This summer, London is keeping busy. After Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations early this month, civic authorities are pulling out all stops to play the perfect host to the world during the London Olympics in July. So, if you’re going to be in London to see the Olympics, here are some tips to make the most of your summer.
Airfare for a round trip to London is rising by the day, so book your tickets immediately. Avoid contacting a travel agent; log on to Makemytrip and other websites to weigh your options. A return ticket (economy class) for a direct flight to London during the Olympics ranges between Rs 55,000 to Rs 1.6 lakh (depending on the airline and time of journey) and is likely to go up come July. Avoid opting for a connecting flight — the stop-overs and delays will tire you out.
Tickets to the Games
Around 10,500 athletes will compete in 26 sports at the London Olympics. Choose your event at the 2012 Olympic Games schedule posted on www.london2012.com. For ticket prices, visit www.olympic.ind.in. Thomas Cook Sport, the official sponsor of London 2012 Olympic and Paralympics Games, offers packages starting at Rs 10,999 — the “‘Games Break” package includes a night’s stay in a budget hotel, official Olympics ticket, with a London travel card for the day of the event.
Where to stay
A word of advice — do not place too much faith on the pictures uploaded on websites such as www.eurocheapo.com; read the guest reviews and ratings for a clearer picture. Book a hotel away from the Olympic Village if you have tickets for events such as beach volleyball (in Westminster) and tennis (in Wimbledon). If you’re on a tight budget, opt for hotel chain Premiere Inn with rooms starting from £29 for a night’s stay — the rates are likely to double in the coming days, so book in advance. If you’re willing to rough it out, get in touch with The Camping and Caravanning Club of the UK to book a campsite close to the Olympics venues in Earls Court, Greenwich Park, Hampton Court Palace and Hyde Park; the booking details are available at www.campingandcaravanningclub.co.uk. The rates range between £50 and £200 for a night.
Travelling within London can be expensive if you don’t plan ahead; check for transport packages on www.tfl.gov.uk. Avoid using the overpriced black taxis and opt for public transport. Fitness enthusiasts can use the London Cycle Hire Team — hire a cycle for a day at a docking station for around £1. If you’re travelling with children, use the London Tube — buy the Visitor Oyster Card, a “pay as you go” pass, valid on the London Underground, buses, trams and the Dockland Light Railway. Be wary of London traffic and delays in public transport during the Games; aim to arrive at the Olympic Park at least two hours ahead of the event to give yourself time to go through the intensive security procedures. Carry a tube map at all times.
Hop on and off tours
When not at Olympic events, hop on the guided open-top buses which take you through all the attractions of the city — The Big Ben, St Paul’s Cathedral, British Museum and the delightfully terrifying London Dungeons. You will also get a chance to buy souvenirs during the various stops. The tickets (£29 per person) can be bought at any of the landmarks mentioned above; you can also book them at www.theoriginaltour.com.
British weather is temperamental at best; so throw in an anorak and a sturdy umbrella into your backpack.
Where and how to spend
If you’re skipping the Games to shop, drop by Primark, Monsoon, Next and New Look for apparel and accessories. Websites such as www.moneysavingexpert.com offer discount vouchers and coupons for restaurants such as Pizza Express, Burger King or Domino’s, besides theatre and cabaret shows across London. For a healthy snack, visit any Pret A Manger outlet across London — you can’t go wrong with their choice of herbs, bread and salads for £2 to £5. If you are attending a Games’ event at Wembley Stadium, head down to Ealing Road, a ten-minute walk from the venue, lined with restaurants offering Gujarati and Indian cuisines. While travelling to the venues on the central line of the London tube, get off at Northolt for some traditional fish and chips at Codfather.
Tea, scones and butterbeer
A visit to England is incomplete without sampling some traditional afternoon tea, a ritual incomplete without dollops of clotted cream and freshly-baked scones. The Doll’s House on the Hill, a charming vintage café, offers cakes and sandwiches for £15. On your way out, walk along the picturesque streets of Harrow on the Hill — home to the famous Harrow School, which boasts of illustrious alumni such as Winston Churchill and Jawaharlal Nehru.
For £26, you can also go on the recently inaugurated Warner Bros tour of the making of the Harry Potter films on which you can sample “butterbeer” (an oddly delicious combination of fruit beer and cream), be taken around the Great Hall and buy broomsticks and wands used by the cast. Tickets are not sold at the door; book in advance (www.wbstudiotour.co.uk).
Entry to all museums is free (apart from a few special exhibitions); visit the Victoria and Albert Museum, Natural History Museum and the Science Museum in South Kensington, all within walking distance of each other. Keep in mind that all shops, museums and exhibitions often close by 7pm; check the timings before arranging a visit.