By Claire Heginbotham | Published on July 20, 2022

London is a city of both hidden gems and well-known wonders. There's world-changing history in the very cobblestones beneath your feet, and with over 300 languages spoken in the capital alone — London day trips can be a whirlwind.

But fear not, I've been a regular tourist in London since childhood, and I can confidently tell you it's a friendly place that is easy to navigate if you're willing to ask for directions.

This how-to guide touches on all the best parts of London and its surrounding countryside. Instead of trying to plan an itinerary down to the minute, you can find success picking three bucket list items, plugging them into Google Maps, and planning out a route. Here are some great ideas to get you started — let London guide you on the rest!

What To Do When You're New To London?

I’d love to give you an insider's secret travel tip as the most well-known attractions in London are bucket-list experiences you would not want to miss. If you are planning a day trip in the UK that is more popular with tourists, then the best advice is to book tickets in advance. Standing in queues can seriously slow you down, and nothing is worse than having tickets sell out on you. Transport in London can be costly, which leaves most vacation travelers to choose to take the tube (London's subway) or a bus. A day ticket for all public transport is the most affordable option if you plan to hop from spot to spot. Alternatively, you can travel in style using one of London's famous black taxi cabs.

View of Buckingham Palace in the UK with red flowers in the UK. London
View of Buckingham Palace in the UK with red flowers in the UK. London

All the best London day trips start at the regal Buckingham Palace. Buckingham is still a working palace and is home to the queen when she isn't traveling. It's a stately building that's practically dripping with the glamour of the royal family.

There are a few things to do when you visit Buckingham Palace. First, check out the main gate, where most of the crowds gather to take in the entire facade of the rectangular building. While outside, time your visit right to catch the changing of the guard. This is one of the showiest and most notable shift changes ever. It's held at 10:45 a.m. every day and lasts roughly 45 minutes.

Then, make your way inside the palace with a private tour. Tours are only conducted in summer (July to October) and cost around £55 (roughly $70) per person. They include the staterooms where important dignitaries are received and can be extended to other palace areas, including the gardens.

Before I went to London, I thought Ferris wheels were pretty lame, but the London Eye changed my mind at first sight. The London Eye is just under 500 feet tall and is a genius feat of human engineering. It was constructed in 2002 and remains one of the biggest Ferris wheels in the world. You can grab a combined sightseeing ticket for the London Eye that gives you access to a hop-on-hop-off bus for 24 hours and a river cruise down the Thames. If you've got other day plans, I highly recommend booking a priority ticket in advance (about £10 or $13 more expensive than the regular ticket) to avoid the wait.

Panorama view over Thames river and the London skyline. UK.
Panorama view over Thames river and the London skyline. UK.

Despite being a much-loved tourist hot spot, the London Eye isn't the tallest building; "The Shard" holds that title, towering above the hustle and bustle at over 1,000 ft high. From the 69th-floor viewing platform, you'll get an unparalleled 40-mile, 360-degree view over London city. The Shard also hosts silent discos at night if you want to indulge in a big-city party.

To finish off the day, there are two shops you simply must see when you visit London: the toy store Hamleys and the luxury department store Harrods.

Harrods is the largest department store in Europe and is packed full of designer clothes, fine jewelry, gourmet food and 297 other departments! Even if you don't like shopping, it's an experience that you're sure to find fascinating (even if it's just to gasp at the prices). While Hamleys is by no means a luxury store, it's just as large. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Hamleys is the oldest and largest shop in the world. Trust me, wandering around the seven themed floors filled with toys is something that sparks joy in adults and children alike.

Simply wandering around the older parts of London will give you a glimpse into what London was like in the 1700s.

Experience The Best Kind Of Culture Shock On Your London Day Tour

Simply wandering around the older parts of London will give you a glimpse into what London was like in the 1700s. A walking tour of the city is well worth the physical effort, especially for history buffs. A particularly fond memory I have of one such tour is taking photos while nestled between the giant bronze arms of the four Trafalgar Square lions. Little did I know at the time, but the very bronze I was touching has a story. The lions honor Sir Nelson's wartime victory and were made from the melted cannons of defeated Spanish and French ships.

Continuing your architecture tour, visit Westminster Abbey — a stunning gothic church where royal coronations take place. This Abbey is open for worship and tourists, and it also happens to house the royal tombs of 16 kings and queens. In comparison, Canterbury Cathedral has only one king.

Shakespeare Globe Theatre in London. UK.
Shakespeare Globe Theatre in London. UK.

To complete your historical education, spend your evening at the Globe Theatre — now known as Shakespeare's Globe — where you can see one of Shakespeare's famous plays and take a step back in time. The entire structure is almost an exact replica of the original Globe, which burned down in 1613. If you're not visiting in the summer months when they hold plays, you can still tour the beautiful building.

London's museums are a sight to behold, all 170 of them! Many of these museums are leading research institutions, packed with world-class displays of art, design, fashion, architecture and archaeology. Some are so large that it would be impossible to visit all the collections in a short amount of time, so take an easy day trip to just one museum, or try your luck at combining a few of the major players into one day. Art-enthusiasts will love the British Museum, while the science minds won't want to leave the Science Museum, which includes a cross-section of an actual Boeing plane and a 1965 soviet supercomputer. Likewise, animal lovers will find the Horniman Museum and Gardens charming with real live alpacas roaming the grounds alongside butterflies, goats, sheep, rabbits and even chickens.

If you're looking for things to do in London on a weekend day trip and fancy an eclectic mix of shopping and culture, let your feet take you just north of central London to Camden Market. Here, travelers and locals mingle into one massive melting pot. Camden is home to no fewer than six distinct markets. Who knows what trinkets await at the Camden Lock Market or what vintage gems you can discover at the Stables Market. Most famous is the Camden Lock Village, where you'll find handmade items from local vendors.

