These days, a smattering of mostly Chinese tour groups trickles though the stadium. Visitor numbers are in free fall: They plummeted by half in the first six months of 2011 compared with a year before, according to state-run media. The Bird's Nest cost $480 million to build, and its upkeep costs $11 million a year.
But the only international visitors sitting in the stands on a recent day aren't impressed.
"For me, it's just a huge concrete place," says German tourist Christian Lodz. "Personally I think, after four years, it looks a little bit shabby."
"What I think is interesting is that it's just not used for anything useful," says his countryman Henne Zelle, waving at a crane and tarpaulins in the middle of the stadium. "There's a construction zone there, and it's kind of dirty."
The problem is how to fill the empty expanse of seats; the stadium is designed to house 91,000 spectators.
Since the Olympics, a number of tactics have been tried: The construction of man-made ski slopes turned it temporarily into a winter wonderland, and tightrope walker Adili Wuxor spent two months living suspended on a tightrope above the Bird's Nest trying to set a new world record.It's a far cry from the world record set by Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, who set the mark for the 100 meters and the 200 meters in the packed Bird's Nest. Now, tourists wobble around the same track on Segways, which they hire for just over $20 for 15 minutes.
There's even a small waxworks museum, exhibiting figurines of all the past and present presidents of the International Olympic Committee. When he called Beijing's Olympic venues "beautiful" and "unprecedented," current IOC President Jacques Rogge can hardly have known he would be immortalized in wax inside one of those venues, always photo-ready, should the visitor be willing to part with $1.50 for the privilege.