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Traveling to (and around) England during the 2012 Olympics

If you plan to visit England in the summer of 2012, remember that the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games will be held in the United Kingdom during the second half of summer. Be aware that travel to and throughout England during this period will come with potential for delays and disruption as the Olympic Games get underway.

Where and when the 2012 Olympics will take place

London is the host city for both the Olympic and Paralympic events and will thus be the hub for most of the athletes, coaches, spectators, and International Olympic Committee (IOC) staff coming to the Games. Other areas throughout England that will host some of the Olympic events include

  • Cardiff

  • Coventry

  • Glasgow

  • Manchester

  • Newcastle

  • Weymouth

If you're travelling at this time — particularly in the London area — plan ahead and be prepared for extended journey times and busier-than-normal transportation networks, including airports, trains, and buses.

The Olympics will run from July 27 through August 12. After a break in proceedings, the Paralympics will run from August 29 through September 11. Throughout this whole period, events will be taking place at venues across London. Key areas will be the Olympic Village, Hyde Park, Greenwich, Wimbledon, Lord’s, and Wembley.

Getting around London during the Olympics

An event the size of the Olympics is going to have a major effect on travel and accommodation services, both to and within the UK. Airports will be much busier than usual as they handle the influx of competitors and spectators. Heathrow Airport is even building a temporary terminal to deal with the en masse arrival and departure of people at the beginning and end of the Games.

Other access points to England, such as Eurostar and ferry terminals, will also see heavy traffic. Roads will have more vehicles on them, and both commuter trains and London's subway system (the London Underground, casually known as the Tube) will see a considerable increase in passengers. Of course, hotel room availability anywhere near London is going to be greatly reduced.

Via road

Central London has heavy street traffic even at its best times. Unless you enjoy long traffic jams and watching people walk to your destination far faster than you are driving to it, you should avoid taking a car around London during the Olympics (this includes taxis). But if you insist on driving, be prepared for the following:

  • Some roads will be closed to everyone except official Olympic traffic. The IOC implements an Olympic Routes Network (ORN), which is a series of routes reserved at times solely for the use of games officials and competitors. This can affect traffic signals, junctions, and parking areas as well as the roads, themselves.

  • Some bus routes will be diverted or may operate on alternative schedules.

  • Mail and other deliveries may also be subject to delays and other alterations.

Via commuter trains/rail

London has an extensive commuter rail network that, along with Paris, is the busiest and largest in Europe. While it's an exceptionally efficient system, there's little doubt that the Olympic activities will strain it. Be prepared for

  • A large increase in passenger traffic.

  • Some trains running on different schedules.

Potential hotspots include the King’s Cross/St Pancras Eurostar and Javelin Line interchanges.

Via subway

On a typical day, it's not unheard of for some London Underground stations to close without notice to manage crowds, or for trains to simply glide through overcrowded stations to stop at the next closest one. Londoners already complain about scheduling delays and overcrowded trains on the Underground, and they haven't seen anything like they will during the Olympics.

But late trains and crowded platforms are small glitches in a mass transit system that moves an average of one billion passengers per year. British Transport Police are experts in crowd management and will have an all-hands-on-deck presence during the Olympic Games. Extra trains will fill the tracks.

Still, expect the following:

  • A substantial increase in passengers on the Tube throughout the Olympic/Paralympic period, leading to the possibility of increased journey times due to delays or trains that are too crowded to even board.

  • Some trains will run on different schedules.

  • At least two Tube stations (Marble Arch and Hyde Park Corner) will operate as "exit-only" stations, meaning that passengers cannot board trains here.

Potential hotspots include the Central, Jubilee, and Hammersmith & City lines.

The extra subway riders for Olympics events will be slightly offset by the fact that many Londoners will be on holiday and choose to avoid Central London on event days. But if you plan to take the Tube during the Olympics, be prepared to share the experience with a few thousand of your newest friends.

The Transport of London website offers full details of their Olympic planning.

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