Option 1: Spend the day sightseeing
Most of London’s top attractions are all within walking distance of each other. And by using the city’s regular bus or boat routes, you can tick off even more sights in a short space of time.
Start your day down in South Kensington. From here, you can drop into some museums (more on that later), or wander up the road to Knightsbridge. Iconic London shops like Harrods and Hamleys will be a bit quieter in the morning.
Next, walk down the Mall towards Westminster.
You might have more chance at spotting some politicians at the Houses of Parliament (and of course Big Ben). Westminster Abbey is next door so you can see two of London’s most iconic buildings in one place.
It’s now time to make a decision.
Either jump on a boat down the Thames to Tower Bridge or walk across Westminster Bridge to the South Bank, and meander down the river on foot.
The boat is great as you get a commentary about all the buildings and sights on the river. Either way, you’ll end up at London’s prettiest and most famous bridge.
Afterwards, jump on the number 11 bus heading west. You’ll travel through the oldest part of London, The City, past St Paul’s Cathedral, down Fleet Street (famous for journalists and Sweeney Todd) and The Strand and arrive at Trafalgar Square for that photo opportunity with the stone lions.
In the evening, a West End theatre show has to be high on the agenda.
Walk around Theatreland (Piccadilly in the West, Holborn in the East and Covent Garden right in the middle). You’ll be struck at how many shows there are at one time. Especially strolling down the Strand where every other building seems to have something on.
You can book tickets on the night, almost until curtain call. But if you have a specific show in mind to see it’s wise to book in advance.
Shows usually start at 7.30pm and finish around 10pm – so find a restaurant that does a pre or post-theatre menu.
The tube starts to close around midnight, but night buses or taxis mean you can stay out later.
Tip: Websites like Design My Night are good for finding out about late bars, clubs and getting on the guest list for the evening if you’re not completely exhausted. Use our guide to Soho if you’re in the area.
Option 2: Go shopping in London
London has a thriving food market scene. Old markets are constantly getting spruced up and new markets keep popping up in intriguing locations.
Tip: Use our guide to the markets in London if you’re looking for antiques, flowers, cheese or gifts.
If you’re on a serious spending spree, Oxford Street, with its giant Topshop, is a good starting point.
Venture further down towards Marble Arch for Selfridges, John Lewis (these stores also have some of the best in-store bars). This is also where you’ll find Primark.
Alternatively, head towards the high-end New Bond Street or the flagship stores on Regent Street.
If the weather isn’t great, head east to Westfield in Stratford or west to White City. Both shopping centres have exceptional food courts and really comfy cinemas.
While in Stratford, you could also visit the Olympic Park at the same time.
Option 3: Get some culture
Record numbers of people visit London museums every year. Most of them are free, and give you access to ground-breaking interactive exhibits.
The Museum of London is a great place to start. This focuses on the history of the city from the Romans up until the present day.
In South Kensington, you’ll find the Natural History Museum, Science Museum and the V&A are all within a short walking distance of each other.
As the permanent exhibitions are free, you can just pop in and out of each one and get a flavour of them, without eating into your budget.
For art, the National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery and Tate Modern are home to some of the greatest paintings in the world.
But don’t forget the little guys: consider visiting some of London’s lesser known art galleries, too. These are housed in diverse spaces like Georgian estates, crypts and even old police stations.
Do check all the opening times as a lot of the smaller places are shut on a Monday, for example.
Option 4: Dig into London’s pubs, bars and restaurants
There are so many places to eat and drink in London. If you’re new in town, here are some ways to find restaurants and bars.
If you’re feeling adventurous, try the London Pop Ups website. They list all the latest openings (some only for a single night). You could find yourself at a supper club in Soho or a food festival in Shoreditch.
Every evening, you’ll be able to pick up a free copy of the Evening Standard from outside any tube station. The restaurant reviews and events listings can come in handy.
Splashing out? London also has the largest concentration of Michelin Star restaurants in the UK – and we’ve got a list of the best ones here.
There’s a pub or bar on practically every street corner, so it’s not hard to find somewhere to have a drink.
You can have your pick of speakeasies, craft beer houses, historic pubs or just old-fashioned boozers depending on whether it’s a quick pit stop or you’re settling in for the evening.
Visiting London in the summer? Then you’ll want to be outside or up high to make the most of the weather. We’ve put together a London beer gardens guide as well as the best rooftop bars for you to grab a pint or a glass of fizz in.
We’ve got cocktail bars covered too, with our list of 50 to choose from (check their websites for happy hours and 2 for 1 deals).
Option 5: Explore London’s parks and heaths
Over on Hampstead Heath or Greenwich Park, you get free unparalleled views across London from the north and south. Richmond Park is excellent for wildlife spotting – it’s where London’s resident deers hang out.
In good weather, they’re also perfect for picnics. St James Park, Regents Park and Hyde Park are good places to chill if you’re central.
Get your bearings with our list of London’s best parks and green spaces.
Option 6: Ask the experts
Taking a walking tour is a good way of delving into the details of London that aren’t in the guide books. If you love literature, a tour of Bloomsbury might be on the cards. Or if you want to know more about the seedy history of Soho, there’s a tour for that too.
The Jack the Ripper night walks are a good alternative to a pub or bar in the evening. We’ve put a list of the best walking tours in London, all specialising in different areas to help you decide.
You can also avoid walking altogether on a hop-on-hop-off bus tour. Snaffle a seat on the top deck – but do be aware of the heavy traffic in London if you have a theatre show or dinner booked. It might take longer to get from A to B than you think.
Tube and Bus
You can use Oyster card or contactless cards the bus, Tube, tram, DLR, London Overground and most National Rail services.
Visitor Oyster Cards can be bought in advance and preloaded with money, saving you the hassle when you arrive. You can also keep it for your next trip or lend it to friends and family if they’re heading to London too.
Be aware that London buses no longer accept cash, so you’ll need an Oyster or contactless to get on board.
However, you can take advantage of the Bus Hopper fare. This means you can take a second bus or tram journey for free within an hour of touching in.
Tip: Distances between stations on the London Underground map can be a little misleading, especially in Central London. For example: You’re better off walking from Covent Garden to Leicester Square instead of getting the tube (it takes 5 minutes max). You’ll miss a lot of the city’s architecture if you spend too much time travelling under the surface.
Bear in mind that if you’re starting early on a weekday, tubes and buses will be very busy from 7am until 9:30am. It’s also more expensive to travel during these peak hours. As it’s so busy, commuters can be a little less patient with tourists. Don’t take it personally – they’re just heading to work! If you can, wait until after the rush hour.
A boat trip along the Thames means you can travel from Richmond (for Hampton Court) as far as the Thames Barrier. There are trips of varying times and distances – some Londoners even commute by river taxi.
You can take it at a leisurely pace with commentary on the historic buildings on the banks, or take a more direct route by speedboat, like the Thames Rib experience, which sees you zipping along with James Bond music playing in the background.
Get on your bike
You can also hire “Boris Bikes” to get from A to B – these are a particularly good option at the weekends, as there tends to be less heavy traffic. Pick a bike up using your credit card, head to your next destination and then put it back in the dock. It costs £2 for 24 hours and if you won’t get charged if your journeys are under 30 minutes.
There are lots of places to stay in London and you can filter hotels by area, if there are specific places you want to visit.
You could also stay somewhere like Camden – have a look at our neighbourhood guide to find out more.
Have you got any London recommendations to add to our list, or must-visit places for a day trip? If so tell us where and why by leaving a comment below. Or get in the mood with our London Spotify playlist.
And if you’re looking for things to do this weekend in London – visit our London page to find out what’s on and where.