By Elissa Richard
With London revving up to host the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games come late July, following closely on the heels of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations in June (commemorating 60 years of the Queen Elizabeth II’s reign), travel demand for the UK capital is hotter than ever. We rounded up expert tips from the folks at London & Partners (the official promotional organization for the capital) and VisitBritain (Britain's main tourism agency) for some gold medal-worthy advice on planning your trip to London ahead of the year’s main events.
What are the dates for Diamond Jubilee and the Olympic Games?
The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee is celebrating throughout the year but the peak events will happen from June 2 through June 5. London’s Olympic Games run from July 27 to August 12; the Paralympic Games are scheduled for August 29 to September 9.
Should I expect inflated rates in London if I visit during the Olympics?
While price gouging has historically been commonplace practice in Olympic-host cities, London is actually the first Olympic city to implement a Games-time charter, created expressly to keep pricing fair throughout the Olympic period. More than 60 major tourism providers have signed the London Visitor Charter to date, including attractions, hotels, restaurants, pubs, and transportation providers like Eurostar, the Tower of London, and Kensington Palace. You can check out the latest signatories to support the charter at www.visitlondon.com.
When should I book a London hotel room and how can I save on lodging?
With the Olympics less than 6 months away, and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee sooner still, there’s no time like the present to pin down your accommodations. Lodging in London is expensive anytime of year, let alone during the height of major special events like those brewing in 2012.
We recommend curtailing expensive hotels in favor of more reasonably priced apartment stays (nearly all of which come equipped with kitchens that can also help you cut costs on food)—you can nab your own flat or rent a room from a real Londoner via apartment rental companies like Airbnb. Also, be sure to cast a wide net in your search to include lodging options outside of central London—the city has some 33 boroughs where you can bunk down, after all, and the rooms only get cheaper the further out you’re willing to go.
Additionally consider alternative lodging options like university halls (you could try the historic college halls of Cambridge, just 45 minutes to London via rail); or even urban campsites (like Camp In London, set in a field just 4 miles outside of London, where you can rent a pre-pitched tent or bring your own).
How can I save on attractions and events once I’m in town?
Though London’s strong pound is well known to give visitors’ wallets a beating, happily, the city is likewise known for boasting a generous roster of free events, activities, and attractions. In fact, a visit to the majority of the city’s museums, along with taking in iconic sights like the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, won’t set you back a single quid. The London Pass is another great-value option for those who book ahead of their trip, granting visitors entry to over 50 top London attractions, and offering up to £500 in savings on entrance fees. Plus, tourism officials have planned plenty of free arts and cultural events to coincide with the summer’s big events—try the London 2012 Festival, an arts festival (held June 21 to September 9) to complement the Games.
How can I get tickets for the Olympic Games?
While official ticket sales are currently closed (they went on sale in early 2011 and are mostly sold out), visitors can still buy ticket and hotel packages for the 2012 Olympic Games through outlets like Thomas Cook. Their "Games Breaks" packages include a four or five-star hotel stay, plus, a ticket to an Olympic event of your choice (swimming, athletics, track cycling, or the opening ceremony). Or, try CoSport, which still has tix available for standalone events or packages inclusive of both events and lodging. Finally, a limited amount of Olympic tickets will be going back on sale come spring—you can check in for the latest updates at www.london2012.com.
If I can’t get Olympic tickets, are there any free Olympic events that I can attend?
Absolutely! If you can’t snag tickets, don’t despair. As soon as the Olympic torch arrives in Britain from Greece in May, you’ll see the city light up with Games-related goings-on. Street parties are set to crop up alongside the torchbearers as they head into London, and once the Games actually kick off, visitors can witness the Olympic and Paralympic marathons, and several cycling events from the streets for free—both begin and finish on The Mall, near Buckingham Palace (just arrive early enough to ensure a suitable vantage point). Visitors can also flock to main squares like Hyde Park, Victoria Park, and Potters Field Park, where big screens will be set up to display live coverage of Olympic events, along with live music and other free entertainment. And even if you don’t have tickets, you can always wander over to Olympic Park to ogle the architecture, art, and public spaces, and feel the almost-tangible energy of the events unfolding just inside.
How about securing tickets for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations?
Although Diamond Jubilee events and celebrations are scheduled throughout the year, the main happenings will unfold in London in early June. Many events will be free to view, like the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant, featuring a1,000-boat flotilla on the Thames led by the Queen herself on the Royal Barge. Or, catch the service of Thanksgiving at St. Paul’s Cathedral, followed by a formal carriage procession with Queen Elizabeth II. If you want to join ranks with her royal highness, consider nabbing tickets (for a fee) to the Epsom Derby, which she’ll attend on June 2.
Photo Credit: London 2012