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London, England, is one of my favorite cities in the world. I love the history and the energy and yes, even the Underground. There’s always something going on in London, and always something new to see.
But, as a tourist in London, the city can be overwhelming – especially if it’s your first visit. There’s so MUCH to see, after all, from Big Ben to Hyde Park to Buckingham Palace and everything in between.
In London, though, everything from transportation to food to entertainment is expensive. Being smart with your sightseeing budget is therefore vital to having a good first trip to London.
Enter the London Pass.
The London Pass, in case you aren’t familiar, is an attraction card that gets you entry (and often fast-tracked entry) into all of London’s most popular attractions. You can buy passes for anywhere from 1 to 10 days, with the 24-hour pass starting at £79 (about $95 USD).
That may sound like a lot of money, but if you are smart about using your pass, you’ll actually save a lot (because, again, London isn’t a cheap city!).
I’ve used sightseeing passes like this in multiple cities around the world and almost always end up both seeing a lot AND saving a nice chunk of money.
The key to saving money with a London Pass, though, it to be strategic and plan ahead. London is a big city, and there are so many attractions to choose from.
So here’s where I come in! Based on my experiences using a 1-day London Pass on two separate occasions, here are MY suggestions on how to make the most out of your one-day London Pass.
How to use a 1-day London Pass
The 24-hour London Pass is the cheapest – and therefore most popular – option for visitors. But, if you only have one day, you really have to budget your time well. You also have to factor in transport time between attractions, which can often take a while if you are relying on London’s public transportation.
Taking all that into account, here’s my ideal 1-day London Pass itinerary:
Morning: Tower of London
Recommended amount of time: 2 hours
Closest Tube station: Tower Hill (District/Circle lines)
Begin your morning at the Tower of London. It opens at 9 a.m. Tuesday-Saturday, and I recommend getting there first thing! Hop on a free walking tour with a Beefeater to learn all the history and hear all the gruesome stories associated with this 900-year-old fortress (tour lasts about an hour).
Then head over to see the Crown Jewels*. If you have extra time after that, check out the exhibits inside the White Tower.
*The line to see the Crown Jewels can sometimes get really long. If it’s too long, I honestly think you can skip it. Sure, the jewelry is pretty, but the history here is more interesting to me personally!
Late morning: St. Paul’s Cathedral
Recommended amount of time: 1-1.5 hours
Closest Tube station: St. Paul’s (Central Line)
From the Tower of London, make sure to snap some photos of Tower Bridge. Then head over the iconic St. Paul’s Cathedral to admire this gorgeous church sitting on the highest point of the City of London. You can walk between the two, or hop on the Tube to save your feet.
Once at St. Paul’s, pick up a free audio guide to learn more about the building’s architecture, and wander down into the crypts (where men like Admiral Lord Nelson and the Duke Of Wellington are interred).
If you have the time (and if it’s open), you can head to the dome next. The dome of St. Paul’s has multiple levels, but the top is definitely the goal. It takes 530 steps to reach, but the views out over London are unbeatable.
Lunchtime: Walk along the South Bank
Recommended amount of time: 1-2 hours
(This is a 1.5-mile walk. If you don’t want to walk quite this far, take the Tube to Westminster.)
From St. Paul’s, cross over the Thames via the Millennium Bridge and make your way down the vibrant South Bank – my favorite part of the London city center.
Grab some lunch at a cafe or food truck, and enjoy the buskers and street performers you’ll see along the way. Eventually cross back over the Thames via the Westminster Bridge near Parliament. Say hi to Big Ben while you’re there!
Afternoon: Westminster Abbey
Recommended amount of time: 1-2 hours
Closest Tube stop: Westminster (District/Circle and Jubilee lines)
Continue on past Parliament to Westminster Abbey, the gothic cathedral where kings and queens have been crowned since 1066, and also where many royal weddings and funerals have taken place – including William and Kate’s wedding in 2011.
There are also an incredible amount of famous graves here; the likes of Queen Elizabeth I, Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton, Charles Dickens, and more are buried in Westminster.
This church is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and honestly a sight to behold. The details inside and outside are astounding, and a free audio guide will help you notice them all.
Late afternoon: Cruise on the Thames
Recommended amount of time: The boat ride will take about 30 minutes
Get on at Westminster Pier, on the same side of the river as Parliament.
Continue your day of London sightseeing with a scenic cruise down the Thames. This is voted the #1 thing to do with a London Pass – and for good reason. Your pass actually gets you an all-day hop-on-hop-off cruise ticket, though after a full day of sightseeing you might prefer to just stay on board and enjoy the city slipping by.
Take the cruise from Westminster back down the Thames to Tower Pier for your next stop.
Evening: The Shard
Recommended amount of time: 30 minutes-1 hour
Closest Tube station: London Bridge
(Note: The river cruise included with the London Pass will only drop you off at Tower Pier. Walking to The Shard from Tower Pier will take you about 20 minutes, though it means you can walk across Tower Bridge. If you’d like a quicker trip, other river boats operate between Tower Pier and London Bridge City Pier just across the river. You can use your Oyster Card on the MBNA Thames Clippers.)
Many of the attractions you can visit with the London Pass close early. But The View from the Shard – the observation deck at The Shard tower – is open until until 10 p.m. April through October. Meaning it’s a perfect evening activity for your London Pass day.
You can enjoy sweeping views out over London either from the indoor viewing gallery, or from the open-air Skydeck on 72nd floor. This is a great spot to be around sunset.