London tourism officials are marking the six-month countdown before the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, set for July 27.

More than 5 million visitors are expected to descend on the city for the Games, and hotel rates are already spiking by as much as 500%, according to a survey conducted by CheapHotels.org, which also notes that about 75% of the city’s hotel rooms are already booked during the Games.

Radisson Edwardian Hampshire HotelVisitBritain and other tourism entities are looking to allay fears of overcrowding and high prices with suggestions on how to visit during the Games without breaking the bank.

Accommodations

Onefinestay, for example, a London-based company that places visitors in local homes while the owners are away, is keeping prices in check for visitors open to a nontraditional accommodation option.

The company features a portfolio of 150 upscale homes across London, complete with hotel linens and toiletries from the White Company. For the duration of their stay, guests will also have use of an iPhone that will be loaded with videos of tips about London and the home from the home’s owner.

A two-bedroom townhouse in Earls Court, for example, is priced at about $375 per room, per night, while a two-bedroom apartment in the trendy East End is priced at about $345.

Travel agents receive 12% commission on Onefinestay bookings.

For those who prefer hotel stays, the St. Giles Hotel in the West End is offering accommodations for about $315 per room, per night, double, including breakfast and taxes, according to VisitBritain, while a studio at the Citadines Barbican will cost about $235 with weekly maid service.

Radisson Edwardian unveiled a list of its properties conveniently located near Games venues that are offering stays from about $237 a night, double, at the Radisson Edwardian Heathrow to about $735 a night at the five-star Radisson Edwardian Hampshire Hotel in Leicester Square, with a three-night minimum. Olympics-related specials also are available at other Radisson Edwardian properties; rates, however, don’t include taxes and breakfast.

(Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group will rebrand all 14 Radisson Edwardian hotels in the U.K. as Radisson Blu Edwardian properties by mid-year, bringing the total number of Radisson Blu hotels in the U.K. to 40.) 

Olympic and Paralympic events

Visitors who don’t have tickets to the Games can still get in on the action, according to VisitBritain, simply by being at the right place at the right time.

London Olympics venues mapThe men’s and women’s Cycling Road Races, for example, set for July 28 to Aug. 1, will begin and end at the Mall in St. James’ Park in central London with a route that will take cyclers across the Thames at Putney Bridge through Richmond Park past Hampton Court Palace to Surrey. (Click on the image, right, for a larger view of the venues map.

Olympic ParkThe Olympic women’s and men’s marathons, scheduled for Aug. 5 and 12, respectively, will also start and finish at the Mall and will feature some 80 runners and thousands of spectators.

Olympic women’s and men’s race walks on Aug. 4 and 11, respectively, take place along a 1.6-mile loop to and from the Mall past Buckingham Palace and the Commonwealth Memorial Gates.

Visitors should also keep in mind that, although many events will take place in the new Olympic Stadium in London, there are other events sprinkled around the country. They include soccer matches at venues in Coventry, Manchester and Newcastle, sailing events in Weymouth, cycling in Surrey, rowing in Eton Dorney, mountain biking in Essex and canoe slalom in the Lee Valley.

Sailing buffs can get out of town and watch Olympic sailing events for free July 29 to Aug. 11 in Weymouth Bay and Portland Harbour on the southern coast of England.

Finally, enormous screens positioned at 20 or so locations throughout the U.K. — including Trafalgar Square, Hyde Park and Victoria Park in London — will feature live broadcasts of the Olympic events.

Olympics-related highlights will also include free cultural events throughout the U.K. as part of the London 2012 Festival, set to kick off June 21. Theatrical performances, art exhibitions and concerts will showcase the talents of some of Britain’s biggest names, from artist David Hockney to actress Cate Blanchett.

Visitors can save money on sightseeing with the London Pass, available at www.visitbritainshop.com/usa, good for free admission to more than 50 top attractions in London, including Windsor Castle, Hampton Court Palace, the London Zoo, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Wembley Stadium and the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum.

Finally, those who tire of the Olympics hoopla and want to witness games of a more quirky nature can be on the lookout for some unconventional competitions throughout Britain.

“These unusual events really bring to the fore some of our country’s quirkier heritage and culture,” said VisitEngland Chairwoman Penelope Cobham, noting that hundreds of wacky festivals will be taking place throughout the year.

These oddball events include the annual World Coal Carrying Contest in West Yorkshire on April 9, a Cheese Rolling competition in Gloucestershire June 4 (the winner takes the cheese) and the Shin-Kicking event June 1 in the Cotswolds.

See www.visitbritain.org and www.visitlondon.com.

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