While the cameras focused on the athletes at the 2012 London Olympics, the host city had a unique opportunity to emerge as a surprise star, and it did.
The first city to host the Olympics three times (1908, 1948, and 2012), London is home to some of the world’s greatest cultural institutions and historical buildings.
Here’s VirtualTourist.com’s list of the top 5 former Olympic cities to visit:
Athens, Greece (summer 1896 and 2004): No city is as synonymous with the Olympics as Athens, Greece, which held the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, and it’s the nation that birthed the concept in ancient Olympia.
Visitors to Athens can see the white marble Panathenaic Stadium, which housed the 1896 Games.
The Athens Olympic Sports Complex, the site of the 2004 Olympic Games, is in Maroussi, a northern suburb of Athens. Visit the Acropolis and see the ruins of the Parthenon and the Erechtheion, which symbolize the society that gave us the Olympic tradition.
Melbourne, Australia (1956): The first Olympic Games in the Southern Hemisphere and in Australia were held in Melbourne. Today, visitors will find it has an exciting sports culture, and a burgeoning arts scene.
The venue of the 1956 Opening Ceremony, the Melbourne Cricket Ground, is a cultural icon. Across the Yarra River, travelers can walk the Royal Botanic Gardens and the Shrine of Remembrance.
St. Kilda, where the yachting competitions of the 1956 Olympics were held, is a great location for bike-riding or a stroll along the oceanfront.
The Great Ocean Road is one of the world’s most scenic drives.
Nagano, Japan (winter 1998): In 1998, the Winter Olympic Games took place in Nagano, Japan. While the majority of events took place near Hakuba Village in the Matsumoto Northern Alps area, other Olympic sites are scattered around the prefecture.
In addition to winter sports, there are some great architectural sights in the area: the Zenkoji Temple, a 1,400-year-old temple that has long served as Japan’s primary center of Buddhist faith, is located in Northern Nagano.
Another national treasure is the Matsumoto Castle, whose five-layer, six-story castle tower is the oldest castle tower in Japan.
The overwhelming response from VirtualTourist.com members was the Snow Monkey Park , world famous for the wild Japanese macaques that keep themselves warm here in the winter months with nine hot springs in the area.
Salt Lake City, Utah (winter 2002): The United States’ eighth Olympic Games were here. Visitors today can check out the Utah Olympic Oval and hit Park City Mountain Resort, Deer Valley and the Snowbasin Ski Area.
Park City also hosts the annual Sundance Film Festival every January, so the city’s historical Main Street now has modern eateries, nightclubs and world-class spas.
Summer visitors can head to one of the state’s five national parks: Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches and Canyonlands.
Vancouver, B.C., Canada (winter 2010): Besides the amazing trails at Whistler and Blackcomb mountains, the city also made numerous green improvements: the SkyTrain rapid transit system to downtown and the eco-friendly Olympic village.
Travelers can bike or walk around West End’s Stanley Park, North America’s third-largest urban park.
At Whistler Sliding Centre, you can test bobsleds and skeleton rides on the same track used by Olympic athletes.
&Copy; 2012 VirtualTourist.com, Distributed by Tribune Media Services Inc.