Must-do London ceremonies

2012-07-27 09:31

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Everybody is feeling the excitement as the 2012 London Olympic Games are set to officially open at midnight (10pm SA time). For the latest and up to date info - check out Sport24's dedicated Olympics section.

The all important opening and closing ceremonies, dating back to the ancient Games in Greece have evolved over the centuries with Sydney and Beijing setting benchmarks of excellence according to popular opinion. Usually a celebration of the host nation’s culture, the London 2012 Ceremonies are expected to be watched by an estimated four billion people across the globe.

Here’s what you can expect - along with a roundup of must-do London ceremonies to check out if and when you visit.

The Opening Ceremony
features the highly anticipated entrance of the Olympic Flame, which ignites the Cauldron and signals the start of the London 2012 Olympic Games. Encapsulating the artistic expression of Director Danny Boyle and his team of some 15 000 people, it will showcase the host city’s culture through the theme entitled ‘Isles of Wonder’. Kicking off with the sound of the largest harmonically tuned bell in Europe, produced by the Whitechapel Foundry, the Stadium will be transformed into the British countryside for opening scene ‘Green and Pleasant’, which is said to include real farmyard animals. The Ceremony will also include a special sequence celebrating the best of British, featuring volunteer performers from the NHS. Danny Boyle, Artistic Director of the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony, said: ‘Our Isles of Wonder salutes and celebrates the exuberant creativity of the British genius in an Opening Ceremony that we hope will be as unpredictable and inventive as the British people.’

At the Closing Ceremony, on 12 August 2012, the achievements of athletes at the London 2012 Olympic Games will be celebrated. It also includes the handover to Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Olympic Games and the extinguishing of the Olympic Flame, signaling the end of the 2012 Summer Games. The artistic expression of Director Kim Gavin and his team will showcase ‘A Symphony of British Music’, celebrating one of Britain’s strongest cultural exports over the last 50 years. The worldwide broadcast of the Ceremony will start at 9pm and feature more than 4 100 performers, including 3 500 adult volunteers and 380 schoolchildren from the six east London Host Boroughs. Expect some of the country’s most globally successful musicians, along with some of the industry’s stars of tomorrow. The London Symphony Orchestra has been appointed to record the soundtracks for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of both the Olympic and Paralympic Games. A tradition of the closing ceremony, started at the Melbourne 1956 Olympic Games, sees the athletes march together instead of by nationality as a way of bringing the athletes of the world together as one nation.

Alternative London Ceremonies

  • Changing the Guard

Photo: Pete Spiro /

The epitome of London's surviving pageantry can be found in the ceremonial Changing of the Guard, taking place since 1660. A hugely popular spectacle, the Changing of the Guard takes place at a range of royal locations in and around London daily during the summer (April-July) and on alternate days for the rest of the year. There is no ticketing, so make sure you get there early.

Buckingham Palace - Buckingham Palace Road, SW1: this is a 45-minute ceremony that sees the changing the Guard taking place inside the railings of the forecourt to Buckingham Palace. The Foot Guards provide a colourful display in their red tunics and bearskins and are accompanied by a band throughout. Victoria Memorial is said to be the best viewing spot.

 St James's Palace - The Mall, SW1: Part of the Old Guard marches from St James Palace to Buckingham Palace at 11.15am and returns at 12.05pm. This Changing of the Guard only occurs on days when the guard at Buckingham Palace is changed.

 Horse Guards Parade - Whitehall, SW1
: This 25-minute ceremony is said to be as colorful as the Buckingham Palace Ceremony.  The Guard march from Hyde Park Corner, via Constitution Hill and the Mall to Horse Guards Parade.

Windsor Castle-  Windsor and Maidenhead, SL4: Windsor Castle was build for William the Conqueror about 900 years ago and as one of the Queen's official residences it is still part of formal State and official occasions. When the Queen is in residence the Changing the Guard is accompanied by a band. When the Queen is away, they Mount Guard by the Henry VIII gate in winter and on Castle Hill in summer.

  • Trooping the Colour
Combining Pageantry, military precision and music, this splendid ceremony in Horse Guards Parade honours the Queen’s official birthday on a Saturday in mid-June and is often cited as the ceremonial event of the year. The Queens actual birthday is 21st April but it is a long-standing tradition to publicly celebrate her birthday on a summer day. This is a ticketed event and it’s best to secure yours in advance. You can also grab a good view of the troops along the route from Buckingham Palace to Horse Guards Parade, via the Mall. Alternatively you can watch the two rehearsals - The Major General's Review and The Colonel's Review - for free, minus the Royals – a few weeks prior to the actual main event.

  • State Opening of Parliament

Photo: Pres Panayotov /

The Queen opens Parliament each year, usually between October and November each year. This tradition dates back to Medieval London and features peers and bishops in traditional robes and a royal procession involving the State Coach. While the actual ceremony is closed to the public the actual procession can be seen from Buckingham Palace to Westminster along The Mall and White Hall. The Queen Travels in a state couch, while the imperial crown has its own carriage.

  • Lord Mayor's Show
Possibly the most dangerous and amazing of all the public shows in the capital, this annual event takes place in November just after Bonfire Night. It involves River barges are piled high with explosives and set adrift on the Thames with several brave men on board, along with 6 000 people, bands, over 140 decorated floats, costumed performers and a gilded State Coach that the Lord Mayor travels in. The fireworks are let off between Waterloo and Blackfriars Bridge, not far from the scene of Guy Fawkes' attempted crime. Wrap up warm and head for the river. The best vantage points tend to be around the Embankment and Gabriel's Wharf. If you are really on the ball get there early and grab the best seats in the house in the public gallery of the Oxo Tower.

  • Ceremony of the Keys

Yeomen Warders or Beefeaters have performed this ceremony which is open to the public for the past 700 years.  Open to the public, each night the Tower of London is locked up by the Chief Warder who makes his way to the gates from the Byward Tower at exactly 9.50pm. He is challenged by a sentry who then allows him to pass, acknowledging that he is the bearer of the Queen’s keys. It ends with the Chief Warder taking the keys to safety while a trumpeter sounds the last post. Tickets are free but you need to apply 6-8 weeks in advance.

Extracts of the annual London Ceremonies taken from Family Guide to London


Read more on:    olympic 2012  |  london  |  travel international

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