x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

The London Olympics: bed, breakfast and a show

There are still some travel packages available for the UK Olympics in July.

Showjumping during the London Olympic's equestrian test event at the cross country course in Greenwich Park, with Canary Wharf in the background.
Showjumping during the London Olympic's equestrian test event at the cross country course in Greenwich Park, with Canary Wharf in the background.

When 2012 dawned damp, cold and grey in London, it perfectly matched the mood of a good swathe of its inhabitants. At best, many residents are ambivalent about "the games" that start on July 27, given that the British economy continues to stagnate and people worry more about keeping their job than if Usain Bolt can run 100 metres in under 9.5 seconds.

But expect that attitude to change as the big day - and better weather - approaches. For as much as the English love a good whinge, they also love a good party and, once they've warmed up with the Queen's Diamond Jubilee in early June, London will be a vibrant place to visit come July.

Before the competition even starts, there's the 12-week London 2012 festival (www.festival.london2012.com), which will cover food, music, fashion, theatre, museums, film, art, carnivals and comedy - everything that makes London, well, London. For many people, a highlight will be the "Globe to Globe" Shakespeare season of 37 of the bard's plays in 37 different languages, including Hamlet in Lithuanian, A Midsummer Night's Dream in Korean, and The Merry Wives of Windsor in Swahili.

Of course, the main event is the games themselves, which run until August 12, followed by the Paralympics from August 29 to September 9.

"For many reasons, London will already be a familiar place for people in the United Arab Emirates," Lord Coe, chairman of the Games' organising committee, told me. "But for those coming to visit this summer I can promise a city that will be more vibrant than ever before."

So if your appetite has been whetted and you want to see the greatest show on Earth, what are your options? In the UAE there is only one authorised ticket reseller (ATR) appointed by the National Olympic Committee - MMI Travel (www.mmitravel.com; 04 404 5859) that can offer individual tickets or packages with hotels, flights and "prestige experiences", including food, service and hospitality within the venues. If you've seen anyone else offering deals, it could be a scam - see the list of bogus websites at www.london2012.com/about-this-website/ticketing-website-checker.php.

A spokeswoman for MMI said that around 25 per cent of available packages have been sold since they went on sale in the UAE at the end of November and enquiries have been swift. Ticket-only deals are now restricted solely to equestrian events but pricier "prestige" tickets, which include on-site hospitality, are still available for a wide selection of sports. Sample prices from the company include a three-night Olympic equestrian package (August 6 to 9) costs from Dh12,593 per person, including economy airfare, accommodation, event tickets, transfers and insurance.

If you're an expat, it's worth trying the ATR in your home country if you have a credit card registered there and a local address to send documents to - there is a list at agents at www.tickets.london2012.com/nocatr.html.

And if you have a friend who has been lucky enough to secure tickets already, it's not illegal for them to sell you their spares. (In fact, this was recently made possible on the official Olympic website, although it was temporarily suspended almost as soon as it started because of issues with sold-out sports still showing availability.)

"It is fine to give tickets to friends or family, and to recharge them as you would for a concert or whatever. Where issues will arise will be if you try and sell them on an auction website or by taking out an ad or by posting a message on a social network, then that's illegal," confirmed a Games' organising committee spokesman.

Another avenue might be to try British tour operator Thomas Cook (visit www.thomascooklondon2012.com), the official provider of short breaks to the games. Although the small print on its website states the deals sold are for residents of EU countries only, a spokesman in the company's press office said it had been selling outside that area ("we just can't actively promote that"). Documents need to be collected from a Thomas Cook store in Britain but you can order from Abu Dhabi and use a UAE-registered credit card to pay.

If you just want to be in London for the festivities and atmosphere but are not too bothered about tickets or are happy to take a chance with what's available at the very last minute (a rather risky gamble), then Etihad Holidays can organise flight and hotel combinations, although hotel prices in the middle of town are predictably stratospheric in an already expensive city, or blocked off for visiting dignitaries and sponsors.

