Planning a Day Trip to London? Here's How to Make the Most of It

Discover the best of the capital in a day. From iconic sights to family-friendly fun, here’s all you need to know for an unforgettable day trip to London.

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Written by our web team

10 min read | Published 24 September 2021 | Updated 08 December 2023

London, a city rich in both history and modern charm, offers a multitude of options for a memorable day trip. Whether you're coming from elsewhere in the UK or further afield, this article is your go-to guide for making the most of your short stay in London.

We'll take you through the essential aspects of creating a memorable one-day itinerary in one of the world's most iconic cities.

From museum recommendations and food destinations to must-see attractions, transportation tips, and family-friendly activities, we've got you covered.

How to plan a day trip to London

A view across the Thames of the Gherkin and Tower Bridge
Planning the perfect day trip to London requires some thoughtful preparation. London is big, and there’s a lot to see and do. With this in mind, it’s essential that you make the most of your limited time in this vibrant city.

Here are some handy tips to help you craft an itinerary that suits your interests and ensures a memorable experience.

Travelling to London by train

Travelling to London by train is the most convenient and scenic way to reach the heart of the city. It’s also a good way to minimise the cost of your trip.

You can save your pennies by planning ahead and timing your journey just right. For example, booking in advance will always reduce your fare compared to paying at the station, as will avoiding travel during peak hours.

Speaking of which, Avanti has scrapped peak hours on Fridays if you’re travelling long distances, so why not make a long weekend of it? For more savings, you can always find more Ways to Save with Avanti.

Being the capital, London is well-connected to the rest of the UK by rail. You can find some of the most popular routes that Avanti covers below.

Manchester to London

Making a day trip from Manchester to London is a cinch by train. The journey only takes around two hours with Avanti, with the first trains departing early enough for you to be in Central London in time for breakfast.

Liverpool to London

Avanti West Coast trains depart Liverpool Lime Street for London Euston every hour. Despite being 284km apart, the journey only takes around two hours. The route is direct, too, so you can sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.

Scotland to London

Those travelling from Scotland can get direct trains to London Euston train station from Glasgow Central and Edinburgh Waverley. The average journey time for each is around the five-hour mark, so you may prefer to stay overnight to make the trip worthwhile.

Birmingham to London

If you’re planning a day trip to London from the Midlands, you’ll be happy to know you can get from Birmingham New Street to London Euston in just over an hour. It’s one of our most popular routes, so there are plenty of trains every day.

Travelling around London

A view of somebody's feet on the platform of an underground station underneath the words ‘Mind the Gap’
Just like your travel to the city, it’s best to plan your travel around London in advance. You can get an Oyster card (London’s ticketless way of travelling on buses, underground and overground trains, trams and even some river boats) delivered to your door.

Charge it up with credit and you can pay for all your trips. It’s usually cheaper than paying at the station. Oyster cards also make travelling through stations much quicker, especially if you’re embarking on a day out with kids.

If you have a Railcard, you can link it to your Oyster card and save money that way, too.

Fun things to do during a day trip to London

A wide shot of people queueing to get into the British Museum against a blue sky
When it comes to planning out your day in London, the options are endless. This beautiful city is a treasure trove of culture, history, and charm, offering a wide array of experiences to make your visit memorable. Let's dive into some of the top activities you can enjoy during your short stay.

Visit world-class museums

London is home to scores of fascinating museums to suit all tastes. You could easily spend a day exploring them (in fact, one or two would undoubtedly fill the day). The best part?

Some of the best-known museums in London have free entry, including the British Museum, the Imperial War Museum, and the Wellcome Collection.

If you want to be extra savvy with your schedule, head to South Kensington. You’ll find the Natural History Museum, Science Museum, and Victoria & Albert Museum just a short walk away from each other.

Thanks to this, you can spend less time on the move, and more time admiring the exhibitions.

See the sights

Whether it’s your first or one-hundred-and-first time in London, it’s always a pleasure to see the famous sights from films and books in real life.

From Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament to the London Eye and Buckingham Palace, you’re never far from a world-famous monument or building.

If you want to make sure you don’t miss anything, jump on a bus tour. They’re an excellent way to see the scale and diversity of the city and might also help you get your bearings.

Alternatively, if you want to get your steps in, there are plenty of guided walking tours you can sign up to. Or simply lace up those shoes, grab your map, and design your own route.

