With just one year to go until London 2012, Britain is preparing for a once-in-a-lifetime party. And with Olympic events happening all over the country next year, now is the perfect opportunity to get out and discover the towns and cities preparing to host what promises to be ‘the biggest show on earth’.
Olympic sport: Athletics, Gymnastics, Swimming, Equestrian events, Cycling and lots more... Much of the Olympic action will take place in the endlessly fascinating English capital, London. The Olympic Park in East London is already an attraction in itself, with space-aged stadia taking shape on the skyline. But there’ll also be action right across town, where sporting giants will battle it out for gold and glory showcased against some of London’s most iconic sights. See the glorious marriage of royal tradition and beach volley ball at Horse Guards Parade (the Queen’s bodyguards’ parade ground), experience the thrill of the Cycling Road Races down The Mall outside Buckingham Palace or see the precision of the Dressage in gorgeous riverside Greenwich. And if you don’t have tickets, don’t worry, you can see many of the events for free including marathons, road cycling and time-trial races!
- Don't miss: some of the world's best museums, World Heritage Sites like Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London, the London Eye, West End theatre shows, shopping in Covent Garden and much, much more...
Brands Hatch Race Circuit, Kent, England
Distance from London: about 30 minutes by train Olympic sport: Paralympic Road Cycling Brands Hatch, just outside London, is one of Europe’s leading motorsport venues and will play host to the Paralympic Road Cycling in 2012. Both the Road Race and Time Trial events will be held at the venue. After the games, Brands Hatch will continue to stage some of Britain’s top motorsport events including the British Superbike Championships. Why not feel the thrill of motorsport yourself by booking a racing experience? Nearby you’ll find Hever Castle, the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, with beautiful and tranquil Italian, rose and Tudor gardens and Penshurst Palace, the grandest and most perfectly preserved example of a fortified manor house in England.
- Don't miss: a chance to get lost in Hever Castle's traditional yew maze.
Lee Valley White Water Centre, Hertfordshire, England
Distance from London: 30 minutes by train Olympic Sport: Canoe Slalom Get suited up and go white-water rafting at the newest and best white water centre in the world! This purpose-built facility, designed for the Canoe Slalom event, is the only Olympic Venue that you can experience yourself before the Games. Only 40 minutes from London, the whole of the Lee Valley is one glorious playground with facilities for cycling, horse riding, golfing, fishing and camping. Attractions nearby include the sweet smelling Hitchin Lavender Farm and Butterfly World – set to become the biggest butterfly experience in the world with the opening of its enormous biome that will house 10,000 tropical butterflies in 2012.
- Don’t miss: the Henry Moore foundation at Perry Green. Home to the great sculptor’s estate, gardens and studio.
Windsor, near London, England
Distance from London: (Windsor) 30 minutes by train Olympic Sport: Rowing Eton Dorney near Windsor will host the Rowing, Paralympic Rowing and Canoe Sprint events and these competitions will bring the focus of the world to this beautiful area just 25 miles west of London. Discover Windsor Castle, the Queen’s favourite weekend retreat, and tour 15th-century Eton College, where Princes William and Harry went to school. You can also take a horse drawn carriage to explore the 5,000 acres of Windsor Great Park, a historic deer park dense with lush gardens.
- Don’t miss: St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle, the burial place of Henry VIII.
Coventry, West Midlands, England
Distance from London: One hour by train Olympic Sport: Football The City of Coventry Stadium in Central England is hosting 12 Olympic football matches in 2012. Coventry itself is a fascinating city famous for the legend of Lady Godiva and its 1950s cathedral, which was rebuilt with stunning stained-glass windows after being destroyed in World War II. Coventry is also the birthplace of the British cycle and motor industry and the Coventry Transport Museum’s unique collection is nationally renowned. Nearby Birmingham is great for shopping and nightlife and the surrounding county of Warwickshire is home to the magnificent Warwick Castle and the birthplace of William Shakespeare, Stratford-upon-Avon.
