Coolest Olympic Stadiums
Oliver Hoffmann / Alamy
When spectators take their seats in London’s new Olympic Stadium, they’ll be focused on the moment: cheering athletes competing for track-and-field gold.
But the stadium is designed to outlast the 2012 Summer Games: the lightweight, ecofriendly structure will be reduced to a more functional size (25,000 seats) as part of the Olympic Park, complete with gardens and a riverfront promenade.
London’s building boom is typical for host cities eager to make a big impression on the world stage. But the coolest stadiums make an enduring impression, not only through architectural flair and historic importance, but also by hosting events, guided tours, and sports activities that let visitors get a taste of Olympic glory. In Beijing, for instance, the cutting-edge Bird’s Nest stadium now attracts wintertime athletes to its indoor ski resort.
Munich, which prior to the 1972 Olympics had no major sporting venues, transformed a rubble wasteland into a 210-acre complex that’s since attracted more than 157 million visitors. You can scale the stadium’s heights on the Roof Climb tour and then choose your own adventure on the way down: rappelling or ziplining. A more leisurely tour of Mexico City’s stadium, meanwhile, reveals murals by Diego Rivera.
With the cost and complexity of these colossal wonders, it’s no surprise that things don’t always goes as planned. The now iconic Montreal stadium, with the world’s tallest inclined tower, was only partially finished in time for the 1976 Olympics. A funicular takes tourists up to observation floors for spectacular views of the Laurentian Mountains. But they come at a hefty price: the stadium is one of the world’s most expensive, coming in at $1.4 billion in today’s dollars.
The lead-up to the 2004 Athens Olympics may be the most infamous boondoggle, and the city’s coolest Olympic venue remains its first: the white-marble Panathenaic Stadium dating to the first modern Olympics in 1896. Founder Baron Pierre de Coubertin presided over the unveiling, saying: “A living stadium has not been seen for centuries.” Sports arenas of the type we’re now familiar with had died out with the Greek and Roman empires; in the following centuries, most sporting events took place on fields before temporary grandstands.
The Panathenaic Stadium—where you can jog on the same track used by the first modern Olympians—was just the beginning of the stadium’s comeback. Read on for more ways to explore celebrated sports arenas.