hyde Park (open year round!), or Parliament Hill.  

Get Sporty at Olympic Park

London hosted the Olympics in 2012, and now you can visit. While you can swim in the Olympic pool, do a workout in the gym at Copper Box Arena and take a tour of the stadium, the best attraction at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is the ArcelorMittal Orbit. At the top of this sculpture by Sir Anish Kapoor, you can see breathtaking views of London, then slide down the world’s longest tunnel slide (178 meters or 584 feet).

Drink the Bermondsey Beer Mile

Steps from London Bridge Underground station are half a dozen craft breweries. You can follow the unofficial Bermondsey Beer Mile route or just choose one or two to visit; Fourpure Brewery’s tour includes a flight of six taster beers, so you might not need to go anywhere else.

Don’t like beer? Hawkes Cidery opened on the Beer Mile in 2017, serving a variety of ciders and alcoholic ginger beer. There are also 24 gin distilleries in London, including 214 Bermondsey, just a short walk from the breweries.

And for the teetotallers, there’s Nirvana Brewery, London’s first low- and no-alcohol brewery, in Leyton.

Or Keep It More Low Key

Lamb and Flag pub in Covent Garden, London, aka Charles Dickens' favorite pub.

Practically every corner of London has a public house. Along with beer, most serve the classic fish and chips and savory pies that Britain is known for, while others serve spicy Vietnamese or Indian dishes that pair just as well with a pint.

For a “ye olde” ambiance, check out Ye Olde Mitre in Holborn or Charles Dickens’ favorite pub, Lamb & Flag in Covent Garden. If you prefer a modern vibe, Scottish beer startup Brewdog has multiple locations around the city.

Take Afternoon Tea

A classic British tradition that can be taken in style at The Ritz or Harrods — or for a creative twist, try the Afternoon Tea Bus Tour, or Sketch, with its famous toilets and quirky art. Twinings flagship tea shop on the Strand is 300 years old and offers a two-hour tea masterclass if you’re really serious about your tea. From a Charlie and The Chocolate Factory-inspired tea and the Mad Hatter’s Tea to A Midsummer Night’s Dream afternoon tea, plenty of literary-themed tea parties await as well.  

Walk the Thames Path

Hammersmith Bridge on the south bank of the Thames Path in London.

The Thames Path is a 184-mile (296 kilometers) trail along the river from the Cotswolds to Greenwich. Within Greater London, there is a 79.5-mile walk (roughly 128 kilometers) divided into eight stretches by Transport for London. The best sights sit along the stretch from Albert Bridge to Tower Bridge, where you can see the Tower of London, the Houses of Parliament, the Tate Modern, and St Paul’s Cathedral along a 6-mile easy and relatively flat stretch.

Visit a Market

Whether it’s shopping for vintage clothes or eating unique street food, London’s markets are famous for a reason. Camden Market (Underground station: Camden Town), alongside Camden Lock has over 1,000 stalls, shops, and food vendors and hosts events as diverse as a Gluten-free Festival to a Reggae Roast.

Borough Market (Underground station: London Bridge), which has existed in some form since the 1100s, is a foodie paradise, with fresh foods and street vendors from around the globe. But don’t go on a Sunday—it’s closed. Old Spitalfields Market (Underground Station: Liverpool Street) is open seven days a week, though. There you’ll find arts, crafts, clothing, antiques, and knick-knacks for sale along with fantastic eats.

Go to the Theater

With 40 theaters in the West End theater district alone, you’re sure to find a London show you’ll love. Popular Broadway shows like Hamilton, Book of Mormon, Wicked, and The Lion King are all on London stages. Shakespeare is perennially popular, and you can even see it in a replica of the original Globe Theater in Southbank. Just know that if you want to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, you’ll need all afternoon and evening or two days to see both parts of the play.

Dance the Night Away

Nighttime in London's Soho District near the Theater Cafe and various other establishments.

London’s Soho is known for its nightclubs. Why not visit The Box, a cabaret nightclub known as a favorite of Prince Harry? Another popular food and dance spot is Barrio, with all-star DJs spinning mixes of international dance music. Each floor of The O Bar has its own vibe, from the first-floor cocktail bar to the more intimate Below Club.

For more trendy spots, head over to Shoreditch to the north of the City of London (Underground: Old Street). There, you can catch a Brazilian dance party at Floripa or party at XOYO with some of the top DJs in the city and amazing light displays.

No matter how you choose to spend a day in London, any combination of these things will leave you wanting to come back and explore more. Ready? Book your London day hotel today!

Enjoy no fees, no credit card, and last-minute booking with HotelsByDay.

Photo Credits

Featured Photo: “London’s Best Artifacts” by Ugur Akdemir via Unsplash 

“Black Swan in St James’s Park” by Simon Loxham via CC BY-SA 2.0

“The City – London” by Lorenzo Spoleti via Unsplash

“Lamb and Flag” by Garry Knight via CC BY 2.0

“Best Foot Forward” by Maureen Barlin via CC BY-NC-ND-2.0

“Soho Streets” by Luke Stackpoole via Unsplash

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Lisa Fry

Lisa M Fry is an American freelance writer living in London. She loves to read, cook, and explore London by bicycle with her two children.

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