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Insider's LondonJanuary 19, 2012 By: Jena Tesse Fox Travel Agent
|The River Thames will convey a flotilla of hundreds of boats during the Queen’s Jubilee.|
2012 will be one of London’s biggest years ever. The Olympics will run from July 27 to August 12 in the city’s East End, and Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee celebration will be held from June 2 to 5. Following are some tips from a few UK specialists on what you—and your clients—need to know about visiting London during any of the year’s major events.
The Olympic Park in East London will host most of the games with little impact on attractions in the West End and its surrounding areas. Some events will take place outside of the city. The sailing competitions will be in Dover, while rowing will be at Windsor Castle. Soccer matches will be played throughout the country before coming to London’s Wembley Stadium.
Hint: If your clients will be in town during the Games but don’t have tickets to any events, they can still get in on the fun. The marathon, triathlon and road cycling events will all be in public, and visitors can pick spots along the route to watch the athletes go by. Throughout the country (and the city), huge screens will facilitate free viewing in public venues such as Hyde Park, Trafalgar Square, City Hall and Victoria Park.
Before they go: To help people avoid crowds during the Games, Transport for London has created a series of maps for each day of the games indicating where they expect high congestion to be. Agents and their clients can look at these maps now and pick hotels and daily attractions that will either be far from the crowds—or close to them, depending on preferences.
“The Jubilee will be a spectacular event,” says Karen Clarkson, vice president, North America, at VisitBritain. “What we’re finding is that when Americans visit Britain, they’re interested in its history and heritage. Places with royal connections will be very popular next year.”
Jonathan Epstein, president and CEO of Celebrated Experiences, says that his team has already prepared “dozens of itineraries for Americans interested in celebrating the 60th year of the Queen’s reign…There will be hundreds of exhibits and events in London to commemorate the occasion.” (Go to www.visitlondon.com for updates as the dates draw closer.)
|The recent Royal Wedding brought much attention to the already iconic Westminster Abbey.|
Most notably, a river pageant will go down the River Thames on the afternoon of June 3, with up to 1,000 boats—one of the largest flotillas ever—on the river. Each craft will be decorated in patriotic colors, and the passenger boats will carry up to 30,000 people. For those who can’t get close to the water, there will be up to 50 big screens along the route to make sure all visitors see the flotilla. The lead vessel is expected to pass under Battersea Railway Bridge at 2:30 p.m. and reach Tower Bridge at 3:30 p.m. The last one is likely to pass under Tower Bridge at about 5 p.m.
Several weeks after the Jubilee, the country will celebrate the Queen’s official birthday with the annual Trooping the Colour on Horse Guards Parade in St. James’ Park. Her Majesty will inspect the troops from the Household Division before leading them down the Mall to Buckingham Palace. The Queen salutes, and guns are fired in Green Park and at the Tower of London. Finally, she joins other members of the Royal Family on the balcony to watch the Royal Air Force fly past.
Then there’s Kensington Palace, where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (commonly called Will and Kate) will be moving in 2013. Renovations on the historic building are under way, and several sections that have been closed off to visitors will be reopened. “This makes Kensington an even hotter destination than before, and should benefit hotels like The Milestone and The Kensington,” Epstein says.
If your clients still haven’t booked rooms for the games, it’s not too late. “They’re mostly junior suites and suites, but they are definitely there,” Epstein says. “Travel advisors should expect minimum stays of seven nights, sometimes less. This will obviously diminish as we get closer.” But visitors don’t necessarily need to pay top dollar for a hotel during the Jubilee or Games. “Rates are in flux like never before,” Epstein says. “They can literally differ by hundreds of pounds a night simply by staying on a Saturday instead of a Tuesday.” He recommends such high-end properties as The Milestone, The Goring, Dukes London and One Aldwych.
“There is plenty of room for every-one,” Clarkson says. “There will be 120,000 hotel rooms in London by summer, enough to accommodate the demand.” Many of the new hotels are three-star properties. “People can also stay in a number of other cities around the countryside,” she adds, noting that cities like Brighton, Cambridge, Oxford and even Cardiff in Wales are not very far away by train, and provide an opportunity to explore more of the country.
Kier Matthews, vice president of travel industry sales at Europe Express, recommends the Four Seasons Hampshire, a roughly 45-minute ride from London. “It has everything from skeet shooting to horseback riding to hiking and swimming…and you can be near London but away from the crowds.”
By Air: Most visitors will fly into London’s Heathrow Airport, although there are four others nearby that may make for a less crowded option. There are 30 airports throughout the UK, so Epstein recommends booking air tickets to Bristol, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow or even Paris—“all an easy train ride to London.”
By Rail: London’s St Pancras station, the gateway for Eurostar rail services from Europe, will also be the main gateway to Olympic Park via the Javelin train service during the games.
By Tube: London’s underground transit system, popularly known as the Tube, is the best way to get around town. Matthews advises getting an Oyster card (the system’s pass) before leaving for the trip. “If agents buy the card from VisitBritain, they get a discount.”
By Bus: In addition to the city’s iconic red buses, Matthews recommends a Hop-on/Hop-off bus tour of the city. “They stop at all the major attractions,” he says, adding that they run every 20 minutes. Bus passes are usually good for 48 hours. Matthews strongly advises staying away from taxis and car services. “London has tolls on cars in central London that increase the cab rate.”
By Bike: A bike rental plan sponsored by Barclays bank lets guests borrow bicycles across the city for a day or longer. It’s as simple as walking up to a station, swiping a credit or debit card, and pedaling away.