24 hours in London

PDM OFTEN books business flights for people travelling to London during the hectic working week, only to hear tales of jam packed underground trains, congested traffic and bustling streets full of grumpy workers. But, have you ever considered spending a more relaxed day sightseeing in the capital? With so much history, culture and fun to be had, it’s impossible to sample it all in 24 hours, but here’s our guide to spending a Saturday in London.

First of all invest in a ‘one day travel card – zones one and two’, which you can buy for around five pounds from any Tube station. It may not be in the ticket machines, so ask at the counter – it’s well worth the price and will give you full access to the capital’s Tubes and buses for the entire 24 hours. First stop is the Tower of London – it’s best to get there early as it’s incredibly popular. Once in, you can take a free guided tour with one of the Yeoman Warders around one of the most famous fortified buildings in the world. Discover its 900 year history as a royal palace and fortress, prison and place of execution, mint, arsenal, menagerie and jewel house.

From the Tower, take the number 15 bus to Trafalgar Square, which passes the Monument, St Paul’s Cathedral, Fleet Street, The Law Courts, Somerset House and the Savoy Hotel. Remember, with a travel card you can hop on and off the buses and Tubes as you wish – but you’ll need to be in Trafalgar Square by 11am if you want a good spot to see the changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. Go through the large arch in the bottom corner of Trafalgar Square and walk up the Mall – you’ll see Buckingham Palace at the end.

The Changing of the Guard takes place at 11.30am on alternate days from August to April and daily in all other months. Once the short ceremony is over, we recommend you head for Portobello Road Saturday Market – bus number 16, 73 or 82 will take you as far as Marble Arch via the exclusive Park Lane. From Marble Arch take a number 12 or 94 bus to Notting Hill Gate. The way to the market is clearly marked from the Tube station, but you can just follow the crowds that flock to this antique, bric-a-brac and clothing paradise. We suggest you eat along Portobello Road itself – there are plenty of inexpensive restaurants here, or if you want to spend a bit more go to “192”, the restaurant mentioned in the Bridget Jones books.

After lunch, continue walking along Portobello Road until you get to the large flyover – the market continues to the left, under it, and stops near Ladbroke Grove Tube station. Take the Tube to Baker Street for a visit to Madame Tussaud’s. From there take the Jubilee Line to Westminster for a visit to Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament and the London Eye, if you wish – although you may need to book in advance as it’s heaving in the high season.

From Parliament Square, where you’ll also find Big Ben, walk round the back of Whitehall to St James Park and past Churchill’s wartime bunker. You pass the back of 10, Downing Street. Whichever route you take, you’ll pass Horseguards – either through it from the parade ground at the rear or past the front door – and continue up Whitehall to Trafalgar Square at the top. In front of you on the opposite side of the Square is the National Gallery. Don’t hope to see it all – just wander through – the old stuff is in the modern wing to the left, the classic, famous stuff is spread around the main galleries.

For a change of mood, wander up to Leicester Square, behind the National Gallery, and further up to Chinatown and Soho – remember to get a ticket from the Half-Price theatre booth in Leicester Square on the way. Have a meal in Soho or Chinatown or the southerly edge of Leicester Square (Panton St) then go and see your show. If it ends before 10pm, head off down the Strand to Somerset House to see the illuminated fountain displays – the courtyard’s open until at least 11pm. Finally, if you’re still on your feet, round off your 24 hours by going on to a club – London has some of the best in the world and they stay open to 10 or 11am. As you stumble out into the morning light, you’ll just have time for a coffee at the airport before you catch your flight back home.