Last-Minute Tips for Visiting London During the Olympics

July 11, 2012 by

Festivals & Events, Travel Tips, Unforgettable Experiences

This post is part of Viator’s coverage of the London Olympics. Leading up to the Games and every day during the Games, we’ll be posting tips from our London-based blogger, Philippa. Be sure to check back often for the latest updates on happenings around London, news on special events and tips for what to see and do in London and the surrounding area while you’re visiting!

Olympic Rings at the Royal Botanic Gardens in London. Photo courtesy of EG Focus via Flickr.

Olympic Rings at the Royal Botanic Gardens in London. Photo courtesy of EG Focus via Flickr.

Day 54 of the Torch Relay and it’s getting closer to lighting the flame at the stadium and the beginning of the 2012 London Olympic Games.

Despite the summer so far being one of rain, rain and more rain in England – though it is still warm – the crowds have been turning out across the country to cheer. Crowds have watched the Torch go by and celebrated all the Torch Bearers who have ranged from Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton, to pop icon Cliff Richard to George Weedon who is 92 and was a gymnast in the 1948 London Olympic Games. Yesterday, the torch visited Windsor Castle where the handover was watched by the Queen and Prince Philip.

Giant Olympic Rings are appearing around the UK with the latest ones being on Tower Bridge in London. They’re also at Heathrow airport where so many athletes and spectators will arrive and at St Pancras Station where you catch the fast train to the Olympic site.  There’s even a set of rings at the French entrance to the Channel Tunnel in Coquelles where people driving from Europe to watch the sports enter the tunnel. Birmingham Airport has put rings on their control tower and in Newcastle they’re on the Tyne Bridge spanning the river. In Scotland, Edinburgh the Olympic rings were put high on The Mound, while Glasgow has placed theirs in iconic George Square. Northern Ireland’s capital Belfast has hung the five rings from their town hall. The biggest and most innovative have to be those mown into the grass at Richmond Park in southwest London, which is under the flightpath into Heathrow – they were mown in by The Royal Parks’s Shire Horses.

Signs have been going up throughout the stations of the London Underground to help people find their way through the labyrinth of tunnels and connections to reach the venues. These are large pink signs, not easy to miss and placed regularly on the platform walls and throughout the stations.

At the venues themselves the finishing touches are being made. I have to say the main stadium looks a lot prettier now that it has had the outside decorations finished, though it’s still outshone by the wonderful Aquatics Center and The Velodrome. There’s been a lot of talk about the still under-wraps opening ceremony especially with actor Sir Kenneth Branagh suddenly replacing Mark Rylance to deliver one of the key speeches, verses from Shakespeare’s The Tempest from which the ceremony’s title is taken: The Isles of Wonder. Rylance has withdrawn for personal reasons, but as they say, the show must go on.

Security measures are tightening as the Games get closer, so keep this in mind when you’re traveling around the UK. There will be security checks at all venues so leave time and remember not to bring prohibited items such as liquids over 100 milliliters – think as if you’re boarding an international flight. You may  however bring empty bottles and fill them at fountains inside the venues. Only one bag per person is allowed and it must fit under your seat. Checks will be particularly tight at football matches so try to avoid bringing a bag to those if you can.

It’s worth noting that the only way you can pay for things inside the venues is by cash or Visa (credit, debit or prepaid card).

I came through Gatwick Airport arrivals a few days ago and found long queues although the passport checking moved quite quickly. A friend who flew in later in the day said he experienced almost no queue at all. Long delays were reported at Heathrow Terminal 4 yesterday but the other terminals seem to be fine. Just be prepared for a longish wait in line and you’ll most likely be pleasantly surprised. One of the main road routes into central London from Heathrow is closed for urgent repairs so there are traffic problems there, but the trains (Underground and Heathrow Express) are cheaper and faster than by road anyway.

London is nearly ready for the Games to begin: now we just need the weather to co-operate and the sun to shine.

Read more about the Olympics.

- Philippa Burne

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