From the place where the marathon was born, to one that was the heartbeat of the International Olympic Committee for more than a century, to another with a stunning custom-built stadium designed like a bird’s nest, here are five alternative venues to get you in the mood for the greatest show in sport this summer.

1. Athens

Panathenaic Stadium 

What to see and do: In Athens, it is clear the Olympic spirit exists deep in Greece’s bones. The city where both the modern Games and the marathon were born, the Greek capital has dozens of ancient and modern Olympic sites to visit. None is better than the Panathenaic Stadium (above), built in 1895 amid pine-covered hills close to the Acropolis. The only sports venue in the world built entirely of white marble, it is a reconstruction of the city’s original stadium from the 4th century BC. Take a step inside, in the early dusk light, and you’ll feel like you’ve travelled back in time to ancient Sparta.

Where to eat, drink and shop: A walk through the Plaka’s maze of streets in Athens’ old town is as dramatic as anything from Homer’s Iliad. Close to the Panathenaic Stadium, the area’s tried-and-tested cafes are where you can find locals dipping into crumbly feta, vine-fresh olives and creamy tzatziki from one of the many authentic and atmospheric tavernas. Just round the corner from Hadrian’s Library is traditional wine bar Mono Restaurant. Or make an Olympian dash to Forget Me Not on Adrianou Street for beautifully made Greek souvenirs by hipster designers.

2. Lausanne

Olympic Museum Lausanne

What to see and do: Sometimes known as the world’s Olympic capital, Lausanne has been the home of the modern Games movement and headquarters of the International Olympic Committee for more than a century. Because of this, it is now home to more than 50 international sporting organisations. To find out why, visit the city’s stunning Olympic Museum (above) near the Parc Olympique on the banks of Lake Geneva. It’s more than a step-by-step guide through history, and is also a home for concerts, exhibitions and workshops tied to all manner of Olympic themes. If you’re planning ahead, make sure you also pencil January 10 to 19, 2020 into your diary: It’s when the 2020 Winter Youth Olympic Games come to town.

Where to eat, drink and shop: Look no farther than Flon, Lausanne’s gentrified former warehouse district now home to dozens of restaurants, cafes and bars. For candlelit romance, check out Nomade, a tapas and wine bar that attracts the city’s prettiest couples. For a bar with a distinct Rio de Janeiro vibe, beeline to Flon Plage (open from May to September), a pop-up sandy beach that has plenty in common with the Copacabana. That sand between your toes is more Brazilian than Bernese.

3. Barcelona

Olympic Park Barcelona

What to see and do: Home to the Summer Games in 1992, Barcelona’s Olympic Park (above) provides a double whammy of thrills. Not only is it set on a fabulous hilltop overlooking the city, it is also minutes from some of Catalonia’s most alluring cultural attractions. Start your day by exploring the old military fortress Montjuic Castle, before learning about the city’s poster boy for Catalan art at Fundacio Joan Miro. Between these fabulous sites, you’ll encounter the Olympic Stadium, as well as Picornell, the beautiful open-air pool used in the swimming and diving finals. It’s still open to the public and gives a bird’s-eye view of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia cathedral. From here, you’ll feel like you have all of Barcelona in the palm of your hands.

Where to eat, drink and shop:
Think of Barcelona and you imagine churros-scented tapas bars and La Ramblas, a tree-lined thoroughfare that is jam-packed with market stalls and fast-food joints. But for something more atmospheric, delve into the Gothic Quarter, a mediaeval warren of courtyard restaurants and dimly lit alleys. Plaza Sant Jus and Plaza Reial are particularly well kitted out with tapas bars and restaurants, as is Calle Escudellers, where locals often queue for hours at Los Caracoles, a specialist chicken rotisserie in business since 1835.

4. Beijing

Beijing Bird's Nest

What to see and do: The fabulous 91,000-seater Beijing National Stadium (above) – or the Bird’s Nest as it’s better known – still draws tens of thousands of visitors every week. It is now as much of a must-see in Beijing as the wonders of the Forbidden City or Summer Palace. Thanks to its complex mesh of steel and trussed columns, it too is an architectural marvel: Prepare for your jaw to drop. To ensure its legacy – unlike many other empty Olympic Games stadia – the Bird’s Nest will be used for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2022 Winter Olympic Games.

Where to eat, drink and shop: While there are dozens of outlets and mega-malls dotted around the Chinese Olympic Park, the most atmospheric shops, noodle stalls and steamed-bun vendors are found in the traditional alleys, historical treasures that run up and down the side of the Forbidden City near Tiananmen Square. Some all-rounders for eating, drinking and shopping include Tobacco Pouch Street and Nanluogu Xiang but, for the carb-heavy diet of a wannabe Olympian, take a rickshaw taxi to Mao Mao Chong (12 Ban Chang Hutong, Dong Cheng, Tel: 86 10 6405 5718) on Baochao Hutong for loaded-up pizza and creative, zingy cocktails.

5. Seoul

Seoul Olympic Park

What to see and do: Few host cities have embraced the spirit of the modern Games better than the South Korean capital in 1988. Part of that legacy is SOMA (Seoul Olympic Museum of Art; above), a gallery that celebrates the spirit of the Games in the heart of the Olympic Park. Here, visitors can get close to more than 200 sculptures dedicated to sport-inspired art across a 95,940sq m park, and explore its exhibition halls crammed with memorabilia, a drawing centre and art academy. There is no better place to see the glory of the podium come alive in paint and on paper.

Where to eat, drink and shop: One of the world’s greatest food and shopping capitals, Seoul will not leave you disappointed. To enjoy a traditional tea ceremony, venture to one of the many old teashops in Insadong or, for something with more of a Gangnam-style beat, follow the hipsters to Hongdae for themed cafes where shopping is taken just as seriously as the supping and slurping. Some of the oddest include Get & Show Cafe, a dessert venue with a limited-edition Lego shop, and Blute, where you can buy beautiful blooms and organic shrubs after your tea and cake.

Adapted from SilverKris.