Berkeley, California (EastBayDaily) — All eyes are on London this week as the city kicks off the 30th Olympiad, which starts on Friday, and runs through August 12th. Rick Steves, author of more than fifty guidebooks to Europe, which have sold over 10 million copies, including Rick Steves' London 2012, knows the best ways to enjoy the world-renowned city. Here are Steves’ top five suggestions for travelers in London for the Olympic Games:
1. Visit Olympic Park
The festivities center around the Olympic Park; filling the Lea Valley, about seven miles northeast of central London. Once the site of derelict factories and mountains of discarded tires, it now glistens with greenery and state-of-the-art construction. During the games, the park will be closed except to ticket-holders. However, Blue Badge guides will lead two-hour walks of the area. Hear the latest on the events and get as close as possible to the venues, though security measures may limit views (£9, pay guide directly in cash, reserve in advance, daily at 11:00 and 14:00, also Wed at 18:00, meet at the Bromley-by-Bow Tube station—District/Hammersmith or City lines, http://www.toursof2012sites.com).
2. Experience Events in the City Center
Some events will be held right in the heart of the London, such as—no kidding—beach volleyball. Tons of sand will be spread behind #10 Downing Street and Horse Guards, creating an urban beach ringed with bleachers. In Hyde Park, triathletes will swim in Serpentine Lake, then bike and run around the park.
3. See the Newest Sights Kensington Palace, the official London home of Will and Kate, hosts a series of exhibits on its notable former residents. Its user-friendly displays appeal to adults and kids alike—making it a particularly entertaining royal sight. The highlight is the Queen Victoria exhibit—London's only museum that's truly about Victoria (£14.50, save £1 booking online, daily 10:00–18:00, last entry one hour before closing, tel. 0870-751-5170 or 0844-482-7777, http://www.hrp.org.uk.)
The Shard is the tallest building in Europe and the newest—and much-discussed—addition to London's skyline. The pyramid-shaped skyscraper rockets 1,020 feet above the London Bridge. Shimmering in the sun and glowing after dark, it's viewable from anywhere along the Thames. Unfortunately for Olympics visitors, the observation platforms won't open to the public until February, 2013.
The "Making of Harry Potter" studio tour lets Potterphiles see the actual sets and props used in the films, video interviews with actors and filmmakers, and exhibits about special effects. Visitors must book a time slot in advance. It's located in Leavesden, a 20-minute train ride from London, and takes at least three hours to experience (£28, kids ages 5 to 15-£21, family ticket for 2 adults and 2 kids-£83, £5 extra for audio/videoguide, tours depart daily 10:00–18:00, café, tel. 08450-840-900, http://www.wbstudiotour.co.uk).
4. Take Advantage of Freebies and Discounts
Free sights and activities include the British Museum, British Library, National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Tate Britain, Tate Modern, Wallace Collection, Imperial War Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Changing of the Guard. For other freebies, check out http://www.freelondonlistings.co.uk.
If you buy a paper One-Day Travelcard or rail ticket at a National Rail station, you may be eligible for two-for-one discounts at many sights, such as the London Eye, Tower of London, and Madame Tussauds Waxworks. To claim the discount with a rail ticket, the ticket must have been used and validated that day. Get details and print vouchers at http://www.daysoutguide.co.uk.
5. Save on Transit
Tickets to Olympics events include an all-day London transit pass. Any visitor can save money with an Oystercard or a Travelcard.
A pay-as-you-go Oystercard is the smart way to use London's public transit. On each type of transport, lay the card flat against the yellow card reader at the turnstile or entrance; it flashes green, and the fare is automatically deducted. With an Oystercard, rides cost about half the price of individual paper tickets (£2 or £2.70 per Tube ride—depending on time of day, £1.35 per bus ride). Travelers can buy the card at any Tube station ticket window for a refundable £5 deposit, then load it with as much credit as needed. When the balance gets low, riders can add credit at a ticket window or machine. A price cap on the card guarantees the user will never pay more than the one-day Travelcard price within a 24-hour period.
A Travelcard lets you ride as many times as you want within a one- or a seven-day period, for one fixed price. The One-Day Travelcard gives riders unlimited travel for a day (Zones 1–2: £8.40, off-peak version £7; Zones 1–6: £15.80, off-peak version £8.50; off-peak cards good for travel after 9:30 on weekdays and anytime on weekends). The Seven-Day Travelcard is a great option for travelers staying four or more days. It’s issued on a plastic Oyster card, but provides unlimited travel anytime, anywhere in Zones 1 and 2 for a week (£29.20 plus the refundable £5 deposit for the Oyster card).
For more information on London attractions, or to set up an interview with Rick Steves, please contact Eva Zimmerman at 510.809.3834 or at eva.zimmerman(at)perseusbooks(dot)com.
About Avalon Travel Avalon Travel is the largest independent travel publisher based in the United States. Major series include Rick Steves, the top-selling European guidebook series in the U.S.; Moon, with guides to more than 200 destinations around the world; and Road Trip USA. Based in Berkeley, Calif., Avalon is a member of the Perseus Books Group. For more information, visit http://www.avalontravelbooks.com
About Rick Steves Rick Steves is on a mission: to help make European travel accessible and meaningful for Americans. Since 1973, Steves has spent four months every year exploring Europe. He’s researched and written more than 50 travel guidebooks, writes and hosts the public television series Rick Steves’ Europe, and also produces and hosts the weekly public radio show Travel with Rick Steves. With the help of his hardworking staff at Europe Through the Back Door, Steves organizes and leads tours of Europe and offers an information-packed website, http://www.ricksteves.com. When not traveling through Europe, Steves lives in Edmonds, Washington.
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