a 12 hour itinerary for London

By Jarek Solinski – Minitribetravels

Check out this 12 hour itinerary for London from someone who has done it over and over again. London is the world’s third most popular city among tourists. The number of things to do and see is mind-blowing. If you come here for a week, you will only scratch the surface.

So what would you do if you only had 12 hours to spend in London?

It could be a long layover between flights or maybe you attended a business meeting and stayed for an extra day. One way or another, you have 12 hours to spend here. You can see places you know from the movies and take some breath-taking photos for your FB or IG.

Of the many free things to do in London, below you will find my tried and tested 12 hour itinerary for London that I use whenever we have friends and family visiting us and London for the first time and for a short time. As an aside, if you’re a Harry Potter fan in particular, you could check out some of the most famous Harry Potter sites in London. But either way, clocks on! Let’s explore London. Ready, steady, go….

A 12 Hour Itinerary for London

Follow This 12 Hour Itinerary for London on Google Maps

All the places mentioned in this 12 hour itinerary for London are also on this 12 Hours in London Google Map, so free to use it on your smartphone while you’re exploring London! I’ve also included a few extra places that you might not have time to visit, but I wanted to make sure you had plenty to choose from!

9:30 – 10:00 – The Tower of London and the Tower Bridge

Tower of London
The Tower of London

This is your starting point. If you’re staying somewhere in the centre of London you can get here within 20 minutes on the Tube (metro). The nearest tube station is the Tower Hill. You can check the public transport map on the Transport for London website. Getting here from Heathrow Airport should not take you longer than 1 hour.

So there you are, in front of the Tower of London where queens were decapitated, political traitors were imprisoned and tortured and the famous Yeoman Warders (Beefeaters) still keep an eye on the ravens.

Take photos from the outside as you will not have time to go in. Sorry, we are on a tight schedule with this 12 Hour Itinerary for London.

Tower Bridge on a 12 hour itinerary for London
Tower Bridge

Next to the Tower of London is the iconic Tower Bridge. A lot of people think it is called the London Bridge, but actually it is not. The London Bridge is less spectacular and located nearby.

You have 30 mins here to take enough photos to blow people’s socks off. Maybe you can even find the ancient Roman city walls just next door to the tube station?

I hope you’ve had a good look at The Tower, as you are about to start the most spectacular city walk of your life. I hope you have comfy shoes on.

10:00 – 11:00 – Walk along the Thames River from the Tower to St. Pauls Cathedral

The Thames River on a 12 hour itinerary for London
The Thames River

Cross the Tower Bridge and turn left. From here you will have an amazing photo opportunity to capture The Thames, The Tower Bridge and The Tower of London all in one shot. And, they are all set against the backdrop of the modern skyscrapers in the city.

The egg looking building next to you is London City Hall.

Just follow the river until the Millennium Bridge, and on your way, you will pass HMS Belfast as well as Hay’s Galleria which has one of the weirdest looking sculptures/fountains you will ever see. Not far from here is the Shard, the tallest building in Europe.

Not far from here you can visit Borough Market – this is the place to have a mid-morning snack and coffee. You see, I will not keep you hungry!

Caffeine level topped up? So let’s move on along the river.

Passing Shakespeare’s Theatre – The Globe – you will reach the Tate Modern. This gallery is definitely worth a visit but unfortunately, you’ll have to leave it until your next visit in London.

If front of the Tate there is a pedestrian bridge across the Thames – The Millennium Bridge. Cross it, and you will find yourself in front of another one of London’s iconic buildings – St. Paul’s Cathedral. 

11:00 – 11:30 – St Paul’s Cathedral

St. Paul's Cathedral in London
St. Paul’s Cathedral

St. Paul’s Cathedral is an extremely popular site in London. Its huge dome has been dominating London’s skyline for almost 400 years.

I will give you about 30 minutes here, as I am sure you’ll want to have a look inside and take some photos of the outside.

TIP: If you’re in need, there are toilets on the underground level of the Cathedral. Access them through the entrance on the left from the main square.

Time to move on. From the bus stop just outside of St Paul’s Cathedral take one of the famous red double-decker buses towards Charing Cross and Trafalgar Square. If you get off at Savoy Street, you are just next to the Covent Garden.

11:45 – 14:30 – Covent Garden to Leicester Square

Covent Garden on a 12 hour itinerary for London
Covent Garden

Covent Garden is one of the greatest pedestrianized areas of central London. It’s always full of street artists and stalls that sell unique hand-made souvenirs. If you had more time or are with children, you could visit the brilliant London Transport Museum.

After a bit of a cultural experience and some shopping, I suggest you start walking towards the Leicester Square and Soho area. 

