For the next 16 days from July 27, the world’s attention will be focused on London, with the spotlight shining on the Olympics. The UK capital has always been a hot destination, but this year Europe’s most cosmopolitan metropolis has a whole new flavour to offer.
London’s Olympic Park is a green oasis in east London. Visitors will be greeted by one of the world’s largest sculptures, Orbit, created by famed artist Anish Kapoor. It soars 120 metres high and includes a viewing station and a restaurant at the top. Within the Olympic Park is the grand Olympic Stadium and the Aquatics Centre, the Velodrome and venues for basketball, handball and hockey.
However, while the Olympic Park is the nerve centre of the Games, the city will come alive with all kinds of sporting action. Road cycling will take place in the beautiful parkland of Hampton Court Palace and in The Mall, just outside Buckingham Palace. Beach volleyball courts are being set up on the famed Horse Guards Parade providing a unique atmosphere for spectators.
Eighty per cent of international visitors coming for the London Games will arrive at Heathrow Airport. More than 1,000 extra staff have been deployed to be on hand to coordinate the crowds and help them with any information they need. This year will also see an important change in people’s choice of conveyance, as London encourages its sporting enthusiasts to use only public transport.
To get into the city centre from the airport, you are best advised to catch the Heathrow Express train. Once at Paddington Station, you can easily travel around London via the Tube, the bus, Light Rail, by bicycle or on foot. During the Games, a new high-speed train, the Javelin, will whisk passengers from St Pancras Station to Stratford Station, located right within the Olympic Park. For those who wish to emulate their sporting heroes, there will be walking and cycling routes which can be combined with bus and train services. For more information, visit www.tfl.gov.uk/
Culture has always been a big draw in London, and the party has already kicked off this month with the Docklands and Greenwich Festival (www.festival.org), with live entertainment, music and performances. Best of all, it’s free. No trip to London would be complete without seeing a West End musical. Variety is still the name of the game, and you’ll have no trouble finding a show to suit your taste. Box-office hits include the very British Billy Elliot, War Horse, Jersey Boys, Mamma Mia!, Les Miserables and, for the whole family, Matilda. Tickets at www.londontickets.uk.com
Refuel with London’s champions
British star chef Gordon Ramsay has descended on the inner-city dining scene with the just-opened Bread Street Kitchen (10 Bread Street; tel +0203 030 4050; www.breadstreetkitchen.com; Tube, St Paul’s; open for breakfast, lunch and dinner all days, from 7am-11pm; average meal price £20, or Dh115). The retro-cum-industrial-style decor is the perfect setting to enjoy a casual meal of English roasts, seafood specialities and amazing puddings.
Another great restaurant for the whole family is JW Steakhouse on Hyde Park (86 Park Lane; tel +020 739 98460; www.jwsteakhouse.co.uk; Tube, Marble Arch; open for breakfast, lunch and dinner all days, from 7am-11pm; average meal price £25, or Dh144). This serves some of the best steaks, fish and chips, and salads in London, and you would do well to come with an appetite.
Don’t miss the spectacular 360-degree views from the tables of the romantic restaurant Paramount (Level 32, 101 New Oxford Street; tel 0207 420 2900; www.paramount.uk.net; nearest Tube Oxford Street; open seven days a week for lunch and dinner; average meal price £40, or Dh230, per person). Highlights include crab cakes and duck.
Located in the heart of London, The Lanesborough Hotel has the grace and sophistication of an 18th-century private residence. The Royal Suite, London’s most exclusive hotel suite, features three bedrooms, a drawing room and a study. No one should miss the opportunity to dine at Apsleys, a Heinz Beck restaurant which has been awarded a Michelin star. The dessert menu features a stunning gold topped dessert. Summer in London is also the time to enjoy The Garden Room, an outdoor space where guests can retreat to enjoy vintage refreshments. For more information, visit www.lanesborough.com
With design being such a focal point of the Games this year, it’s no wonder that the Olympic officials chose the recently reopened Four Seasons Hotel on Hyde Park to set up home. Famed French interior designer Pierre-Yves Rochon has created stunning spaces which are modern but essentially British. The open plan of the ground floor allows for the free flow of people and activities. The main lounge, with its working fireplace, double-height wall sculpture and striking use of red upholstery, leads into a series of more intimate spaces. The stunning black, red and gold decor will be the dramatic backdrop for many of the social gatherings and official parties organised by the Olympic Committee. In stark contrast to the rest of the decor, the ultra-modern, all-white rooftop spa is where any would-be athlete with aching muscles would choose to remove themselves from worldly cares and indulge in one of their many special treatments. For reservations, visit www.fourseasons.com/london
— Scott Adams is a Madrid-based freelance writer