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.
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 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.
See More Cool Olympic Stadiums The Olympics, as we know them, started here, fittingly in Greece and in a marble U-shaped stadium modeled on that built by Lycurgus around 330 B.C. for the Panathenian games. The original was lost and buried until excavations in the 1830s uncovered traces of the ancient marble. It was rebuilt in time for the opening ceremony of the 1896 games, and also hosted the archery and the finishing line for the marathon at the 2004 games. Photo: Konstantinos Tsakalidis / Alamy
See More Cool Olympic Stadiums The smallest of the Olympic stadiums has a huge reputation. It’s witnessed more athletic records broken than any other stadium worldwide: 83 or 87, depending on whom you ask. The castle-like venue was the scene for the tug-of-war, equestrian, gymnastics, wrestling, and track-and-field events in 1912. Quarantine regulations meant it also hosted equestrian competitions for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. It’s still used as a sports arena for the Stockholm marathon. Photo: Felix Choo / Alamy
See More Cool Olympic Stadiums When Berlin won the right to the 1936 Olympics, Hitler saw it as a propaganda opportunity. He demolished the National Stadium and replaced it with an imposing new arena ringed by stone columns. The stadium was packed with 110,000 spectators for the opening and closing ceremonies, track and field, equestrian, soccer, and handball. The stadium has since gone through two major upgrades (and a subtle denazification) and is the home turf for German soccer club Hertha BSC. Photo: Gareth Dobson / Alamy
See More Cool Olympic Stadiums The thin air in the stadium—located 7,349 feet above sea level—was an initial concern among athletes, but was then credited with aiding the record-setting and a soaring gold-medal leap by U.S. long jumper Bob Beamon. Built in the 1950s on a lake of solid lava, the Olympic Stadium, along with the entire Central University City Campus of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site because it represents “20th-century modernism integrating urbanism, architecture, engineering and landscape design.” Photo: David Valencia
See More Cool Olympic Stadiums Designed by architect Günther Behnisch and engineer Frei Otto, the Munich stadium has canopies of glass that make it an airy contrast to the venue in Berlin. The stadium held up to 80,000 for the opening and closing ceremonies, track-and-field, equestrian, soccer, and modern pentathlon events—as well as the heart-wrenching memorial service for Israeli athletes taken hostage and killed during the games. Photo: Oliver Hoffmann / Alamy
See More Cool Olympic Stadiums When Queen Elizabeth opened the Games of the XXI Olympiad, construction work still hadn’t been finished on the distinctive inclined tower meant to support a retractable roof. Despite the Big O’s missing components, the opening and closing ceremonies, track and field, soccer, and equestrian went off successfully. Finally completed in 1987, the stadium continued to have troubles (the retractable roof was replaced with a fixed roof), but the bold design has plenty of fans—and the swimming pool and biodome are tourist favorites. Photo: icpix_can / Alamy
See More Cool Olympic Stadiums It was a big day for national pride when South Korea won the rights to the 1988 games—only the second to be hosted in Asia. Many of the venues, including the gracefully curved, 100,000-seat Olympic Stadium, were built in advance and tested during the 1986 Asian Games. It now hosts the soccer team Seoul United FC, as well as concerts, and is part of a bigger sports complex. Photo: Art Directors & TRIP / Alamy
Follow Travel + Leisure on Twitter: www.twitter.com/TravlandLeisure