Do believe the hype: summer 2012 is going to be a truly unique time to be in London. And while the temptation for those without a ticket to the Olympic Games would be to stay well away, the tidal wave of events across the capital presents a host of opportunities to take part in what has become much, much more than a fortnight of sport.
London 2012’s guide to what’s on, and their handy mobile app, provide a wealth of information, but they’re likely to leave you swimming in options, so here are our five (Olympic!) rings to help you stay afloat.
1. Spectate at a live event
If you can handle the crowds (or you’re particularly tall), the best choice of Olympic sport is one where the streets are your stadium.
The cycling road races (28 and 29 July) start on the Mall and head southwest out of the city. The Mall will be ticketed, but the length of the course allows for plenty of other unrestricted spectator spots.
Likewise, the marathon (5 and 12 August) and triathlon (4 and 7 August) offer a wealth of choice viewpoints around central London. You might also still be able to bag a capsule on the London Eye for an unadulterated view of the race below.
2. Watch the action on a big screen
If you can’t actually be there, you’ll probably get a much closer view of an event on one of the many screens set up around the city. Most notable are the BT London Live sites in Hyde Park and Victoria Park, where you can watch Olympic events, participate in sports activities and enjoy an eclectic line-up of live music. A limited number of guaranteed entry tickets can be booked, but you’ll also be able to just get in on the day, numbers permitting.
Smaller screens will be popping up all over London; one of the best-situated will be in Potters Fields Park, right next to Tower Bridge on the south side of the Thames.
3. Crash an international party
If you’re itching for more celebration, seek out the 'Olympic Houses' dotted around town, where National Olympic Committee officials are providing a hospitality base for each country, in a variety of venues.
In Kensington Gardens, Russia is offering up Russia and Sochi Parks, with a huge range of cultural performances to showcase the country as hosts of the upcoming Winter Olympics. Also here, 53 African nations have teamed up to create the Africa Village, putting on a raft of music, dance and artistic exhibitions.
Our money is on a few places hosting a good knees-up: the Irish are settling in with a Guinness at the Big Chill House in Kings Cross, the Dutch will be painting the town orange at Holland Heineken House in Alexandra Palace (admission €12.50 per person), and with the ceremonial handover to Brazil (2016 Olympic hosts) there’s sure to be a party or two at Casa Brasil (Somerset House).
4. Snub sport
If watching other people get sweaty is not your thing, this is still a prime time to be in town, with an array of cultural events making up London’s 2012 Festival, the culmination of the Cultural Olympiad.
Along with a plethora of dance, theatre, comedy and art, Olympics-related exhibitions worth seeking out include: the Tate Britain’s collection of Olympic posters, the Royal Opera House’s Olympic Journey, containing memorabilia from past Games, and the Royal Institute of British Architects' appraisal of the architecture behind the Games.
And as the Games kick off on Friday 27 July, if you’re wondering why the snooze button isn’t working, you’re probably listening to the All the Bells project which aims to get all the people of Britain ringing all of its bells for three minutes at 8.12am.
5. Take to the streets
With the inevitable swarms of visitors to the various Olympic honeypots, you may find yourself opting to walk rather than face the Tube. Weather permitting, this is a great way to see the city, as you’ll find yourself stumbling over all manner of 2012 Festival-related sights, such as revamped versions of the classic London phone box, and dedicated exhibitions such as World in London, a poster display of 204 Londoners, each from one of the countries competing in the Games.
Vexillologists should head straight to Regent St to test their knowledge against the alphabetically ordered parade of world flags. And you can’t get closer to the action than taking a hugely informative Blue Badge tour of the area surrounding the all-new Olympic Park.
Finally, don’t miss your (probably) one-and-only chance to jump around on an inflatable ring of monolithic stones, as Jeremy Deller’s Sacrilege, a bouncy-castle version of Stonehenge, hops through town. Good spots to catch it are Greenwich, Hampstead Heath and Clapham Common.