Leicester Square
Leicester Square

Leicester Square is another great London pedestrian area. It is also known for the cinemas where some of the global red-carpet movie premieres take place. Also, don’t miss the statue of Charlie Chaplin located right in the centre.

TIP: In Leicester Square, there is my favorite shop in all of London – the M&M’s store. There are only 5 of these in the world, so make sure you don’t miss this 3-floor chocolate paradise. 

The good news is, you are now surrounded by hundreds of restaurants and bars offering food from around the world. I recommend going into Mr. Foggs Tavern to try some of their typical British fare – fish & chips or a pie washed down with a pint of ale. However, if that’s not your thing, you will find Italian, Chinese, Thai, Mexican, German, French, Korean, and Greek cuisine all right in the same area.

If you’re into musicals (London being the European capital of this type of performance art), you can buy some last minute tickets for shows in the Leicester Square and on the surrounding streets.

14:30 – 15:00 – Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square on a 12 hour itinerary for London
Trafalgar Square

Around the corner from the Leicester Square you will find another famous place – the Trafalgar Square. It is dominated by Nelson’s Column and the National Gallery. This is also the place where, during Christmas, you will find the annual Christmas tree Norway sends to London (as well as carol singers).

Interesting fact: In each corner of the square there are 4 plinths. They were designed for sculptures and pieces of art. The plinth in the North-West corner however, remained empty. Now it is used for temporary, very often controversial, display of pieces of art and performance. See, if you can spot the “Forth Plinth” and what is on it on the day of your visit.

If you look closely from here you can already see the iconic Big Ben at the end of Whitehall, so let’s just go there, shall we?

15:00 – 16:30 – Whitehall and Big Ben

Whitehall in London

Whitehall Road is recognized as the centre of the British government. This wide road is lined with government buildings and institutions. Apparently, they are all connected by a network of underground tunnels.

As you walk down Whitehall, around half way through, there is a small side road called Downing Street. At 10 Downing Street you’ll find the official residence of the British Prime minister.

QUIZ: The Prime Minister lives at 10 Downing Street, but do you know who lives at 11 Downing Street? (Check the answer here.)

Big Ben in London
Big Ben

Move on, and you will shortly reach a place everyone knows from the movies and TV – Parliament Square. With the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben it’s hard not to recognize this iconic spot. Behind it there is the Westminster Bridge. From here you can take some great photos of this famous landmark as well as have a glimpse of the Thames and the London skyline. This will certainly be a very different view than what you will have seen in the morning.

Across the road from Parliament you will also find Westminster Abbey, which has held royal weddings, funerals, coronations and other important events through out the course of history. It is also the resting place for many British monarchs.

16:30 – 17:30 – Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace on a 12 hour itinerary for London
Buckingham Palace

No visit to London would be complete without a visit to Buckingham Palace, the official residence of the monarch of the United Kingdom and another must see spot on a 12 hour itinerary for London. Luckily it is not that far from where you are.

From Parliament Square you can walk through one of the loveliest of London’s parks – St James’s Park. In the middle, and across the lake, there is a small bridge that offers you one of the best views of Buckingham Palace.

TIP: You can actually tell if the Queen is in the palace by the flag at the top. If it is the Union Jack – she is out, if it is the royal flag she is in.

I think it might be time to slowly get back now, as it is getting late and you must be quite tired.

17:30 – 21:00 – Piccadilly Circus and a bit of London fun

Piccadilly Circus in London
Picadilly Circus

From Buckingham Palace cross Green Park, and walk along Piccadilly towards Piccadilly Circus. There is a reason why you are finishing your trip here. One of the attractions of this meeting point in central London is the huge digital display that looks most impressive in the evening.

This is where I will leave you, but you still have plenty of time before 21:00 (I promised you a 12 hour trip, right?) so here are some other ideas for you:

So there you are – a 12 hour itinerary for London. I hope you’ve enjoyed it, and next time you come to London make sure you allow yourself much more than 12 hours! By now you’ll have gotten a big taste of London, but there is so much more to explore.

Other Short But Sweet Itineraries

If your 12 hours in London has simply whet your appetite, consider bringing along your family next time and learn about where to stay in London with kids. If you want something a bit more far flung, but still relatively nearby, head out to the countryside a bit and visit the New Forest via motorhome. It’s right in Hampshire, so it’s just a mere 2 hours drive from the city center. If however your tastes situate you quite a bit out of London, consider spending two days in Tokyo or even checking out Seoul by foot for two days. No matter what you do, feel free to leave us a comment below if you have any comments or questions, and happy travels!

Jarek runs a travel blog minitribetravels.com where he writes about his family travels. He is based in the UK but his family is truly international – 10 passports between 4 people. The main purpose of his blog is to inspire families who want to travel but are worried that it can’t be done with young children. You can follow their adventures on Minitribetravels.

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