1. Where to Stay
Walk to the finish line of the Olympic marathon and cycling road race on the Mall from The Rubens at the Palace (from $405), which overlooks the Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace. While the elegant, dark-wood-paneled entrance suggests a staid atmosphere, many of the 143 rooms here have been updated with contemporary touches like vibrant wallpaper and bold-print bedspreads, while the Leopard Champagne Bar sports an upscale safari look. To keep active, take advantage of the hotel’s sport buddy program, in which managers offer themselves as playing partners in ten activities including squash, tennis, and horse riding.
Feel the royal glow at the Taplow House (from $180), an opulent six-acre Georgian retreat 45 minutes away from Paddington Station by train. Gifted to a favored noble by King James I in 1598, the property maintains an air of regal splendor in its 32 rooms and on its grounds, where you can play croquet in the shade of Europe’s largest tulip trees. From here, it’s less than a mile to the Thames Path at Maidenhead, where you can bike eight miles along the water to Windsor and Dorney Lake, the site of the rowing and flatwater canoe and kayak events.
Sip award-winning rosé and sleep in a refurbished nineteenth-century Surrey farmhouse at Denbies Wine Estate (from $153), a 45-minute train ride from Waterloo Station. Request a room on the second floor of this bed and breakfast for the best views of the surrounding North Downs, then attend a tasting in the château-style winery (from $15) or take a ride on the vineyard train ($9) to explore the estate. Box Hill, the steep climb that will decide the Olympic Road Race, is fifteen minutes away via vineyard footpaths, and the staff can arrange bike rentals for riding the hills.
2. Where to Eat
Book in advance for plates of world-famous Scottish smoked salmon ($16) at Forman’s, the closest eatery to Olympic Park. The high-ceilinged space features large windows that look out at the River Lea and Olympic Stadium, and a seasonal menu of contemporary British cooking such as wild sea bass served with truffle mash and vanilla froth ($27). During the Games, screens showing the events will be installed for viewing, and if you listen closely you’ll hear the roar of the stadium.
Choose from an extensive selection of locally sourced British dishes at the newest outpost of popular West End restaurant Bumpkin, which opened in late 2011 in a rapidly regenerating section of East London. The casual, two-floor dining room holds 180 seats and a gleaming open kitchen that turns out signature dishes like charter pie with free-range chicken ($20) and slow roasted outdoor-reared pork belly with caramelized apples and mashed potatoes ($25), in addition to a rotating selection of meat pies, puddings, and cheeses.
Taste one of the newest additions to the diverse eating scene at Ceviche, a Peruvian restaurant that opened earlier this year on the heels of London’s growing fascination with South American cuisine. With pastel walls decked out with retro prints, it offers a more relaxed vibe than you’ll find at other Soho establishments, plus a list of pisco-based cocktails and seven ceviches. Don’t skip the anticuchos, grilled skewers of tender beef heart ($9) and octopus ($15).
3. What to Do
Ride the most expertly maintained mountain bike trails near London at Swinley Forest, once part of the royal grounds at Windsor. Originally proposed to be the London Games mountain bike venue, Swinley’s twenty miles of trails feature the expert area’s fast, twisty single track as well as the new Stickler section, made by locals, which is loaded with berms to corner into. To get there, take a taxi to the Look Out Discovery Centre car park and follow signs to rent a bike from Wellington Trek Bike Hire (standard front suspension bike is $22 for two hours), which also provides helmets and the required permit to ride in the forest.
Take on Class IV rapids a couple dozen miles north of the city when the Lee Valley White Water Center reopens to the public on September 8. Inaugurated last year, it will be the first Olympic competition venue that visitors can utilize after the Games end. The whitewater rafting adventure ($77 for two hours) includes guides, team training, and a wetsuit. Expect to get soaked between the waves and the mandatory flip test.
Run along the Greenway, a flat, popular jogging route in East London with elevated views of Olympic Park that’s notable for being the city’s only pedestrian-only cross-borough route. Follow the easy-to-find blue signs past the Wick Lane start (near Pudding Mill Lane Station) over the River Lea and then four straight miles southeast to Beckton Alps overlook and Royal Docks Road. If you prefer a bit of sightseeing with your run, City Jogging Tours offers a variety of runs ($41) of different lengths in locations around the city.
4. Insider’s Tip
If you’re in London during the Olympics, transportation is going to be rough. Home Run is a running group that will be organizing daily transportation schemes to beat gridlock, but another alternative is the newly expanded and upgraded Barclays Cycle Hire bike-share system. A quick hire for less than 30 minutes costs only a $1.50-a-day use access fee, and self-parking docking stations are easy to spot.
5. Oddball Day
Head out of town to Weymouth, the updated and adventure-happy southern coastal city where Olympic sailing events will be held. From Waterloo Station, it’s a three-hour trip on the South West line (from $20; departs hourly), after which it’s a short walk down King Street to the grand Georgian esplanade overlooking a three-mile white sand beach and vast Weymouth Bay. Traditional seaside pastimes like donkey rides and a merry-go-round are still there, but you should take in the new experience of getting a bird’s-eye view of the coastline with a 30-minute visit atop the 53-meter-high Sea Life Tower ($20) on the Festival Pier. Afterward, have lunch at the rustic Crab House Cafe, which only serves the catch of the day from local fishermen. While you’re eating, have Weymouth Bike Hire (07973 751 393; from $20 for the day) deliver a rental so you can ride five flat (but potentially windy) miles south on National Cycle Route 26 to Portland Harbour and the National Sailing Academy. Experience Britain’s best natural sailing waters at the Official Test Centre, a windsurfing stop with boards and kit for hire and tutorials ($31 for a beginner-level board and sail for one hour). Next, trade the bike for a hired car from AAA to reach the heart of the Devon coast. After a 45-minute drive, you’ll be dropped off at Lulworth Cove, a storied part of Dorset’s Jurassic Coast, England’s only natural World Heritage Site. Walk one and a half miles along the high chalky cliffs to Durdle Door to view tidal-sculpted sea caves, crescent-shaped beaches, and rock arches. Look for co-steering enthusiasts—a new craze pioneered by aquatic adventurers who swim around the natural rock formations and scale them. Get a ride back to Weymouth and either embark on the three-hour trip back to the city or just overnight at the hilltop Venue Hotel (from $188), a luxury retreat with a spa and nouvelle restaurant overlooking the ocean.
See what’s playing at the World Shakespeare Festival, which runs through September.
Rely on Transport for London, for updates on train, car, and bike travel across the city.
Plan your travel around the Olympics by using Get Ahead of the Games.
Head to Mountain Biking UK for video highlights of Swinley Forest.