Alternative Olympic bases
The National Railway Museum at York train station is a great stop, even for non-obsessive fans. (Anna Gowthorpe/PA Wire)
It is no secret that the nightly price for a hotel in London has skyrocketed for the Olympic season. Budget hotels are charging upwards of £125 a night and even generic four star chains are going for £300 or more.
But room prices elsewhere in the UK have not seen the same mark up, giving savvy budget-conscious travellers the option of staying in another English city that has plenty to offer in its own right and commuting into London as required for the world’s biggest sporting carnival.
The below hotels in Norwich, York, Nottingham, Birmingham and Bristol – all of which had availability at the time of publication -- are less than two hours away from London by train and cost less than £100 per night.
Travel time: one hour 50 minutes with Greater Anglia
Norwich, the archetypal English market city, is liberally dotted with medieval churches. While Norwich Cathedral's towering spire may initially grab your attention, it is the Gothic vaulting and two-storey cloisters inside that truly enchant.
The town’s top cultural hang out is the Norman Foster-designed Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts. This public art museum’s eclectic collection puts an emphasis on modern art from the early 20th Century, mainly by the likes of Francis Bacon and Pablo Picasso, and international sculptures from as far afield as Africa, South America and the Pacific islands.
Sportier types can head to the nearby Norfolk Broads, where a network of navigable waterways criss-crosses scenic wetlands. Boating trips and birdlife are the major attractions, and the Canoe Man runs outings with themes like otter-spotting and bushcraft.
Stay: the Maid’s Head Hotel is 800m away from the train station and offers contemporary rooms in a building that dates back to the 13th Century. Doubles from £89 per night.
Eat: Roger Hickman’s is the city’s top fine dining establishment, pulling off a vibe of classic elegance without the stuffiness. A three-course dinner costs about £40 per person, with dishes including John Dory and squid with red pepper and chorizo risotto.
Travel time: two hours with East Coast
York probably has the best range of attractions of any English city outside London, although simply wandering the maze of cobbled, medieval streets within the well-maintained city walls is enough for many. York Minister is arguably the most stunning cathedral in Britain, while the Jorvik Viking Centre provides an engagingly interactive romp through the city’s Viking history. Ghost train-like rides pass through mocked-up cityscapes, while the archaeological section is brought to live with touch screen displays.
The National Railway Museum at York train station is a great stop too – both the collection of historic trains and the exploration of railway history are superb, even for non-obsessive fans.
Stay: Hotel 53 is a slick three star accommodation within the city walls that offers a smart, independent alternative to the ubiquitous chain hotels. Doubles from £86.
Eat: the Blue Bicycle offers excellent French-infused dished in a romantic-yet-homely setting overlooking the river. Mains -- such as Yorkshire sirloin steak with fondant potato, cauliflower purée, pork and black pudding bon-bon -- cost between £15.50 and £23.
Travel time: one hour 45 minutes with East Midlands Trains
Nottingham Castle is the perfect place to live out all of those Robin Hood fantasies – and the tours around the secret tunnels and passageways are particularly good.
If Batman is more your thing, head to Wollaton Hall. This stately pile is surrounded by expansive parklands full of deer and wooded walking trails. The hall itself contains the city’s Natural History Museum, but it also doubles as Wayne Manor in the movie The Dark Knight Rises.
The Galleries of Justice is the town’s top attraction; it is a grim, illuminating journey through the often gruesome British justice system of years gone by. The attraction starts with a mock trial in the former courthouse and descends towards the horrific dungeons that prisoners were kept in.
Stay: the Lace Market Hotel is a textbook example of how to convert a Georgian townhouse into a hip four star boutique hotel – and there is excellent dining and drinking onsite. Doubles from £90.