No ticket, no problem! Guide to enjoying the Olympics in London for free
Like a majority of Londoners I have spoken to, I’ve been surprised by the sudden onset of Olympic fever. After months, if not years, of negative press about the spiralling costs, the difficulty in getting (affordable!) tickets, engineering and road works and… sorry have mentioned this in a previous blog post, but those horrific Boris ‘it’s the big one’ announcements at stations, it’s finally here.
Since going to watch the Olympic torch relay last Monday, I have been growing more and more excited about the games. Many people like me, who don’t usually have an interest in sports and haven’t watched previous Olympics, are stunned to find a newfound enthusiasm for the Games, which have come out of nowhere. During Friday night’s Opening Ceremony, my Twitter and Facebook feeds were awash with pride (from the Brits) and admiration (from my foreign pals) and it appears the country has finally embraced the games.
So although I have been lucky enough to win tickets to the hockey (of which I know nothing about…), most of my friends haven’t got tickets so we’ve been trying to find ways of soaking up the atmosphere and even catch a game without spending a penny. On Saturday, I went to watch the Men’s Cycle Road Race on Constitution Hill and it was great fun. So here’s a guide to enjoying the Games and the other events on in London over the summer.
Free Olympic and Paralympic Events (click links for detailed maps and schedules)
The Women’s Individual Time Trial starts at 12:30 and ends (estimated) 13:45 at Hampton Court Palace, goes through Esher, Hersham, Cobham and Thames Ditton.
The Men’s Individual Time Trial starts at 14:15 and ends (estimated) 16:10 at Hampton Court Palace, going through similar route to Women’s, but also including Teddington and Hampton Wick.
- Saturday 4th August – Women’s Triathlon
The Women’s Triathlon includes ticketed seating on the north bank of the Serpentine in Hyde Park, but the remainder of the course is free for spectators. The swimming part (1.5km) will start in the Serpentine at 9am, then the cycling (43km in 7 laps of 6.1km), which will go along South Carriage Drive in the park, down Constitution Hill and back to the park, then there’s a 10km run (4 laps of 2.5km), ending at approx 10:30am. The winner will be presented with their medal at the end.
- Saturday 4th August – Men’s 20km Race Walk
The Men’s 20km Race Walk starts at 17:00 at The Mall. The rules stipulate one foot may remain on the ground at all times as the competitors speed-walk along the route of 10 laps around the 2km between The Mall and the Constitution Hill and back again. The Mall area is ticketed, but Constitution Hill and around the Queen Victoria Memorial are free.
- Sunday 5th August – Women’s Marathon
The Women’s Marathon starts at 11am at The Mall (ticket holders only), before taking a route along Victoria Embankment, St Paul’s, Cannon Street and Blackfriars before ending at The Mall.
- Tuesday 7th August – Men’s Triathlon
The Men’s Triathlon is pretty much the same route and set-up as the women’s above. So apart from ticketed area on Serpentine’s north bank, spectators can find free spots along the route in and outside of the park. The event starts at 11am and is scheduled to finish at 13:15 with the medal presentation at the climax.
- Thursday 9th August – Women’s 10k Swimming Marathon
The Women’s 10K Swimming Marathon starts at 12:00 and will include 10 laps of the Serpentine in Hyde Park. Apart from ticketed area on Serpentine’s north bank, the south bank is free for spectators.
- Friday 10th August – Men’s 10k Swimming Marathon
The Men’s 10K Swimming Marathon starts at 12:00 and will include 10 laps of the Serpentine in Hyde Park. Apart from ticketed area on Serpentine’s north bank, the south bank is free for spectators.
- Saturday 11th August – Men’s 50k Race Walk
The Men’s 50km Race Walk starts at 9am at The Mall. The rules stipulate one foot may remain on the ground at all times as the competitors speed-walk along the route of 25 laps around the 2km course between The Mall and the Constitution Hill and back again. The Mall area is ticketed, but Constitution Hill and around the Queen Victoria Memorial are free.