- Don’t miss: the Godiva Festival; a yearly arts extravaganza that attracts over 80,000 annual visitors.
Distance from London: 4.5 hours by train Olympic Sport: Football Hampden Park Stadium in Scotland’s biggest city is hosting eight football matches. It’s the home of Scottish football, boasting a fascinating museum of the game, and is also a venue for pop concerts. Glasgow itself has been hailed by the Lonely Planet as having one of the best live music scenes in Britain, world-class shopping and a club culture that could give London a run for its money. Its roster of renowned museums is also impressive and has recently been expanded by Zaha Hadid’s landmark Riverside Museum of transport.
- Don’t miss: Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s art nouveau masterpiece, the Glasgow School of Art.
Distance from London: 2 hours by train Olympic Sport: Football Cardiff’s vast Millennium Stadium has the honour of hosting the very first event of the Olympics – the women’s football on 27 July 2012. But the Welsh capital is well worth exploring at any time. Famous for its regenerated waterfront, the futuristic Wales Millennium Centre, and countless cool pubs and bars, Cardiff is the jewel in Wales’ cultural crown. You’ll also discover 2,000 years of history at Cardiff Castle, elegant Victorian shopping arcades and the outdoor museum of National Welsh History, St Fagan’s.
- Don’t Miss: the fantastical interiors of fairy-tale Castell Coch, just outside Cardiff.
Distance from London: 2 hours by train Olympic Sport: Football Manchester United’s legendary stadium, Old Trafford, is getting ready to host the semi-finals of the men’s and women’s football competitions. Mancunians are football obsessed, and enthusiasm for the beautiful game is matched here only by a devotion to pop music and a good night out. Add to that cool shopping in the Northern Quarter, some great museums and one of the UK’s liveliest gay districts and you’ve got a unique destination with year-round appeal. Explore the regenerated Salford Quays, home to the Lowry Centre for arts, the National Football Museum (opening 2012) and the nortern branch of the Imperial War Museum.
- Don’t miss: a curry on Manchester’s ‘Curry Mile’ in Rusholme.
Weymouth and Portland, Dorset, England
Distance from London: 2.5 hours by train Olympic Sport: Sailing and Paralympic Sailing The sunny South Coast is hosting the Olympic sailing events. Visit Weymouth to try sailing and other water sports yourself or explore further into the county of Dorset. It’s home to the Jurassic Coast (a spectacular geological showcase of rock formations), great beaches, the beautiful village where Thomas Hardy lived and the atmospheric ruins of Corfe Castle, an inspiration for Enid Blyton’s Famous Five stories.
- Don’t miss: walking the local section of the 630-mile South West Coast Path that starts at Lulworth Cove, passing through Oswalds Bay and Durdle Door, one of Britain’s most famous and striking geological formations.
Distance from London: 3 hours by train Olympic Sport: Football St James’s Park, Newcastle United’s home ground, will host a total of nine Olympic football matches. Awash with restaurants, bars, cafes, hotels and must-see tourist attractions including the award-winning Gateshead Millennium Bridge and the Angel of the North, the city is the perfect destination for sampling the best of North East England. Just outside the city is Hadrian’s Wall, the World Heritage Site that formed the Roman Empire's northernmost boundary nearly 2,000 years ago.
- Don’t miss: the riverside BALTIC art gallery with its fine collection of modern art.
Hadleigh Farm, Benfleet, Essex, England
Distance from London: 1 hour by train Olympic Sport: Mountain Bike From the mud-drenched excitement of the Olympic mountain bike events to the sleepy Essex countryside, there’s lots to do in the historic county of Essex. Discover the romantic ruins of 13th-century Hadleigh Castle, explore Britain’s oldest recorded town, Colchester, or sample the area's famous oysters at the Company Shed eatery at West Mersea.
- Don’t miss: the world’s longest pleasure pier at Southend-on-Sea.