London 2012: what to do near the main Olympic venues

{ Posted on by }
Categories : Travel news

Near the Olympic Park

Areas around the Olympic Park have been bubbling with activity for some time. Hackney Wick in particular is a neighbourhood rich with community and cultural life. Lower Clapton, a little further north, has seen a spate of new and interesting businesses.

Starting on Morning Lane in the middle of Hackney, grab a bite at Railroad (120-122 Morning Lane, E9, 020-8985 2858, The menu features seasonal food from various cultures, but that's not the only draw: they hold readings and gigs in the basement space and have a tiny bookshop. If you're after artisan sandwiches and cakes, Chatsworth Road in Lower Clapton offers great options. Our personal favourite, Cakey Muto (25 Chatsworth Road, E5, 020-8533 5788), serves cakes (obvs), Mr Hair's Brighton pies and zany art. Bring your own mix CD, like The Hives have, and load it into the free jukebox. There's also a great market here on Sundays from 11am-4pm.

The warehouses and industrial units of Hackney Wick, at the eastern end of Victoria Park, are home to several creative enterprises. Jamie Lowe's antiques shop, Imperial & Standard (10 Felstead Street E9, 07754 553778,, doubles as a prop rental gallery, so he can make a living from but not have to part with his treasured items. Two doors up, the Pista Resistance bike shop (no phone, no website, not even a sign on the door – it's that cutting edge) offers fixed-gear bikes (from ?50 to ?3,000) made almost wholly of recycled parts (some with beautiful Benotto frames). Swing by for a chat, or an education in the history of road riding from owner Pia. Round the corner is See Studio (13 Prince Edward Road, E9, 020-8986 6477,, owned by Hackney Wick champion Daren Ellis, and currently showing new works from British contemporary artist Nick Waplington.

Hungry? The Hackney Pearl (11 Prince Edward Road, E9, 020-8510 3605, is a brasserie with great homemade food; The Counter Cafe (7 Roach Road, E3, 07834 275920,, a canalside brunch spot, does possibly the best bacon sandwich in London. Those with a fatter wallet might try historic east London salmon smokery H Forman & Son (Stour Road, E3, 020-8525 2399,, which also houses a bar, fine dining eatery and art gallery with great Olympic views.

The Yard (Unit 2, Queens Yard, White Post Lane, E9,, a cross-cultural project between architecture and theatre junkies, plans to reopen in April this year, while word has it The Hive (Unit B16, 22 Smeed Road, E3,, a project and performance space, hosts very cool events ranging from trapeze artists to political talks and warehouse parties.

Make your way over to Stratford on the Greenway, a public walking/cycling path atop a Victorian sewer. If you've got the kids, hit story centre up Discover (383-387 High Street Stratford, E15, 020-8536 5555, for some hands-on imagination exercising and then The Pie Crust Cafe (273 High Street Stratford, E15, 020-8534 2873), which fronts as a greasy spoon, but is rumoured to serve the best Thai eats in the area.

Chloe McCloskey, publishing editor of, a hip guide to London

If you are hoping to get in training for this year's Olympics – even as a spectator – there's no better preparation than a dish of steaming hot meatballs and spaghetti cooked by Maria Pellicci at the East End's most famous family-run cafe, E Pellicci (332 Bethnal Green Road, E2, 020-7739 4873). This exquisite, marquetry-lined restaurant has been in business for more than a century. The food is fresh and keenly priced, and everybody sits together so you can enjoy the true East End spirit.

For traditional East End fare, two of the best pie and mash shops with sparkling tiled interiors unchanged in decades, are F Cooke (9 Broadway Market, E8, 020-7254 6458) and G Kelly (Roman Road, E3, 020-8980 3165,

Each Sunday, the East End becomes one huge labyrinthine market where you can lose yourself among thousands of stalls. Start at Spitalfields – dominated by Nicholas Hawksmoor's towering baroque masterpiece, Christ Church (Commercial Street, E1, 020-7377 2440, – then wander up through Brick Lane via the Truman Brewery to the Columbia Road flower market (Columbia Road, E2, 020-7613 0876, for bargain bouquets and gorgeous shops and restaurants.

My top shopping destination, though, is Des and Lorraine's (14 Bacon Street, E1), an unreconstructed, unapologetic East End junk shop where true wonders are still to be found. Ask Des to show you the mermaid brought back from the South Seas by a sailor in the 19th century. Not far away is fashionable Redchurch Street – the Carnaby Street de nos jours – where I can never resist Labour and Wait (85 Redchurch Street, E2, 020-7729 6253, for their connoisseurship of traditional hardware. Just beyond, in Calvert Avenue at the heart of the towering red brick Arts and Crafts edifices of the Boundary Estate is Leila's Shop and Cafe (15-17 Calvert Avenue, E2, 020-7729 9789), notable for luscious displays of fresh vegetables and the East End's liveliest cafe society.

