Being front and center for the action at the Olympics is a major bucket list dream for many travelers, especially sports fans. Maybe a trip to Rio didn’t pan out for you this year, but you can still spend your next vacation getting a little closer to the international athletic glory on your next vacation. So much time, work, and money goes into constructing an Olympic Village in each host country. What happens to it all after the torch goes out?
No true fan of the Olympics could leave Athens off the list. The Greek capital’s Panathenaic Stadium has hosted modern athletes three times: in 1870, 1875, and 2004. More importantly, however, it was the birthplace of the ancient games that inspired our contemporary biannual version. The marble stadium dates all the way back to 330 BC, when events focused on footraces and wrestling.
The Olympic Stadium from 1992 is one of Barcelona’s biggest tourist attractions. Between its soaring 500-foot towers and Frank Gehry’s unique Peix sculpture, this waterfront Olympic village is certainly one of the most iconic in the Games’ history. After you’re done touring the stadium, Barcelona is also home to a well-curated Olympic & Sports Museum, located on Montjuic hill. There, you can see competitive and recreational sports all celebrated with interactive multimedia installations, as well as exhibits on outstanding players and sports for the disabled.
Athletics meets art at the striking Bird’s Nest Stadium, designed by Ai Weiwei for Beijing’s 2008 Olympics. For the best photo ops of the stadium’s unique design, join a night tour. The views of this iconic piece of Chinese architecture fully illuminated are jaw-dropping. If that’s not enough, you can head over to the 2008 Games’ Water Cube, which has been turned into an amusement park. Best of all, you can get a glimpse at China’s Olympic past and a peek at the future here, as both the soccer stadium and the pool are due to be reused at Beijing’s 2022 Winter Olympics.
Powder hounds might feel drawn to the Vancouver Olympic Village or the abandoned ski jumps in Sapporo, Japan, the first non-Western host of the Games. Both are amazing destinations, but we encourage you to add Innsbruck to the list. This small Austrian city hosted the Winter Olympics in 1964 and again in 1976. While there may not be much to the site itself, the surrounding Tyrol region is well-known for its adventure sports and you can spend the day being active yourself!
Of course, not all stadiums are so beautifully designed and not even the Olympics has a perfectly sunny past. When Berlin was elected the next Olympic host in 1934, no one could have foreseen that by the time of the games, Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party would be in control of the country. The Olympic Village from those infamous 1936 games, in which Jews were banned from competition, has been abandoned for decades and the ruins make for stunning, if somber, photographs.