2012 was a particularly exciting year for the UK as we played host to the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The unforgettable announcement came in July 2005 and preparations began years in advance. We all knew it would be a big deal, and in the final months leading up to the games it dominated news headlines as the nation’s collective excitement grew and we all wondered how everything would turn out – both inside and outside the stadium.
Would everything be finished on time? Would people be able to get where they needed to be? How would Great Britain do on the medal table? Happily, everyone involved did an amazing job before, during and after the games. The athletes did themselves and their countries proud – from Mo Farah and Ellie Simmonds’ double golds to the fantastic achievements of the Brownlee brothers.
Six years later, I think it’s safe to say that the 2012 Olympics have had a lasting, positive impact on London. As part of the games, areas of the Capital were heavily invested in, developed and improved.
The centre of all this development activity, was, of course, Stratford, home to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park but despite having watched the Games enthusiastically on TV, none of us had visited in over ten years, so we had yet to experience the area in person.
With so many memories of the Games, we were thrilled to be invited to visit and spend a family day inside the park. But what would we do there? That’s not a concern we need have had.
At 560 acres, the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is huge, playing host to fantastic parklands, waterways and playgrounds and more besides! Inside the park, you can visit the London Stadium, the London Aquatics Centre, the Copper Box Arena, Lee Valley VeloPark and Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre and last but not least, the ArcelorMittal Orbit.
Spoilt for choice or what?! If you’re after an active day out in London the park is the perfect mix of things to see and do.
Here’s what we got up to.
Scaling the ArcelorMittal Orbit and braving the Slide
The ArcelorMittal Orbit by Sir Anish Mikhail Kapoor is stunning; a twisting, dramatic structure, huge, and unlike anything else in London, or indeed Britain.
It’s Britain’s largest piece of public art – so tall, in fact, that from the observation platform inside, it’s possible to view the whole park. But there’s one big reason that we were most excited to visit: the world’s tallest and longest tunnel slide!
I am not going to lie, I was extremely nervous in the lift ride up, and had to close my eyes as I set off down the slide, but once I got started I loved it, laughing and screaming all the way down. Mark took the whole thing in his stride but loved it too.
It’s worth mentioning too that the queue was really short – we barely had to queue at all. I suspect this was because the weather was a little grey, so a good tip then is to go when the weather isn’t so sunny – there’s still plenty to do and you might find shorter queues!
Once you pop out the end of the slide, it’s possible to go back up and enjoy the viewing platform for as long as you like, which is awesome. They also provide lockers so that you can store your belongings when you head for the slide.
You have to be 8 to take a ride on the slide, so Miss J has already made us promise that we head back on her 8th birthday so that she can try it out.
Exploring the park with the help of the Kids Activity trail
After our adventures inside the ArcelorMittal Orbit, we had plenty of time to explore the park.
I always recommend doing a little research ahead of any trip to help you decide exactly what you want to do so that you can make the most of your visit – certain activities such as the slide and stadium tour need to be booked in advance to avoid disappointment.
And when you arrive at the Olympic Park, I’d highly recommend that you pick up some kid’s activity packs (£3.50 each) from the information office, which will help the kids take charge in finding the park’s key landmarks and activities, from spotting sculptures to enjoying the climbing apparatus.
With the help of the pack, we laid on the loungers spotting planes – on brighter days, you can cloud spot too.
Ran amongst the trees.
Spotted lots of art.
Played in the fountains – I bet this is particularly lovely on a hot day!
And celebrated being Olympic champions…sort of.
Burning off steam in the play park
Situated in the middle of the park right near the entrance is a lovely play area with an excellent mix of things to climb on and swing from, as well as a good selection of free-to-use exercise equipment.
The kids never pass up the chance to run around and play, so they absolutely loved finding such fun in London, where they’re normally used to busy streets, museums and tubes!
JD had brilliant fun trying to charge my phone using kinetic energy.
Lunch at The Last Drop
After a busy morning we decided it was time for some lunch. Handily, we spotted a rather lovely looking café situated right next to the ArcelorMittal Orbit and headed in.
The Last Drop is bright, welcoming, and most importantly serves really tasty hot food along with tea, coffee and an assortment of pastries and snacks.
I had a really great Superfood Salad with seasonal leaves, soya beans and quinoa in a light olive oil dressing – it happened to be vegan and gluten free too.
Mark had a home-made beef burger with extra cheese and bacon and was really impressed. The beef was good quality and the freshly toasted bun was a great touch.
JD opted for the pasta of the day, which was spirali in a creamy tomato basil and spinach sauce – he loved it, and we all stole a spoonful too as it was really very nice!
Jay went for her weekend favourite of fish cakes, chips and beans – everything went down a treat.
And finally, we ordered a a selection of beetroot, butternut squash and lemon houmous to share between us – that’s always a favourite!
The whole meal was a great pick-me-up during a busy day. The Last Drop sells food that compares very favourably against the quality you might expect inside a park, and it’s the kind of food people really want from a nice park café. Thumbs up!
With happy hearts and full tummies, we left Mark with a coffee to catch up on emails while we headed out for the next part of our adventure.
A unique look inside the stadium
I don’t think a first trip to the Olympic Park would be complete without a look inside where it all happened back in 2012. And if you have any West Ham fans in your family, then the stadium tour is a must. It’s a really interesting insight into the club, where you get to learn about its history and how it functions inside the stadium today.
Everyone on the tour was given little screens to carry, which allowed us to watch informative videos in the stadium and in the changing rooms – it’s a great way of keeping everyone entertained and to glean extra info if you’re a real fan of a particular topic, such as how the stadium was constructed.
A real highlight was being able to go out pitch-side – a really memorable experience as we walked out via the tunnel just like the players do!
There are practical things to do to keep energetic youngsters busy too. J and JD got to have a run on a real piece of Olympic training track, pushing off from real starting blocks from the games.
I’m not much of a football fan but I was really pleasantly surprised by the experience – a fun, easy-going tour that gives you a look behind the scenes of sport from the past and present in a really unique way.
A relaxed boat tour
After our stadium tour, we met back up with Mark and headed off to find the final part of our visit – a guided boat tour along the river that runs through the park.
It was a really lovely way to see the park from a different perspective, and turned out to be one of the best places for spotting art installations.
We had such a lovely day and all agree we would very happily go back again. Have you been to the Olympic Park or perhaps you are thinking about going? Let me know in the comments below!
This is a commissioned post for Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.