FOOTLOOSE
For the love of the Game
Friday, August 31, 2012

Satiate your inner travel-crazy and Olympic-fanatic self by planning a trip to one (or all!) of the top 10 most significant cities that have played hosts to these epic games in the past

From the stellar swims of Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps to the captivating floor routines of the world’s best gymnasts, it’s been impossible to avoid the television coverage of the Olympics these past few weeks. While the cameras might be primarily focused on the athletes, the host city has a unique opportunity to emerge as a surprise star during the Olympics. The first city to host the Olympics three times (1908, 1948, and now 2012), London is home to some of the world’s greatest cultural institutions and historical buildings, garnering high numbers of tourists even without the Olympics. Though the games of the 30th Olympiad have come to a close, here’s a list of the top 10 former Olympic cities worth a visit, compiled by VirtualTourist.com to take you there all over again.

wknd@khaleejtimes.com

 

01

Athens, Greece 
(Summer 1896, (1906), 
Summer 2004)

Of all former host cities, no city is as synonymous with the Olympics as Athens, Greece. Not only did the city hold the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, but it’s also the nation that birthed the concept in Ancient Olympia. Visitors to Athens can see the Panathenaic Stadium, built entirely of white marble, which housed the original Olympic Games in 1896. OAKA, the Athens Olympic Sports Complex, can be found in Maroussi, a northern suburb of Athens, and was the site of the 2004 Olympic Games. Architect Santiago Calatrava added his signature flair to OAKA by adding a new roof structure and ‘Agora’, the steel arch designed to shade spectators from the bright summer sun. No trip to Athens is complete without checking out some of its more traditional architectural gems – visit the Acropolis and see the ruins of the Parthenon and Erechtheion that symbolise the society that gave us the Olympic tradition!

 

02

Stockholm, Sweden
(1912 and 1956)

 In addition to being geographically spread between fourteen islands, Stockholm is also unique in that this year marks the hundred year anniversary of the 1912 Summer Olympics, the first to be held in Stockholm and Sweden. The visit should start in Gamla Stan, the city’s old town, where a short stroll will take you past the Royal Palace and Stockholm Cathedral. The Stockholm Stadion, located in Lidingövägen, is the oldest Olympic arena in the world that is still in regular use, making it a great stop for anyone visiting the city today. From the Stadion, it’s  a short trip to the island of Djurgården, where Scandinavia’s most visited museum, the Vasamuseet, is located. The museum holds the Vasa, a 384-year-old warship, preserved and showcased with over 95 per cent of its original details. The Skansen Open-Air Museum is also located on the island of Djurgården.

 

03

Antwerp, Belgium
(1920)

Though Antwerp was awarded the 1920 Olympics under melancholy circumstances, the resulting city and its reputation as a culture capital illustrates how much things can change in fifty years. Originally, the 1916 Olympic Games were scheduled in Berlin, but were later cancelled due to World War I. After the war ended, the 1920 Olympic Games were awarded to Antwerp to honour the suffering they endured during the first World War. Though the former Olympisch Stadion is not a particular landmark for visitors today, this former Olympic city provides ample motivation for travellers. The city has become a major design and fashion hub, so travellers with interests in those fields should make sure to visit the Fashion Museum (MoMu) and the MAS (Museum aan de Stroom). Another noteworthy museum is the Museum Plantin-Moretus/Prints Room, which houses an overview of printing and is the only museum worldwide to be named an UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

 

04

Melbourne, Australia
(1956)

Despite the fact that most people thinking of “Olympics” and “Australia” conjure up images of Sydney, the first Olympic Games in the Southern Hemisphere and in Australia were actually held in Melbourne in 1956. Today, visitors to Australia’s second largest city will find it still has an exciting sports culture, as well as a burgeoning arts scene. The venue of the 1956 Opening Ceremony, the Melbourne Cricket Ground, is both a cultural icon and one of the most important cricket grounds in the world. Across the Yarra River, travellers can walk the Royal Botanic Gardens and the Shrine of Remembrance. St Kilda, a neighbourhood along the waterfront where the yachting competitions of the 1956 Olympics were held, is a great location for bike riding or strolling the oceanfront. The compact nature of central Melbourne and its hidden laneways make it ideal for exploring on foot and the street art scene means there’s no shortage of visual stimulation as well. For those who want to see Australia’s wild natural surroundings, Melbourne is also home to the Great Ocean Road, one of the world’s most scenic drives, with views that include the Twelve Apostles.

 

05

Beijing, China
(2008)

Though the Olympics had been held in Asia previously (Japan and South Korea), the 2008 Games were the first to be held in China. The city of Beijing, while steeped with history, was also a bastion of ‘Old China’, especially when compared to more modern cities to its South like Shanghai and Hong Kong. After securing the host bid, the city vastly improved its infrastructure, as well as its air quality and public transportation. Now, in addition to the traditional landmarks such as The Forbidden City and the Summer Palace, Beijing is also home to modern architectural landmarks, such as the National Stadium, also known as Bird’s Nest, designed by a group of architects that includes Pritzker Prize-winning Herzog & de Meuron. Another new addition, the Beijing National Aquatics Center, commonly called The Water Cube, has been converted into Asia’s largest water park. A number of the temples, including the Temple of Heaven, were renovated in preparation for the Olympics, so they are now in prime condition for visiting travellers.

 

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