It’s that time when we spruce up our best cities and athletes in preparation for some healthy competition: the summer Olympic Games. Every four years one lucky city gets to host the world’s arena, pouring huge amounts of money to make it competition-ready. Who could resist a bit of boasting in front of peers? And what better and more exciting time could you find to travel and experience a city amid the buzz of the upcoming events? It’s no wonder that cities hosting the Olympics enjoy a huge spike in international tourism.
Here we take a look at a few of the best and most popular host cities, past and present.
The land of fish and chips and Her Majesty the Queen was the second most visited city in the world before hosting the 2012 summer Olympics. And with those games? About one million more tourists poured in. The most expensive Olympics ever, London spared no expense in putting their city on the global arena. Tens of billions of dollars were put towards events, security, and more. It's a great place to see the usual attractions like Big Ben, the London Eye, and Buckingham Palace, but also the Olympic stadiums and cycling courses which will allow tourists to see London in a new light.
Paris, France needs no introduction. Indeed, the numbers say so, with 15.6 million international visitors to the city last year, making it the most popular city in the world. Paris has also been host of the summer Olympics twice, in 1900 and 1924. Although it’s been quite a while since the last Paris Olympics, the city has not lost popularity and should never be overlooked. With sites such as the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Notre Dame, and the Arc de Triomphe, Paris stands out as an extraordinary travel destination. There is something for every taste – history, art, architecture, and the food (oh, the food!). Those who haven’t had a true croissant haven’t really lived. Visitors can take a river cruise down the Seine, enjoy world-class shopping on the Champs-Elysees, people-watch at the numerous sidewalk cafes, or catch a burlesque show at the Moulin Rouge. A short train ride away are Versailles, with its extravagant Hall of Mirrors and sprawling gardens, and Chartres, a quiet town with a sweeping Gothic cathedral. The Olympics may be absent here for some time, but this city remains a must-see for all travelers.
The Olympic Games and Barcelona, Spain have an interesting relationship. Before playing host of the 1992 Summer Olympics, Barcelona was not the hub of tourism it is today. Often overshadowed by the capital, Madrid, the city wasn’t known for tourism, and some neighborhoods had fallen into disrepair. But then came the organizer nomination for 1992, and all that changed. Hosting the Olympics allowed Barcelona to expand on previous urban plans to modernize and improve the city. A new port and village were built, opening the city out to the sea. New athletic facilities were constructed, hotels added, new roads popped up, and the main airport was expanded and updated. The Olympics improved life in Barcelona and simultaneously made it more attractive to tourists. Today, Barcelona is around the 11th most visited city in the world – a huge step up from 20 years ago. The Olympics are long gone but the effects remain, and the city offers great sightseeing, history, and cuisine. The most popular attraction is the still unfinished church Sagrada Familia, Antoni Gaudi’s masterpiece. There are beautiful beaches and shoreline eateries, great shopping, and vibrant nightlife. Tourists should not miss the paella or the desserts, particularly the churros. Although today Barcelona is recognized as a premiere travel destination, it would not have been possible without the help of the Olympics.
Cities in the U.S. have hosted the Olympic Games more times than any other country. A total of eight Olympics, including Winter Olympics, have been held in the U.S. in the history of the modern Games. Los Angeles, California has had the honor of hosting two Summer Games, in 1932 and again in 1984. Unlike Barcelona, LA didn’t need the Olympics to become a hotspot for tourists. The city was already famous (and sometimes more infamous) as the hub of Hollywood and the silver screen. The legacy of Hollywood lives on in the museums and theatres around and of course on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Tourists can rub elbows with celebrities while window shopping or spending serious bucks on swanky Rodeo Drive. The mansions in Beverly Hills are always a sight to see too, but this city offers much more than celebrities. Experience different cultures in Chinatown and the Little Tokyo areas, take advantage of the exclusive and eclectic nightlife, or enjoy the beautiful beaches in the surrounding towns.
The 2000 Summer Olympics were actually held in the fall, from September to October. That’s because the host city was Sydney, Australia, whose seasons are different than that of the northern hemisphere. While the Olympic Games may not have helped develop the city much, it certainly helped bring it to the attention of the rest of the world as a travel destination. Their most famous attraction goes without saying: the Sydney Opera House and the harbor. The Harbour Bridge is not only prominent on the skyline, but it also offers daredevils the chance to walk up the bridge’s 50 stories and down again with the Bridge Climb. Those who aren’t so brave can enjoy sky-high views from the Sydney Observatory. Surrounding neighborhoods are rich with museums, galleries, restaurants, and bars. The Rocks is one neighborhood that can’t be missed, with Sydney’s oldest pub, oldest building, and the Museum of Contemporary Art located here. Other attractions include the Sydney Aquarium and harbor cruises. Not far from the city center is Bondi Beach, one of the most famous in the world. The Olympics are always held in cities with so much to offer to visitors, and although it’s been 12 years since the Sydney Games, the city remains a great destination for all kinds of tourists.