Travel the World
Go For the Gold: 10 Must-Visit Olympic Cities
There’s no greater game-changer to a city than when it hosts the Olympics. Although their games are long since over, these 10 must-visit Olympic cities continue to be world-class tourist destinations.
1. Montreal, Canada
Montreal built many venues for the 1976 Olympics, the most famous being the Olympic Stadium, or “Big O.” The spaceship design and giant inclined tower divided opinion when it first landed in Montreal, and the cash-sucking stadium still garners criticism today. If you’re out taking photos of the weird structure, check out the Botanical Gardens across the street too (where some athletics events were held). Of course, Montreal’s appeal stands apart from the Big O-institutions like The Old Port and Mount Royal have made it one of the must-visit Olympic cities.
2. Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
The 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo started off badly when the Olympic flag was raised upside down at the opening ceremonies, but went on to be a success. Unfortunately, any goodwill the city received during the Olympics was all but erased during the Bosnian War. But now, Sarajevo is back on its feet, making it one of Europe’s forgotten delights and one of the must-visit Olympic cities. The city’s amazing history is just one of its attractions-Islam, Catholicism, Judaism and Eastern Orthodoxy have mingled there for centuries. Sarajevo will now host the European Youth Olympic Festival in 2017 as well!
3. Tokyo, Japan
Tokyo‘s first games in 1964 were a coming-out party for Japan-a public removal of the post-war gloom that had dogged the country for decades. 50 years later, they’ve been chosen to host again. Beleaguered by the devastating 2009 tsunami and recent economic turmoil, Japan is hoping that the 2020 games will prove that Tokyo is still one of the world’s must-visit Olympic cities. Now would be a good time to experience Tokyo’s tech-meets-history vibe, though, before the crowds descend on the country for the Rugby World Cup in 2019 and then the games in 2020.
4. Innsbruck, Austria
Few places on the planet are as perfect for winter sport as Innsbruck, Austria. Perhaps that’s why the city has hosted the Winter Olympics twice (1964 and 1976). Surrounded by Alpine slopes, the city is well known for its skiing and snowboarding in the winter, but it’s also a popular destination for mountain biking and hiking in the summer. Its famous Bergisel ski jump has been a mainstay for over 80 years (though it was rebuilt in 2003), and the annual ski jumping competitions draw huge numbers of spectators.
5. Beijing, China
Beijing’s 2008 Olympics were a way for China to tell the world it had arrived. Its 15,000-person opening ceremony and ambitious buildings certainly proved that China deserved a place on the world stage. For tourists today, the legacy of the Beijing Olympics has made it one of the must-visit Olympic cities. In addition to the Forbidden City and the Great Wall, Olympic buildings like the National Stadium, an incredible metal structure designed to look like a bird’s nest, and the National Aquatics Centre, a squat building that looks like it’s wrapped in bubble wrap, are on the must-see list.
6. Berlin, Germany
The Cold War may be the most lasting image of Berlin, but its Olympic legacy is equally notorious. The 1936 games were hosted by the Nazis, and were used as a propaganda machine to promote the idea of a superior Aryan race. Things didn’t go according to plan. African American members of USA’s Olympic squad dominated track and field competitions and beat Germany’s athletes, much to the chagrin of Hitler. Now, Berlin is full of beautiful districts and a vibrant cultural scene. Some Olympics venues have found new lives too. The Waldbuhne, an amphitheatre used for gymnastics competitions, is now one of the most atmospheric music venues in Europe.
7. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
When Rio de Janeiro hosts its first games in August, it’ll become the first city in South America to do so. Its remarkable landscape and famous beach culture will be on display for the world. From Christ the Redeemer to Copacabana to its famous Carnaval festival, there’s no shortage of attractions. But as with Tokyo, if you want to see Rio before the crowds arrive, use your vacation days soon. We don’t know what Rio’s legacy will be like, but its status as one of the must-visit Olympic cities is already sealed.
8. Helsinki, Finland
When you think of must-visit Olympic cities, Helsinki may not come to mind-the glory of the 1952 Summer Olympics has long faded. The sole remnant worth visiting is the former Olympic stadium, where a 72-metre tower offers breathtaking views of the city. But just because Helsinki’s Olympic past has lost prominence doesn’t mean the city has lost its sheen. In fact, Helsinki is one of Europe’s greatest unsung treasures. From island forts to ancient churches, Helsinki has architecture in spades. Finnish food is nothing to be overlooked, either, and when the midnight sun is out in the summer, the city is truly festive.
9. Sydney, Australia
Australia’s first games in 44 years (Melbourne hosted in 1956) was a reminder that life’s beautiful down under. Tuning into the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, viewers were treated to images of a modern city bordered by sandy beaches and filled with smiling, friendly people. For tourists who had forgotten about Australia, this might have been a siren call, but Sydney failed to capitalize and the number of visitors to the city never really increased. While Sydney is still a fantastic place to visit for many reasons, the crowds still aren’t there, which might be a blessing in disguise.
10. Vancouver, Canada
Every Canadian remembers where they were when Sidney Crosby scored his famous gold-medal goal in 2010. And if that was the only legacy of the Vancouver Olympics, it would have been worth it. But the city was left with much more than that. The Olympics transformed Vancouver from a pretty but soulless urban centre into a world city with pedigree. This change in personality has since made Vancouver a more interesting place to visit. In addition to longstanding attractions, it has added new infrastructure like the refreshed Sea-to-Sky highway to Whistler and the SkyTrain Canada Line.