To those seeking souvenirs of their Olympic visit, I propose the Spitalfields Antiques Market, where hundreds of dealers set up every Thursday in the Old Spitalfields Market Hall (Commercial Street, E1, 020-7247 8556, Dennis Severs' extraordinary time capsule house in Spitalfields (18 Folgate Street, E1, 020-7247 4013, offers the chance to enter the mythic world of 18th-century London. I recommend it on one of their "silent nights" when speech is forbidden.

The Whitechapel Bell Foundry (32-34 Whitechapel Road, E1, 020-7247 2599,, dating from 1570, is Britain's oldest manufacturing company. Tours need to be booked in advance, but it is still worth dropping in to visit the shop at this venerable establishment where they cast Big Ben and the Liberty Bell.

Vyner Street, just south of the Regent's Canal near Victoria Park, has countless art galleries. You can happily work your way along until you find something that takes your fancy. Yet perhaps the most exciting art in the East End is in the street – look out for the exuberant Malarky frieze in Redchurch Street, Roa's three-storey crane on Hanbury Street and Ben Eine's alphabet painted on the shutters of the shops in Middlesex Street.

For something more peaceful, head south down the River Lea towpath that borders the park. After a mile you will come to Three Mills Island, with its magnificent, tidal 18th-century House Mill (Three Mill Lane, E3, 020-8980 4626, Continuing on via Bow Locks, you can walk to Limehouse Basin and the Thames path.

For a flavour of Charles Dickens' London, visit The Grapes (76 Narrow Street, E14, 020-7987 4396, in Limehouse. Legend has it that Dickens was made to dance on the counter here as a boy, and of all the riverside pubs, this one has best kept its charm. Just one room wide, it is a jumble of narrow spaces that open out on to a balcony over the Thames.

Finally, as an antidote to the shiny new Olympic park, I propose a stroll around Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park (Southern Grove, E3,, where a deep broadleaf forest has been allowed to grow, overwhelming the cemetery with new life.

The Gentle Author,

Three venues in the Greenwich area will be hosting events: the North Greenwich Arena, AKA the Millennium Dome (artistic gymnastics, trampoline, basketball, wheelchair basketball); Greenwich Park (equestrian events and modern pentathlon); and the Royal Artillery Barracks (shooting, paralympic shooting, paralympic archery).

Greenwich off the beaten track has an almost rural feel, with country lanes, secret vistas and leafy hollows. Exit Greenwich Park by St Mary's Gate and turn left past the Spread Eagle inn. Left again is one of Greenwich's oldest byways, Crooms Hill. It snakes along the edge of the park, via C Day-Lewis's blue plaque and the world's only Fan Museum (12 Crooms Hill, SE10, 020-8305 1441,, past a summerhouse built by 17th-century scientist, inventor and architect Robert Hooke to, eventually, Ranger's House (Chesterfield Walk, SE10, 020-8294 2548,, an English Heritage property which houses the Wernher art collection of oddball treasures. Back in the park, don't miss party-loving Princess Caroline's sunken bath, all that remains after her husband, George IV, razed her house in a fit of pique.

Greenwich market will be in full, chaotic swing, but quiet moments can be found in Nicholas Hawksmoor's St Alfege's church; it's the 1,000th anniversary of the saint's martyrdom this yearcorrect. For a quiet pint a stone's throw from the stadium, try the Plume of Feathers in(19 Park Vista, SE10, 020-8858 1661, Even if you don't make it as far as the Barrier, walking round the Thames Path's peninsula section you'll see everything from Long Good Friday-style desolate wharves to wildlife havens and millennium art – a sliver of ship called Slice of Life, Antony Gormley's Quantum Cloud and my personal favourite, a throne made from flotsam and jetsam near the Yacht Club. I'm not sure there will be much to see at the end of the new cable car across the Thames (completion permitting), but the ride should be fun. If you can't face the O2's chain restaurants, try The Pilot Inn (68 River Way, SE10, 020-8858 5910, nearby.

A stroll along the eastern side of the Royal Artillery Barracks a few miles east in Woolwich leads to the remains of the Royal Garrison church of St George, destroyed by a bomb in 1944 but whose mosaics still have an other-worldly glow. The Dial Arch at Woolwich Arsenal (020-3130 0700, serves good food in quirky surroundings, and there are some bargain shops in Woolwich town centre, notably the Clarks factory store (113-117 Powis Street, SE18, 020-8854 3163) and M&S Outlet (55 Powis Street, SE18, 020-8854 5524,, but head west along the delightfully-named Ha-Ha Road (yes, there is a ha-ha) to find Charlton House (Charlton Road, SE7, 020-8856 3951,, a little-known Jacobean gem.

