Britain sparkles in 2012
PARTY ON: The five-week-long City of London Festival (June 24-July 27) celebrates its 50th anniversary this year with world premiere performances of music and dance including works by composer Tansy Davies for the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, and a landmark piece performed by the English National Ballet in St Paul's Cathedral. Check out the free family events and free piano lessons given on 50 golden Street Pianos placed across the city. Composer Samuel Bordoli will produce live music sculptures at Tower Bridge and the Monument, Sir Colin Davis will conduct the London Symphony Orchestra in Berlioz's Grande Messe des Morts in St Paul's (June 25-26), and guitarist John Williams will commemorate the Festival's jubilee year with a recital similar to the one he gave at the first City of London Festival in 1962. (ROBERT PIWKO PHOTO)
It's not often a destination hosts two enormous events in one year. But that's what is happening in Britain this year as the nation celebrates the Queen's Jubilee, and plays host to the summer Olympics.
Of course there's more than royal-watching and world-class sports on offer. The London 2012 Festival alone will feature more than 1,000 cultural events from June to September (as reported last month). Add spectacular new attractions, special events and entertaining annual festivals, and you'll be left wondering how to fit it all in. There's never been a better time to visit (especially with a strong Canadian dollar). Here's a sample of what to expect:
JUBILEE AT WINDSOR
Some of the world's rarest motorcars will go on display at the inaugural Windsor Castle Concours of Elegance (Sept. 7-9) -- part of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebration. The event takes place in Windsor's Upper Ward, a central quadrangle within the castle walls that is normally not open to the public, and will feature cars such as a Bugatti Royale, Ferrari 250 GTO, Blower Bentley and Mercedes-Benz Gullwing. Visitors will also be able to see rare horse-drawn carriages and royal cars.
Tickets are available to the public for £25 (about $40) on the Saturday and Sunday (Friday is an invitation-only event). On Sunday, specially invited vehicles representing each year of the Queen's 60-year reign will drive from The Mall at Buckingham Palace in London to Windsor Great Park and along the 4.26-km Long Walk that leads to the Castle. (Windsor Castle is 40 minutes from Central London and 15 minutes from Heathrow airport). Check concoursofelegance.com.
-- Also at Windsor Castle, a Diamond Jubilee photo exhibition -- The Queen: 60 Photographs for 60 Years -- is on view through Oct. 28.
DOWN BY THE RIVER
The main events during the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebration this summer take place June 2-5. One of the highlights is the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant on the river June 3, when 1,000 boats will assemble from across the U.K., the Commonwealth and around the world. Vessels of all shapes and sizes, beautifully dressed with streamers and Union Jacks, will clang bells, toot horns and sound whistles, recalling both the river's royal heritage and its heyday as a bustling, working waterway. The Queen will lead the flotilla from the Royal Barge. Passenger boats carrying up to 30,000 flag-waving members of the public will also take part in this celebration of Elizabeth II's 60-year reign. Thousands more are expected to line the riverbanks and bridges to witness the historic event. Check thamesdiamondjubileepageant.org.
CUTTY SARK REOPENS
The last surviving tea clipper and "the fastest and greatest of her time," the Cutty Sark re-opened to the public April 20 after a devastating fire in 2007 and an extensive restoration project. Visitors can now climb aboard and learn about the ship's rich and tumultuous 140-year history, during which time she sailed under both the Red Ensign and the Portuguese flag, visiting every major port in the world. Docked in the Royal Borough of Greenwich -- in south east London -- Cutty Sark has been raised three metres above her dry dock, so it's possible to venture beneath the vessel to view the elegant lines of her hull, which enabled her to glide speedily through the water and made her so successful. Check cuttysark.org.uk.
WILD ABOUT HARRY
First the books, then the films, now the studio tour. For the first time, Harry Potter fans can visit the place where the magic was made -- Warner Bros. London studio -- on the new Making of Harry Potter Tour. The studio has been the production home of the Potter films for more than 10 years, and the tour features the authentic sets, costumes, animatronics, props and effects used in all eight movies. The three-hour tour also showcases the British artistry, technology and talent that went into bringing the popular series to life. Highlights include the iconic Great Hall and Dumbledore's office -- home of the Sorting Hat, The Sword of Gryffindor and Dumbledore's desk. Tickets must be booked in advance at wbstudiotour.co.uk or through approved tour operators.
The five-week-long City of London Festival (June 24-July 27) celebrates its 50th anniversary this year with world premiere performances of music and dance including works by composer Tansy Davies for the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, and a landmark piece performed by the English National Ballet in St Paul's Cathedral.
Check out the free family events and free piano lessons given on 50 golden Street Pianos placed across the city. Composer Samuel Bordoli will produce live music sculptures at Tower Bridge and the Monument, Sir Colin Davis will conduct the London Symphony Orchestra in Berlioz's Grande Messe des Morts in St Paul's (June 25-26), and guitarist John Williams will commemorate the Festival's jubilee year with a recital similar to the one he gave at the first City of London Festival in 1962.
This year, the festival will be preceded by a four-day Celebrate the City event from June 21-24. Choose from guided city walks, events at the Livery Companies and an open-air performance of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture in Guildhall Yard. There will also be family entertainment at the Cheapside Fayre on June 23, activities at the Barbican Centre and Museum of London, and concerts many city churches. Check visitthecity.co.uk/culture2012.
STYLISH SLEEPS, EATS
Opened in 2009, the fashionable 80-room Bermondsey Square Hotel in London's up and coming Bermondsey neighbourhood is not far from Borough Market, Tate Modern and Tower Bridge. Rates start around $238 per night and include free internet access and Apple TV. A new restaurant -- Gregg's Table (formerly "Alfies," where actor Michael Caine occasionally dined) -- opened in February and serves British classics. The restaurant is a joint venture with Gregg Wallace, who co-presents BBC's MasterChef TV series. Head Chef Jordi Vila -- once chef de partie at two Michelin-starred L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon in Covent Garden -- is quickly gaining a following. See BermondseySquareHotel.co.uk.