As the Olympics gather pace in Rio (cmon Team GB!), one of the most vibrant and photogenic cities on the planet, I decided to take a look back at some of the other great cities that have hosted the worlds biggest sporting event. Impossible as it was to pick just a handful, here are a few of my all-time favourites
Tokyo hosted the Olympics in 1964 and will do so again in 2020, which has a wonderful symmetry with the citys defining characteristic; one proverbial paw planted perennially in the past and the other forever reaching for the future. The worlds largest city plays host to a vast jumble of idiosyncratic districts where ultra-modern skyscrapers cast their shadows over religious shrines, traditional wooden houses and tranquil parks lined with cherry blossom. And then theres the food, about which the plaudits abound, but if you need any more persuading, look no further than the fact that it has more Michelin stars than anywhere on the planet and is on the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage.
The Aussies are a competitive bunch (to which their vast hauls of gold in most Olympics are testament) and this carries over into a fierce rivalry between two of its major cities: Sydney and Melbourne. Sydney is widely remembered as one of the best Olympics in history, but Melbourne isnt a place to be outdone. A city that once had a reputation for feeling all too British is now a haven of immigrant populations, giving the city a distinctly international feeling and transforming it into a place of vibrant culture and quirky charm with a foodie scene to rival anywhere in the world.
Any city in which you can legitimately ice skate to work in winter has got my vote and Stockholm, built across a sprawling archipelago, is just such a place. No wonder the Swedes excel in the winter sport department. It can also lay claim to being one of Europes most trendy and sophisticated cities; while winter is all about cosy bars and cafes, the endless summer nights mean the party never stops. And you can pretty much find any area to fit your mood, from the pastel-coloured buildings and medieval alleyways of Gamla Stan (old town) to the hipster haven of Sodermalm.
It’s fair to say Mexico City has something of a bad rep but if you look beyond the stereotype, the host of the 1968 Olympics offers a quintessential Latin American experience – bags of culture, great hotels, a thriving foodie scene, some fantastic museums and, most importantly, its not nearly as intimidating as you think. Built on the site of the great Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, the citys architecture takes you right through the ages, from the aforementioned pre-hispanic times, through the colonial era and into the future with some seriously exciting contemporary buildings on show.
Now if my/Wikipedia’s calculations are correct then there’s never been an Olympic Games held on African soil, which feels like something of a travesty given it is home to one of the greatest cities in the world in Cape Town. Few cities can boast as stunning a physical setting as the South African capital and what a sight it would be to watch the planet’s sporting gods battling it out in the shadow of the great Table Mountain.
Tom Barber is Co-Founder of Original Travel.
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