Sooner after the Summer Olympics than usual (thanks, pandemic), the 2022 Winter Olympics is fast approaching. Expect a spectacular event in Beijing, where the world’s very best compete in snowy sports, including ice skating, speed skating, ice hockey, skiing, curling and snowboarding.
Visiting China might be difficult this year, so we’ve picked five destinations that have previously hosted the Winter Olympics in Europe where you can get into the Olympic spirit.
In 1924, the French Alpine resort of Chamonix held the first-ever Olympic Winter Games. The Olympic Committee chose the commune due to its reputation for skiing and its train station—something we can get onboard with! More than 10,000 spectators attended these inaugural Winter Games, making it an enormous success.
Not much remains of the first-ever Winter Olympics but you can still get into the spirit by going skiing on Mont Blanc. Its powdery slopes range from beginner to double black, so everyone can enjoy gliding down its hallowed runs.
For those who prefer to soak up the atmosphere, head to one of Chamonix’s many watering holes for après-ski. Our favourite is Bar Du Moulin, a small establishment with low-lying wooden ceilings and stone walls. Grab yourself a drink and celebrate like you’ve just won a gold medal.
With a backdrop of the snow-capped Alps and pastel-coloured houses, Innsbruck makes for the perfect Winter Olympics location and has hosted the Games not once but twice.
The first time was in 1964 and it was such a big deal that even the lack of snow wouldn’t stop locals from attending (the Austrian army shifted 40,000 square miles of the white stuff so the Games could go ahead)! Innsbruck was rehosted in 1976 after the American city of Denver pulled out at the last minute.
Today, you can still visit the sites of two of the Winter Olympics’ most beloved sports—the bobsled and ski jump. The Igls Bobsleigh Centre allows experienced drivers to hurtle down the track at speeds of up to 75 mph.
If you prefer to observe, visit Innsbruck’s Ski Jump instead. Remodelled by Iraqi–British architect Zaha Hadid in 2002, the striking building stands 820 feet high and offers magnificent views of the almost vertical drop.
In 1994, it was Norway’s second turn to host the Winter Olympics. Situated two hours north of Oslo, Lillehammer’s landscape is built for winter sports with its thick forests, endless rolling hills, and enough mountains to please skiers of all levels.
While the Olympics are all about the “thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat,” there was as much drama off the ice as there was on in Lillehammer. American figure skater Tonya Harding staged an attack on rival Nancy Carrigan that put Carrigan out of contention. It sent ripples through the ice-skating commuting and Harding was banned from the sport. The scandal was later turned into the filmI, Tonyawith Margot Robbie.
Discover the legacy of Lillehammer with a visit to the Norwegian Olympic Museum. The shrine contains a smorgasbord of artefacts from Lillehammer ‘94, Oslo ‘52 as well as other Olympic Games. Make sure to try the Biathlon simulator, a challenging sport that combines cross-country skiing and rifle shooting!
Sarajevo was still part of Yugoslavia when it held the Winter Olympics in 1984. Being the first socialist state to host the Games, it successfully thawed the frosty relationships between the West and East.
Eight years later, the city was torn apart by war and genocide that ravaged the Balkans, and the enthusiasm created by the Games was long gone. Abandoned venues were repurposed—the luge area became an artillery position and an Olympic hotel became a prison.
Since then, Sarajevo has been reborn. A symbolic moment was the reopening of the Mount Trebevic cable car in 2018. Used to take spectators to Olympic venues, the cabins are decorated with the Bosnian flag and Olympic colours. Take the cable car from the Old Town and explore Mount Trebevic—you can observe the luge track, which has been reclaimed by graffiti artists.
In the north of Italy, Turin was the last central European city to hold the Winter Olympics in 2006. Unlike its predecessors, the city took a different approach: Instead of hosting the Games outside of the city, Turin split events between the nearby mountains and the city itself.
The event was a joyous affair and one of the most popular Winter Olympics ever—it even got Italians into curling! Before hosting the Games, the city attracted roughly 1 million tourists, but today, 6 million people visit every year.
Head to the Piazza Castello, where the medal ceremonies took place, or use the city as a gateway to the Via Lattea, the slopes which hosted the ski and snowboarding events. And if you’re a huge Winter Olympics fan, visit Turin to get in the mood for the next Winter Olympics in 2026, hosted in nearby Milan!