Top 10 Olympic host cities worth a visit

Inspired by Rio? Time to grab your passport...

Feeling inspired by the sights and sounds of Rio de Janeiro? Yeah…same here!

Just to be clear, we’re not talking about taking up the pommel horse or learning how to ride a bike…that would be great, but we’re a bit too old. We’re talking about taking a holiday somewhere awesome.

The Olympics consistently affords amazing destinations around the world the chance to breathe new life into neglected neighbourhoods often leaving an infrastructure and cultural legacy that continues to evolve long after the athletes have departed.

We check out ten of the most dramatic and enthralling cities to have hosted the Winter and Summer Olympics…it’s time to grab your passport!

Seoul, Korea (1998)

If there’s one thing Seoul brings to the party, it’s colour. The South Korean capital is a riot of neon lights and cloud-tickling illuminated skyscrapers. You’ll have heard of Gangnam thanks to Psy’s K-pop earworm ‘Gangnam Style’, but you might not know it’s the name of Seoul’s most upmarket district – go there for eating, drinking and shopping with the big spenders. The resort of Pyeongchang – just a couple of hours from the city – will host the 2018 Winter Olympic games.

Sydney, Australia (2000)

If you want to let the world know how great your city is, host an Olympics. That’s what Sydney did in 2000, and it worked, with the New South Wales city and its inhabitants putting on one hell of a show. Those games may be ancient history now, but the city hasn’t stopped blowing visitors away, thanks to a vibrant and outgoing population, a world-class food and drink scene and beaches that’ll keep everyone happy – whether you’re looking to chill out or hit the waves.

Sydney Opera House, Australia

Beijing, China (2008, 2022 winter)

China has more than 660 cities, so for Beijing to get a second Olympics (the Winter Olympics, admittedly) just 24 years after the last might seem a bit greedy. But then Beijing – with almost 25 million people and a climate that swings from sub-zero winters to balmy summers – is no ordinary city. And you don’t have to go far from the bustle to reach Ming Dynasty stretches of the Great Wall of China – try Mutianyu for a breathtaking combination of history and untamed wilds.

London, UK (1908, 1948, 2012)

The UK capital was hardly an off-the-tourist-radar secret before, but the 2012 Olympics helped elevate it to the very top of global must-go lists. After all, not only is this is a place where centuries of history knock up against cutting-edge architecture, but it’s also a city that knows how to have a good time – from Mayfair, with its grand hotels, famous squares and big-money shops and restaurants, to gritty but achingly hip Hackney. London’s evidently so good the Olympics have been held there three times – a feat matched by no other city.

Barcelona, Spain (1992)

There are shades of Rio to the Catalan capital, with its backdrop of green hills, vibrant beaches and an unmistakable edge. Not only does it have a vibrant and sometimes raucous nightlife (check out the bar- and restaurant-packed Ramblas) but it’s dripping with history, too – the modernist work of architect Antoni Gaudí is everywhere, from the Unesco World Heritage listed Park Guell to the extraordinary Sagrada Familia, which commenced construction in 1882 and is slated for completion in 2026. They don’t rush things in Barcelona, that’s for sure.

Check out our guide to exploring Barcelona for free.

Tokyo, Japan (2020)

In four years’ time we’ll all be looking to Tokyo, where the potent combination of ancient and modern echoes the Olympics’ own unique makeup. With Mount Fuji looking over it, the Japanese capital is a blur of speed and colour, where technology, culture, food and history all compete for visitors’ attention. Tokyo’s so large you’ll need a lifetime to discover it, but the Shinjuku district offers a taste of everything – skyscrapers, entertainment and even serene parklands. The National Olympic Stadium, built for the 1964 games, has been demolished ready for a bigger and better incarnation for 2020.

Vancouver, Canada (2010 winter)

With beaches you can swim and sail in, nearby mountains you can ski on, and diverse and varied neighbourhoods all packed in close together, you’re not likely to get bored in Vancouver [lead image above]. Check out Gastown for food and historic buildings, Kitsilano for beaches and a youthful vibe, and Granville Street for entertainment. If you want to get into the Winter Olympic spirit, the world-famous ski resort of Whistler is about a two-hour drive.

Los Angeles, USA (1984)

More than 30 years have passed since the Californian beach city hosted the Olympic games, but it’s one of four cities shortlisted to host the 2024 event. Not that you should wait till then to check it out – the sprawling metropolitan area stretches from long sandy beaches via soaring skyscrapers to rolling green hills dotted with vast mansions. If you fancy joining the rich and beautiful people (and don’t mind a bit of exercise), head to Runyon Canyon in the hills for great views of the Hollywood sign and – if you’re lucky – a celebrity out for a jog.

Los Angeles, USA

Athens (1896, 2004)

Want an Olympic city? Have the Olympic city. Well, not quite – the first ever Olympics were held in the Ancient Greek city of Olympia in 776BC, but Athens was the first host city of the modern Olympic Games (in 1896) and the games were held there again in 2004. Though economic strife may have hit Greece hard, the capital’s still a brilliant place to dine, party and gawp, slack-jawed at several millennia of rich history.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (2016)

The 2016 host city is undeniably blockbuster. That backdrop, those beaches, the tiny swimwear – it all adds up to create a city where the jaw-dropping scenery’s almost as dazzling as the pulsating atmosphere. The two star beaches are colourful (and massive) Copacabana and posh Ipanema, but for something a bit different head to trendy Leblon or get a ferry to nearby Ilha Grande for pure, tropical escapism. But if you’re looking for the full Rio experience, check out Carnival in February – it’s everything good, mad and bad about Rio turned up to 11.

Heading to Brazil? Don’t miss our homage to South America’s most vibrant country.

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