Last month we reported that despite fears, the coveted ‘London legacy’ of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games was showing signs of life. The capital is proving itself once more as one of the world’s preeminent cities, packed with glorious sights and activities.
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A 40% rise in visitors flocking to London’s greatest sights seems to confirm that the desired inheritance of London 2012 might in fact be turning into reality. It is early days, but any increase in tourist numbers is surely positive in times of economic downturn and recovery. The London 2012 legacy has been described as the longer-term benefits and effects of planning and developing and hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games – benefits including economic, sporting, social and regeneration ones. A central aspect of the legacy was always the encouragement of inbound tourism and investment; not only in terms of being able to fully exploit the economic advantage of the arrival of an estimated 100,000 visitors from overseas specifically for the Olympics (the prediction was that this would inject £16.5 million into the economy), but also the opportunity to market London and the UK to the world for the future.
These expectations were dashed by early reports in July and August. Numbers of tourists to the UK actually fell compared to previous years, and those involved in the tourism trade reported a visible lack of customers. It seemed that other than those arriving specifically to attend the Games, people were staying away, put off perhaps by the prospect of crowding. Rather like Paris in August, Londoners too appeared to have made alternative arrangements and cleared out for the duration. From personal experience, travelling around London was significantly and noticeably easier during the Olympics rather than harder – and it wasn’t just due to extra provision and the wonderful volunteers.
However, by any evaluation London 2012 was a huge international success; as Sebastian Coe claimed in his Closing Ceremony speech, London undoubtedly ‘lit up the world’ in many different ways. And, phoenix-like from the ashes of the Olympic Cauldron, London is finally showing signs of rising up in terms of longer-term legacy as well.
In terms of specifically Olympic Park and London regeneration, anyone who attended the Games cannot have failed to notice the exceptional work that has been done in Stratford and other areas to prepare for 2012. Dennis Hone, Chief Executive of the LLDC has said that the development of the area is a 20 year project that will ‘change people’s lives’ and Boris Johnson has described the area as a ‘brand new district of the capital’ which will attract tourists from home and abroad. At the moment, the public waits in limbo for the next stage to be completed and revealed, as the Park and venues transition into something permanent. In May 2012, the London Legacy Development Corporation announced the plans for the renamed Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, to be opened in July this year. The sport venues are being altered to accommodate future events and London is bidding to host many international sporting compeitions in the new arenas and stadiums. Anish Kapoor’s Orbit remains the tallest sculpture in the UK and will be used as a visitor attraction with unique views across London from two glass enclosed platforms. The London Legacy Development Corporation is aiming for the park to ‘become a place tourists have to visit to say they’ve truly seen London’.
Groups visiting London have many different prioities, but there are some sights that are truly unmissable. The British Museum is a world-leading institution: the first national public museum in the world, it was founded in 1753 and from the very beginning it granted free admission to all ‘studious and curious persons’. Visitor numbers have grown from around 5,000 a year in the eighteenth century to nearly 6 million a year today. The world-famous collections include Ancient Greek and Roman artefacts, Ancient Egyptian sculpture, Chinese ceramics and Assyrian antiquities. The British Museum has a ongoing programme of outstanding exhibitions and is heavily involved in international research and education.
From 28th March to 29th September this year, a major exhibition on the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum is being shown at the Museum. ‘Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum’, sponsored by Goldman Sachs, brings together over 250 fascinating objects. The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD79 preserved the two cities until rediscovery by archaeologists nearly 1700 years later gave us unparalleled insight into Roman life. In addition to treasures such as intricately carved ivory panels, the objects give visitors a real taste of the common daily life of Pompeii and Herculaneum residents; a baby’s crib, that still rocks on its curved runners, is one of the most poignant pieces.
Groups of eight or more people who book in advance get ticket discounts for weekday visits. Group lecture packages are available for adult groups of 20 or more and are an excellent way to gain expert insight into the exhibitions and collections. The British Museum has both fine dining and café-style options, and free meals are available for GTOs.
For a central capital city attraction, the Household Cavalry Museum offers exceptional value for money, particularly when groups combine it with viewing the ceremonial guard changes on the hour from 10am until 4pm outside at Horse Guards. In fact, the museum has not increased admission charges since it was originally opened by Her Majesty The Queen in July 2007.
