The Olympic Games are the leading international sporting events that still bring the world together. Thousands of athletic competitors from more than 200 nations participate and compete for gold, silver, and bronze medals. Media coverage is intense, sports records are broken, and stories of hope, despair, and triumph generate both empathy and world acclaim.
Since the ancient Olympics games held in Olympia, Greece, the winter and summer Olympics evolved into the modern versions we know today, which have taken place at elaborate facilities across the globe. Here are a few you can still visit to relive the glory.
Olympia, Greece: Ancient Olympic Games
The roots of the Olympic Games are religious and athletic festivals held in honor of Zeus in Olympia on the Peloponnese Peninsula. During classical times, athletics and combat sports such as wrestling, javelin, and horse and chariot racing events were common.
Starting in 776 BC, they continued every four years through Greek and Roman rule until AD 393 when Theodosius suspended them to enforce Christianity. You can immerse yourself in ancient history by exploring the remnants of the once-grand Stadium at Olympia.
Olympia is located a 3.5-hour drive from Athens. Now transformed into a tourist destination, there is plenty to see and do. The archaeological site itself is surrounded by the Museum of the History of the Olympic Games in Antiquity, the Museum of the History of Excavations in Olympia, and the Archaeological Museum of Olympia.
The ancient site lies a brief five-minute walk from the main entrance. The sanctuary includes the gymnasium, the Temple of Hera, the Philippeion, and other fragments of buildings, statues, and monuments.
Berlin, Germany: Olympic Village (1936)
This is where the Jews were barred from participating in 1936 during the Nazi rule. Berlin was awarded the Olympic contract two years before being taken over by the Nazis. They were the first Olympic games to be broadcast worldwide, and the competitions were not just for athletes but political messages, as well.
The Olympic village was built approximately 20 miles from the western edge of Berlin. The venue includes training facilities, a swimming pool, and low-level dormitories. The 1936 Olympics saw African-American Jesse Owens make history, earning four gold medals in the track and field events and setting three world records in the process. After the Olympics, the facility underwent renovations and became a hospital, then a Soviet military camp. Tours are available; however, be aware that the center is in decay.
Beijing, China: Birds Nest Stadium (2008)
Designed for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, the National Stadium—perhaps better known as the Bird's Nest—was the largest facility created for the games. The one-of-a-kind architecture interprets nature in its rendering of a bird’s nest.
The specifications were daunting: The structure needed to be earthquake-proof, with 111,000 tons of steel and struts, yet visually lightweight, airy, and inspiring. As one of Beijing’s top landmarks, it has hosted many competitions and events. Weight throw, discus, track and field, football, and other sporting events were held at the Bird's Nest.
For the full visual impact, plan your trip at night to see the artistic illumination. Currently, it is used as a soccer stadium but is open for visitors and will host the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Athens, Greece: Panathenaic Stadium (2004)
Located on an ancient stadium site from the fourth century, the Panathenaic Stadium is a famous cultural and historic landmark in Athens, Greece. It is built entirely of marble and shaped as a parallelogram. It hosted the first modern games in 1896, and more recently, the 2004 games in Athens. This is where the iconic Olympic flame begins its trek to the new host city for every winter, summer, and youth games.
The Hellenic Olympic Committee owns, operates and manages the Panathenaic Stadium. Its mission is to advance, sponsor, and guard the Olympic Movement day and night, and to encourage the sporting spirit among the next generations. The modern-day stadium accommodates multi-purpose events for conferences, seminars, and athletics. You can take in classical history on a breathtaking tour with a certified guide, audio guide, or interactive nature journey.
Vancouver, Canada: Olympic Village Condos (2010)
In 2010, Vancouver hosted the Winter Olympics and Paralympics. The Millennium Development Group built one thousand units to accommodate close to 3,000 athletes and visitors. It is touted as the greenest, most environmentally-friendly complex in the world. The structures use natural solar heating, green roof practices, and other sustainable advances.
Do not expect to see artifacts of the 2010 Olympic Games as the property was re-purposed into a mixed-use community and open-space development. This compound is located on the southeast corner of False Creek, which has hiking, biking, shopping, and dog walking paths in a park near the Olympic Village. Vancouver's famous (and protected) beaver community has taken up residence in the area.