London 2012: Dates for your diary

Big Ben and New Year's Eve fireworks

The year 2012, one of the most anticipated for some time, has finally arrived - but why is it special?

It is unlikely to have escaped your attention that the Olympic and Paralympic Games take place in London and around the UK this year.

But the two big sporting occasions are not the only spectacles happening on these shores in 2012.

The Games have inspired a whole host of other special events, while there is also a big royal anniversary on the horizon.

So get out your new diaries and make a note of the key dates to remember around the UK this year.

CULTURAL OLYMPIAD
Leona Lewis Leona Lewis is one of the big names signed up to perform at the Hackney Weekend in June

What is it? The largest cultural celebration in the history of the Olympics and Paralympics.

When is it? Various dates in 2012.

Why should I be excited about it? There may never again be such a big range of arts and cultural events taking place in such a short space of time across the UK. There are so many events going on under the umbrella of the Olympiad, that there should be something for everyone to watch or take part in.

One of the main highlights will be the World Shakespeare Festival, running from 23 April, consisting of 70 performances around the country, including all 37 of the Bard's plays being performed at London's Globe Theatre - each in a different language.

For art lovers, there is an exhibition of new landscapes by David Hockney at London's Royal Academy of Arts from 21 January to 9 April.

And music fans are well catered for, with BBC Radio 1 presenting its biggest-ever free, ticketed live music event - the Hackney Weekend 2012 on 23-24 June. Leona Lewis, Tinie Tempah, Plan B and Florence and the Machine are already signed up to perform and more of the 100 plus artists will be revealed nearer the time.

The Olympiad concludes with the London Festival 2012, which runs from 21 June to 9 September.

MUSIC NATION
The BBC Symphony Orchestra The BBC Symphony Orchestra is one of the BBC orchestras performing for the Music Nation weekend

What is it? A special weekend of live music around the UK.

When is it? The weekend of 3-4 March.

Why should I be excited about it? The project, launched by the BBC and Games organisers Locog, is designed to show off some top UK musical talent with partnerships and performances.

Fifteen groups successfully applied to perform in the project and will put on a wide variety of shows, including the first performances of the Making Music overture.

Other items in the programme include a large chorus of three community choirs and school groups with dancers playing in Chester Town Hall Square, a huge concert with a Cambridge-based chamber orchestra, three choirs and a secondary school, and a multi-site, multi-group day of activity finishing with an indoor music and dance event in Sheffield.

OLYMPIC TORCH RELAY
The London 2012 Olympic torch The torch has 8,000 circles on its body - one for each of the torchbearers who will carry it

What is it? The prelude to the Olympic Games involves the Olympic flame visiting 1,019 locations around the UK and Ireland in a 70-day relay.

When is it? The relay runs for 70 consecutive days from 19 May to 27 July.

Why should I be excited about it? The torch will come within 10 miles of 95% of the population and will be carried by 8,000 torchbearers, who will each carry it for about 300 metres.

It will go through every English county and every local authority area in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. A month after the original list of 1,018 venues was issued in early November, the Irish capital Dublin was added on, making it the only location outside the UK to be included.

Some creative journeys have been designed for the torch which will fly by zip wire from the Tyne Bridge, abseil down the Dock Tower in Grimsby, ride in an Isle of Man TT sidecar and travel on three railways, a tram and a canal boat, among other adventures.

The relay will be free to watch as it passes through towns and cities and a more detailed street-by-street route will be published nearer to the start date.

There will also be celebrations each evening to mark the end of the flame's journey for that particular day.

QUEEN'S DIAMOND JUBILEE CELEBRATIONS
Queen Elizabeth Queen Elizabeth II is the second-longest reigning British monarch behind Queen Victoria

What is it? A celebration of the Queen marking 60 years on the throne.

When is it? A bumper four-day weekend from 2-5 June after the late Spring Bank Holiday Monday has been moved back a week and an extra bank holiday has been added on to the end.

Why should I be excited about it? A series of celebrations is planned - the highlight coming on 3 June when the Queen's boat will be at the head of a 1,000-strong fleet making a seven-and-a-half mile journey along the River Thames to Tower Bridge.

The flotilla will include music barges and a floating belfry while Battersea Park will host a day-long festival and roads alongside the river, and the bridges crossing it will be traffic-free.

People are also being invited to take part in the Big Lunch - a project to get as many people as possible across the UK having lunch with their neighbours on the same day.

OLYMPIC GAMES
Rebecca Adlington (left) and Chris Hoy (right) at the Olympic and Paralympic Heroes Parade in 2008 Rebecca Adlington and Chris Hoy celebrate gold medal success after the Beijing Olympics in 2008

What is it? Simply the biggest sporting event in the world.

When is it? 27 July to 12 August.

Why should I be excited about it? Because for the first time in 64 years, the Games are back in the UK. The world's top athletes will be performing in 32 venues - 22 in London with the rest spread around the country.

It is a once in a lifetime experience for British athletes and sports fans to play a part in a home Games. Organisers hope it will encourage more participation and interest in sport as a result.

Tickets for most events have already sold out but some are still on sale and more will be made available later this year.

For those without tickets, the Games will be shown live on big screens around the country, on television and online.

PARALYMPICS TORCH RELAY
The Paralympic Torch Relay launch The Paralympic torch relay starts less than a week before the opening ceremony of the Games

What is it? A much smaller event than the Olympic event, the Paralympic relay will visit the four UK capitals as well as Stoke Mandeville, the home of the Paralympic movement.

When is it? The relay takes place from 24-29 August.

Why should I be excited about it? On each day of the Flame Festivals, the torch will travel to local community groups and key locations in and around each city while lantern-making workshops will also be held and themed entertainment programmes staged.

People from all communities can participate in a lantern procession accompanied by specially selected torchbearers.

The first flame will be lit in London, with Belfast, Edinburgh and Cardiff following, before the four flames come together in Stoke Mandeville. There they will be combined into one flame which will be carried by 580 torchbearers, working in teams of five, to the Olympic Stadium for the start of the Paralympic Games.

PARALYMPIC GAMES
Oscar Pistorius South Africa's Oscar Pistorius will be one of the big stars of this year's Paralympic Games

What is it? The biggest multi-sport event for athletes with a physical disability.

When is it? 29 August to 9 September.

Why should I be excited about it? Because, like the Olympics, it is a chance to see top athletes competing in Britain and it is the first time the Games have been solely held here.

Once again some sports were oversubscribed in the ticket ballot, and remaining tickets went on sale last month.

Around 4,200 athletes will compete in 20 sports in some of the Olympic venues.

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