Visit Beijing's stunning Olympic stadium

With stunning buildings springing up around the London Olympics site for 2012, travellers would be crazy to miss our top five former Olympic parks with great things to see, Laura Wain reports.

Athens, 1896

When looking for Olympic inspiration where better to start than with the first host of the modern Olympic Games, the Panathinaiko stadium in Athens? As well as its stunning appearance (it is also known as Kallimarmaro stadium, meaning ‘beautifully marbled’) it is also seeped in history. Initially built as a flat running track in 330 BC, it was rebuilt using marble in 143 AD, and refurbished again in 1896 for the first ever modern Olympic Games. It now stands as the only major stadium in the world made of white marble.

AthensOlympic200For an historic perspective, the Athens site is a must see
Archer10, (Dennis).
Although the stadium is now used infrequently for special events (the 2004 Olympic marathon ended here) it still stands as a spectacle, and as a symbol of the Olympic Games. There are also plenty of other historical sites to be seen in the surrounding area, such as Hadrian’s Library and the Temple of Zeus, allowing you to get your history fix before enjoying your first ouzo of the holiday.
Top Tip: When in Athens do not refer to the stadium as the Olympic Stadium as you will be directed to the modern Olympic site. Call it the Panathenaic stadium or Kallimarmaro to avoid an unplanned detour!

BeijingOlympics200Beijing's Water Cube is a major attraction
Beijing, 2008

The opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympics left onlookers with no doubt that this Games was to be as much a spectacle as a sporting event and, with a spend of around $100 million US dollars, it did not disappoint.

Now, three years on, the Olympic site still holds the odd tennis match and has transformed its water area in to an expansive water recreational centre open to the public, but the real draw for visitors (of which there are around 20,000 to 30,000 a day) are the spectacular structures such as the aptly nicknamed Bird’s Nest’ (Beijing National Olympic Stadium) and ‘Water Cube’ (Beijing 2008 National Swimming Centre). Coupled with the huge space surrounding the buildings, this is less an Olympic site with activities to indulge in, and more a place that you can look around in awe, whilst absorbing the still-present Olympic atmosphere.

Top Tip: Visit the site at night when the Bird’s Nest and Water Cube look particularly spectacular due to beautiful lighting.

SydneyOlympics200Sydney's Olympics was considered one of the successful
Sydney, 2000
Sydney has managed to create a number of parks from its Olympic site, complete with features to remind visitors about the millennial Games, such as the Olympic cauldron that has now been made into a water feature.
The former Olympic site provides plenty in the way of facilities and activities for everyone. There are free barbecues available to use (remember the kangaroo steaks!), bikes for hire, tours of the Aquatic Centre where you can also go for a free swim and use the spa, as well as picturesque picnic spots alongside Lake Belvedere.
With all this on offer, it looks like the Australians are keen to maintain their reputation as fun hosts.
Top Tip: Dogs are welcome at Sydney Olympic Parks but just keep an eye out for restricted areas where local wildlife is being preserved.

Barcelona 200Barcelona's Olympic park is popular with tourists
Creative Commons / papalars
Barcelona, 1992
Barcelona’s Anella Olímpica, ‘The Olympic Ring’, is a favourite amongst visitors to the vibrant city and an inspiration for what can be achieved at an Olympic site after the races have been run and the medals taken home.
As well as a permanent exhibition about the 1992 games in the Olympic stadium (Estadi Olimpic) the site also continues to hold numerous sports events that can be viewed by crowds of up to 17,000. It even hosted the Barcelona Summer Week Music Festival!
Going to Barcelona’s Olympic Park you are likely to find something to watch or take part in, since as well as being used for concerts and exhibitions, there are numerous activities on offer and restaurants on hand to provide fuel should you start to tire.
Top Tip: The Picornell swimming pools are open to the public so don’t forget your swimsuit if you fancy taking a dip, Olympian-style!

SeoulOlympics200There's loads to see at Seoul's park
Skinny Lawyer
Seoul, 1988
Seoul Olympic Park has become something of a mecca to anyone seeking culture, sport or even just some tranquillity in the relaxed grassy grounds. Artists come to sketch here, inspired by the sculpture gardens that hold over 200 sculptures from around the world, and classes ranging from table tennis to aerobics are available on a regular basis.
Although the park is something of a hot spot for budding sporting stars of the future, with hundreds of people arriving to get active every morning, there is plenty of room for every one on this 1.5 million square metre site. If you get tired from all the exertion, be it from swimming or using one of the three gymnasiums, there is even a Seoul Olympic Museum that holds commemorative monuments and details the inspirations that led to Seoul hosting the 1988 Olympics. Sketchers or sketchpad? Take your pick!
Top Tip: Make sure you have on a pair of trainers to visit this site. You might not be running an Olympic marathon but there is a lot of ground to cover if you want to really appreciate the site and see the venues used during the games.


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