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5 Things Not to Miss in London (If Your Trip is Short and You Don’t Have Much Time)


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London the capital of England comes with countless highlights and things to see and do. The city could be visited for a city break, a quick stopover, as a starting point before visiting other places within the UK, or for much longer stays.

If you are visiting London for only a short time, such as for one or two days then there are some key highlights in the city that you definitely should see during your visit. These would be perfect for visiting if you are on a quick work trip, passing through on the way to your next destination, or for any other reason that you’re in the city for only a short amount of time.

The suggestions below are also perfect for those on their first trip to London who want to ensure they see some of the best that the city has to offer.

So, here are some of top things that you should not miss when visiting London.


Why London is a great city for a short break

But first, why is London a fantastic city to visit for a short break? Well, this is partly due to the range of activities and things to do, the ease of getting around and the many connections to the city, both internationally as well as domestically. You will also find a range of accommodation options suitable for those on a budget through to those with deeper pockets.

It’s also the kind of city that you could visit many times for different experiences, such as a trip more for sightseeing, for shopping, or more for the nightlife and the social aspects.


5 things not to miss in London during a short trip

1. Buckingham Palace, Green Park and St James’s Park

Buckingham Palace is one of the residences of the Royal Family and a major highlight in London. The Palace is centrally located with the closest stations being Green Park and St James’s Park. It is a must-see especially if it’s your first trip to the city.

North of Buckingham Palace is Green Park and east is St James’s Park. One way to visit is to walk down from Green Park Station, see the palace and then continue through St James’s Park towards Westminster (or vice versa).

If the timing of your visit works then seeing the Changing of the Guards is a fantastic experience and this happens throughout the warmer months on select days around 11 am. It involves music and a parade and is one of our top recommendations for visitors to London. Read about the schedule and when this happens.

Even if you weren’t visiting around this time the palace is still fantastic to see and admire and during the summer months, you’ll find beautiful beds of flowers directly opposite.

Buckingham Palace along with its connecting parks are just some of the attractions that shouldn’t be missed in London, so make sure you add them to your list, especially if it’s your first visit.

How long do you need?

Around an hour to an hour and a half is a good amount of time to enjoy the nearby parks, and to see the palace. The performance isn’t too long but it’s good to get there before it starts so as to find a good spot. You can also visit the state rooms at certain times of the year.

Closest stations

The Tube stations of Green Park (Jubilee, Piccadilly and Victoria lines) and St James’s Park (District and Circle lines). Hyde Park Corner (Piccadilly Line) and Victoria stations aren’t too far and offer overground connections as well.

See the location of Buckingham Palace on Google Maps.

Horse-Guards-Parade-at-Buckingham-Palace
Buckingham Palace – Image by @mikecleggphoto / team
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2. The Palace of Westminster and Big Ben

The Houses of Parliament (Palace of Westminster) is the home of British politics and where government ministers will spend much of their time. The palace was originally built in the 11th century but then rebuilt between 1840-1870 after a fire.

The building is very photogenic and one of the most important buildings in the city. It is famously known for the Elizabeth Tower which is home to Big Ben (this is the bell inside the clock) and on every hour you’ll hear the dong of the bell. This is a must-see in London as it’s one of the most iconic buildings on the planet.

The Palace of Westminster is centrally located along the river and is a great starting point before venturing to other places in the city (such as Buckingham Palace mentioned above).

How long do you need?

If you’re just visiting the outside then an hour or less is probably fine. It is also possible to sometimes do a tour inside which will take a bit longer. This would be a good way to learn more about the history and the operations of the building.

Closest stations

Westminster Tube station (Jubilee, District and Circles lines). Waterloo Station also isn’t far and offers both overground and underground connections.

See the location of the Palace of Westminster on Google Maps.

Houses of Parliament from across the River Thames
Houses of Parliament – Image by @mikecleggphoto / team

3. Tower Bridge and The Tower of London

This iconic bridge is located along the River Thames towards the east of London. It was built in 1894 and is one of the city’s many crossings over the river and is used by both vehicles and pedestrians. The innermost section of road can also be raised for passing ships which is cool to see. You can see the lifting schedule here.

Tower Bridge is definitely one of the things not to miss in London and if you have time then be sure to see it at night when it lights up. This is one of the most beautiful things to see along the river. It could also be admired from the Shard viewing platform which offers some of the best views of the city.

You can visit the inside to learn more about the bridge, its operations and history, simply stroll across it for free, or admire it from a park or viewpoint nearby. If you didn’t fancy going inside but want to learn more then here are some fun and interesting facts.

Also close by is the Tower of London which is home to the Crown Jewels. This historic Landmark is also worth seeing if you have the time. Seeing the actual Crown Jewels can sometimes have long queues but if you only saw the rest of this historic landmark it’s still worth it.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that nearby is Borough Market which is a fantastic place to go and grab some food and other items.

How long do you need?

