2012 London Olympics: Venue Previews

The O2 Arena in London is one of several venues hosting the 2012 Olympics across the country.

John Scott Lewinskiby John Scott Lewinski

The UK is the epicenter of sports and popular culture this summer as the Summer Olympics sets up shop in London and at other major venues around the island nation.

Following up on the huge celebration to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, Continental Europe alongside the USA will look on with more than a little envy during the summer games.

To preview the Olympics, VisitEngland.com invited legions of press to London to check out the city and some of the venues preparing to host the world’s top athletes.

You couldn’t tag alone for the press tour, but you may wish to venture across the Atlantic to witness the summer games in a properly civilized environment. So, here’s the official overview of London’s Olympic venues – with a couple extra destinations outside London included . They’re not all polished up for the official event, but we got a clear idea of what they’re about, what they’ll have to offer and how you can enjoy them ahead of the big event.

Within London:

Wembley Stadium Tour

From England's World Cup victory in 1966 to the Live Aid concert, the Wembley Stadium Tour gives visitors the chance to relive great sports moments with an eye to those still to come this summer..  The behind-the-scenes tour of the stadium gives fans a look back at the tradition of the FA Cup Final and a view ahead to the track and field events and ceremonies to be hosted there.(www.wembleystadium.com/tours)

The O2

The O2 was the first purpose-built music venue in London since the Royal Albert Hall went up as a tribute to Queen Victoria’s late husband in 1871. The O2 stands in the neighborhood of Greenwich and serves as a live music club, cinema and retail venue. The giant bubble is also home to The British Music Experience – an interactive permanent exhibition showing how rock, pop, dance and other genres have influenced the last 60 years of British culture. It’s getting ready to host basketball and other major sports during the run of the Olympics.

Horse Guards Parade

Located near the Prime Minister’s residence at 10 Downing Street, the Horse Guards Parade is in the heart of Whitehall and will provide an unlikely home for volleyball competitions in 2012 as the engineers are building an outdoor beach on the site. That makes sense as it’s a hell of a long drive to the nearest beach from central London or Westminster.

Pre-Olympics visitors to London can visit this attraction year round and see the daily changing of the mounted troopers of the Household Cavalry. Visitors who are lucky enough to stop by in June can attend the Trooping of the Color which is staged there on the Queen’s birthday. It should be front and center during the Diamond Jubilee celebration. (www.visitlondon.com/attractions/detail/484414)

Greenwich Park

Greenwich Park, London’s oldest Royal Park, dates back to 1433 and will host the equestrian and modern pentathlon events during the London 2012 Games. Some of the main attractions prior to the Olympics are The Royal Observatory, the Greenwich Meridian Line, the Pavilion Tea House, the Wilderness Deer Park, the boating lake and tennis courts. (www.royalparks.gov.uk/Greenwich-Park.aspx)

Hampton Court Palace

During the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the cycling time trials will spin on the roads around Hampton Court Palace, formerly home to many famous monarchs – including Henry VIII. The palace and gardens are open throughout the year and visitors can experience costumed guided tours and interactive exhibitions that introduce visitors to some of the palace’s most famous residents. (www.hrp.org.uk/HamptonCourtPalace)

Lord’s Cricket Ground

As famous a sports venue as there is in most of the world, Lord’s is not as well-known in the U.S. because cricket obviously never caught on here. The Cricket Ground in northwest London will host the archery competitions for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The grounds have been home to cricket since 1814 and regularly host test marches and international matches. Visitors can buy tickets in advance for some of the games and tours of the grounds are also available. (www.lords.org)

Outside London:

Old Trafford Stadium Tour

Located within a few miles of Manchester city centre well north of London, Old Trafford is home to Manchester United Football Club. It first opened its doors in 1910, and in 2012 Old Trafford will welcome football stars from around the globe as the stadium hosts a total of nine Olympic soccer games. For visitors who cannot make the soccer games in the summer of 2012, the tour and museum are an absolute must, allowing visitors to step onto the hallowed turf, stand in the dug-out, walk through the players’ tunnel, and sit in the home team’s changing rooms. (www.manutd.com/en/Visit-Old-Trafford.aspx)

Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Club

Americans might not know Lords, but Wimbledon is probably the most famous sporting spot in the UK. Obviously, it’ll host the tennis events at the Olympics. But, meanwhile, the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum, visitors can view film footage of the game’s most memorable matches, check out memorabilia that dates back to 1555, and experience CentreCourt360, a new viewing attraction showing you what it’s like to be in the center of the action.  (www.wimbledon.com)