London 2012 Festival: What can you see on a shoestring?

Owl and Pussycat performance
Image caption Mile End Park hosted a water-bound operatic adaptation of The Owl and the Pussycat

A virtual orchestra. A literature labyrinth. A water-bound opera. A pop-up puppet workshop.

Just a few of the events offered by London 2012 Festival organisers.

But how much culture can a person soak up in the city in a single day, for nothing?

Wearing our most sturdy footwear, we armed ourselves with an umbrella for that unpredictable British summer and traversed the capital from the west to east to find out.

It was far from a festival atmosphere on the Tube getting to the first cultural port of call - the Science Museum, in South Kensington.

Tempers were frayed after a fire alert on the Central line, and it was raining. Again.

'Virtual' orchestra

After navigating around space rockets and steam engines, you will find the Universe of Sound in a remarkably quiet corner on the museum's second floor.

Yet relative tranquillity earlier in the day allowed maximum opportunity to test the interactive games, where you can move your hands to conduct a "virtual" Philharmonia orchestra performing Holst's The Planets.

It works surprisingly well. But for a more traditional approach, there are actual instruments to hand and even members of the real orchestra to show you how to use them.

Exhibition Road was practically deserted during the stroll up to Hyde Park's ornate gates, before heading on to the Serpentine Pavilion. Perhaps, the tourists were in sports venues instead.

Sitting in the pavilion itself, which is dug beneath the gallery's lawn, it is perhaps tricky at first to see what all the fuss is about.

The pavilion is dimly lit and the first thing that hits you is a faint damp, barky aroma in the air.

Fortunately attendant Richard Humby was on hand to educate those of us who might not appreciate the intricacies of the project.

"If you take your time with it, it's really intriguing and contemplative," he said.

The brainchild of the designers of the 2008 Beijing Olympics stadium the 'Birds Nest', the pavilion takes an archaeological approach to explore the hidden history of the Serpentine's past pavilions.

The team dug into the ground to find the remains of previous projects, then built 11 columns that characterised them, and added an additional one, to support a floating platform roof.

And the pavilion's interior is clad in cork, hence the smell.

Heading south of the River Thames, the newly opened aMAZEme project at the Southbank Centre failed to amaze everyone.

Billed as "a labyrinth of books", John Franklin, nine, from east London, said: "It only took me two minutes to go round."

Multi-coloured beach

Perhaps the point is to get lost in the literature along the way.

But if a limited edition Lord of the Rings catches your eye at the bottom of the structure, you'll have to resist the temptation to grab it or risk the whole thing toppling around you like a giant book Jenga.

Ambling along the Southbank: a multi-coloured urban beach; a wildflower meadow; 10 tonnes of scrap metal transformed into games; a giant map of the world being made entirely of Lego.

Image caption BBC News reporter Andy Dangerfield traversed the capital in search of free arts and culture

They are not all officially part of the 2012 Festival but are visual feasts nonetheless.

Outside the National Theatre, Spanish performance group Roda Mon is warming up for their Mumusic Circus show - a lively mix of music, pole-balancing and paper hats.

But as the Eurhythmics number Here Comes The Rain blasts out on the sound system, the skies opened with uncanny timing.

"All we could have hoped for is a bit less rain," said Angus MacKechnie, Watch This Space festival producer. "But what can you do about the British summer?"

Fortunately, sheltering inside the theatre, the War Horse exhibition keeps culture vultures engaged with puppetry, props and costumes from the smash-hit show.

For your next stop, if undecided whether to opt for art or theatre, the Tate Modern may be the place for you.

Tino Sehgal's Turbine Hall commission sees choreographed performers mingle with gallery visitors.

It's engaging, unpredictable and a must see - hard to drag oneself away from but east London was calling.

Petrol fumes

En route, the Millennium Bridge is transformed into a sonic art installation, telling the story of London and its people.

The Tube from St Paul's to Mile End was standing room only - no real change from London's usual rush hour.

Mile End Park was hosting a water-bound operatic adaptation of Edward Lear poem The Owl and the Pussycat, and east Londoners had turned out in their hundreds to see it.

"This is the most exciting thing to happen here in years," said Delaney Wood, 29, from Bethnal Green. "The kids love the costumes."

A multi-storey car park in Shoreditch was the destination for the day's final cultural conquest.

Image caption BMW Classic Live exhibition showcases 16 cars that have been decorated over the past four decades by artists including pop-art pioneer Andy Warhol

Entering through a car lift where petrol fumes linger in the air, visitors are transported up seven floors.

The BMW Classic Live exhibition showcases 16 cars that have been decorated over the past four decades by artists including pop-art pioneer Andy Warhol.

Yet arguably, the view from the carpark's seventh floor is of equal artistic merit.

With street art to be spotted in every direction along Shoreditch's winding alleys and the Baroque masterpiece of St Paul's poking out on the skyline, it feels as if the entire city is one giant gallery.

If you're just stopping by to witness Olympics sporting success, spare a moment to marvel at London's artistic offerings too.

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