How To End A Great Day Trip With Good Vibes?

View of an empty stone road in the UK. London.
View of an empty stone road in the UK. London.

For a change of pace, I recommend you dip a toe into the twisty, whimsical district of Soho. Once home to Mozart, Karl Marx and even the Sex Pistols, Soho proves Bohemia is still alive. If you only have an hour in Soho, pop over to a pub called the French House for a pint of British beer — or rather half a pint, as this spot has famously only sold half-pints to customers.

If you're looking to let loose, the energy of this district is palpable, and you could quickly end up drinking exotic tipples and cocktails at Barrio Soho, challenging university students to a game of beer pong over at the Book Club, or dancing on (classy) tables over at the Little Blue Door. It's worth doing a quick online search before committing to a place, as there are plenty of specials and happy hours to suit your style.

Despite its reputation as a party hub, Soho is brimming with culture and is home to some of the West End's best theatres. If you love musicals, I highly recommend catching Wicked at the Apollo theatre. The show is so popular that it's been running for almost two decades. Or, see a performance of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child at the Palace Theatre, but beware: This play has a run-time of 5+ hours and will take up your entire afternoon and evening.

View of the lush Green Park in the UK. London.
View of the lush Green Park in the UK. London.
Then, take it easy strolling London's garden scene. If your vision of England is in grayscale, you may be surprised when you visit Green Park, one of the Royal Parks of London. In the 17th century, every flower was removed from the park when King Charles II's wife allegedly caught him picking a bouquet for another woman. To that end, if you're a flower lover like the king's mistress was, then Holland Park is the place to be. With open-air concerts, theatre productions and the museum of New Design, it's a great place to relax for a few hours in the open air.

The City Fit For Foodies

Britons seem to agree on one thing: Food from other countries is way better! The whole of England is obsessed with Indian food, and you can find some of the best curry restaurants in the world in London. Almost every person you bump into in London is a curry connoisseur with a list of secret spots. You'll find curry restaurants like Michelin-starred Amaya, Bombay Bustle or Cinnamon Kitchen. Try popping in at Apollo Banana Leaf for a regular meal, and you'll get ample helpings of tasty Sri Lankan curries.

Curry aside, London has some other delectable food you have to try. Taste the soup dumplings at Ping Pong, or the Japanese and Mediterranean-inspired tapas and signature cocktails at top-rated Bloomsbury Street Kitchen. For traditional British pub food, check out Charles Dickens' old haunt, the Lamb and Flag. And if you're looking for a good meal with a side of fun, London has you covered. Fight Club is a dart club, cocktail bar, restaurant and popular brunch spot with bottomless pizza that has a fun vibe all day long. Meanwhile, Ballie Ballerson is a cocktail and pizza joint with a fun surprise: two massive ball pits waiting for you to jump in and play around. Enjoy their bottomless brunch, too.

Tea being poured during an English afternoon in the UK. London. Caption:   Afternoon tea is a simply scrumptious affair.
Tea being poured during an English afternoon in the UK. London. Caption: Afternoon tea is a simply scrumptious affair.
Finally, indulge in the one meal the British do better than anything else: high tea. Typically served in the afternoon, you can expect fancy teas, bubbly, dainty sandwiches and pastries. A great place to enjoy afternoon tea is at the Ritz London or Savoy.

Traveling Beyond London Day Trips

If you've exhausted your bucket list of must-do activities in London and still have time to spare, venture further out beyond London proper. Once again, you'll be faced with plenty of worthy options.

For myself, I'm one of those passionate Harry Potter fans, and my all-time favorite Hogwarts experience in the UK is the Warner Bros. studio tour, the Making of Harry Potter. It's a magical building southwest of Hertfordshire outside of London that contains film sets, props, original costumes and scale models from the movie — most notably, Diagon Alley. Tip: If you can't make it here, visit the always popular Harry Potter shop at the King’s Cross train station. You can pick up a bunch of souvenirs there and grab a memorable photo-op.

Visiting the famous Stonehenge landmark. British Isles
Visiting the famous Stonehenge landmark. British Isles

On the subject of magic, Stonehenge also makes for a fantastic day trip on your London vacation. Hop on a train for two hours, and you're suddenly in the rolling fields of Wiltshire. From the visitor center, walk around the huge rectangular boulders, wander around the neolithic houses and explore the stone circle. If you've got time, pop down to the ruins of Old Sarum — the original city of Salisbury.

Tours combine the trip to Stonehenge with Bath and the nearby Windsor Castle. Many agree that the city of Bath is one of the most picturesque and relaxing day trip ideas. The most famous spots, such as the Bath Abbey and the Roman Baths, look exactly as they did hundreds of years ago. You can't actually bathe in these waters, but the nearby Thermae Bath Spa has stunning warm pools indoors and outdoors.

Blenheim Palace in the Cotswolds is another of England's best places to go. The palace has an intriguing history but is best known for being the birthplace of Winston Churchill. You can easily spend most of the day wandering around the enormous palace grounds, feeling like a star in a period drama television show.

No matter where your feet (or London's many transportation options) take you, London is sure to impress!

Written By

Claire Heginbotham is a professional copywriter and adventure traveler. Over the last five years, she's published work with Royal Caribbean, Gaijinpot, Kuroko Tours, and many more. She's traveled to hundreds of bespoke Asian destinations where the unknown flourishes.

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View seen when visiting the famous Millennium Bridge in London. UK
View seen when visiting the famous Millennium Bridge in London. UK

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