Situated in the heart of Royal London at Horse Guards, the museum is housed in the 1750 stables of the building which to this day is still the official entrance to the Royal Residences. Unlike other military attractions, it offers a rare opportunity to take a behind-the-scenes look at the ceremonial and operational role of the Household Cavalry. Through a large glass screen, visitors can view troopers attending to their horses in the working stables of The Queen’s Life Guard. Exhibitions include a dazzling display of uniforms, weapons, horse furniture and highly prized artefacts.
The museum traces the history of the regiments which make up the Household Cavalry (The Life Guards and the Blues and Royals), from their foundation early in the reign of Charles II to the present day, describing the exploits of many of the regiments’ heroes, who fought for their country all over the world. Each exhibit in the museum has its own compelling story to tell and is brought to life using a mix of graphics, audio-visual and interactive displays. Among these are the bugle on which the famous and decisive Household Brigade charge was sounded at Waterloo by 16 year-old John Edwards; the prosthetic leg worn by the Marquess of Anglesey, who lost his leg at Waterloo; the musket ball which shattered the arm of Robert Hill, Commander of the Blues, and the helmet and tunic that he wore at the same battle. For younger (or older!) visitors, there is a dressing-up area where you can try on parts of the uniform and helmets – a rare experience and fun photo opportunity, especially for groups who can come away with some great shots.
The Household Cavalry Museum is a charity. Profits from the museum go directly to support Household Cavalry troopers and their families who have been adversely affected by current operational deployments. The museum is located at Horse Guards, Whitehall and is open daily from 10am. Groups of eight or more get 10% discount on the admission price. The museum also holds evening receptions for groups of up to 140 guests, dinners for up to 26 and is available for Early Evening Private Tours (including a glass of champagne – minimum ten people, maximum 50).
A warm welcome awaits groups at the Bank of England Museum. Interactive displays, exhibits and special events reveal the Bank’s history from its foundation in 1694 to its modern roles of keeping inflation low, issuing banknotes and working to keep the financial system stable. The museum houses the world’s finest collection of Bank of England banknotes alongside items from the Bank’s collections of silver, paintings, photographs, coins, books and documents.
From 17th May until 9th November 2013, the museum presents ‘Cartoons and Caricatures’, a new exhibition encompassing more than two centuries of colourful and satirical visual comment on the Bank and its activities. The exhibition will consist of published and unpublished prints and drawings from masterful artists such as James Gillray, John Tenniel and, more recently, Steve Bell.
For groups of between 15 and 50 people, the Bank of England Museum offers free presentations that can be tailored to suit the interests of the group. They can include a short film or talk, after which questions might be invited on any aspect of the Bank and its functions, both past and present. The popularity of these talks means that advance booking of presentations is essential.
After discovering the royal side of the UK and then the economic side, groups in London should not miss exploring the governmental and statutory side of the country through a Houses of Parliament tour. In addition to being the seat of the UK’s government, the Houses of Parliament are home to some of the nation’s greatest works of art and architectural design from the Victorian period to the present day. Trialled successfully in 2012, two ‘Art and Architecture in Parliament’ tours are available to book now for 2013. ‘Royalty and Splendour in the House of Lords’ is a 75 minute guided tour within the Palace of Westminster and will run from 5.30pm on selected Friday evenings between March and July, costing £30. It will explore some of the wonderful frescoes, portraits, statues, thrones, fireplaces and furniture created by some of the finest British artists of the years, and end with a glass of champagne in one of the Palace’s private rooms. ‘Contemporary Portraiture in Portcullis House’ costs £13 per person for groups and presents the stunning contemporary architecture of Portcullis House and the unique art collection on its walls. It runs four times throughout the day on selected Fridays between March and July.
The standard guided tours of the Houses of Parliament include access to the Royal Apartments, Lords and Commons Chambers and Westminster Hall. They take place on most Saturdays and are now available to book through to late July 2013. From April 2013, for the first time, two tours per day will conducted in Russian.
Once you’ve been round the inside of the Houses of Parliament, how about taking to the river for an alternative perspective? Bateaux London is an exceptional way to combine sightseeing with quality dining. Viewing the Houses of Parliament, St. Paul’s Cathedral, The Tower of London and The London Eye among others while moving gently along the Thames is surely the most sophisticated way to see the best of London. Groups are welcomed onboard for lunch, afternoon tea or dinner cruises, and there are also private dining and exclusive hire options. With over twenty years of experience in providing dining cruises, Bateaux London are the experts in their field. Just because the venue is moving along a river doesn’t mean that the dining quality is compromised either; teams of chefs prepare fresh and seasonal meals onboard which can rival those served in London’s top restaurants on solid ground.
