And the Gold Medal for lodging at the London Summer Olympics goes to….Some might answer: “The Ritz,” a hotel perched at the pinnacle of luxury in London. And if that’s your cup of tea, then be prepared to savor a very expensive brew because room rates start at £640 per night (about $1,010USD). Even at these prices London’s luxury hotels are heavily booked for this summer’s Olympics.
But what if you’re not looking for a luxury hotel? After all, the Olympics form a temporary world village with spectators and participants from almost everywhere. You can travel for months and not meet as diverse a collection of people as during an Olympic Games. But how many of those world citizens are you going to meet in a narrow hotel hallway or crowded lobby?
Camping, even in a structured urban environment, should provide many more opportunities to meet and connect with others than the normal hotel experiences of passing in the corridors or drinking at an overpriced lobby bar. Basic camping is about as light and simple as it gets while staying in the midst of a huge, expensive urban environment during one of the most tightly scripted events in the world.
But is camping at the Olympics practical or even possible? Yes it is, and temporary campsites are springing up like mushrooms after a rainy English spring. Rhian Evans, Managing Director of Camping Ninja, reports brisk bookings for the 10 Olympic campsites that her company represents in London and nearby areas. Prices start at just £10 ($16) per day per pitch (campsite).
Camping Ninja’s primary location is at Eton Manor, just two stops on the London Underground (subway) from Olympic Park. During most of the year, this is the home field for the Eton Manor Rugby Club. But club rugby will take a holiday during the Olympics, as the fields are converted to campgrounds, and the clubhouse serves campers instead of ruggers.
Camping Ninja has 10 campsites for the Olympics and 6 for the Paralympic Games that follow in late August. The sites (and approximate public transportation commute time to Olympic Park) are:
- Blackheath Rugby (southeast London, about 50 minutes to Olympic Park)
- Barking Football Club (east of Olympic Park, about 60 minutes )
- Wadham Lodge Sports Ground, (east London, 45 minutes)
- Eton Manor Football Club (close to Olympic Park, 45 minutes)
- Wodson Park (Lee Valley Park, north of London, near Olympic Canoe Slalom venue and 90 minutes from Olympic Park)
- Reading Football Club (west of London in Berkshire, near Eton Dorney Olympic rowing venue and with longer rail connections to central London)
- Southgate Hockey (in Trent Park, northeast of London, with longer rail connections to central London)
- Surbiton Hockey (near Hampton Court. About a 30 minute commute to Wimbledon Tennis venue; 90 minutes to Olympic Park)
- Weymouth College (4 hours southwest of London, near Olympic sailing)
- Weymouth Redlands (near Paralympic sailing)
Who’s camping here? According to Camping Ninja, about 90% of early bookings were made by locals—UK residents—and almost all of them chose the pitch-your-own tent option. But the Olympic world village is also represented with campers from the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Finland, Canada, the United States, and several South American counties. Overseas visitors are taking advantage of the pre-erected tent options offered during the Olympics at most campgrounds.
Want a bit more creature comfort with your Olympics camping experience? Try glamping: glamorous camping. Glamping adds creature comforts to camping—a concept that has been popular in the United States and elsewhere for many years.
Sail Royal Greenwich is a maritime event along the Thames in London, timed to coincide with the Summer Olympics. Part tall ship festival, part corporate party venue, the event also offers upscale tents and cabins where visitors can glamp in style. The Greenwich site has three levels of VIP camping accommodation:
- Named after the founder of the modern Olympics, the top-of-the-line Baron de Coubertin Tent houses two guests in a 20-square meter (215 square feet) space. The “tent” has comfortable beds, wardrobes, shower, toilet, and pantry. This tent has electricity and sits on a raised wooden platform with a private veranda. Guests have VIP access to festivities in the area. Available for £1,215 for 3 nights (about $1,970USD).
- A bit more tent-like, the James Connolly Tent also holds two lucky campers. The 20-square meter tent sits on a wooden floor, and still offers beds, closet space, electricity, and private veranda. The toilet and shower are shared with other campers. Cost is £720 (about $1,170) for 3 nights.
- Bronze medal for Olympic glamping goes to the Carl Lewis Cabin — a mobile room just 9-square meters (97 square feet) in size with a double bed, closet space, and electricity. Toilet and shower are shared, but the cost is just £600 ($965) for 3 nights.
The Greenwich site is operated by Netherlands-based De Orange Camping, which has run similar facilities at the World Cup. For those on a more modest budget, De Orange offers basic campsites and temporary dormitories in Greenwich.
In the broadest sense, London is a safe city, but it’s also crowded and expensive—characteristics that are likely to intensify as thousands of visitors converge for the Olympics. London’s strong public transportation system will be stress tested during the Games, but public transportation remains the best way of getting around during the event. See the Transport for London website for detailed travel information and the special Get Ahead of the Games site.
Watchwords for traveling during the Games can be found in the Indie Travel Manifesto: Practice courtesy, patience, humility, and good humor. It’s going to be crowded at the Olympics, and these virtues will be essential. Plus, waiting in line (queuing) is a British art form and a great way to meet people.
Olympic tickets sales have been a sore spot leading up to the Games. A complex online ticketing system generated complaints from British and European purchasers; those outside the European Union were required to purchase online tickets through official sellers authorized by their own countries’ Olympic committees. In the Americas, the vendor is Cosport.com.
If you go to London without tickets, be aware of possible scams. Top among them are ticket touts (aka scalpers) who may be attempting to offload bogus Olympic tickets. It is illegal in Britain to sell Olympic tickets in public places without authorization.
Other entertainment options in London during the Olympics
No Olympic ticket, no Olympic fun? Hardly. London and the UK will be awash with special events leading up to and during the Games. Top among them is the officially sanctioned London 2012 Festival, running from 21 June through 9 September, with events ranging from Shakespeare marathons to rock concerts. BT London Live is another Olympic extravaganza—offering free entertainment in Hyde Park (28 July – 11 August), Victoria Park (27 July – 12 August) and Trafalgar Square (29 August – 9 September.)
Even without tickets you can eyewitness some Olympic events: marathon runners will slog along a route passing the Tower of London, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and Buckingham Palace. Road cycling events begin in downtown London and head out of town into rural Surrey. Keep in mind that not all Olympic sports venues are in London. For example, Olympic sailing will take place in Weymouth, where visitors can peer from the coast to catch a glimpse of the competition.
Sporting event. Intense competition. Media spectacle. An Olympics is all of those. It’s also a mammoth party. So plan on a party atmosphere across the city and right up to your campsite. Enjoy the moment.
About the London Olympics
The 2012 Summer Olympic Games begin on 27 July and close on 12 August. They’re followed by the Paralympic Games from 29 August through 9 September.
Principal venue for both events is the London Olympic Park in Stratford, East London. The Park is connected by high-speed rail to central London and on to continental Europe. London Olympic Park is also served by the London Underground, Docklands Light Railway, and a plethora of London bus routes.
Check out the following links for more information and resources on traveling in London:
- Find a flight to London
- Check out our new London Travel Guide
- Find a hostel in London
- Read 5 Reasons to Plan Ahead for the London Olympics
- Read 10 Free Things to Do in London
- Click here if you want some help planning your next big trip
Photo credits: Gold medal room at The Ritz. © The Ritz London; Camping Ninja gets ready for the Olympics. © Matt Crossick/PA; Glamping at Greenwich. © De Orange Camping; Double Decker bus. © Transport for London; Lighting up the London Festival. © London 2012 Festival/Daniel Saint Leger—Les Commandos Percu; Racing past the Palace. Photo by Justin Setterfield for LOCOG