If you're thinking of heading away from the dizzy carnival of the London Olympics, why not visit one of the games' previous host cities instead
No trip to Sydney is complete without a climb to the top of the 134 metre high Sydney Harbour Bridge, countless photos of the iconic Opera House from every angle or a stroll along the colonial streets of Paddington during market day.
Montreal, Olympic host city in 1976, is a city blended by Parisian vibes and cosmopolitan energy. This fusion of interests has caused an explosion of talent in the arts – from a thriving rock scene to contemporary, fine and nouveau art galleries popping up on every corner. In the summer months, the city comes alive with festivals and the skies light up every Saturday night with entries to the International Fireworks Competition.
The Quartier Latin has a reputation of grungy entertainment with an odd flare of French panache, Little Italy pleases the senses with aromas of fresh coffee and bagels toasting while Chinatown boasts cheap but tantalising eats.
Home to Chuck Berry, T.S Eliot and the third Olympic Games in 1904, St Louis (pronounced, no matter what the song says, 'St Lewis') is better known for its 'Gateway to the West', a 192-metre arch above the city, and the film Meet me in St Louis than it's Olympic host status.
Take a stroll down the wharf by the Mississippi River for vintage stores and live music – Big Muddy Blues Festival, a highlight in the St Louis calender is also hosted here in late August where the atmosphere screams nothing but 'party'. Central downtown is a historian's delight: photographs of the city's development line the walls of the Old Courthouse Museum and two restored courtrooms tell the story of a black slave fighting for freedom.
Mexico City, which held the games in 1968, is a place of contrasting and disarming combinations and home to two UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It offers visitors an array of markets and shocks with poverty stricken slums. It's a city for food lovers, art enthusiasts and history buffs.
The city houses numerous monasteries, murals, cathedrals and art galleries which all beg to be explored. Not forgetting, the world famous 'city of the gods', Teotihucan, which is only 50km north-east.
However, pin-pointing the sights is not the reason to visit La Capital – the streets are noisy and crammed with people walking, selling, eating, talking and buying, the city is sinking, the traffic is horrendous and a smog of pollution lingers above street level – yet all this bound together creates one city that will always surprise. Sit back, relax and watch this city of organised chaos unfold.
Small and intimate, Amsterdam was the Olympics' eighth venue in 1928. The spider-web of canals, bistro lined streets and colourful night life all add up to one chilled out city. Although well known for its decriminalisation of cannabis, drinking and a liberal take on prostitution, Amsterdam has more to see than the inside of smoke-filled café or a window in the red light district (although both are a must see).
Try cycling to The Bloemenmarkt – a daily flower market where tulips and glorious colours line the streets – through the city's maze of bridges and alleyways. Navigating which lane of six you're meant to be in is no short of a challenge but fun all the same. The Van Gogh Museum, Heineken Experience and Anne Frank Huis are three more unmissable sights.
Number 15 on the list of Olympic hosts (1952), Helsinki is a city blessed by mother nature. The city is surrounded by the cool Gulf of Finland and the offshore islands of the archipelago open up endless opportunities of wildlife spotting, hiking and camping.
Helsinki goes from long, hazy, lazy summer days and short nights to brief six-hour-long winter days and freezing nights. Walking across the sea in winter is a feeling which can be only be described as 'constantly teetering on the edge' and cross country skiing on 180km of groomed trails.
However, the highlight of any trip to Finland's capital in all seasons is a traditional smoke-fired sauna experience, complete with full body scrub – leave your inhibitions at the door, the unshockable washer-woman has probably seen worse.
The games of 1980, held in Moscow, were boycotted by the United States because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Red Square, Moscow's historical heart of the city, is every visitor's first port of call and the hub of all past political activity. The Kremlin, the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and St Basil's Cathedral also hold important historical value and are definitely worth a visit. While in Moscow you'll soon learn to drink vodka. Lots of vodka. Remember that if you drink with a Russian, you're expected to keep up!
Home to at least eight million people, Tokyo was host to international athletes in 1964 and was the first of all Olympic Games to be telecast internationally. The city itself is an assault on all senses – just walking the streets you will see outfits, smell spices and hear music you didn't even know existed.
Although the city boasts to be the centre of Japanese modernity, legends and superstitions still linger beneath the surface of Tokyo Bay. While in the capital, relax in an Onsen bath, browse boutiques in Harajuku and enjoy dazzling and traditional performing arts at Kabuki.
Beijing, the last city to have held the Olympics in 2008, has an international flavour, reflecting its history of invaders. It's easy to not even penetrate the surface of Beijing, but only be shuffled from one tourist spot to the next without seeing the life and soul of the place. Take a wander through what's left of the hutongs to find quirky and small antique markets. If you head towards some of the city's parks, and listen closely, you'll hear the soft sound of birdsong over the hum of traffic.
The Forbidden City, Tian'anmen Square and the Great Wall are just a few of Beijing's must-see, must-do attractions. Head to the Muslim Quarter for some sweet treats from stalls lining the streets, before inspecting the colourfully decorated mosque at the southern end.
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