Look instead for new properties just outside the centre - for example, the Tune (www.tunehotels.com), which opened near Liverpool Street this month. It currently offers clean but basic rooms (you pay extra for a window, a towel, hair dryer, and TV) from £35 (Dh199) a night, which, doing a random check for early August, rises to around £140 (Dh795) during the Olympic period. Still, it's a bargain compared to the £400 (Dh2,272) a night you can expect to pay in the West End.

Nuala Worth, the local director of sales and marketing for Marriott, urges potential visitors to look for properties outside the centre but which still have good transport connections. "Some of our hotels are sold out but check our website and be flexible. Our property at Twickenham, for example, has availability and is just 20 minutes from Waterloo by train." On www.marriott.com, a double room in early August is currently £259 (Dh1,470) per night.

Before the Games start, the budget Travelodge chain (www.travelodge.co.uk) will have opened 10 new hotels across the capital since November, including a 188-room property at Stratford (just minutes from the Olympic park), Greenwich (for equestrian events) and Excel London (where boxing, fencing, weightlifting and wrestling will take place). Guy Parsons, CEO of Travelodge, says rooms will start from as little as £43 (Dh244), with bookings opening up around 12 weeks before the start of the games.

Also try boutique property websites such as www.sawdays.co.uk or www.i-escape.com - the latter recommends the Grazing Goat "pub with rooms" in trendy Marylebone, which still has Olympics availability and is charging from £345 (Dh1,960) per night in August for a double with breakfast.

And there are always the good old bed and breakfast places - flick through www.britainsfinest.co.uk and www.quintessentialbedandbreakfast.com for inspiration. As well as London itself, check out Essex once you're in the countryside - it's as bucolic a slice of rural English life as you're likely to find anywhere, and Colchester to Liverpool St station is only 50 minutes on a fast train (www.visitessex.com). The county will get an additional fillip from April when budget carrier easyJet (www.easyjet.com) starts flights from Southend Airport (also linked to Liverpool Street station) to nine European destinations, including Amsterdam and Barcelona.

But if you'd really like to save money, there's always www.campinmy-garden.com, where enterprising Londoners rent out their gardens, from £27 (Dh153), if you fancy life under canvas. You might even befriend a local so you can have a good moan.


If You Go

The flight Return flights to London from Abu Dhabi with Etihad Airways (www.etihadairways.com) cost from Dh3,540, including taxes

The packages MMI Travel (www.mmitravel.com; 04 404 5859) has a three-night package (August 6-9)  from Dh12,593 per person, including return airfare from Dubai to Heathrow, accommodation, breakfast, category B tickets for showjumping on August 7, airport transfers and travel insurance. The six-night package (August 1-7) costs from Dh20,640 per person and includes airfare, accommodation and breakfast, category A tickets for athletics on August 5, airport transfers and travel insurance. A nine-night package (August 5-14) costs from Dh99,600 per person and includes business-class flights, accommodation and breakfast at the Andaz Liverpool Street hotel, category B tickets for show jumping on August 7, category AA tickets for the closing ceremony on August 12, airport transfers and travel insurance. If you only want tickets, MMI is offering entry to equestrian events in Greenwich Park on July 28 for Dh510 per person, with a minimum of two per booking.

Thomas Cook (www.thomascooklondon2012.com; 00 44 800 2012) is offering a night (July 28) at the Jurys Inn Hatton Cross from £159 (Dh903) per person, with breakfast and tickets for beach volleyball at Horseguards Parade; and a night at the County Hotel Woodford from £269 (Dh1,528) per person, including breakfast and tickets to taekwondo and athletics.

A three-night stay at the Hyatt Regency Churchill, including breakfast, tickets for the hockey, gymnastics, handball and table tennis, transfers to venues, and lunch on two days starts at £3,599 (Dh20,440) per person. A three-night stay with some meals, tickets to the wrestling, men’s hockey finals, men’s volleyball finals and the closing ceremony, and venue transfers cost from £6,499 (Dh36,910) per person.

A spokeswoman for Etihad Holidays (800 23 24) said Claridges has one-bedroom suites from £2,960 (Dh16,810) per night (five-night minimum stay). The Jumeirah Lowndes Hotel has double rooms from £670 (Dh3,805) per night (both excluding flights).