OLYMPICS – FOUR YEARS ON
As the world watches Rio host the Olympic Games, Sam Rogg looks at the regeneration of east London and finds out how you can join in the fun
As the Rio Olympics begin, find out where to watch the Games and how to make the most of London’s Olympic Park.
As the world unites for the greatest sporting event on Earth – the Olympic Games (5-21 Aug) – we can’t help but feel that this year’s host, Rio de Janeiro, has a tough act to follow. It’s four years since the Queen ‘parachuted’ into London’s Olympic Stadium as part of an unforgettable opening ceremony that set the tone for the rest of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Directed by Danny Boyle, the ceremony was a celebration of everything that makes Britain great, from Shakespeare and David Bowie to the NHS and multiculturalism. London’s Games were flawless and fabulous – even the weather was good! But what lasting impact did they have?
Before the 2012 Games, you might not have considered visiting Stratford (not to be confused with Stratford-upon-Avon), but now it’s one of the most exciting boroughs in the capital, dubbed the ‘new east London’ thanks to the multi-billion-pound Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. ‘East London is a melting pot of different interests and perspectives with a vibrant culture like nowhere else in London,’ says Peter Tudor, the Park’s director of visitor services. ‘Just across the Park in Hackney Wick is one of the greatest concentration of artists anywhere in Europe and we have the Theatre Royal Stratford East, too.’ Nearby you’ll also find the largest shopping mall in Europe, Westfield Stratford City, with more than 200 stores, 70 dining spots and a new 65,000ft casino, Aspers, with its own 24-hour restaurant, cocktail and sports bars. Inside the former Olympic Park, you can soak up the sunshine across 560 acres of lush parklands and waterways that attract diverse wildlife. ‘We have already achieved Green Flag status for our green credentials and last year we introduced a number of beehives which have already produced 60 jars of honey,’ says Tudor. This summer, the popular BeachEast returns for a second year with its vast stretch of white sand, paddling pool, fun-fair rides and a carnival atmosphere to rival Rio’s. Take part in free activities such as beach volleyball, paddle boarding and a monthly 10k race.
Over in the Park’s East Village, 3,000 people now live in former athletes’ accommodation, surrounded by trendy bars and cafés. Tudor’s advice? ‘Signorelli does a great cup of coffee, and any cocktail bar with the name Tina, We Salute You has to be worth a visit,’ he says.
Make the most of the Park in full bloom and take a boat trip along the canal or hire a bike from the Santander Cycles docking stations to explore some hidden gems – we recommend the Great British Garden near the Stadium, themed on the colours of Olympic medals: bronze, silver and gold. Or why not relive the magic of London 2012 and visit the venues where records were broken? Whether you’re a spectator or a budding Olympian, there’s something for everyone. On your marks, get set, go!