Got a business meeting in London but concerned about chaos and congestion caused by the Olympics? Don’t be, says Travel Editor ANNE GORRINGE. Head to the capital and enjoy the unique Olympic vibe while it lasts.
Packed and delayed Tube trains, terror alerts, heaving streets and sky-high hotel prices – these were among the scare stories ahead of the London 2012 Olympics. Not surprisingly, many West businesspeople vowed to avoid the capital for the duration of the Games.
But over the last week, I’ve spent four days in London and I’ve never found it so friendly. Admittedly, I’ve worked hard to pick my travel times, avoiding rush hour and choosing trains with care, but on every journey I’ve been able to get a seat on the Tube.
Add to that the helpful, pink and purple-clad information guides you see at every station and it’s been great. Even ordinary Londoners have come up to offer change when I’ve been scratching around for cash to buy that vital tube ticket.
Oh, and did I mention that I had the excitement of bumping into an Olympic Gold Medal winner on Friday? Judging by the chatter on Twitter, my experience isn’t unique. Apparently top athletes – and their medals! – are being spotted travelling on the Tube and shopping in The Mall next to the Olympic Park.
As I’d not managed to buy any reasonably-priced Olympic tickets, I thought the next best thing was to head for Stratford Tube station and go into John Lewis in the shopping centre. There, for £2, you can snap up a ticket for the ‘viewing room’ which looks over the Olympic Park – across the top of the Aquatics Centre to the excited crowds.
But for a real party atmosphere, head to London Bridge Station where, next to the Thames, you can stroll past The House of Switzerland. Tourist Boards from a number of countries have taken over buildings – and areas – for the duration of the Games, setting up stalls and bars where athletes and the public can hang out, trying their local brews.
Olympic Gold – the Italian archery winner I met near Westminster
On Sunday I just missed Roger Federer who apparently popped in to the Swiss House after losing to Andy Murray in the men’s tennis final.
Across the bridge, I made my way along the river walkway towards the Tower of London where film crews were interviewing French athletes at the French House. According to the national Press this week, the ticket office here still had some Olympic seats available to buy for each day’s action – though I didn’t check this out.
Helpful staff at a relatively quiet Paddington Station, early on Friday afternoon
Taking the family with you for a couple of days to spend time together post-business meetings is still an option – according to a new website there are still good some great hotel deals around in London over the Olympic period.
Founder of www.justbook.com Stefan Menden said: “Many people would still love to get their hands on some Olympic tickets but may avoid trying to do so because public perception is that London is ‘fully booked’ and there is nowhere left to stay.
“However, many hotels still have rooms on stand-by and there are some great deals to be had if visitors know where to look.”
The cost of travel to London, particularly by train, can be high at the best of times. But there are alternatives if getting there as quickly as possible is not a priority.
I found a Megabus ticket on the 6.45am coach to London (which leaves from Bristol’s Colston Hall) for just £4 – with £6 for the 7.30pm coach back that evening. However, it might be worth a bit of research first to see if there are likely to be any traffic delays on the roads. See www.megabus.com for ticket details.
Finally, if you’re looking for a fun way to take in London’s sites once you’re there (and want to spend the money you’ve saved by going in Megabus) try the London Duck Tour.
Starting near the London Eye, its amphibious vehicles take a guided tour of the streets before heading onto The Thames itself. A family ticket for 2 adults and 2 under 12s starts at £62, so it’s not cheap. But it’s worth it. See www.londonducktours.co.uk