One day in London

By Nina Derham in London—

With only 24 hours in London you'll really need to pick and choose the very best bits of the city. Fortunately, while the British capital is pretty vast, many of the key sights are within walking distance of one another, so plan to explore as much as possible on foot. If the weather doesn't cooperate then you'll never be far from a world-class museum for welcome shelter from the rain.

I've plotted out a route past some of the city's most impressive landmarks—there are galleries and tours to take along the way, but do be selective and opt to enjoy some things from the outside only, or you won't get very far at all!

Borough Market London

Borough Market is packed with places to grab a bite—or a morning cup of coffee.

1. Start with a coffee at Borough Market

There's no better way to start your day than by taking in the sights, sounds and scents of Borough Market (nearest Tube station: London Bridge). This food-filled haven is packed with delicious offerings from all over the world, and you can fuel up with all the scrumptious free tastings handed out at the stalls. Get ready for a full day of exploration with a beautifully brewed coffee at the Monmouth Coffee Company (2 Park Street, The Borough, SE1 9AB) and then be on your way.

Right next to the market you can't miss London's first Gothic church, Southwark Cathedral, which stands majestic and calm sandwiched between the bustling market and the River Thames.

Tate Modern London

The Tate Modern, above, was previously a power station. Photo: Steve Harris

2. Explore South Bank

You're now perfectly placed to enjoy a leisurely stroll down London's lively South Bank. Heading west down the Thames, you can walk alongside the river taking in some excellent views of The Gherkin, The Shard and St. Paul's Cathedral as you go.

After reaching Southwark Bridge you'll soon stumble upon a vast old power station which has been given a new lease of life and now houses the Tate Modern. Dip in and take a look at the hugely impressive contemporary art on show. It's free to visit the permanent collections, but special exhibitions will have an entry fee and may require advance booking, so do check online first to see what's on.

Heading on down the river you'll reach Blackfriars Bridge and start entering into National Theatre territory. On a sunny day there's often live music along the way, and rain or shine you'll find an excellent little book market underneath Waterloo Bridge. In my humble opinion, Waterloo Bridge offers the best views of the city, so when you reach here, take a little detour and go up onto the bridge for some truly unbeatable vistas of London.

Back down off the bridge in the South Bank, this is a good time to stop for a drink as you pass the plethora of bars and restaurants underneath the Royal Festival Hall. In December you'll find a very festive Christmas market here and in the summer there is often free theatre, courtesy of the National Theatre, so it's always a lively place to be.

3. London Eye

It won't be long before you reach the city's famous wheel, the London Eye. Built for the Millennium, the London Eye is a lovely modern addition to the already eclectic pick and mix of architectural styles lining the Thames.

It's not an especially Cheapo-friendly attraction, but if you have got your heart set on seeing London from above, be sure to book your tickets online first to get 20% off the usual price. Make sure you leave enough time, as each trip on the London Eye takes half an hour.

Parliament London

Cross over the Westminster Bridge to the Houses of Parliament. Photo: VirtualFred

4. Big Ben and Houses of Parliament

When you're finished you'll find yourself at County Hall, with a stonking view of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament on the other side of the river. Cross straight over Westminster Bridge so you can get a closer look.

To save on time and those precious pennies, I'd recommend taking it in from the outside. However, if your trip to London will just not be complete without having a proper snoop around Parliament, time your trip with a parliament tour. Tours take place on Saturdays throughout the year and Monday-Saturday during the summer. They last 75 minutes and will set you back around £15 per person, but give access to the Commons and Lords Chambers, the Queen's Robing Room, the Royal Gallery and Westminster Hall.

Make sure you leave time to visit the location of the wedding of all weddings, and have a look at Westminster Abbey where Will and Kate tied the knot. Again, as time is tight, I'd advise just admiring it from the outside. If you must go inside, a ticket will set you back £13. Note that the Abbey is closed to visitors on Sundays.

Buckingham Palace

Free photo-ops outside Buckingham Palace.

5. Buckingham Palace and St. James's Park

Make your way straight up Great George Street and into the haven that is St. James's Park. This is a lovely spot for a picnic when the weather is good or you could treat yourself to a delicious lunch or afternoon tea at Inn the Park.

Head right through the park and it won't be long before Buckingham Palace comes into view. If you are visiting in August or September, check online and you may be able to bag yourself a ticket to tour the gardens and State Rooms. If not, simply standing outside will offer plenty of photo opportunities!

Leicester Square London

Pick up half-priced theater tickets at the TKTS booth in Leicester Square.

6. Trafalgar Square (and theater tickets)

Head straight down The Mall and you'll find yourself in Trafalgar Square, home to the National Gallery, Nelson's Column and four rather famous lions.

If you've got the time and energy, don't forget to pop into the National Gallery, which occupies the north side of the square. The gallery houses a fantastic collection of western European art and best of all, it's completely free to visit.

Just behind the National Gallery you'll find Leicester Square, the location of London's movie premiers. Pop into the newly renovated square if you fancy picking up some theater tickets for later on, as it's absolutely littered with booths selling returned and last-minute tickets to the hottest shows in town. (We suggest sticking to the TKTS ticket booth. Read more.)

7. Covent Garden and Soho

After that healthy dose of culture you're just a quick stroll to the shops and cafes of Covent Garden. Wind your way onto Long Acre and take a right when you get to the Covent Garden Tube station to get right into the heart of Covent Garden. The area around the beautiful old market buzzes day and night, and it's a great place to pick up a few souvenirs from your fleeting visit to the capital.

As day turns into night, you're in the heart of the city and the perfect place to enjoy a hearty dinner. Head back to Leicester Square and north through Chinatown before crossing Shaftesbury Avenue and arriving in Soho. This tangle of boisterous streets begs to be explored by night. Here you can find any type of cuisine imaginable. Some favorites:

Amalfi at 29 Old Compton Street serves up tasty Italian food without a hefty price tag.

Kaslik (58 Greek Street) is a great choice for Lebanese.

• For tasty Spanish tapas try Pix at 16 Bateman Street or go for the ultimate indulgence at Burger and Lobster (36 Dean Street) where £20 will buy you a generous portion of fries, salad and either a hamburger with all the trimmings or lobster (grilled, in a shell or as a lobster roll). Enjoy!

Read more

Looking for additional ways to do more and pay less in London? Keep reading:

About London's hotels: Ways to find cheap hotels, B&Bs and more.

• Our recommended budget hotels: Our editor's picks for the best cheap hotels in London.

Choosing the right neighborhood: Which neighborhood should you stay in? We'll help you decide.

Cheap eats in London: 5 suggestions for eating à la Cheapo.

London Budget Tips: More ways to keep it cheap, including free museums and sights.