What Are the Best Olympic Cities to Visit?

Amid controversies over viruses, pollution, and doping, the 2016 Rio Olympics are underway. But for all the criticism and second guessing that Brazil has faced, once the games begin, the spotlight is where it should be: on the athletes and the culture of the host nation. Many also questioned whether Athens could pull off a modern Olympics in 2004 and they put together a great event. And while those games left empty stadiums and debt behind, Athens is a better city to visit post Olympics because of its modern airport and improved public transportation system. As we’re big Olympic fans who have visited most of the host cities, we decided to pose the question: What are the best Olympic cities to visit today?

London

London is the only city to have hosted the modern Olympics three times, in 1908, 1948 and 2012. As one of the world’s grandest cities, it’s home to a wealth of world class attractions. Several of world’s best museums can be visited for free here- like the National Gallery, Natural History Museum and Victoria and Albert Museum. While not a cheap city, there’s a bounty of accommodations to suit all budgets and tastes. And while England isn’t known to be a foodie destination for average travelers, the culinary scene has improved remarkably thanks to multiculturalism and creative upcoming chefs.

Big Ben in Black and White, London, England

Beijing

Host of the 2008 Olympics, Beijing is one of the world’s oldest capitals. Attractions like the massive Forbidden City are thoroughly impressive. A day trip away is one of the world’s most remarkable structures, the Great Wall of China. These sites should be on your travel bucket list.

Beijing struggles with excessive pollution, but despite this, we enjoyed our recent visit more than we thought. World class palaces and some of the most flavourful food we’ve eaten trumped the poor air quality for a few days. And visiting China is easier than ever these days, with the free 72 hour transit visa.

Forbidden City, Tips on Visiting Beijing, China

Beijing Imperial Palace (Forbidden City)

Amsterdam

Host of the 1928 Olympics, Amsterdam is famous for being one of the most hedonistic cities in the world. But the city’s network of canals and slew of well preserved 17th century buildings also make it one of the most romantic cities in the world. Amsterdam’s city center is one of the few listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Amsterdam’s culinary scene has also improved dramatically over the past decade. Predominantly Calvinist, Dutch culture typically rejects excess, and generally viewed food as merely sustenance. But this attitude is changing and now you can even find excellent food in cafes even in the Red Light District.

Amsterdam makes this list for being unique, and one of the most well preserved Olympic cities. 88 years later, Amsterdam’s Olympic Stadium can still be toured and still hosts sporting events. There’s also so many beautiful places to visit on short day trips from Amsterdam. 

Amsterdam at Night with the Moon

Paris

Hosts of the 1924 Olympics, and a finalist to host the 2024 games, Paris can’t be left off this list. As Audrey Hepburn famously said “Paris is always a good idea.” And the ‘City of Lights’ is one of the world’s best destinations for a romantic getaway.

French people spend more money on food than any other European nationality. So Paris is wonderful for foodies, as long as you research and avoid tourist traps. Paris is also one of the world’s best cities for art and architecture. While we haven’t visited Paris in a long time, it was a city we both enjoyed when we first backpacked Europe.

Alex in Paris, Eiffel Tower

Athens

Greece is the birthplace of the Olympics and Athens, hosts of the 1896 and 2004 Olympics, is the oldest capital in Europe. We’ve previously written on why Athens can still make a case for being the best city in Europe to visit. Asides from Rome, no other European capital can compete with Athens in terms of ancient archaeological sites. And the impressive acropolis is the western world’s most important archaeological site, as it was the birthplace of democracy.

Athens is one of the few European capitals where you can take a short tram ride to the beach. And while modern Athens is sometimes criticized for being a sprawling concrete jungle, the scenic vistas of the city and sea from mountains in and around Athens are breathtaking. It’s also one of Europe’s best cities for food, whether you’re a meat lover or vegetarian.

For Olympics fans, Athens’ Panethanaic Stadium is a must. This was the stadium that hosted the first modern Olympics in 1896, and also hosted events in 2004. It’s also where the Olympic flame is first lit for every Olympiad, whether summer, winter or youth.

Athens from Aega Barbara

Athens Sunset Lycebettus

Athens Panathenaic Stadium was built for the first modern Olympics in 1896 and is the world's only active stadium made entirely of marble.
Athens’ Panathenaic Stadium was built for the first modern Olympics in 1896 and is the world’s only active stadium made entirely of marble.

Thinking about planning a trip to one of the best Olympic cities to visit? Contact alex@wanderlustmarriage.com for details on saving money on flights and accommodations!

16 thoughts on “What Are the Best Olympic Cities to Visit?

  1. We’ve been to 3 out of 5, not bad! Would love to get to Beijing and Amsterdam! We also visited Montreal, home to the 1976 Olympics. The botanical garden still toos our list as the best we’ve visited! Awesome list!!

    1. Montreal is a great city, Angela! It has the best food in North America in our opinion and is a great city for art, architecture and culture. It’s such a unique city to visit on the continent. For Summer Olympic host cities in North America, Montreal gets our vote as the best city to visit!

    1. Vancouver is amazing for natural beauty, Brianna. Especially strolling along Coal Harbour and looking at the mountains, it feels like you’re in a pristine alpine city. We could see why it would top someone’s list. It consistently ranks as one of the world’s most livable cities too- along with Melbourne, Australia (host of the 1956 Summer Olympics).

    1. Thanks, Justine! Athens is such a vibrant city, and yeah, 3,000 years of history really adds a lot of layers. We hope you get to visit sometime soon!

    1. We’d love to visit Lillehammer someday, Frank. I remember watching the 1994 winter Olympics as a kid. Alex has been to Oslo, which isn’t very far. Oslo is a beautiful city on a nice summer’s day, but one of the most expensive in the world.

  2. Such a great list of cities to see, Olympics or not! I actually went to the Winter Olympics in Torino so also have a soft spot there. The Olympics can be such fun. You get to see great events and meet people from all over the world.

    1. That’s so cool that you went to the Winter Olympics in Torino! We watched those games and the city looks beautiful. We’ll have to get there sometime. The only Olympics we’ve been to between us was Atlanta in 1996, which did not make the list! 😉

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