London Olympics 2012: The Ultimate Guide to What's On in the City
The big games are finally upon us and the city has descended into total chaos. Sporting events aside, there’s a ton of things to do in London the next few weeks in honour of the world’s nations competing for gold. So if you’re brave enough to brace the crowds and leave the peace and quiet of your front room over the next few weeks, here’s our mini guide to what to see and do (and given the number of big screens around the city, you won’t miss out on any of the sporting action). Let the games… and parties commence.
Around the Park
Whether or not you have a ticket to one of the events going on inside the official stadium, you can still visit the Olympics Park and explore the shops and sites around the park. Soak up the atmosphere while you listen out for excited noises coming from inside the stadium (entrance ticket required).
The Orbit: This impressive landmark sculpture situated just behind the Olympic Stadium was designed by Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond to commemorate the games. It was the winner of a competition supported by global steel company ArcelorMittal who provided all the steel for the structure (65% of it recycled from scrap). Designers Kapoor and Balmond like to refer to it as ‘a laboratory of space’. It’s not just a work of art but a fully functioning building as inside you’ll find lifts and stairs that take you up to a viewing platform that looks out over the horizon. (Advanced tickets are required and are separate to Olympic Park tickets.)
Art in the Park
When: 27 July - 9 September 2012
What: The Olympics Park is full of striking artwork and installations that adorn and decorate the walls and spaces. Highlights include the Carpenter’s Curve, an abstract painting by British artist Clare Woods on the facade of a utilities building in the south of the park that was inspired by the history of the site and was created using thousands of tiles; The Clouds Bridge, an intricate pattern of clouds painted onto both sides of the Angle Lane Bridge by design students Oscar Bauer and Nazareno Crea and Fantastic Factology, a series of plaques attached to benches throughout the park displaying facts about anything from astrology to zoology that you can memorise and impress your friends with at a later date.
Since you’ve likely only got tickets to one measly event during the games, the London 2012 Organising Committee has teamed up with British Airways and erected some giant (seemingly floating on the river) screens and picnic lawns for up to 10,000 fans to visit before and after the events they have tickets for to watch all the other action going on inside the London 2012 venues. There’s also a stage welcoming athletes and other special guests to entertain you.
Olympic-inspired Cultural Events
Playing the Games
When: 7 July - 12 August 2012
Where: Criterion Theatre
What: A two-week marathon of new plays, lunchtime talks and late-night comedy will take to the stage uniting sport with culture. The lunchtime shows will see performers interview world famous sporting legends. There’ll be appearances from everyone’s favourite sporting celeb Kriss Akabusi, as well as Edwin Moses, Stephen Daldry, Rick Edwards, Stephen Fry, Clive Owen and Mark Watson. (ticketed event)
Last Mile Festival
When: 28 July to 12 August 2012
Where: London Pleasure Gardens, Royal Victoria Dock
What: Enjoy live music, theatre, cabaret, art and amazing food while still catching all the Olympics action on the big screen in-between times at this cultural festvail. It’s the first time the full London Pleasure Gardens site is open to the public and entry is free. The Grand Opening Weekend features two days of free music and spectacles, including Muare By Duchamp Pilot, a visual and acrobatic spectacular featuring thirteen aerialists suspended 30 metres above the stage. Be sure to make a trip to the Oyster Grotto.
The Peninsula Festival
When: until August 13
Where: Greenwich Peninsula, Greenwich
What: The Peninsula Festival is a unique celebration of music, culture and business schmoozing. There’s yet another big screen showing all the Olympics action as well as live concerts, the Emirates Cable Car and The Beach London (the only beach in the city). You can also cruise up and down the Thames on one of Sail Royal Greenwich’s Tall Ships and even set up camp (glamping style) at the luxury campsite if you can’t face the commute home.
Party with the VIPs
Do your rounds of the National Olympic Committee Houses and see how many free canapés and glasses of champagne you can score while you rub shoulders with VIPs, dignitaries and maybe even some athletes. The world’s nations have set up NOC houses in top venues all over London, designed to big up their country to the rest of the world while providing their Olympic team with a base. There will be (more) giant screens broadcasting the events and ceremonies as well as cultural events, parties and exhibitions. Unfortunately not all are open to the public and you may be required to book tickets in advance so do your homework in advance. Highlights include the Dutch’s giant orange beer hall in the Alexandra Palace while Ireland have hired the The Big Chill House bar in the east end for their festivities, France has spent more than £1m on refurbishing Old Billingsgate Market with pop up restaurants, shops and other attractions, and Brazil will bring a touch of Samba and carnival flavour to Somerset House a.k.a. Casa Brazil.
Best places to watch the games
Of the numerous locations scattered across the city where you can watch the games with the masses (and there are many), here are some of the best:
BT London Live (Hyde Park, Victoria Park and Trafalgar Square)
You can watch all the sporting action for free at one of the giant screens in Hyde Park, Victoria Park or Trafalgar Square. Hyde Park and Victoria Park will show all the live coverage from the Olympic Games while Trafalgar Square will broadcast the Paralympic Games. As well as live coverage of the Games, there'll be "have a go" sports sessions, music, outdoor arts and entertainment. Hyde Park also hosts the opening and closing ceremony concerts on July 27 and August 12 respectively.
London 2012 Games in Super Hi-Vision
Get closer to the action than even a spectator in the stadium at the BBC's special screenings of the London 2012 Olympic Games, broadcast in 16 times the definition of HD-TV. You will be one of the first to witness ground-breaking new technology at the BBC's Radio Theatre, where they will be using NHK's 8k Ultra HDTV technology – otherwise known as Super Hi-Vision – to screen all the games, enhanced by 22.2 surround sound audio. Tickets to the screenings are free, but you need to apply for them in advance by visiting the BBC website.
The Fringe 2012
If you want to take it up a notch, you can celebrate the Olympics at a swish pop-up member's club just 100 metres from the Olympic Park. Situated in a four storey Victorian Warehouse, The Fringe is an uber-swanky temporary club overlooking the stadium with live screenings, a late-night DJ and food and drinks. Adding to the rock-n-roll status is the water taxi that you have to take to access The Fringe venue.
If you’ve lived through any major event in London you’ll know that getting around the city is an absolute nightmare and your daily commute is likely to take twice as long with numerous road closures and delays going on over the city. The road closures are too long and complicated to list in this blog but check out this website for a general overview, this website to plan your journey to and from the Olympic Park and this website for general travel updates.
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Any other great Olympics-related things going on? Feel free to add it in the comment section.
To stay updated on the best things to do in London, keep checking the TasterLab blog!