London for the Paralympic Games
The Agitos, the official symbol of the 2012 Paralympic Games, are seen with the Orbit viewing platform in the background. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press)
Barely has the hubbub of the 2012 Olympic Games died down, and London is deep in the throes of preparing for another major sporting event.
The 2012 Paralympic Games, which kicks off on 29 August, will be the second largest sporting event ever held in the UK -- runner up only to the 2012 Olympics, which ended with the Closing Ceremonies on 12 August. Though 9 September, more than 4,200 Paralympics competitors will take part in 503 events that span 21 sports, including track-and-field favourite the 100m sprint and wheelchair events such as fencing, rugby and basketball.
While some of the cultural events that were launched in time for the Olympic Games will continue, there is also a host of other events taking place especially for visitors to the Paralympic Games.
Can I get a ticket?
Some 2.3m of the 2.5m Paralympics competition tickets have already sold, but there is still availability for key events like the Opening and Closing Ceremonies. There are also large screens set up around London where you can watch all the action, just like visitors could for the Olympic Games
Some of the most anticipated events this year will be when South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius – who also competed in the Summer Olympics – competes in the T44 100m final on 6 September, and when Irish sprinter Jason Smyth -- the fastest Paralympian on the planet – takes part in the T13 100m event for visually impaired athletes on 1 September. In the pool, Britain’s Ellie Simmonds – who won two golds in Beijing in 2008 at age 13 – will attempt to defend her titles in the S6 100m freestyle, but will face fierce competition from Dutch swimmer Mirjam de Koning-Peper.
How crowded will London be?
Some 2.5 million people are expected to watch the Paralympics events, compared to the seven million tickets sold for Olympics events, but London’s public transport system is expected to be just as busy. As such, the Transport for London organisation has warned people to add extra time to their journeys because of the sheer number of people getting to and from the Olympic Park. Add to that the city’s many students, who are returning to class after the summer holidays, and a host of other annual autumn events, including Proms In The Park (8 September), a classical music favourite, and the Thames Festival (8 to 9 September), London’s largest outdoor arts event -- and those Tube carriages are going to feel extra cosy.
What else is on apart from the sports?
London saw a wealth of artistic and cultural events during the Olympics, and that will continue during the Paralympic Games. Unlimited, which runs until 9 September, is described as the UK’s largest programme celebrating arts, culture and sport by deaf and disabled people. Its free roster of dance, theatre, music and visual art performances includes the Garden, a gravity-defying piece of outdoor theatre from the British disabled theatre company Graeae and the Australia-based company Strange Fruit.
London’s annual deaf and disabled arts festival, the free Liberty Festival, will also take place during the Paralympics (1 to 3 September), and this year the one-day programme of music, theatre and film screenings has been expanded to three days.
This year’s Thames Festival, an annual September highlight, includes a choral event held on HMS Belfast (the WWII-era ship moored near the Globe Theatre) and a Brazilian-style float (moored near the Oxo Tower on South Bank), decorated in homage to the next summer Olympic city, Rio de Janeiro. On 9 September, a massive free fireworks display will take place along a stretch of the river between Blackfriars and Waterloo Bridges – a fitting companion to the Paralympics Closing Ceremony taking place the same night.
Music fans – be they classical or pop – will have much to choose from during the Paralympic Games. The world famous BBC Proms classical concert season continues until 8 September, with recitals of Bach (1 September), Beethoven (6 September) and Strauss (7 September) taking place during the Paralympics.
This year’s iTunes festival, which normally takes place in July at London’s historic Roundhouse venue in Camden, was delayed because of the Olympics. Tickets to the shows, taking place between 1 and 30 September, are still available on a first-come, first-served basis. Acts taking part include R&B diva Jessie J, Oasis lynchpin Noel Gallagher, acoustic favourite Ed Sheeran and former White Stripe leader Jack White. Those who miss out can console themselves with a free outdoor gig on 9 September hosted by BBC Radio 2 Live in London’s Hyde Park, with soul singer Emeli Sande, leather-lunged Paloma Faith and rock dinosaurs Status Quo.
Shakespeare fans can also see Royal Shakespeare Company's new production of Julius Caesar at London's Noel Coward Theatre (through 15 September) while the National Theatre performs the Bard’s Timon of Athens (through 1 November), both during the Paralympics.
How wheelchair-friendly are London’s tourist sites?
Many wheelchair users and other disabled visitors are expected in London during the Paralympics. Transport can be tricky, but most modern buses are wheelchair-friendly, and there are a number of Tube stations accessible to wheelchairs. Find out how the city has been making strides with extra services and facilities.