According to its official website, the 2012 London Summer Olympic Games will begin on July 27 and run through August 12. Fans traveling to London to watch the Olympic competitions should make sure they free up time to enjoy some of the many attractions that London and nearby localities have to offer.
When I traveled to London and other parts of England during the summer of my sophomore year in college, I visited many of the popular tourist sites, such as the Tower of London, Big Ben, and the British Museum. However, my most memorable experiences came when I interacted with locals in pubs, on trains, or in stores. I learned as much from these encounters as I did from touring old buildings and perusing museum exhibits.
With that in mind, I have compiled a list of five things that visitors to London can do if they want to truly understand England's history, its food, it culture, and its people. Some of these places are well known, while others are not. All times are based on London time. The prices listed in this article are based on current exchange rates between the British pound sterling and the U.S. dollar; they are subject to change at any time.
Ye Olde Mitre
The best way to learn about another country is to talk to its people. When I was in England, the pubs provided me with excellent opportunities to strike up conversations with local residents. These places also tended to have a great selection of authentic British cuisine. One pub, which people traveling to London for the Olympic Games might want to try, is Ye Olde Mitre. Per its official website, Ye Olde Mitre offers visitors a chance to experience a pub type atmosphere while sampling authentic English foods, like pork pies and scotch eggs. What is more, the building is over 450 years old, and, as The Telegraph notes, it still has many antique features. Visitors can converse with England's modern inhabitants while at the same time connecting with the country's past. Per its website, Ye Olde Mitre is open Monday through Friday from 11:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. It is located on 1 Ely Court, Ely Place in London, which (per MapQuest), is about 16 miles from Heathrow Airport.
Westfield Stratford City
People taking a break from watching the London Olympics might want to stop by Westfield Stratford City Shopping Center. Per an article in The Telegraph, Westfield Stratford City, which covers 1.9 million square feet, is the largest shopping center in Europe. Its official website notes that the building contains 250 retail outlets, 70 eateries, bars, a 17 screen movie theater, a bowling alley, and a casino. Visitors can spend all day perusing the shops and enjoying themselves at the bowling alley or casino. At the same time, tourists who visit Westfield Stratford City will likely get a glimpse of the diverse array of people who call London home. Per its official website, Westfield Stratford City is open Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., on Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., and on Sunday from 12:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. It is conveniently located next to the Olympic Park.
|A picture of Highgate Cemetery - East by Panyd (1)|
I walked through several old cemeteries while in England, which allowed me both to view some historical markers as well as to feel like I was connected in some intangible way with England's past. Visitors to London for the 2012 Olympic Games, who want the same experience, can visit Highgate Cemetery. Per its official website, the graveyard is around 173 years old and serves as the last resting place for a number of prominent individuals, including Karl Marx, Douglas Adams (famous author), and several of Charles Dickens' relatives. The cemetery charges visitors an entry fee of $4.68 for adults and $3.11 for students. Children and teenagers who are under 16 can usually get in for free. There are additional, varying fees for guided tours. Individuals and groups who plan to visit Highgate cemetery on the weekdays and want a guided tour of the place should call 020 8340 1834 at least a week in advance. The cemetery is located on Swain's lane, which (per MapQuest) is only about four miles from Ye Olde Mitre. It is open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and on weekends from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Hampton Court Palace
When I was in England, I visited several famous attractions located in and around London. However, I was most impressed with Hampton Court Palace. I had the opportunity to tour a site that had hosted monarchs and other important figures. I got a sense of what life was like for people (both highborn and servants) who resided in the palace hundreds of years ago. At the same time, I was struck by the beauty of the architecture, furnishings and grounds. I would recommend Hampton Court Palace to anyone who is traveling to London to watch the Summer Olympic Games. Per its official website, Hampton Court Palace, located in Surrey, England, is only a 35 minute train ride from London Waterloo station. On July 28 and 29, the only way for visitors to reach the palace will be by train, as local roads will be closed for Olympic cycling races. Tickets are approximately $26.32 for adults and $13.22 for children and teenagers under 16 years of age. There are discounts for booking online, for students, and for groups. During the summer, Hampton Court Palace is open seven days a week from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. (last admission time is 5:00 p.m.).
Anyone visiting London for the Olympic Games (who has some free time) should catch a performance of one of William Shakespeare's plays at the Swan Theater. The theater, located in William Shakespeare's hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon, is owned by the Royal Shakespeare Company and hosts a number of plays (put on by members of the group). Per the Royal Shakespeare Company's official website, the theater only seats about 450 people. I think its small size provides a more intimate experience for theater goers like me. If you cannot book a spot at the Swan Theater, you may want to see if any spaces are available at the nearby Royal Shakespeare Theater, a larger venue which is also run by the Royal Shakespeare Company. The group also owns a theater in London, which offers a more limited selection of plays. As its website notes, the group is currently performing several Shakespearean plays at its Stratford-upon-Avon locations. It takes about 2 hours to reach the town from London by train.
1. Panyd at en.wikipedia. (2010, September). A Picture of Highgate Cemetery - East. Retrieved from
Wikimedia Commons (see linked title for photo). The author has released the photo into the
public domain via a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
The author is a freelance writer. He has a B.A. in history and took numerous British history courses while an undergraduate in college. He studied in England for six weeks during the summer between his sophomore and junior years in college and spent some time in London. He is also an avid sports fan. The author has been to Hampton Court Palace and the Swan Theater. He plans to visit Ye Olde Mitre, Highgate Cemetery and Westfield Stratford City on his next visit to London.
-- Anthony Hopper
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