This year is set to be a big one for the city of London, as the Olympic Games draw near and expected visitors to the English capital look set to achieve record-breaking figures. There are a number of options available to the dedicated ecotourist who is thinking of visiting the city either during the games or after.
London will be the first summer host city that has made plans and built with sustainability in mind. The plan focuses on five key themes including climate change, waste, biodiversity, inclusion and healthy living - this means that any green-minded visitors to London can rest assured that there have been no hastily built premises, waste has been minimised and the cultural diversity of London is celebrated.
City Tours in London
There are a variety of operators who run city tours in London for the ecologically minded. Green City Walks offer a range of tours from as little as ?5, the proceeds of which go to the charities Oxfam and Cancer Research UK. There are a number of city tours in London such as Hidden Gardens and Docklands, which looks into the history of the Docks. The city tours for this year will also include special Olympic walks, which approach the stadium from a green aspect, with the development being explained by the guide as you go.
Of course, no trip to the 'Big Smoke' would be the same without a ride on the famous open-top red buses. Big Bus Tours offer a number of city tours and include a free trip on the Thames and reward vouchers to use in local stores.
For a really special experience, choose from a number of London city tours led by a local. These include Windsor Castle, Parliament, the East End and a market explorer which takes visitors to all the lesser known places where you will find a hidden London you never dreamed of.
A number of itineraries and routes can also be found at the London Tourism Guide, which maps out several walking city tours in London that you can take. There is also a company who run food city tours, which reveals how the British have historically had concerns about animal welfare and food safety dating back to the 19th Century.
Food and drink in the Capital
Bloomsbury Farmer's Market is a great spot to visit on a Thursday for locally grown produce, meats and more. As a city, London has a great deal of cultural diversity and as such, there is a huge amount of organic produce to be found dotted about the city in the form of markets.
The London accent and some of the terms they use can be confusing for visitors from other countries, as locals speak in terms known as cockney rhyming slang. However, don't let this put you off, delve into the East End tour and learn the local language, it will be worth it for the cultural experience and you'll get to see the 'real' London.
Whilst England in general has a questionable reputation for food, in reality the cultural diversity in London means that there is a huge selection to be found. Take a London city tour to discover the hidden markets and tucked away pubs that offer traditional London fare such as Jellied Eels or a Sunday roast.
There are also a large selection of organic, vegetarian and vegan dining options, something to look out for when on city tours in London. The Gate Restaurant offers numerous options for the carbon-footprint conscious, including vegan, vegetarian and organic wines in the west of the city.
Saf Restaurant is at the opposite end of town and is committed to promoting a healthy and sustainable menu, which is cooked in such a way as to preserve maximum nutritional value for diners. For a more comprehensive guide to eating out in London, see Organic London.
Green hotels in London
London has really woken up to sustainability in recent years and as such, many of the hotels in the city are 'going green'.
London has ambitious targets to meet concerning sustainability and to help Green Tourism for London has been set up to encourage local companies to meet those targets. For a comprehensive list of the hotels participating in the scheme, see the Green Tourism Business Scheme site. The list grades hotels by Gold, Silver and Bronze (a handy coincidence this year in particular) and these are only awarded after the accommodation has been visited and approved by inspectors.
The London awards are given out to businesses who actively promote green activities such as public transport, local cultural happenings and open spaces.
Getting about in London
Driving a car in London is a terrible idea for numerous reasons, not least because the city is so congested that you will get nowhere fast. Whilst London saw a 6% increase in bus passengers following the introduction of the congestion charge, this has recently become less effective due to essential works being carried out in the city.
There are plenty of eco-options to choose from whilst indulging in a London city tour without a guide; the city is famous for the Tube, which will take you all over town. Alternatively, there are plenty of other green options in London such as buses, train and trams and the purchase of an Oyster Card allows you to use all of these with just one card.
For a novel and relaxing way to get about in London, why not try the River bus which runs regularly throughout the day - some even provide Wi-Fi and refreshments. River tours are also available and are a great way to explore the sights in comfort day or evening - some tours also offer a dining option.
If you're feeling really adventurous and in the mood for keeping fit, why not hire a bicycle and take a London city tour that way.
London has a lot to offer the dedicated ecotourist; the city has a rich and fascinating history; why not take a literary city tour and discover Shakespeare's haunts. 2012 also sees the 200 year anniversary of Charles Dickens' birth, so there are bound to be a plethora of events surrounding the milestone.
Any city tour of London has to include all of the world famous landmarks if you're visiting for the first time, but London has plenty of places that are tucked away from the mainstream tourist routes which really make the trip worthwhile. City tours led by a local are recommended as they help visitors to discover aspects to London that they otherwise wouldn't have.
Whilst you're there, don't forget to take a trip on the London Eye for fantastic views of the city.