Review, Sightseeing, Travel

First-timers' guide to attending the Olympics

I can’t believe it’s already been 4 years since the London Olympics! It was really fortuitous that my PhD plans coincided with London hosting the Olympics in 2012, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to experience the Olympics in person. Funny enough, I recently found an essay I wrote almost 20 years ago about what I want to accomplish in 20 years, and I wrote that I hoped to attend the Olympics on day!

Since the 2016 Olympics are starting this Friday in Rio, I thought it would be fun to provide some tips for those looking to attend their first Olympics – and maybe see an event for free!

London Covent Garden Olympics Signs
Colorful Olympic banners in Covent Garden

If you’re visiting a city for the first time, be assured that it most likely will have clearly marked signs for visitors. Having visited London before the Olympics and then during, it was pleasantly surprising to see signs like this all around the city, along with maps every few feet indicating where you were and how long it would take to walk to nearby landmarks. If roads are closed for an event, you’ll also see signs stating when they’ll be closed.

London Olympics Sign

You’ll definitely see Olympic spirit displayed all around the city! Just like the banners at Covent Garden in the photo at the top of this post, the Olympic logo on the majestic Tower Bridge made me proud to have the opportunity to be in this great city at such a special time in history.

London Tower Bridge Olympics
I love how the committee integrated the Olympic logo on Tower Bridge

In Trafalgar Square, where the National Gallery is located, a countdown clock was positioned right in front of the museum. I think after the Olympics started, the clock showed the day and time.

London National Gallery Olympics
One side of the clock with the Olympic logo

The clock has a great view of Trafalgar Square!

London Trafalgar Square Olympics Signs
Other side of the clock with the Paralympics logo

Many of the main events were held in Stratford, which is a short train journey from the center of London.

There was also this interesting purple structure called ArcelorMittal Orbit. It’s both art and an observation tower…I’m not too sure about it. What do you think?

London Olympics Stadium

Of course, there are lots of security guards at the entrance to the Olympic Park. The Olympic Stadium with the Olympic torch is right behind them.

London Olympics Stadium

Olympic Stadium and all the people arriving for an event:

London Olympic Park Stadium

Free Events!

So, you’re at the Olympics and you don’t have a ticket to any of the events. Don’t worry, that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to watch any of the competitions!

The running events cover a large area, which means that it’s very hard to find an enclosed venue to hold the marathons. When there’s no venue, it’s also not possible to charge for the event and require tickets. How lucky for visitors!

I was able to watch the women’s marathon with Buckingham Palace as the backdrop – not too shabby for a free event 🙂

London Buckingham Palace Olympics Marathon sign

Buckingham Palace behind the finish line!

London Buckingham Palace Olympics

The marathon runners – sometimes there were lots of runners all bunched together, and sometimes there were just one or two.

Paris in Boston London Buckingham Palace Olympics

This truck showed the marathon time and was always in front of the runners:

London Buckingham Palace Olympics Marathon timer

So who’s on the truck? Official photographers!! It was raining earlier that day, which is why some are wearing ponchos. Luckily it stopped raining after the marathon started.

London Buckingham Palace Olympics Marathon media truck

I had a front row view of the marathon and Buckingham Palace!

London Buckingham Palace Olympics

There were lots of barriers around the event areas, along with security. It was great being in the audience and witnessing history being made.

London Buckingham Palace Olympics

Even if you don’t attend any events, there are many places around the city where you can buy official Olympic merchandise.

Paris in Boston London Hyde Park Olympics Sign

It won’t be difficult to find where these places are. Be prepared for waiting in lines and trying to browse in crowded aisles.

London Hyde Park Olympics Sign

Some of these venues even have special displays! Here’s one of the torches that were carried throughout the UK from one city to another. The Olympic flame was passed using this torch.

Paris in Boston London Hyde Park Olympics

London Hyde Park Olympics torch
Close-up of the torch – I didn’t realize how intricately detailed it was! So beautiful!

To coincide with hosting the Olympics, London also had some free special exhibitions at the British Museum, which has no entrance fee. This is another thing to look for if you attend the Olympics – free museums with Olympic-related displays.

London British Museum atrium
Atrium of the British Museum

It was amazing to see the medals in person.

London Olympics Medal
Gold medal given out at the London Olympics

London Olympics Medal

London Olympics Medal description

London Olympics Medal

London Olympics Medal punch description

I couldn’t help purchasing this coaster as a reminder of three things: that I was in the UK for my PhD, that I had to work hard in order to achieve my goal of getting a PhD, and that I attending the London Olympics!

London Olympics Keep Calm and Go for Gold

I hope you enjoyed my flashback to the 2012 Olympics! Have you attended the Olympics before? Where? If not, I hope this guide helps you prepare for a future Olympics visit! Thanks for reading!

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