For visitors staying on terra firma, London is full of some great dining options even for large sets of people. Groups on theatre visits will find a perfect dining option just off Piccadilly Circus on Shaftesbury Avenue, in the heart of London’s theatreland. The Rainforest Café is known for its cheerful, enthusiastic staff who make a real effort to cater for the needs of large groups at all times. With several different sections, including areas that can be privately hired, the restaurant is suitable for any type of occasion or group dining. Known for its exciting themed interior, the rainforest environment is recreated by life-size animatronic gorillas, elephants and crocodiles. Jungle sounds are played in the background complete with a tropical storm every half an hour.
The Rainforest Café can seat up to 355 people at one time, but groups need not worry that this compromises service; an abundance of staff are trained at dealing patiently with even the largest table, and several waiters serve each table at once, ensuring that groups can all eat at the same time. Generous portions of American, Mexican and Italian food feature largely on the menu; alternatively, there is a separate children’s menu and events’ menus are also available.
As the original Hard Rock Café, London’s restaurant opened its doors back in June 1971. Founded by Isaac Tigrett and Peter Morton, two enterprising and music-loving Americans, it offered classic American food in an era before it was common in the UK. A regular at the Hard Rock Café, Eric Clapton donated his guitar to hang above his favourite spot at the bar to save the space for him. Pete Townsend then followed suit and did the same, and so the world’s greatest collection of rock memorabilia was begun. It has since grown to over 72,000 pieces. After the café fire in 2005, Clapton called up personally to check his guitar was ok.
Hard Rock Café London is situated on London’s prestigious Old Park Lane in the heart of Mayfair, directly opposite Hyde Park. The two floors – each with their own entrance, cloakroom and facilities – are packed with items ranging from a glittering Elton John stage outfit to a full Led Zeppelin drum kit. Both floors are well-equipped to accommodate any group size from 10 to 110. Next door on Park Lane is the Hard Rock merchandise shop, full of souvenirs and gifts, including the famous and sought-after t-shirts. Groups get a free gift with every £30 spent, and tour guides get commission on a group’s final spend in the shop.
The Vault section of the Hard Rock Café London gets it name due to its location in the former Coutts Bank Vaults below the shop. This is where the most valuable and prestigious memorabilia is displayed, including Madonna’s Vogue basque, Elton John’s famous circular NHS glasses and Kurt Cobain’s Fender guitar. Groups have an opportunity to chat with their very own ‘Vault Master’ and learn more about the stories and history behind the legendary items – and get their photograph taken seated on Jimmy Hendrix’s very own armchair.
Also situated in the heart of the West End is Mint Leaf restaurant and bar. A subtle and stylish entrance leads downstairs to a reception area before opening out into the deceptively large restaurant area. This versatile restaurant can accommodate up to 220 guests, with plenty of different sections and areas depending on requirements and group size. Opened in 2003, Mint Leaf offers fine modern Indian cuisine in elegant surroundings. Dark American walnut wood panelling is complemented by subtle lighting, giving a level of privacy to each group or table. Sofas in the bar area create a decadent feel, especially alongside the comprehensive drinks’ menu which features a vast amount of classic and exotic cocktails and over 500 spirits. Lunch and dinner sharing set menus are available for groups, as well as bespoke packages. Next month we will be featuring a first-hand review of Mint Leaf, after a recent visit by our Editor.
www.therainforestcafe.co.uk – 0207 434 3111 – email@example.com
www.bateauxlondon.com – 0207 695 1800 – firstname.lastname@example.org
www.mintleafrestaurant.com – 0207 930 9020 – email@example.com
www.bankofengland.co.uk/museum – 0207 601 3833/3866 – firstname.lastname@example.org
www.britishmuseum.org – 0207 323 8181 – email@example.com
www.hardrock.com – 0207 514 1700 – firstname.lastname@example.org
www.parliament.uk/visiting – 0844 847 2498
www.householdcavalrymuseum.co.uk – 0207 9303090 – email@example.com