How to Spend 24h in London

An optimised itinerary of everything you need to see if you love architecture and only have one day

0. Start off with breakfast and views

An Art Deco treasure in the vicinity, this hotel offers breakfast in a beautiful environment. And AMAZING views of London. Because space is limited, if you are not a guest of the hotel, it’s always better to call in advance 02039534200.

1. Chinatown

This delightful part of Soho is home to a hundred restaurants where you’ll find authentic flavours of East Asia. But we aren’t here for the food today. The 2 unmissable things here are: The gates on Wardour and Gerrard Streets.

Wardour Street Gate, built in 2016

2. Piccadilly Circus Area

Piccadilly Circus, the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain and Criterion Theatre have interesting (and quite funny) stories. It’s worth pausing here for a moment and reading how poor Alfred Gilbert got ruined with this statue and how the Crown and City Council never agreed on Piccadilly’s layout.

Piccadilly Circus’ illuminated hoardings have been here since 1908

3. Time to have a coffee break

If you couldn’t get a table at Hotel Indigo, this is your second chance to have breakfast, or a coffee if you need more caffeine. Thomas’s at Burberry Regent is an elegant little corner to pause for a minute and enjoy some very good coffee.

Cappuccino for me, please ☕️

4. St James’s Church Piccadilly

This little and unassuming church deserves our attention as it was Wren’s biggest building until St Paul’s Cathedral was completed. It had to reinvent itself to stay alive and many activities are held here to raise the money necessary to keep it open.

The only church Christopher Wren designed from scratch

5. Fortnum & Mason

There are two magical stores next to each other: Hatchards, the oldest bookshop in the United Kingdom founded in 1797 and Fortum & Mason, established here even before in 1707. Both are worth a detour but not much as you’ll carry whatever you buy for a loooooong way.

Did you know Fortnum & Mason invented the Scotch Egg?

6. The Royal Academy of Arts

This charming building of 1718 used to be the house of Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington who was also an architect (“Architect Earl” was his name). Burlington House changed the homely purpose of its premises in 1867 when it became Britain’s first art school.

The first red telephone cabin was just behind me

7. The Economist Building

This building is one of my favourites of the book. It’s the Renaissance of Contemporary Architecture. The proportions, beauty, layout within a plaza and harmony of the whole complex is astounding. You can actually visit the interior of the site’s smaller building as it is home to Sake no Hana.

I mean 😍

8. St James’s Palace

We get now into the most touristic side of London. Expect crowds and selfie sticks. All that said, visiting these classics is a must because of the architectural history and the cultural background. I’ve always found St James’s Palace hilariously odd because who’d like to have a house right in the middle of a cemetery? Henry VIII. The place is haunted like no other, that’s why I love visiting it during the bright and wonderful hours of the day.

Monarchs don’t live here anymore, obviously

9. Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace was built for the Duke of Buckingham who by the way had seen Madrid’s Royal Palace looking slick. Long story short, the monarch and her husband currently live here.

St James’s Park with London Eye in the background

10. Westminster School

If you ever wondered what was this gem of a building next to Westminster Abbey, today you’ll get to learn a bit more about it. It was first built in 1179 and pupils were so naughty that Westminster Abbey and Houses of Parliament had rules to prevent children throwing stones at their buildings (they still do, ha!).

Christopher Wren and John Locke were pupils at Westminster School

11. Westminster Abbey

Welcome to the religious origin of London. The first abbey ever recorded here was in the 960’s. Years of history are worth exploring and it’s one of the places in the list worth detouring. Admission is £22 (£20 if you book it online) and opening hours vary every day. Check them here.

These towers were built in 1745 by Nicholas Hawksmoor

12. Portcullis House

This building is an engineering prowess as with the demolition of the previous buildings on site, the creation of the Westminster Station on the Jubilee line were created too. The mega structure was designed both to serve the tube and the building and the result is very neat. Make sure you stop by 10 Downing Street on your way to the next place.

13. Banqueting House

Let’s do an imagination exercise here. When this white wonder was completed in 1622, the surrounding Whitehall Palace (destroyed in a fire later in the century) was a dark construction in brick similar to Hampton Court Palace. Can you picture how this little gem was the personal delight of James I, who commissioned this structure?

Charles I was executed in front of this building

14. Horse Guards Building

This is perhaps the best place to watch the Changing of The Guard which takes place every morning at 11 am (Monday-Saturday) and 10 am on Sunday.

The little black mark in the 2 commemorates the king’s death on 30th January 1649

15. Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square, completed in 1844, was originally conceived by John Nash, who died before seeing his work finished in 1935. Charles Barry took over the job but it wasn’t until Foster + Partners remodelled the area in 2003 that it became a wonderful public space.

Horatio Nelson’s statue is missing an arm

16. Charing Cross

Charing Cross is a special place because it has the old hotel of 1864, the new station by Terry Farrell (1990) and Eleanor’s Cross replica. Charing Cross was the site of the final battle of Wyatt’s Rebellion, people’s uprising against Mary I, marrying Philip of Spain.

