London Olympics: 5 travel tips to make the most of it
Travelling to London for the Olympics? A hotel booking expert tells you how to survive the biggest event of the year.
Nothing brings people together across different cultures and nationalities quite like sports and this year, London will see this ring true as it hosts the 2012 Summer Olympics.
With travellers from all over the world coming together to cheer on their national teams, visitors to the British capital during July will get to soak in an atmosphere they'd be hard pressed to find elsewhere.
Planning to join in the party? Hotels.com shows you how to survive the year's biggest event, with tips on getting the most out of your experience.
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Image: Sebastian Coe with the Olympic torch
Photographs: Getty Images
Getting around in London
To get around effectively during the Olympic season, make sure you have two things -- an Oyster card and comfortable walking shoes.
The lucky few who have managed to score a ticket for an Olympic event on the same day will be glad to know that public transportation is free for them, but if not, the Oyster transit pass is the cheapest way to pay for single journeys on the Tube system, public buses, trams and most national rail services in the country.
Besides saving costs -- a standard 2.30 pounds (Rs 203.48) bus ride will only cost you 1.35 pounds (Rs 119.44) with the Oyster -- it also saves you the trouble of having to queue for tickets at every transit.
Alternatively, taking to the streets might reduce your travel time and help you avoid tourist crowds taking the Tube.
The majority of London's central locations are within walking distance, and the revamp of public transit, cycling routes and pedestrian trails to connect most parts of the city easily to main Olympic venues means that walking to your destination is now easier than ever.
Besides saving money on transportation fees, you will also get to take in more of the sights. Just make sure you invest in a pair of comfortable shoes!
If neither walking nor taking the Tube is for you, consider getting around the city on two wheels by hopping on a Boris Bike.
This cycle hire scheme allows anyone with a credit card to rent a bicycle from any of its 400 docking stations.
With miles of wide, uninterrupted, traffic-free cycling paths in London -- many of which are being spruced up and connected in light of the Games -- not only is this a great way to avoid meat-packing yourself in the London Underground, it's also a pleasant way to soak in the city's atmosphere, one street at a time.
Besides, if the trip is less than 30 minutes, you don't even have to fork out a single cent.
Image: The cycle hire scheme in London allows anyone with a credit card to rent a bicycle from any of its 400 docking stations
Photographs: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
Spread your money to avoid being pick pocketed
While one can easily beat the crowd and crammed tube carriages with alternative transportation methods, there is unfortunately no way to completely avoid a crowd staple: pickpockets.
The good news is protecting yourself from being pick pocketed is fairly easy, as long as you keep your wits about you and take the following practical steps to protect your valuables:
- Never bring out all your money, credit cards and passport -- try to keep the bulk of your money in your hotel safe instead.
- Spread your money out -- this ensures that if you do get pick pocketed, you'll still have enough money to get back to your hotel.
- Try not to keep your wallet in your back pocket but if you must use a pocket to store your cash and cards, use the front pocket of your jeans and do check it from time to time.
- Lastly, remember you will be dealing with professionals, so don't ever think, "It will not happen to me".
Image: A view of British sterling money in coins and bank notes.
Photographs: Catherine Benson/Reuters
Expect a heavy downpour within minutes, even in summer
What to pack
If there was only one word to describe the weather in London, it's most certainly the word 'unpredictable'.
While you don't quite get four seasons in a day, you could be sweltering in a T-shirt one day and shivering in two sweaters the next, making packing somewhat of a nightmare.
Britain has a maritime climate, so it is not unusual for the weather to change from that of sunshine to a heavy downpour within minutes -- even in summer.
As such, aside from packing some nerves of steel and a truckload of patience to deal with the crowd, it would be wise to bring along an umbrella or a raincoat wherever you go as well as some warm clothing such as scarfs and jackets.
The basic key to dealing with this weather volatility is simply to pack clothes that will allow you to either add or remove layers through the day.
Image: People walk over the Millenium Bridge in the pouring rain in London, United Kingdom
Photographs: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Soak in the spirit of the Games
Free Olympic events
If you failed to score tickets to the London 2012 Games, fret not, as there are still other means you can catch some of the world's top athletes live in action this summer.
There will be a number of Olympic events that are free to watch along the streets of London, including road cycling, triathlon, marathon, race walking, as well as the ranking rounds of archery.
Regardless of which free events you decide to catch, it is still highly recommended that you fit in a visit to the Olympic Park, where you can catch a glimpse of the unique stadium architecture and soak in the buzz and spirit of the games.
Image: Travel enthusiasts can expect to be welcomed by colourful mascots for the Olympic Games
Take a break, head to the museums
Wish to take a breather from the Olympic craze and crowds? Then get out of typical tourist hotspots.
Instead head to some of the city's lesser-visited but equally interesting museums, like the Imperial War Museum, which features exhibitions on conflicts from the First World War to today, or the Fashion and Textile Museum, where you can learn more about how international and British fashion has evolved from the 1950s to present day.
Alternatively, you could also simply pack a picnic and check out some of London's greenery at the Chelsea Physic Gardens, Hampstead Heath or Battersea Park.
If visiting a few popular attractions still remains a part of your agenda, consider getting a multi-sightseeing pass, which is a great way to save both time and money.
The London Pass is by far the most thorough, offering entry and queue hops to more than 55 of the most popular attractions, and at the same time providing the benefits of an advance ticket with increased flexibility over your visiting times.
These will be the busiest few weeks London has seen in quite some time, so the rule of thumb is essentially to think ahead.
London is definitely a city where researching and planning your itinerary and routes in advance will be an advantage, so do plan ahead to make the most out of this once-in-a-lifetime experience!
Image: Tate Modern museum, London
Photographs: Rediff Archives