London Stories and Tips

Olympic Park

The Orbit Photo, London, England

There are now less than 100 days to go to the Olympic Games and the excitement and anticipation is building dramatically in the UK, but even more so when you visit London. It is a very exciting time in the capital, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity for London and for anyone visiting, to soak up this unique atmosphere.

Most of the Olympic action will take place in and around Stratford in East London. I discovered that you can see the Olympic Park area with a Blue Badge tourist guide. They have guided walks every day at 11:00am and 2:00pm. To join these, you have to get to Bromley by Bow underground station. Two people met us there and directed us to the starting point for the walk - across the road and next to a big supermarket! The cost was £7.50 for adults and £5.00 for children. You pay the guide directly just before the walk and they only accept cash.

I had read on their website, that it was advisable to book in advance to be sure of a place. I don't think this is really necessary though. We did book in advance, but no-one asked to see evidence of this. There were crowds of people arriving for the walk, they didn't turn anyone away and there were lots of Blue Badge guides there.

Our guide was a very nice lady called Jackie. We got there just before 11 o'clock, but she told us we would hang around for about 15 more minutes to let more people join the tour. There were about 30 of us in total, a mixture of nationalities and all age groups. The tour guide was excellent - very nice, very knowledgable and very interesting. We very much enjoyed her commentary, as did our 8 year old son, so she pitched it just right for everyone.

The guide explained to us why East London was chosen to host the Olympics and pointed out various places of interest along the way. We only got to walk around the edge of the Olympic Park site and peer through gaps in the fence at the Stadium and Aquatics Centre.

She pointed out to us in the distance Copperbox, the Broadcasting Centre and the Olympic Village. The International Broadcasting Centre is already being used. This is where the television networks and radio broadcasters will be housed - 20,000 of them in total.

We got a very good view of the Velodrome where the GB team are training. Apparently at the Olympic Village the canteen will be the largest restaurant in the world. They want the athletes to "compete" and not "commute" so the village is close to all the main venues.

The theme of sustainability was evident during the tour - lots of the buildings are temporary - e.g. the basketball builtding and the hockey building, but they will be moved to new locations after the games.

The Olympic Stadium is impressive. It has an 80,000 capacity - a roof will cover two thirds of the spectators. The running track is sunken, so no wind will affect the performances of the athletes and they hope this will help with some new records being set.

A very striking feature of the Olympic Park is the Orbit - this is a spiralling tower in red metal which apparently incorporates the 5 Olympic rings (I couldn't see this), and it was designed by the sculptor Anish Kapoor.

The walk in total is about 1.5 miles and took nearly 2 hours. You can't go inside the Olympic Park, but you do get reasonable views over the fence of most of the venues and you go as close to the perimeter as you are permitted. At times it got very noisy - there is a lot of construction work going on, but our guide managed very well despite the noise and her commentary gave us an oversight we would otherwise not have had.

The walk is suitable for all ages - from children up to the elderly. It is mostly on pavements or proper footpaths and the pace was not fast. It finished outside the Westfield shopping centre, where the guide recommended we go inside the John Lewis department store and view the stadium from their viewing area - you do get a reasonable view from there. For us though, the best view of the stadium itself was from a train on the Docklands Light Railway heading to Canary Wharf - the view from here was perfect!

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