Enjoy London’s Olympic spirit without a ticket

No tickets for the 2012 Olympics? Don’t despair: You don’t need

one to enjoy the games and the party atmosphere in London this

summer.

Although most sporting events take place in ticketed Olympic

venues, there is plenty to see and do elsewhere in the run-up to

and during the games.

From live Olympic screenings in Hyde Park to world music

performances by the River Thames, a huge list of free and

affordable events promises that visitors – sports fans or not – can

get a taste of Olympic excitement without spending a fortune.

The festivities kick off months ahead of the July 27 start of

the games, as soon as the Olympic torch arrives in Britain from

Greece in mid-May. Street parties are expected across the nation to

cheer on the torchbearers, who will make a 70-day relay through

hundreds of towns before reaching the Olympic Stadium in east

London.

The parties will pile on in early June, when Britain celebrates

Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee with spectacular pageants and

a flotilla of hundreds of boats parading on the Thames.

As for watching the sporting events themselves, London offers

several ways to take part on the cheap. The Olympic marathons,

which take place in early August, and road cycling races do not

require a ticket and can be watched in the streets for free –

provided you arrive early to find a good vantage point. Both begin

and finish on The Mall, near Buckingham Palace, a spectacular

backdrop that’s sure to attract thousands of spectators.

Trafalgar Square, Hyde Park and Victoria Park are the other key

spots to go to find lively crowds to watch the games with. Big

screens will be set up with live coverage of all medal events, and

live music and other entertainment will be provided for free as

well.

One way to set foot in an Olympic venue without a ticket – and

even burn some calories – is to visit the Lee Valley White Water

Center, which is open for the public to canoe and raft until April

and then again after the games.

The structure, located about 12 miles (19 kilometers) north of

the Olympic Park, will host the canoe slalom events during the

games, but visitors are welcome to ride the Olympic-standard rapids

before the athletes arrive to battle for gold. Be warned that it’s

not exactly a budget option, though – tickets to a session of

rafting costs $77 (49 pounds).

If that sounds too extreme, or if you fancy a break from all

that adrenaline, tourism officials have planned dozens of free arts

and culture events to coincide with the Olympics. The London 2012

Festival – the official arts festival complementing the games – has

music, plays, and carnivals galore, and it promises to let 10

million people attend events for free.

One of the highlights of the festival, which opens June 21, is

the ”River of Music” on July 21-22. It’s a weekend of free music

performances representing all 205 participating Olympic nations at

iconic landmarks along the Thames. Expect to see the Americas

represented at the Tower of London, and musicians from Asia taking

the stage at Battersea Park.

The other major arts event of the year is the World Shakespeare

Festival, which begins on the Bard’s birthday, April 23. Its large

program features a major exhibition at the British Museum and

productions by companies from Brazil to Russia, including an

interpretation of ”Romeo and Juliet” set in contemporary Iraq.

The productions will be shown across the U.K., and some of the

tickets are priced at as low as $4.70 (3 pounds).

Special programs aside, visitors on a budget who want to make

the most out of their trip to London should consider the many free

arts and cultural offerings regularly available in the city.

Most of London’s top museums have free permanent collections to

suit all interests, while many historic churches around London

organize free lunchtime concerts on a weekly basis – try St.

Martin-in-the-Fields, next to the National Gallery in Trafalgar

Square.

The city’s two best-known churches – St. Paul’s Cathedral and

Westminster Abbey – don’t offer free concerts, but they both

welcome visitors to their evensong services. Visiting to worship is

free of charge (though donations are welcome), and is an economical

way to admire the architecture inside these majestic buildings.

Most churches post concert and service schedules on their

websites.

West End musicals and plays are generally not cheap, but there

are ways to scrimp. The Royal Opera House and some theaters

sometimes have standing tickets in the gallery that cost as little

as $8 (5 pounds), while most venues also release returned tickets

for a steal to people willing to line up just before shows start.

Simply visit theaters early on the day of the show and ask about

last-minute options.

Rather be outdoors? London is a fine walking city, and visitors

often don’t realize how easy it is to skip the bus or the

Underground and simply walk from one attraction to the next.

Don’t miss taking in the south bank of the Thames, which is

always bustling with activity in the summer. One of the best ways

to enjoy it is to start at the riverside Tate Modern, an art museum

housed in an iconic power station.

From there, either walk east along the river toward Tower

Bridge, or west toward the National Theatre, which hosts a series

of free circus, music and other arts events on its grounds every

summer. Both walks are suitable for families and take under 30

minutes.

Finally, there will probably come a point in your trip when you

yearn for a moment of quiet away from all the activity. To escape

the madding crowd (and save on eating out), pack a picnic and enjoy

London’s superb green spaces.

Buy lunch at supermarkets or Borough Market, the city’s biggest

food market, and head to one of London’s many centrally located

parks. Relax amid the rose gardens, picturesque ponds and manicured

gardens of Regent’s Park, or venture a little farther out – about

half an hour by tube – to north London’s vast Hampstead Heath for

longer walks, kite-flying or even outdoor swimming in its

ponds.

Once at the heath, hike up a gentle slope up to Parliament Hill

for a breathtaking view of the entire city. It’s possibly the best

vantage point for London – and there are no lines or entrance

fees.

Online:

Official London Guide to events this year:

http://www.visitlondon.com/london2012/

London 2012 Festival: http://festival.london2012.com/

World Shakespeare Festival:

http://www.worldshakespearefestival.org.uk