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
The red telephone box is one of Britain’s biggest icons – it’s up there with red London bus, Big Ben, Beefeaters, the Union Jack and Queen Elizabeth II herself.
But for tourists arriving in London ahead of the Olympics, may find themselves slightly confused by the bizarre-looking phoneboxes dotted around the capital.
However, these multi-coloured and embellished street furniture haven’t been vandalised, they are simply part of the BT ArtBox project to mark the 25th anniversary of children’s charity Childline. They have invited artists and companies to customise their own replica box, which have been displayed around the city. But don’t get too carried away, these boxes don’t include a working phone should you need one, they’re simply for your viewing pleasure.
With the use of telephone boxes on the rapid decline since the popularity of mobile phones, I think the ArtBox project is an ingenious way to celebrate this iconic structure that draws so many tourists to pose inside them, as well as raise awareness and money for Childline. Following their display around the streets of London, they are to be auctioned off.
Before we find out about some of the Artboxes I have come across, a quick history about the real things. The first public telephone box was designed in 1920 for the Post Office and named K1 (Kiosk No.1), based on the same idea as the Police Telephone Boxes and Posts. However, the London Metropolitan Boroughs weren’t too impressed with the design and so the Fine Arts Commission judged a competition to find a more attractive and practical design. The winner was a London-born architect named Giles Gilbert Scott (who later designed Battersea Power Station) who came up with a classical style with a dome on top – inspired by Sir John Soane’s mausoleums at St Pancras Old Churchyard and Dulwich Picture Gallery (read my blog on the current Andy Warhol exhibition here).
So with the K2 design chosen, the Post Office chose to make it red so it easily to stand out to the public searching the streets for a payphone. Various different models followed, the K3, K4 and K5, but it is the K6 one which is most famous today.
Sir Giles designed the K6 model in 1935 to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of King George V. The model was rolled out across the country with the amount of public phone boxes in Britain rising from 8,000 in 1930 to 19,000 in Silver Jubilee year, rising even further to 35,000 by the time World War II broke out.
Today, with a majority of the boxes owned by BT and a lot less attractive, modern phone boxes instead and the widespread use of mobile phones, you will find the red telephone boxes aren’t in such demand as they used to be. The days of queuing for a phone box and huffing and puffing when you’re stuck in a line behind a right chatterbox appear to be long gone.
With the BT ArtBox auction having gone live on eBay on Monday 16th July (ending Sunday 22nd July), there isn’t much time left to check out the boxes on show. Here’s a selection of a few I’ve spotted so far…
Many tourists are likely to come across the two on a traffic island in Trafalgar Square – Mandii Pope’s ‘Big Ben’ and Lauren O’Farrell’s ‘Dial M For Monster’. A short hop away outside Charing Cross Station on The Strand is Fred Butler’s Mobile Phone, designed to look like a vintage mobile. With actual buttons, it creates nostalgia for a design already outdated by Smartphones.
Another popular tourist spot where the public will come across the ArtBoxes is in Potter’s Field Park – the green expanse outside City Hall on the south bank of the River Thames. Right beside the base of Tower Bridge is London & Partner’s ‘Welcome To London’ box, a white box covered in speech bubbles with different languages to represent the multi-cultural melting pot that is London.
Less than a minute’s walk to the East of City Hall are two ArtBoxes – Aboud & Aboud’s ‘Shocking Conversation’, which looks like an unfinished box which has been partially dunked in red paint. It has been described as the colour is ‘draining out’ of the box.
Next to it stands Peter Anderson’s ‘London Calling’, which features iconic images of Joe Strummer and The Clash from the 1980s.
While most of the ArtBoxes are in and around the City and West End, some are dotted a bit further out, including Westfield Stratford, Canary Wharf and Ravenscourt Park. Just outside the West End are two located in and outside the Royal Albert Hall.
The ArtBox outside, entitled ‘Ring-A-Royal Phonebox’ created by children’s TV presenter Timmy Mallett, has a royal theme, which is very apt considering the origins of the concert venue and the fact the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge live a short walk away in Kensington Palace. Each side of the box contains some of the most popular members of the Royal Family – the Queen herself, the Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry. Kate Middleton is recognisable with her glossy brown hair and blue dress and is pushing a pram – significant to the pressure she is under to produce a royal heir. The Queen is accompanied by one of her beloved Corgis, while Harry is pulling Usain Bolt’s classic pointing pose – so the ArtBox is both celebrating the Royal Jubilee, while making a nod to the Olympics.
For another blog posts on a Giles Gilbert Scott creation, read A look inside Battersea Power Station before the developers move in
Or to read about his grandfather Sir George Gilbert Scott’s creations, click A bit of bling amongst the green: The glistening Albert Memorial in Hyde Park or inside the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel: Afternoon tea at The Gilbert Scott review: Treat yourself in stunning Gothic surroundings.