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National Gallery, Trafalgar Square

How to spend 24 hours in London

What to do, where to go and good places to eat along the way, if you’ve only got a day to enjoy the best of the capital

By Grace Allen
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From some of the world’s most famous attractions to views you can enjoy just walking around, there are plenty of amazing experiences in the city that can be ticked off your list even when time is tight, if you plan your 24 hours in London well. The key is to spend more time enjoying and less time travelling around, if you can. Here are our suggestions for a great day (and night) on the town.

RECOMMENDED: Alternative attractions in London

24 hours in London: morning

The Ned Hotel, restaurant
Scott Chasserot

The Ned

Hotels Bank

Start your London experience right, with a slap-up breakfast at oh-so-impressive Soho House-owned hotel, The Ned. While the former bank building houses a whopping nine restaurants and bars, Californian-themed Malibu Kitchen is spot-on for a leisurely brekkie or brunch. Whether you want to keep it light with coconut yoghurt, seasonal compote and honeycomb, or splurge on a scrambled egg-filled quesadilla, this classy joint will ease you into the day beautifully.

Museum of London

Museums History Barbican

From The Ned, it’s a ten-minute meander to the Museum of London, which walks visitors through the history of our majestic capital city, chronologically. Entry is free, but head straight for your favourite era if you don’t have too long to spare – a recreation of a Victorian street, stunning costumes and old carriages are among the archive’s many highlights.

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St Paul’s Cathedral

Attractions Religious buildings and sites St Paul’s

Stroll over to St Paul’s Cathedral, where you can exercise your vocal chords in the Whispering Gallery (be careful what you say, as anyone at the opposite end will be able to hear you). Church services run throughout the week with free entry, should you not wish to fork out for the guided tour. If nothing else, make sure to squeeze in a quick ‘Mary Poppins’ moment on the steps of the Cathedral (though FYI, actually feeding the pigeons is not encouraged).

Tate Modern

Art Galleries Bankside

If your appetite for iconic London buildings is not yet satisfied, nip into the cavernous Tate Modern for a perusal of their free exhibitions. From Hockney to Duchamp, and Picasso to Warhol, you’ll find all the modern art greats under one roof here. Look out for free workshops and installations, and head to the top of the Blavatnik Building before you leave for top-notch views.

24 hours in London: afternoon

Borough Market London Bridge London England
Getty Images

Borough Market

Things to do Borough Market

Hungry? Boy are you in luck. Just moments from the Tate is London’s oldest and most renowned food market. For foodies, this one’s an absolute must – be sure to visit on an empty stomach to take advantage of the various samples on offer. Bread, cured meats, cheese… it’s all ripe for the snaffling. There are superb street food vendors aplenty – and don’t leave without grabbing a coffee from Monmouth.

Bike along the South Bank

Attractions South Bank

To see as much of London’s glorious South Bank as possible, hop onto a Santander Cycle. You’ll be able to whoosh back along the Thames past the Tate towards the National Theatre, BFI, Southbank Centre and the London Eye. Browse second-hand novels at the Southbank Book Market, or poke your head into the Globe theatre for a quick Shakespeare fix.

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National Gallery Sainsbury Wing
© National Gallery, London

National Gallery

Art Galleries Trafalgar Square

Cross Westminster Bridge via the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, then head over to Trafalgar Square. The National Gallery is home to more than 2,300 works of art, including many of the world’s most famous paintings. Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’, Rembrandt’s ‘Self Portrait at the Age of 34’, Botticelli’s ‘Venus and Mars’ – the blockbusters are all in there. Stay for as long as you like – much of the collection isn’t ticketed.

24 hours in London: evening

American Bar at The Savoy

Bars and pubs Hotel bars Strand

Starting to feel a little parched and woozy? Don’t fear –  you’re a mere eight-minute stroll away from the American Bar at the Savoy. Britain’s oldest cocktail bar was voted the best in the world in 2018 – it’s not hard to understand why. With tinkling live piano, smartly tie-and-jacketed waiters, sublime service and, obviously, smashing drinks, this place radiates retro glamour.

West End theatres on Shaftesbury Avenue
Ben Rowe

See a West End Show

Attractions Leicester Square

Post cocktail, head over to London’s vibrant West End. If you don’t already have tickets, hit up TKTS in Leicester Square: half-price and heavily discounted tickets are on offer for same-day performances – so if you fancy catching The Book of Mormon, Matilda, The Phantom of the Opera or The Lion King, you might just find yourself a barg.

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100 best restaurants in london, hoppers
© John Carey

Hoppers

Restaurants Sri Lankan Marylebone

Those musicals are hungry work – but, thankfully, you won’t have to look far for a cracking late dinner. Hoppers is a Soho favourite, serving mouth-watering Sri Lankan grub in a cosy setting. With a menu featuring hoppers (sort of bowl-shaped pancakes), dosas, curries, and all manner of tasty titbits in between, this mega-popular foodie haven is the perfect place to refuel.

Ronnie Scott’s

Music Jazz Soho

If you’re still going at this point, we applaud you. Go you. Soho’s alive and kicking until the early hours – nowhere more so than legendary jazz club Ronnie Scott’s. If jazz is your thing, you’ll almost certainly appreciate the calibre of musicians that are consistently booked here, from Kurt Elling to Joshua Redman and Christian McBride. Sit back with a cocktail and let those blues wash over you.

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