The thing about London is that despite the frequently bad weather, clogged and overpriced transport network, miserable looking people and bad driving, millions of people still flock to the capital every year to visit. The fact that London is considered one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world is a testament to its welcoming nature. It’s easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day minutiae that Londoners grumble about on a Monday to Friday. It’s easier to forget about all the amazing and wonderful things that happen in the city every minute of every day. 2012 is perhaps to be one of London’s biggest years to date from a cultural perspective and it is worthwhile highlighting some of the incredible events to be found around town over the coming months.
Love them or loathe them, the games are coming to London. For the past seven years the UK has invested massively in regenerating an area of the city that most Londoners would rather have forgotten about. East London has been at times considered, trendy, cool, scuzzy, awful, dangerous and sometimes all of the above in one go. The development of the Olympic park at Stratford has encouraged a wealth of investment not only for sports, but also for general commerce. If you are planning on a visit anytime soon, be sure to check out the brand new Westfield Stratford City shopping centre one of the largest inner city shopping centres in Europe and now the world. If shopping’s not your thing though, then take a stroll down to the redeveloped Stratford railway station. Not only have architects transformed what was once a ghetto of a station into a modern wonder, but they have increased efficiency and generally made the station a pleasant place to be, whether or not your catching a train. With a high speed connection to St Pancras International already in place, the station should serve as a fitting welcome for anyone visiting in July for the games. Gatwick hotels and shuttle services are already standing by to welcome and transport passengers and visitors flying in from south of the city.
Which brings us to the Olympic village itself. Possibly one of the most ambitious construction projects to be seen in the city for a long time, the park and surrounding buildings have been completed ahead of time and are available for viewing even now. The main athletics stadium itself is prepped and ready to go and despite not having the instant attention the bird’s nest design warranted in Beijing four years ago, is still quite a sight to behold. Scattered around the stadium are the Velodrome and Aquatics Centres both impressive structures in of themselves. All in all despite the huge (some would say ‘wasteful’) sums of money spent on the games, the finished results are impressive. Whatever happens after the closing ceremonies later this summer, East London will never be the same again.
South of the River
There has been a war. For many years Londoners living south of the river have campaigned tirelessly against their more outwardly extravagant neighbours to the north. Whilst it is true that the city and the west end hold delights and treats of their own, the south rarely gets a mention in the press and seldom a caring thought from those that live north of the river. Yet the south holds treats and delights of its own. From the IMAX cinema and Old Vic Theatre’s both in Waterloo, to the Royal Festival Hall and National Theatre just across the river, the south has much to show off. Venture down to Hammersmith and a quick stroll along the Thames Path can bring you to Putney in one direction and Richmond Park and Kew Gardens in the other. Add to this the wide variety of pubs that cannot be found to the north, and you suddenly realise that the south is a culture all of its own.
The Thames path stretches from the east of the city all the way down past Richmond and Kingston and out to Oxfordshire if you walk far enough. Cycling is common and bikes can be rented – though we would recommend against taking a Boris Bike out as far as Kingston. Richmond is a beautiful area of London to visit. On a sunny day at the top of Richmond hill spectacular views of the river and surrounding countryside can be witnessed for miles around. London isn’t just about impressive architecture and parks. However Richmond park is home to wild deer, and visitors are reminded to be cautious when rambling or hiking in the park. Male stags in particular can be quite protective of the herd.
Whatever you decide to do when coming to London, be assured that the city holds more than enough history, entertainment and culture to keep you going for a lifetime.
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