If you’re visiting just the outside of Tower Bridge then an hour or less is probably fine. If you visit the inside then add another 45 minutes to an hour. If you’re staying overnight then consider heading up the Shard in the early evening to see it lit up along with skyline views of London.

For The Tower of London you’ll need at least one to two hours for this.

Closest stations

London Bridge (Jubilee Tube line) and Tower Hill (District and Circle lines). London Bridge offers both underground and overground connections.

See the location of Tower Bridge on Google Maps.

Tower Bridge at Sunset
Tower Bridge – Image by @mikecleggphoto / team

4. The London Eye

The London Eye was opened in 2000 and is a popular tourist attraction. Enjoy from afar or take a 30-minute ride in the pods to relax and see London’s cityscape. This is also one of the top viewpoints in London and from here you’ll get to enjoy views towards the Palace of Westminster, the City of London and the Shard in the East, or towards Battersea Power Station in the west of the city.

Connecting to the London Eye is Jubilee Park which is a nice place to relax and have lunch or a picnic whilst enjoying the views and atmosphere that gathers around this area.

If you’re short of time then this landmark is a great option to add to your list if you’re looking for things to see in London in one day.

How long do you need?

The queues can last 30-45 minutes and then the actual ride on the London Eye is another 30 minutes. It can often be very busy, especially during peak months such as the summer, so we’d recommend booking in advance to try and reserve your time and possibly fast-track as well.

Closest stations

Waterloo Station offers both underground and overground.

Westminster (District, Circle and Jubilee Tube lines, and also Embankment (District and Circle) are not too far.

See the location of the London Eye on Google Maps.

The London Eye by @mikecleggphoto / team
London Eye – Image by @mikecleggphoto / team
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5. Regent Street and Oxford Street

For those that like to shop then head along Oxford Street, Regent Street and Piccadilly Street where you’ll find huge flagship stores for major brands. Also off some of the side streets and quirky areas such as Carnaby you’ll find some more boutique and independent brands. Around this area you’ll find shops for all budgets and tastes, and if you like shopping then you’ll be spoilt for choice.

A great time to enjoy Regent Street and Oxford Street is around Christmas when they are kitted out in wonderful festive decorations. You may also find some shop fronts transformed into unique colourful designs or with fantastic artistic displays.

See the location of Oxford and Regent Street on Google Maps.

Oxford Street London
Regent Street – Image by @mikecleggphoto / team

Other things worth doing in London if you have more time

Of course, there are plenty of other fantastic things to see and do in the city, so these are just some of the must-see places in London. Especially if you’re just looking to see some of the top attractions in the city and from the outside then you could easily cover the above in a one day trip to London. They also serve as a top selection of what is a must-do in London for first-timers.

Other highlights if you have more time or even 48 hours include the London Dungeons,  The 02 (Millennium Dome), cruises along the River Thames, specific areas such as Greenwich or Camden, and Harry Potter Tours to name just a few things.

It’s also possible to get a London Pass which includes entry to many attractions and you could then zip around the city using the Tube (subway) and visit what you’d like to see the most. There are also free things in London that you can enjoy as well.

For more ideas then read some of our other articles on London to discover other things to do in the city, as well as day trips and places beyond.


Accommodation options for your short trip

When it comes to accommodation in London, there is a wide range of options to suit every budget and preference. Including luxurious hotels in the heart of the city, cheap hostels perfect for backpackers and cosy bed and breakfasts in charming neighbourhoods, you are sure to find the perfect place to rest your head.

We’d definitely recommend staying in central areas, such as near Hyde Park, Covent Garden or South Bank. This will mean that you have easy access to many of London’s top attractions. Alternatively, opt for a hotel near a major transport hub to ensure convenient travel throughout the city. The most central part of London is Zone 1.

Here is a map which will give you an idea of central London and then you can use this to gauge where to stay.


Tips for optimizing your short trip to London

  • Stay in accommodation that is centrally located or close to a Tube (subway) stop. You can use the map above to help you.
  • Book tours and activities in advance to save time.
  • Use public transport to quickly get around the city.
  • Prepare for a variety of weather. Carry a day bag with an umbrella or folding coat.
  • In the summer carry a bottle of water (reusable), especially when travelling on the Tube as it can get very hot.
  • If you’re a foodie then research and book a restaurant in advance.

Summary

London makes for a fantastic city to visit for a short break as well as for longer trips. The city comes packed with attractions and things to do which will serve all interests. Above you’ll find just five of the must-see attractions in London. These would be perfect for those on a short trip such as for a weekend in London or 24 or 48 hours.


Top tours and activities for London

Discover top activities, tours and experiences below:

Author

Written by

Mike Clegg

Mike is a traveller, photographer, WordPress developer and the creator of TravelAndDestinations.com. He started this website so as to share his experiences and tips with travellers. He is from the UK and has travelled to many places around the world. He loves to shares his pictures and stories through Instagram and this website... [Read full bio]

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