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London tips from a Londoner: Have a Games plan

In three weeks, the world's eyes will focus on London, host of the Summer Games. The city has been working feverishly to prepare for the competition, calling its preparations the biggest peacetime logistical exercise in British history. Is the city of Big Ben ready? And more important, are you? Here are hundreds of tips and tricks to help you. Let the Games begin.

July 08, 2012|By Carolyn Lyons, Special to the Los Angeles Times

Serves dishes that match the name — lobster, lobster roll or burger, all with chips and each one costing a minimum of $31. It's a bargain for the lobster but a bit steep for a burger. No reservations. 29 Clarges St.; 011-44-20-7409-1699, http://www.burgerandlobster.com

Forman's Fish Island

Closest restaurant to Olympic Stadium. It's the long pink building resembling a salmon just the other side of the canal from the stadium's west entrance. Its convenience and excellence justify the price for the very best British food. The Forman family has been smoking salmon since 1905. Stour Road, Fish Island; 011-44-20-8525-2365, http://www.formansfishisland.com. Dinner packages from $235; $352 during the Olympics.

For a budget Italian pizza and pasta chain, I like Carluccio's, http://www.carluccios.com, because it's fun and noisy and the place cares about the food. Pasta dishes from about $12; main dishes from about $17.

15 FREE (OR NEARLY FREE) THINGS TO DO

Rent a bike

All over central London there are racks of blue bikes for rent; they're known as "Boris bikes" after the cycle-crazy mayor who introduced them in 2010. You need to insert your credit card at the docking station and pay £1, about $1.55, for access. After that, the first half hour is free. Go to http://www.tfl.gov.ukand click on Barclays cycle hire, the official name of Boris bikes, for details.

London history

The Museum of London, in the middle of a roundabout, tells the multilayered, quirky history of London, starting with the skull of an extinct auroch from 245000 BC. The Lord Mayor's gilded carriage stays here when he's not using it. Free. 150 London Wall; http://www.museumoflondon.org.uk

National Theatre

London theater's best bargains are the National's Travelex tickets. Buy them online at http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk or by phone at 011-44-20-7452-3000. If they sell out, you can try for same-day tickets by going to the theater and joining the queue. The box office opens at 9.30 a.m., but get there by 9 (earlier for hit shows). If you are between ages 16 and 25, you can sign up and get access to tickets for £5, about $7.75, http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/entrypasssignup. I can't wait to see Simon Russell Beale in Shakespeare's "Timon of Athens" this summer.

Hidden garden

On the top of Hampstead Heath, behind the pubs of Jack Straw's Castle (now converted into condos) and the Old Bull & Bush, hides the Hill Garden, a wonderful 800-foot-long raised pergola where you can walk under the roses and wisteria. The pergola has views from central London toward Harrow, but it is the beauty and calm that are magical. When I was a child, it was surrounded by rotting greenhouses, which have been cleared away and replaced by fruit trees and fragrant herbs. Free. Inverforth Close, Hampstead.

Jump on a bus

Riding on top of a red London bus is fun wherever you want to go. I love the No. 11 bus from Victoria past Westminster Abbey, Houses of Parliament, Horse Guards Parade, Trafalgar Square and down the Strand to St Paul's. Buy an Oyster card bus pass to get the cheapest fares, http://www.tfl.gov.uk/oyster; otherwise, the standard bus fare is $4.

Garden in the air

The brutal concrete architecture of the South Bank's Queen Elizabeth Hall (Southbank Centre-Belvedere Road) in no way prepares you for the delightful wildflower meadow on its roof, let alone the messy rows of vegetables sprouting over the Thames. A former pop-up garden, it proved so popular they kept it. There is a coffee shop too. Free.

Walk

The best way to see London is on foot with an expert from London Walks. Many of its guides are actors, so it is easy to hear them. The tours range from Jack the Ripper Haunts to the Royal Wedding Unveiled — something for everyone. $12.50 for adults; children younger than 15 are free, http://www.londonwalks.com. For something edgier, try Alternative London's walking tour of the East End and its street art. Its tours, with volunteer guides, are on a pay-what-you-can basis. http://www.alternativeldn.co.uk

Art for adults

Some of London's greatest pleasures and bargains are its free museums, but not everyone knows that once a week they are open late. It's a lovely time to see your favorite pictures without the crowds and school groups. The National Gallery, http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk, is open until 9 p.m. Fridays when it has free music and a wine bar. On the first Friday of the month is Late at Tate Britain, http://www.tate.org.uk, a free evening of special events, talks and films. The eclectic Sir John Soane's Museum, http://www.soane.org, has a candlelight evening on the first Tuesday of each month from 6-9 p.m., but it is popular so arrive early for a free ticket. The British Museum gives free tours on Friday evenings, when it stays open until 8:30 p.m. http://www.britishmuseum.org

My favorite

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