Indulge in afternoon tea

A close-up of a teapot next to a stand of sandwiches and savoury treats
No visit to London is complete without experiencing a traditional afternoon tea. Many tea rooms and hotels offer this quintessentially British experience.

If you’re visiting for a special occasion, you could head to the birthplace of the timeless tradition, The Langham. Or tick off a genuine bucket list item and book a table in the Palm Court at the Ritz.

Brigit’s Bakery even combines their afternoon tea with bus tours, so you can see the sights while nibbling on scones and sipping on a cup of Earl Grey. Just bear in mind that you’ll usually need to book these in advance.

View the city from above

For an incredible view of London, head to one of the city's high points. The Shard, Western Europe's tallest skyscraper, offers panoramic views of historic and modern landmarks along the Thames.

The nearby Sky Garden is a stunning space that’s well worth a visit, giving another unique perspective of the city. Tickets are free, but make sure you book your slot in advance.

Primrose Hill in Regent's Park provides a relaxed, open-air view with iconic sights like St. Paul's Cathedral and the London Eye. Or visit one of London's many rooftop bars or restaurants for a different skyline experience.

Go to the theatre

London's West End is famous for its brilliant theatre scene. Catching a matinee or evening show is a great way to spend your day trip.

Options range from classic musicals like The Phantom of the Opera to Shakespearean plays at the Globe Theatre and contemporary dramas at the National Theatre.

Historic venues, such as the Old Vic and the Royal Opera House, offer a unique experience in their own right. Whether you're a theatre enthusiast or just seeking some cultural immersion, a visit to the West End is worthwhile.

Fun things to do in London with kids

Two young children smiling in front of a panoramic view of London
While London offers plenty of enjoyment for adults, it's also a fantastic city to explore with children.

From magical adventures to educational experiences, there's a wealth of activities that will keep the little ones entertained throughout the day. Let's dive into some of the most exciting ways to engage your kids in London.

Go on a treasure hunt

Younger kids love exploring new places, so what better way to ignite their curiosity than with a treasure map? Treasure Map Trails publishes beautifully illustrated treasure maps that you can use to explore all sorts of places in the UK with kids.

They have a special collection devoted to London, and you can pick one up for less than £5. They put the fun into a kids’ day out in London, and cost next to nothing.

Explore their artistic side

If your kids love art and design, it’s great to know that many galleries, such as the National Gallery, the Tate Britain, and the Tate Modern, are also free.

The Young V&A is an art-loving kid’s paradise, offering plenty of opportunities for children to get creative. It’s free to enter and is open seven days a week.

Remember, not all museums and galleries in London are free to enter. If you have one in mind, make sure you check its website in advance.

Add a touch of magic

If your kids have grown up with the Harry Potter films and books, there are a few places you can take them for a moment of wonder and an obligatory selfie.

The Diagon Alley scenes were filmed in Leadenhall Market, something that’ll jump out at them the moment they see it.

You can also take them to Platform 9¾ at King’s Cross Station. They’ve mocked up a little plaque and display to mark its place in Children’s literary folklore, and kids love it.

Enjoy some good-value grub

If you want to treat yourself and the little ones to a restaurant meal, you might be interested to know that many London restaurants let kids eat for free when an accompanying adult buys a meal.

At the time of writing, Barbican Kitchen in the Barbican Centre, The Real Greek, Purezza in Camden, and The Pembury Tavern all offer free kids’ meals.

Do check individual restaurants for details, as offers are subject to change, and other stipulations such as times and days also apply.

Is it worth going to London for a day?

A view of Buckingham Palace through the trees and across the water, as seen from St. James Park
Absolutely! While it’s a city that can easily occupy weeks of your time, a London day trip is still worthwhile.

With proper planning and prioritisation, you can get a taste of what the city has to offer. Just choose your activities wisely and set realistic expectations for your short visit.

If you’ve got longer or want to explore more of the surrounding areas, here are some of the best day trips from London by train you might like to consider. The Cotswolds is a particularly enjoyable day trip from London with kids and adults alike.

Book your day trip to London with Avanti today

From museums to iconic landmarks, sweet treats to epic views, there's something for everyone to enjoy in London. Make the most of your visit by planning your itinerary in advance, and book your train tickets early to get the best deals.

If you want to make your day trip to London extra-special, why not travel First Class? You’ll be able to relax in our First Class Lounges while you wait for your train.

Once onboard, you can enjoy complimentary snacks and drinks, a guaranteed table, a wider seat with more legroom, and free Wi-Fi.

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