London: a 24-hour guide

By Olivia McLearon for British Airways High Life magazine

Photography by Alexander Legaree/Getty Images.

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October 17

London is one of the most exciting cities in the world, so how do visitors make the most of a short trip here? Thanks to the Night Tube, you can make the most of the capital’s offerings, even if you’ve only got 24 hours to spare. Olivia McLearon reports on what to do – and when to do it – from dawn till dusk (and dawn again).

Start the day right


Parliament Hill is the best place in London to watch the sunrise over the capital. The sun rises between 04:45 and around 08:00, depending on the time of year. Take the Northern line to Hampstead Heath, then walk over the heath as night is about to turn to daybreak, taking in views of the Gherkin, the London Eye, St Paul’s Cathedral and Canary Wharf. Once you’ve taken a few photos, it’s a 15-minute journey back on the Northern line to Leicester Square.

Book flights to London

Duck and Waffle, the 24-hour restaurant on the 40th floor of the Heron Tower, is known for its outstanding views of the capital – as well as its crispy pigs’ ears

Breakfast of champions

A ten-minute walk away, through Covent Garden, is The Delaunay, which is inspired by Grand European café-restaurant culture. Try the Viennese breakfast with smoked ham, salami, Gouda cheese, egg and rye bread.

A morning stroll

Walk through nearby Somerset House courtyard the rooms and galleries open at 10:00, but if you’re there earlier you can still admire the neoclassical architecture and river views. Then walk over Waterloo Bridge for more excellent photo opportunities, including Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.

  • London’s iconic St Paul’s Cathedral © Christopher Hope-Fitch/Getty Images.

    Temple of our times

    Newer skyscrapers have grabbed headlines in recent years, but St Paul’s remains an unrivalled icon of the London skyline. Due to the design of the cathedral’s dome, sound carries incredibly well across the Whispering Gallery. Head up there yourself with a friend and see how quietly you can whisper to one another from the opposite sides.

    Book St Paul's Cathedral tickets
  • Breakfast is served at The Delaunay © David Loftus.

    Start the day right

    It’s not unusual to spot actors and A-list celebrities among the Londoners enjoying a famously good breakfast at The Delaunay. Open daily from 07:00 on Monday to Friday, 08:00 on Saturdays, and 09:00 on Sundays.

    Book flights to London
  • Selfridges world-class department store is a must-visit.

    As seen on screen

    Today it offers the best contemporary shopping, but the storied history of Selfridges department store, founded in 1909, inspired a hit British TV show, Mr Selfridge.

    Where to shop in London

Culture trip

09:30 – People watching

Stroll east along the Southbank for some great people-watching, before crossing over Blackfriars Bridge back to the north of the river to explore the visual masterpiece that is St Paul’s Cathedral.

10:30 – Art attack

Cross back over to the Southbank via the Millennium Bridge (your third and final bridge). It’s just a 13-minute walk to the recently expanded Tate Modern for the best in contemporary art. Some of the biggest exhibitions of the last few years include Carsten Höller, Louise Bourgeois and Georgia O’Keeffe. The viewing terrace offers more incredible views – as far as Wembley Stadium.

13:00 – Refuel

Waterloo station is a 15-minutes walk away – from here, take the Northern line to Leicester Square, then walk to Rupert Street in Soho for lunch at Xu. From the team behind Bao (justifiably famous for their amazing steamed buns with the queues to prove it), Bao’s smarter big sibling offers superb Taiwanese food and the whole restaurant has the feel of 1930s Taipei. Be sure to order the beef with pancake and the chilli egg drop crab.

  • Step into another world at Somerset House’s courtyard © godrick/Getty Images.

    A palace, reinvented

    Hosting critically acclaimed exhibitions on everything from pop stars to perfume, the former royal residence of Somerset House also contains cafés, restaurants, and a must-browse bookshop.

    Unusual museums in London

14:30 – Hit the shops

Walk up towards nearby Oxford Circus for Liberty London. As well as being a one-stop shop for beautiful fabric, accessories and clothing, the fourth floor has an amazing antiques collection full of objects that have been sourced from around the world by Bruce Lepere, Liberty’s Oriental rug and carpet buyer (they ship all over the world). Then walk up to Selfridges, between Bond Street and Marble Arch, for six floors of the best in beauty and fashion, as well as a great food hall and amazing toy shop. There’s also a brilliant Champagne bar on the second floor if you need a shopping break.

Eat, drink, and be merry

18:00 – Time for tea

Take the Central line to Liverpool Street from Marble Arch and refuel with a sweet treat at Konditor & Cook in Spitalfields – the Curly Whirly cake, with dark chocolate sponge with vanilla bean frosting, is a must.

19:00 – A pre-dinner snack

Time for some Champagne and oysters at Wright Brothers, also in Spitalfields, with superb fish, seafood and – of course – oysters, sourced from around Great Britain and France.

  • The signature dish at Duck and Waffle.

    Everybody duck

    On the 40th floor of a skyscraper in the financial district, Duck and Waffle has a refreshingly playful, unstuffy tone and doesn’t take itself too seriously – except when it comes to the art of mixing cocktails.

    London’s best rooftop bars

21:00 – Lofty heights

A few minutes’ walk away is Duck and Waffle the 24-hour restaurant on the 40th floor of the Heron Tower, known for its outstanding views of the capital – as well as its crispy pigs’ ears. If you haven’t over-indulged at Wright Brothers, order the signature dish of duck leg confit and fried duck egg on a thick waffle, served with a maple mustard sauce. Or just soak up the views with a cocktail – the artichoke negroni (gin, Campari, vermouth and artichoke infusion) is excellent.

Late-night fun

23:00 – A round of golf

Check into Swingers crazy golf club, which is five-minutes walk away. Based on a 1920s golf club set in the English countryside, this is a great spot for some riotous fun. As well as two bespoke crazy golf courses, there are five cocktail bars.

01:00 – Rule the dancefloor

There are still plenty of places open if you want to see the night through. Jump on the Central line from Liverpool Street to Leicester Square. From there it’s a six-minute walk to The Box Soho. It’s best to try and reserve a table via the website first though. Or try Cahoots – a subterranean cocktail den that’s based around a 1940s Underground theme. 

03:00-04:00 – Refuel (again)

It’s kicking out time at Cahoots and The Box, but parts of Soho are still open. Go to Balans Soho, which is open until 06:00 every day, apart from Sunday, to refuel with a full English or Eggs Benedict.

05:30 – The finish line

Still going after 23-and-a-half hours? Finish with a coffee at Soho’s famous 24-hour Bar Italia, another West End institution, before rolling back to your hotel room and into bed.

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