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Five for Families: London Olympics 2012 Special Edition

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Is your family going to London this week for the Olympics? Don’t kid yourself. Juggling the Olympic crowds with energetic kids is enough to get you a medal. Instead of running rings around the city with your family, London correspondent Emily Goldfischer offers up five tips for families on how to enjoy London like a local during the Games.

1. Use technology to get around

Be sure your U.S. smartphone works here or get Boingo for cheap Wi-Fi. Public transportation will be jammed as Transport for London (TFL) is predicting 25 percent increase in volume, traffic will be crazy as they’ve created Olympic lanes on some main roads, but you can navigate with the Games’ official website, follow them on Twitter @GAOTG, and there is a smartphone app. Beyond specialized apps, these two are essential: Google Maps and London Transport by Jeevan Takhar.

2. Check for last minute Olympics tickets and FREE events

There are still tickets available. Keep trying CoSport (official US supplier), or if you have a friend with a UK credit card, seats keep getting released on London 2012. Plus there are FREE sports events taking place: cycling, marathon, and live sites with big screen TVs for viewing en masse. Or stop being a spectator and try your hand at ping-pong – there will be 100 tables set up throughout London until August 10th (click here for a map).

3. Embrace the cultural Olympics: Theater, Festivals & Museums

Beyond sports, the London Festival is bringing incredible arts and music events to London during the games – kids can play on a Bouncy Castle in the shape of Stonehenge or wind through a life-size maze made entirely of books. These events and many more are FREE.

Theater is one of London’s real treasures. Surprisingly there is still availability and even deals on top shows. Head to the TKTS booth in Leicester Square to score discount tickets for Wizard of Oz, Billy Elliott, or if you can’t give up the sports theme – they’ve made Chariots of Fire into a breathtaking live show. Matilda, based on the Roald Dahl book, is fabulous and there is some availability (not discounted).

Tate Modern. Photo Credit: David Latt

From history and science to modern art – London boasts some of the best museums in the world and generally they only charge for special exhibitions. Best for kids – Natural History with life size moving dinosaurs, Science Museum is very interactive and has shows with explosions or go see the new Tanks space at the Tate Modern.

4. Allow Time to Play

Unlike many other big cities, London actually has fantastic playgrounds even in the most central areas. Top picks by location. Central: Coram’s Fields near Russell Square; the pirate ship in Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Playground in Kensington Gardens (near Hyde Park); the tree house at Hanover Gate in Regent’s Park. East: Tower Hamlets in Victoria Park has just been redone, but we also love the small play area at the end of Columbia Road (which has a fantastic flower market on Sundays). West: Holland Park for the zip line and trampolines. South: Battersea Park for the massive tire swing. A good list can be found in Time Out.

5. Eat like a Local

Thanks to Jamie Oliver, most people now know that British food is actually delicious, with fresh, farm-to-table cuisine very popular here. Also, you’ll find excellent Indian and Middle Eastern. Use Toptable to research and book ahead based on where you’ll be. Top pick for English food: St. John near Barbican. A London classic that is sophisticated but still great for kids, the beautiful Wolseley in Mayfair. Have the best steak in London at amazing bargain price of £25 for three courses at Hawksmoor Seven Dials’ pre-theater menu. Enjoying a proper high tea is worth the splurge (ranges from £25 – 45 a head and kids normally half price) – favorites are The Connaught, The Lanesborough and Forntum & Mason. All had availability during Olympics as press time.

For more Olympics travel, check out:

By Emily Goldfischer for PeterGreenberg.com. Photos courtesy of Visit Berlin. Emily Goldfischer is a former luxury hotel executive, and is now a London-based food and travel writer. Follow her at www.twitter.com/em_goldfischer.

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