How close can you get to the Olympic Park without a ticket? A guaranteed way to see the Orbit, Olympic Stadium and Athletes Village is to take the daily Olympic walking tour around the edge of the park. In spite of tightened security and crowds, the tours are continuing twice a day throughout the Games.
The altered tour route for the Olympics visits the film studio where Danny Boyle is preparing the Opening Ceremony. It takes in the Stadium and the distinctive Aquatics Centre from a pedestrian gate and finishes up at Westfield Stratford City shopping centre, overlooking the Athletes Village.
The real highlights of taking a tour in Games-time are the unplanned encounters with Olympic stars, explains guide Victoria Herriott, who has bumped into the likes of Steve Redgrave, American sprinter Michael Johnson and legendary British Athlete Mary Peters on her tours.
“The atmosphere is great because there are athletes wandering around everywhere,” she says. “The athletes have all been moving in recently and they’ve hung their flags on their balconies so you know where different teams are staying. Last week, we met the American equestrian team with their trainer Mark Phillips, who is Zara Phillip’s father. My group were mainly American so they got the meet their own equestrian team and the father of the Queen’s granddaughter.”
The tours are led by professional Blue Badge tourist guides who tell the story of east London’s industrial past and regeneration, winning the bid and the build up to the Games.
Many guides have led tours of the park for years, from site visits for architects to trips for local schools. They launched the tours in 2010 when they realised the limited bus tours of the Olympic Park weren’t satisfying curiosity about the Olympic site. “We could see there wasn’t going to be much chance for people to be let into the park,” says Herriott. “There used to be bus tours but they were always sold out. It didn’t even begin to scrape the surface of the demand to learn about the Olympics.”
Guided walks take place every day at 11am and 2pm, starting at Bromley-by-Bow Underground station. Booking in advance is necessary in Games time. Have you been on a walking tour of the Olympic Park? Let us know your experience in the comments below.