- Saturday 11th August – Women’s 20K Race Walk
The Women’s 20km Race Walk starts at 17:00 at The Mall. The rules stipulate one foot may remain on the ground at all times as the competitors speed-walk along the route of 10 laps around the 2km course between The Mall and the Constitution Hill and back again. The Mall area is ticketed, but Constitution Hill and around the Queen Victoria Memorial are free.
- Sunday 12th August – Men’s Marathon
Again, very similar route to the Women’s, starting at The Mall at 11am (ticket holders only) but then going along Victoria Embankment into the City of London and back again. Estimated to finish at 13:30 with the medal presentation.
- Sunday 9 September – Paralympic Marathon
The Men’s and Women’s Marathon both take place today. Some athletes will compete with wheelchairs or throwing frames, some with prostheses or with guidance from a sighted companion.
- Monday 10 September – Team GB Parade
Giving the public a chance to cheer for and celebrate with the athletes of the Games as they parade from Mansion House in the City of London, past St Paul’s Cathedral, The Strand, Trafalgar Square and ending in The Mall.
BT London Live
BT have commandeered three famous London spaces – Hyde Park, Victoria Park in East London and Trafalgar Square – to give Londoners and visitors the chance to enjoy the games if they haven’t got a ticket. As well as big TV screens being set up to watch the action live from the Olympic Park and other sites, there is also a variety of entertainment, including concerts. While many of the bigger concerts in Hyde Park will be paid ticket only, to watch the actual games is free entry. A certain amount of tickets for guaranteed entry are available in advance online, but there will also be tickets available each day on a first come, first served basis, depending on capacity. While Hyde Park and Victoria Park are currently running from now until 12 August, the Trafalgar Square area will be open over the whole summer, including the Paralympics. Hyde Park will have a sports area so you can try your hand at your favourite sports, while Victoria Park will have an Observation Wheel, zipline, bungee trampolines and water-zorbing pool. Visit BT London Live’s website for more information.
Olympic Photo Opportunities
Even when you’re not at a sports venue, you can be sure wherever you are in London, they’ll be an Olympic symbol or event going on. The iconic Olympic rings have been placed on Tower Bridge, while the Paralympic symbol will be illuminated on the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square from 19 August.
Every night during the Olympics and Paralympics, images from the Games will be projected along the Houses of Parliament.
London’s famous bridges will be lit up in dazzling light displays every night of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. My tip is go for dinner or drinks at one of the many restaurants or bars spanning the Southbank between Westminster Bridge and Tower Bridge then walk off your dinner while checking out the bridges.
Games Mascots Wenlock and Mandeville Discovery Tours
Wenlock – the official mascot of the Olympics – and Mandeville – the official mascot of the Paralympics – have been somewhat controversial, but following their recent appearance on the streets of London, are growing on some Londoners. The Mayor Of London’s office have put together six walking routes in London with different designs of Wenlock and Mandeville highlighting history and culture of the surrounding area. Go to the MOLpresents website to find maps, or see how many you can spot by yourself. Fun activity for adults and children alike.
Big Screen at Potters Fields Park and The Scoop
Watch the games on a big screen at Potters Fields Park on the south bank of the Thames, in between Tower Bridge and City Hall. Nearby is The Scoop amphitheatre, with free music, theatre and films available to all. Visit The Scoop’s website for more info.
Special Events around London
Sacrilege – inflatable Stonehenge tour of London
Artist Jeremy Deller has created a large inflatable, bouncy castle replica of Stonehenge for both adults and children to jump on. It will be popping up in parks and spaces in London. Check the website for locations and dates.
Bandstand Marathon – free live music
On Sunday 9 September, over 500 bandstands across the country will host free musical performances. Visit the Bandstand Marathon website for more details.
Carnaval del Pueblo – Latin American festival