17. Bus 15

Take bus 15 towards Blackwall in the nearby stop F and make sure you get the top seat at the double decker bus; you’ll be taking lots of pictures: St Mary le Strand, Royal Courts of Justice, St Dunstan-in-the-West, the Daily Express Building…

18. Paternoster Square Vents

Heatherwick Studio — who recently completed the stunning Hudson Yard’s Vessel — designed this odd structure behind St Paul’s. The purpose of this beautiful sculpture is not so glamorous: it serves as the ventilation extractor for an underground electrical substation.

19. St Paul’s Cathedral

St Paul’s Cathedral represents the lifelong effort of master architect Christopher Wren. He devoted his entire life to it: construction started in 1668 when he was in his 30’s and finished in 1711 when he was 79. Amongst many impressive parts of its construction, the dome — the first of this kind ever built in England — is perhaps the most impressive feature.

Yours truly making this article

20. City of London Information Centre

Built in 2007 soon after Ken Shuttleworth left Foster + Parners to create Make Architects in 2004. The RIBA award-winning building was designed as part of the redefinition of the adjacent public space which includes the pedestrian route that ends in Millennium Bridge (not in this list so don’t get distracted).

21. Views from One New Change

Jean Nouvel experienced a lot of recognition following the completion of the Arab World Institute in Paris. He was appointed as architect of the Serpentine Pavilion in 2010 and soon after he finished this wonderful building which has received much criticism. Opposite to general views, I think is the best addition in centuries and respectfully enhances St Paul’s.

22. 30 Cannon St

The former offices of Crédit Lyonnais have become one of the most Instagrammable buildings in the City after its refurbishment in 2016. God, this building is so white and shiny!

23. Drink break and planning for lunch

Feeling a bit peckish? I bet so. St Mary Aldermary is a great place to have a drink while you consider your lunch options in the area. Places we love in this area are Kym’s, Coq d’Argent and Hispania London.

24. Bloomberg

Foster + Partners have created extraordinary buildings across London but this one is everything a building should be. One can feel the quality of its materials, presence and public spaces immediately. It was built to last.

How amazing is this building?

25. Lunch

You must be so hungry by now. We stopped at Kym’s for some food (you have it on the restaurant section at the end of the book). Highlights of our meal were the ribs, truffle rice and Iberico Pork Char Sui.

Kym’s Restaurant

26. Cannon Street Station

Inspired by the cantilevered Forth Bridge in Scotland, this thrilling piece of architecture deals with impossible loads that form a practical yet elegant design. The brilliant structure is both the form and function of the station.

27. 1 Poultry

Is this the ugliest building in London? Probably not, the City has much worse (what about The Walkie Talkie or that monster of Mincing Lane?). Let’s focus on what’s really good about this place: the rooftop views from Coq d’Argent. In summer they’re always open and it’s worth checking out.

28. Lloyd’s Building

Oh hello, beautiful! This superb building is unpretentious and brutal and non architects can’t see why we are obsessed with it. Ducts, lifts and staircases are located on the outside (which is very practical) and the inside is filled with light and quality space for offices. You can visit the interior during Open House London.

Probably the coolest building in London

29. The Gherkin

There are many wonderful buildings in this area — built and in construction — that are worth having a look on the book, we didn’t depict them all because this article would have been much longer. 30 St Mary Axe is so remarkable because it was designed and built in a time were BIM hasn’t even been created 😱.

30. Leadenhall Market

The Roman settlements in this area are still present at Leadenhall Market and if that wasn’t enough, the entrance to the Leaky Cauldron can also be found here.

We are Potterheads

31. 20 Fenchurch Street

If you could get a reservation to go up to the Sky Garden, great! If not, you can always try in some of the restaurants (book in advance). If none of that worked, we have a fun fact for you not many people know: London’s smallest sculpture is located besides this building.

London’s smallest sculpture

32. 120 Fenchurch Street

This is the newest rooftop in town. It has great views, it’s free and open to the general public. You’ll have amazing views of the very well-known Tower Bridge and the Gherkin but also of hidden buildings such as the Lloyd’s Register (Richard Rogers, 1999) and Plantation Place (Arup Associates, 2004).

33. St Olave

This old lady was built in 1450 and still standing. Why is that so unusual? Because the City has veeeery few structures dating before the Great Fire of London of 1666. St Olave survived and continued having a Royal history.

Don’t miss the skulls at the Southern entrance

34. Tower Place

On your way here, you can have a drink at the nearby DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel London. Tower Place was built in 2002 replacing an ugly office block; in London only what is successful stays. The wrecking ball is ruthless in this city. That’s why we can tell this Foster + Partners structure is doing well every year that it’s not threatened by demolition 😂

35. Dinner

A place to stop for some food and drinks is Coppa Club, which gets prettier as the sun sets. Booking is required as it is normally very busy (downsides of its premium location).

36. Tower Bridge at Sunset

Built in 1894 by Horace Jones — same architect as Leadenhall Market — as a way to cross the river at this point (remember the 1868 tunnel? it didn’t do very well). It has become an iconic landmark of London and where we’ll be finishing our walk today :)

[BONUS] Drinks — Jin Bo Law

This rooftop opened last summer in 2018. The refurbished Aldgate Square is looking better than ever which makes it a perfect place for seeing today’s towers from a distance slowly lighting up.

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