Sidestepping London’s Olympic crowds
Crowd in London's Trafalgar Square for the Olympic and Paralympic Heroes Parade in 2008. (Press Association)
To say London will be crowded this year is an understatement -- the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics on 27 July coincides with the end of the school term and the start of one of the busiest holiday periods of the British summer.
A total of 29.4 million overseas arrivals are expected to visit the UK in 2012, according to research firm Euromonitor. That is only a 4% increase over last year, but throw in all the local tourists and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in June and you could have the perfect storm.
Predictions by Olympics organisers show that on the peak day, 3 August, which is the first day of track and field and many other big events, there will be an extra three million journeys taken on public transport, this is on top of the 12 million trips made during an average London workday.
Unlike Her Majesty, navigating your way through the capital city does not come with a motorcade to scatter the masses, or a quiet palatial pad in central London. But is possible to avoid the maddening mobs, inflated hotel prices and still enjoy the festivities.
On two wheels
If you want to avoid meat-packing yourself into the summer-sweaty London Underground, hop on a Boris Bike, named after the capital's cycling mayor, Boris Johnson. The mayor’s current Barclays Cycle hire scheme is being extended east to Stratford, the site of the Olympics. Anyone with a credit card can now rent one of 6,000 bicycles from the 400 docking stations. It is best to follow a Greenway -- quiet routes through Royal Parks and back streets or meandering along tree-lined canal paths. Eight greenways, like spokes in a wheel, will also feed into the Olympic Park itself.
There are miles of wide, uninterrupted, traffic-free walking and cycling paths in London (with maps available online), many of which are being spruced up and connected for the summer. Cycle hire points even exist at Lord's Cricket Ground, which hosts the archery, and Horse Guards Parade, the home to the beach volleyball.
Take a cycle or a walk down the Thames Path, a hassle free highway that takes you from the hustle and bustle of the West End out to desolate wharves and wildlife havens, finishing at Greenwich, home to one of the Olympic sites.
On two legs
London is the quintessential walking city. There are many options for you to get around, with the sound of ducks and wind whistling through the plane trees.
All routes are impressively mapped out by Walk London, from the 78-mile Capital Ring to the 37-mile Jubilee Greenway, a new walk marking the Queen’s celebrations. Who said the Olympics had to be about busy buses, tumultuous Tubes and hordes in the hotel lobby?
Summer will be the season to travel peacefully by water, as long as you are not on the Thames on 3 June when a 1,000 boat flotilla celebrates the Queen’s Jubilee. Frequent river boats make the journey from the centre to East End venues in less than 40 minutes. On board you get the best London views, no traffic and a reasonable price. Ticket-holding Olympic spectators get discounts.
When it comes to bedding down after a day of crowd avoidance, there are many quiet neighbourhoods in London that, by the time the torch is lit, will have new properties on the scene. One of the trendiest chains in the US, Thompson Hotels has just dusted down the beds at the Belgraves off Sloane Square, while the Waldorf Astoria opened just last year on the edge of the 200 acre Syon House Estate opposite Kew Gardens – nice and leafy. Marylebone, away from the hordes will also see Firmdale launch Dorset Square in the spring.
There is also a legion of British homeowners in the tranquil suburbs ready to rent out their spare bedrooms and homes during the celebrations. Websites such as Crashpadder, Airbnb and Viveunique are offering short term lets during the Games.
On Trustedhousesitters you can look after a quiet Georgian property in a pretty London neighbourhood, or a 150-year-old apartment close to Windsor Castle. A house swap is also an option, with companies like Homelink.