Enjoy the Olympics in London

London provides many opportunities for tourists

The 2012 Olympics marks the third time London has hosted the games. In 1908, the event was scheduled to take place in Rome, but Mount Vesuvius erupted in 1906 and London was chosen to host instead. London was selected again for the 1944 Olympics, but they were postponed until 1948 due to World War II. This will be the first time London has ever hosted Olympic volleyball, and we’re thrilled to watch Team USA and the rest of the world’s best volleyball players duke it out for gold, both indoors at Earls Court and on the “beach” at Horse Guards Parade.

Getting around

With upwards of 800,000 people milling about the Olympic venues (not to mention all the native Londoners who still have to make their regular commutes), getting around London between July 27 and August 12 will be tricky to say the least. The Olympic website repeatedly emphasizes the need to leave early and allow extra time for delays, but the good news is there are quite a few options for getting to your favorite athletic event. However, driving a personal car is not one of them. Blue Badge parking spaces are available for visitors with disabilities but have to be ordered in advance and numbers are limited. For those staying in the city, public transportation is probably the best bet, including buses, the undeground “Tube,” and river transport via the Thames Clippers. If you’re staying outside the city, the Olympic committee has organized special offers on coaches and train rides from other parts of the U.K. to the venues. The final option is a park and ride service that will shuttle spectators in from Thurrock to the west or Herts County Showground to the north of the city.

Where to stay

Around the time of the Olympics, finding places to stay, especially affordable ones, is going to be a challenge. One option is to hole up in a hostel. The Youth Hostel Association has eight locations in London and others in the areas outside. Beds available during the Olympics are limited and going fast, but what few are still available go for around $50 a night. Members of the YHA receive a discount as well. For slightly higher paying customers, there’s the Cherry Court Hotel. This little boutique hotel is hidden on a side street in Central London, only a five-minute walk from Victoria Station. The rooms are small, but generally affordable. Another mid-range option is the Her Majesty Hotel, a bed and breakfast situated in the Shepard’s Bush area in West London. This is a great location for the volleyball fan, as it is only a fifteen-minute walk from the Earls Court facility where the indoor competitions will be held. Finally, for Olympic spectators with the deepest pockets, there’s Hotel 41, a luxury destination located opposite Buckingham Palace. The all-inclusive package gets you a complimentary laptop, a personal butler, and all the champagne and canapés you can consume. There’s even a pet concierge so your furry loved ones don’t have to be excluded from the family vacation.

Where to eat

Watching elite athletes perform is practically a sport in itself, and you’re sure to work up an appetite. Up the street from Horse Guards Parade, in Trafalgar Square, is Albannach “Restaurant and Whisky,” a former bank-turned-restaurant serving local ingredients such as Scotch beef and fish from British waters. They also stock more than 130 different whiskeys, coming from each of the five whiskey regions of Scotland and from as far as Australia and Japan. Etsu, a local chain named after the Japanese word for joy, has a location near the Parade as well. From bacon mozzarella pasta to pad thai, there’s something for everyone. Near the Earls Court facility you’ll find The Troubadour Club, a live music venue, wine retailer and tasting bar, gallery, garret residence, and café. The restaurant serves traditional English fare—fish and chips and bangers and mash—as well as a wide selection of pasta dishes, sandwiches, and appetizers. For vegan spectators, or those who merely appreciate the occasional meat-free meal, there’s 22 Veggie Vegan. At lunchtime, chef Ben Asamani prepares a giant buffet, but there’s also all-day takeout and an evening a la carte menu. Try the pumpkin and pine nut risotto or the seitan stroganoff for a unique culinary experience.

Earls Court history

1827 Earls Court Farm, owned by the Earl of Oxford
1887 Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show comes to Earls Court, beginning the venue’s tradition of hosting entertainment
1896 Earls Court Gigantic Ferris Wheel installed, reaching 300 feet high
1914 Camp for Belgian refugees created to host over 1,300 displaced people during World War I
1919 London General Omnibus Company buys the area and uses it to store unwanted buses
1937 First Earls Court building is constructed and opens its doors for the Chocolate and Confectionery exhibition
1939 Used as a factory for the manufacture and repair of air defense balloons during World War II
1976 The Rolling Stones perform in Earls Court
1991 Earls Court Two opened by Diana, Princess of Wales, for the Motorfair
2000-2010 Earls Court hosts the annual BRIT Awards (the U.K.’s Grammys)
2012 Host of Olympic indoor volleyball competition

Horse Guards Parade history

1533 King Henry VIII creates a tiltyard, or jousting ground, where today Horse Guards Parade proudly sits
1558 Queen Elizabeth I takes the throne and institutes two annual jousting festivals, one on her accession day and the other on her birthday
1663 Charles II creates a personal military guard and builds their barracks at Horse Guards, in front of his residence at the Palace of Whitehall
1759 Horse Guards is renovated and the residential capacity is doubled
1827 The Duke of Wellington resides at Horse Guards as the Commander-in-Chief of the British army before becoming prime minister in 1828
June 2, 1952-2012 The Queen’s official birthday (not to be confused with the actual day she was born, which is April 21) is celebrated every year with the Trooping the Colour parade, a tradition begun by Queen Elizabeth I
2012 Five thousand tons of sand is poured into the venue in preparation of the beach volleyball competition at the 2012 Olympics

Originally published in August 2012

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