MADRID

Talk to just about anyone who has visited Madrid and you’re likely to get some version of this reaction: That city knows how to live. And it does. With arguably Europe’s most vibrant nightlife -- restaurants, bars, and clubs throughout the city throb from sundown to sunup -- Madrid could never be accused of lacking an appreciation for fun. But one of the things that makes it such a great place to visit is the diversity of its diversions. Sure, you can go clubbing until five a.m., but you can also enjoy a leisurely meal of tapas and wine or spend an afternoon at one of the city’s world-class museums. The Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, for instance, houses Picasso’s masterpiece Guernica, and Museo Nacional del Prado features paintings from Goya, El Greco, and Velázquez. A stroll down some of the city’s broad, leafy avenues can be its very own architecture-cum-history lesson, as Madrid has been ruled alternately by the Bourbons and the Hapsburgs, among others, and the buildings reflect that history.

TOKYO

The last time Tokyo hosted the Summer Olympics, in 1964, the event was considered sort of a coming-out party, the reemergence of a city and a country that had been devastated during the Second World War. There was certainly plenty to show off to the world -- including 26 gleaming venues to host the competition, all of which are still in use today -- and Tokyo has hardly slowed down since then. A tour through Tokyo’s many neighborhoods can be a remarkable alternation between the old and the new. Areas like Shinjuku and Shibuya, for instance, teem with glass and neon as well as with stores selling the latest electronics, giving both areas a dizzyingly futuristic feel. But then there’s the Meiji Jingu, a shrine that encompasses a quiet urban forest, which was built to memorialize the emperor and empress who succeeded the ruling samurai class. Besides Tokyo having a nearly endless list of attractions found in its sprawling metropolis of 30 million, it is arguably the culinary capital of the world, home to more Michelin-starred restaurants than any other city on the globe (sorry, Paris).

CHICAGO

Chicago is no stranger to competing to host big-time events. Probably the most famous historic example of this, at least these days, because of the book The Devil in the White City, is Chicago’s winning and then pulling off an ambitious World’s Fair in 1893, an event that announced Chicago as one of the world’s great cities and, at least to Chicagoans, as the city of the twentieth century. As a city to visit, either before, during, or after the Games, Chicago has plenty to offer, including diverse neighborhoods that would make just about anybody visiting from another country feel immediately at home. Since most of the Olympic activities would take place downtown, Lori Healey, president, Chicago 2016, envisions visitors being able to see a lot without having to get in a car or even on the subway. “You can take your family to the Field Museum, to the Shedd Aquarium, or to the planetarium and then walk across the street to Millennium Park and sit on the grass and watch an athletic event,” she says. “All our great assets downtown, our cultural institutions and parks and restaurants and shopping and hotels, are within walking distance.”

RIO DE JANEIRO

As far as the promoters of the Olympic bid for Rio de Janeiro are concerned, the IOC has a very simple choice: more of the same or something completely new. Chicago, Madrid, and Tokyo are all on continents that have already been hosts numerous times (and, as mentioned before, Tokyo itself has hosted previously, in 1964), so by awarding the Games to Rio, that city’s backers say, the Olympic movement could expand to a new continent and new people and new cultures. It’s hard to argue that an Olympics in Rio -- the home of Carnival, bossa nova, and samba -- would be anything short of a full-throttle party. And to visitors to Rio, it’s quickly apparent that the outdoors and sports already play important parts in everyday life. “We are talking about a city that has impressive beauty in terms of its landscape and its nature. We have mountains, and lagoons, and kilometers and kilometers of white-sand beaches, so Rio itself is a blessing for any spectator to spend 15 or 20 days there,” says Carlos Osorio, Rio 2016 Secretary General. Should Rio win the 2016 Summer Olympics bid, those fortunate enough to visit during those Games will be able to see how the city has incorporated some of its most well-known sights into playing venues. Rowing, for instance, would take place at the foot of the iconic Corcovado Christ statue, and beach volleyball would be played -- where else? -- on Copacabana beach.