London’s tourism industry expects a major boost this spring when people from around the world flood the city to watch Prince William wed his long-time girlfriend Kate Middleton. The event, which could be the most expensive celebrity wedding of all time, is set to take place at Westminster Abbey on Friday, 29 April .
Navigating London travel during the royal wedding rush could prove challenging, but there are several precautions tourists can take to ensure a smoother trip.
Above all else, book early, advises the United Kingdom's Tourist Authority Visit Britain. Several hotels near Westminster are already fully booked, and though vacancies are still available some are planning to increase prices by as much as 200 percent. Deals still exist, like at the Lancaster Gate and Shaftesbury Premier hotels in Hyde Park, which offer discounts for longer stays. Check hotel websites for details. Nearby hostels also have availability including the Astor Kensington, just a short Tube ride away.
For folks who wait too long to book, there are other options, says Visit Britain public relations executive Meredith Pearson. "One possible way to save money is to... stay an hour or so outside of London and take the train into Central London," she advised. Towns like Cambridge, Reading, St Albans, Brighton and even Cardiff, Wales are all about one or two hours by train from London.
Airport hotels are likely to be cheaper, Pearson adds. "There's a great, affordable hotel near Heathrow Airport called the Runnymede-on-Thames which is right on the water..." This hotel is just a short taxi ride into Heathrow where you can take the Heathrow Express to London in 15 minutes. In addition, some Londoners have already started renting out their flats and houses for the occasion. Check LondonRentMyHouse.com, Gumtree.com and Craigslist for listings.
Flights to London are also expected to become more expensive as the big day gets closer, so the sooner you book the better. There are still deals available. British Airways, for example, is offering a Royal Wedding Weekend package which includes a roundtrip flight from New York and three nights in a London hotel for $819. The online travel agency Go-today.com is offering a package for a longer stay in London - $1,099 for a roundtrip flight from New York plus six nights in a London hotel.
Pearson also advises pre-booking for trains and the London Underground, noting that tourists can purchase BritRail passes (for the train) and TravelCards (for public transit) at Visit Britain's online store.
If you wait until the last minute to book a flight, it may be more affordable to fly into a nearby city, like Paris, and take a train into London - though be prepared for crowds on the Chunnel. As of now, train ticket prices from France are about average and there is still plenty of availability.
One unpredictable variable that could throw a wrench into travel plans is the potential for strikes during the week of the wedding, reports The Telegraph. Trade unions, including those representing employees of British Airways and London Underground, have talked about organising mass walkouts at the end of April to protest government cuts. If the strikes happen, they could coincide with the royal event. Keep an eye on the British news about any disruptions.
On the big day
On 29 April, the wedding service begins at 11 am. Onlookers hoping to catch a glimpse of Kate in her wedding dress may want to situate themselves along her route to Westminster Abbey (by car, not carriage as has been tradition). Buckingham Palace recently announced the route, which includes The Mall, Horse Guards Parade, Whitehall and Parliament Square. After the ceremony, the newlywed couple will follow the reverse of that route, this time in a carriage procession.
If crowds are not your cup of tea, any nearby pub with a television screen will be broadcasting the event live. Pearson suggests: "Pop into one of the many great pubs, get a full English breakfast and watch the festivities on air."
Many tour operators and hotels are hosting William-and-Kate related activities leading up to the affair. Celebrity Planet has launched a Will and Kate Royal Wedding Walk featuring "landmarks that helped define the next Royal golden couple", as the company's website puts it. The Langham London Hotel will offer the celebratory Tea Royale throughout April with royal-inspired bites such as sandwiches of Scottish salmon poached in pink Champagne and Westminster Abbey chocolate cake.
Several others are offering wedding viewing packages. Door2Tour.com, for instance, has a package that includes coach travel to the wedding procession, shopping and sightseeing trips, a trip to Windsor and two nights in a hotel for £139.95.
Following the wedding ceremony, there are expected to be some street parties in and around London. London's Mahiki Club is said to be planning a street party on Dover Street, while nearby Club Boujis may be throwing a party inside. Nearby counties and boroughs such as Sussex, Eastbourne, Northamptonshire and even cities like Manchester are also expected to close down streets for parties. However, the bigger trend may be Londoners skipping town during the bank holiday, which comes after Easter Monday and before May Day. (If you live in London and want to get out of town for the weekend, the Guardian has several ideas for short trips both within the UK and abroad - including a royal wedding package at Denbies wine Estate in Surrey Hills and a beach vacation to Cirali, Turkey.)
Whether you plan to celebrate Prince William's marriage to Kate Middleton with high tea, dancing in the streets, or celebrity stalking, 2011 is shaping up to be a great year to visit London.
UPDATE: On Jan 12, BBC News reported that pubs in England and Wales will be allowed to stay open longer for the royal wedding.
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