The Greenwich Phantom (

The ExCeL Centre will host boxing, fencing, wrestling, judo, table tennis, taekwondo, weightlifting, boccia, paralympic table tennis, paralympic judo, paralympic powerlifting, sitting volleyball and wheelchair fencing. The surrounding area is similarly diverse. Nearby Royal Victoria Dock is peppered with leftover cranes and warehouses among modern housing developments. South of the dock is Thames Barrier Park (North Woolwich Road, E16, 020-7476 3741,, with its undulating hedgerows and spectacular views of the Thames flood barrier. There's nowhere quite like it in London, yet it's little known. Have lunch or coffee at the Pavilion cafe.

Matt Brown, editor of

Earls Court will host the volleyball tournament. Doctor Who fans will enjoy stumbling across the Tardis (an old police call box) outside the Tube exit. Then head to Brompton Cemetery (Fulham Road, SW10, 020-7352 1201, to watch the crows and squirrels dance among the magnificent Victorian mausoleums. Food lovers will not be disappointed with friendly Lebanese restaurant Orjowan (6-8 Kenway Road, SW5, 020-7370 3074,, while the Troubadour (263-267 Old Brompton Road, SW5, 020-7370 1434), a cafe and bar that's been open since the 1950s, is an essential stop. MB

No prizes for guessing which sport they're playing here, but tennis apart, this leafy area is worth exploring. Wimbledon Common is famous as the home of The Wombles, but less known is the Windmill Museum (Windmill Road, SW19, 020-8947 2825,, which also gives a potted history of scouting. Nearby Wimbledon Village has many continental cafes and bars. The ancient Crooked Billet (14-15 Crooked Billet, SW19, 020-8946 4942, is more traditional and good for food. MB

The famous stadium hosts Olympic football, while nearby Wembley Arena looks after badminton and rhythmic gymnastics. Although much of the surrounding area is given to housing and industrial parks, one of London's most surprising buildings lurks nearby: Neasden's Shri Swaminarayan Mandir (105-119 Brentfield Road, NW10, 020-8965 2651, This magnificent marble structure is the largest traditionally built Hindu temple outside India and anyone can visit. Food options in the area are varied, but dim sum restaurant Alisan (The Junction, Engineers Way, 020-8903 3888, and South-Indian Chennai Dosa (3 Ealing Road, 020-8782 8822,, one of many excellent cheap curry houses on Ealing Road, are recommended. MB

Hosting triathlon and marathon swimming, Hyde Park is handy for tourist hotspots such as the Natural History Museum and Royal Albert Hall, and for lesser-known gems. Apsley House (149 Piccadilly, W1, 020-7499 5676,, at Hyde Park Corner, is the former home of the Duke of Wellington, and sports an impressive art collection and a giant nude statue of Napoleon. Then head south into the grand streets of Belgravia, which hide some of the best pubs in London. Seek out the eccentric Grenadier (18 Wilton Row, SW1, 020-3582 4830,, and the Nag's Head (53 Kinnerton Street, SW1, 020-7235 1135). MB

Lord's cricket ground hosts the Olympic archery, but this lovely area has plenty to detain you. The world's most (only?) famous pedestrian crossing is nearby on Abbey Road. A short walk north is the wonderful Ben Uri Gallery (108A Boundary Road, NW8, 020-7604 3991,, which specialises in Jewish art. Alternatively, head south to the Regent's Canal for a pleasant water-side stroll. MB

Horseguards Parade goes all Santa Monica with Olympic beach volleyball. Nearby, obvious places to see include Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament, but take time to wander the surrounding streets. As well as the eponymous palace, St James's Street also contains some of London's oldest shops. Wine merchant Berry Bros & Rudd (3 St James's Street, SW1, 0800 280 2440, is particularly worth a visit. The building was once home to Napoleon III. At the eastern end of the Mall, see if you can find the statue of Yuri Gagarin and the hidden nose on the inside of Admiralty Arch. Afterwards, seek out the Red Lion (23 Crown Passage, SW1, 020-7930 4141), with its cosy, olde worlde interior. MB

The Lee Valley White Water Centre ( which hosts the canoe slalom is out of town on the Hertfordshire/Essex border, and open to the public before and after the games for rafting and canoeing at all levels. Take a train to Waltham Cross from London Liverpool Street ( The nearby Royal Gunpowder Mills (Beaulieu Drive, Waltham Abbey, 01992 707370, has been home to munitions testing for 300 years. Today, it's a tranquil space perfect for a picnic before exploring the exhibits. The more energetic might then enjoy a 10-mile walk along the River Lea, ending at the Olympic park. Keep an eye out for the inventive street art which enlivens the stretch around Hackney Wick. MB

For more details on visiting the Olympic venues, see

Related posts

Sorry, comments for this entry are closed at this time.