10 Things To Do While in London For the Proms or Olympics

Stephanie Jones on July 20, 2012

1. Visit a bridge or two (or three)

London is in no short supply of bridges, from the more austere yet functional London Bridge, to the impressive Tower Bridge. A quick stroll across the Thames to Waterloo station will give you good view of the city at night.

2. Have a pasty

Tasty: Pasty

It's similar to a very large empanada with savory fillings from lamb and mint to a decidedly British steak and onion. 

3. Festival of the World at the Southbank Centre

Londoners are so hip that even major producing organizations get it. The Southbank Centre is running a number of smaller, curated festivals under this big banner during the Olympic Games and through the end of summer. For example, renowned Senegalese singer and human rights activist Baaba Maal is fronting “Africa Utopia,” a month-long focus on African music, film, writing, dance, and theater. There’s also a circus and family-show festival through the end of the summer.

4. See Some of the Big Busk

Beginning with the Shoreditch Festival along the Regent Canal, more than 200 bands and young performers will be scattering about London “busking” (entertaining in a public place). Every year since 2009, it’s all been coordinated into a competition, and you can vote for your faves, unlike the Olympics where everyone gets uptight about the sour-faced judge on the panel.

5. The Owl and the Pussycat from ROH2 — On the Canals

Opera can be expensive, but one of the Mayor of London’s Secrets for the Olympic Games is a performance from Royal Opera House 2, the small-theater wing of the ROH, based on Edward Lear’s delightful poem. It is to be performed at various sites along London’s canals, it’s free, and it’s good for kids. Monty Python alum Terry Jones has written the libretto and Anne Dudley (The Full Monty) has composed the music.

Adults can see a revival of Elijah Moshinsky’s production of Verdi’s Otello or a concert with former winners of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia Competition.

6. Take a Walk

The Scoop
The Scoop, located between the London Bridge and the Tower Bridge

There are a lot of parks to walk in, but if you want to see historic London (and meet Olympic mascots Mandeville and Wenlock — though why would you?) The Greater London Association has put together a series of strolls through districts of London from the City and Westminster, to Lambeth, Southwark, Camden, and Tower Hamlets.

7. Check Out the Indie Music Scene

Lady Grey is the place to be when it comes to live and indie music — Amy Winehouse, The Clash, and even U2 have made their way through places like Half Moon, Dublin Castle, and Hope & Anchor. Try Old Blue Last in Shoreditch for frequent lives sets after 8 p.m. or, if you're brave, spot a celebrity at George and Dragon.

8. Catch Some Freebies at The Scoop

Summer is usually the best time to catch some free entertainment but it's especially true with the 2012 Olympics fast approaching. The Scoop is an open-air amphitheater a five-minute walk from London Bridge Station on the South side of the Thames. It features a bunch of free performances, including (this month) the Oresteia trilogy from Steam Industry Free Theatre, the West End Kids (a popular song-and-dance troupe) and much more.

9. Go to a museum — child-free

Old Globe
Old Globe

Enough said. London is a city of museums — aside from the biggies like the Victoria & Albert, National Gallery, Tate and Tate Modern, you can visit the homes of famous Londoners like Charles Dickens, John Keats, and George Frideric Handel, or the Foundling Hospital Museum (for which Handel wrote an oratorio you might have heard of). You can visit a replica of Sir Francis Drake’s ship, The Golden Hind, or the excavations of the Rose Theatre; you can visit the instruments collection of the Royal College of Music.

There’s a museum for everything in London, from public transportation and canals, to freemasonry, to tea, to tennis, to a reconstruction of Michael Faraday’s 19th-century science laboratory. Admission is free. An excellent museum for adults (minus the kids) is the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth. It’s appeal lies in its subject matter, intimate exhibitions, four plus floors of British history, and a recent section dedicated to WWII military intelligence and espionage.

10. Globe Theatre — the Globe Theatre

Tourists won’t mind the controversy that Londoners have recently seen surrounding this landmark. It’s Shakespeare in a reconstruction of his theater on the actual site of the old Globe — what more can a person ask for? How about standing room tickets in the yard for five quid, just two feet from the stage for Henry V or Taming of the Shrew?