Exploring Stratford: the ArcelorMittal Orbit & Westfield

Venue: ArcelorMittal Orbit & Westfield Stratford City
Date: 23 Apr 2014

ArcelorMittal Orbit and Olympic stadium.

Readers enjoyed a varied day out in London’s vibrant east, climbing the heights of the ArcelorMittal Orbit and trawling Europe’s largest urban shopping and leisure destination. Rebekah Tailor reports.

After swimming against the swell of commuters at London St Pancras earlier that morning, my stroll through the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park was a relative oasis of calm. This was the third occasion I’d visited the Stratford site in as many years - the first time during the 2012 Paralympic Games, the second for a music festival last summer - and it was a real pleasure to take in the manicured landscaping and blossoming flower beds of the newly re-opened park. A complete contrast of course to the spirited crowds and buzzing atmosphere that enveloped the park during Olympic period, but it’s great to see the legacy unfold as the site continues to be enjoyed by visitors.

I was headed in the direction of the twisted red helix standing tall between the stadium and the Aquatics Centre. Sir Anish Kapoor’s ArcelorMittal Orbit became an icon of the 2012 Games and is once again open for the masses to enjoy a bird’s eye aspect of the park and views across the capital.

Our party met at the EastTwenty Bar & Kitchen located inside The Podium at the base of the Orbit. We’d later lunch here, and there was plenty of room to seat our group of 20 together. Plus for returning visitors the restaurants’ terrace offers an alternative space to assemble your group over coffee and pastries. The menu is impressive boasting a selection of East End inspired dishes - forget soup and sandwiches (although there is a great selection), you can order a tasty steak meal if you’re so inclined.

The ArcelorMittal Orbit experience

Your ArcelorMittal Orbit experience begins at the canopy. Here, staff provided us with a useful introduction to the UK’s tallest sculpture. 114.5-metres-high and fashioned from 2,000 tons of steel (that’s 265 double decker buses worth) the structure takes its name from one of the world’s leading steel and mining companies, ArcelorMittal. And the Orbit? That was to come later.

Readers at the top of the ArcelorMittal Orbit.

The only way to reach the pinnacle is via a short lift ride, which takes you to the top viewing platform 80-metres above ground. Stepping out is more than a little disorientating as you come face-to-face with Kapoor’s concave mirrors, flipping the reflecting skyline on its head. We were lucky to visit on a clear morning - when you can reportedly see over 20 miles across the capital - and enjoyed spending time picking out London’s icons in the distance. For those having trouble orienting themselves, I-view interactives on the second viewing platform (76-metres) will interpret the views.

Trade and marketing manager Alice Van Sertima, also pointed out the drop-off and pick-up spaces right next to the Orbit. The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park has a 28 bay coach park which organisers can book, or alternatively if you’re combining your trip with shopping at Westfield Stratford City, you can arrange a space at its 20 bay coach park.

You can take the lift back down if you prefer, but part of the experience involves descending the 455 steps down the external, enclosed spiral staircase, designed to make you feel as if you are orbiting the structure - hence the name ArcelorMittal Orbit! I’ll admit my legs were a little wobbly by the time I reached the bottom, but it’s well worth the effort if you’re able.

A VIP Tour of Westfield Stratford City

Met by two members of Westfield’s friendly concierge team at EastTwenty, we crossed the short distance over to the shopping centre, previously voted the best by GTOs at the 2013 Group Leisure Awards. And it’s not difficult to see why. Hundreds of shops to browse until your heart’s content, 70 dining concepts for when you need a pit stop, plus plenty of places - inside and out - to sit down and rest your feet, perhaps taking advantage of the free Wi-Fi. 

Group Leisure readers at Westfield Stratford City.

And if there are people in the party who don’t fancy trawling the shops, there’s plenty of entertainment options, including bowling at All Star Lanes, a 17-screen cinema and Aspers - billed as the UK’s first super casino. You can always reunite your group at designated meeting points throughout the day; we took over the upstairs Loft Bar of Bumpkin to enjoy an afternoon cream tea - a charming space which can be reserved for smaller groups looking to reconvene for refreshment after shopping.

After saying goodbye to the group at the end of our visit, I sought retail therapy in my favourite part of Westfield Stratford City - the Great Eastern Market on the lower ground floor. A foodie’s heaven it’s packed with small stores and stalls, including Arancini Italian Deli, Pasta Remoli and the Umai by Japan Centre. I made sure I didn’t leave empty-handed, picking up some sweet treats from Buttercup Cake Shop.

If you’re looking for ideas to enjoy a full and varied day out with a group, it would be difficult not to please with a combined visit to the ArcelorMittal Orbit and Westfield Stratford City. Whether you just want to relax in the tranquil surroundings of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, discover the Olympic legacy by exploring some of the site’s sporting venues, enjoy a bird’s eye view of the capital from the UK’s tallest sculpture, or indulge in some retail therapy, there really is something to occupy everyone.

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