Some sports fans are only fanatical about one or two sports or a particular team, but others are so sports-mad that they’ll go see a sporting event – any sporting event – that happens to be going on when they’re traveling. Luckily, there’s a sport that’s popular in just about every country around the world, and which also happens to be easy enough to understand that a novice can enjoy going to a game even on a whim.
The sport I’m talking about is soccer.
Now, before anyone jumps in to comment, let me say this – I realize that in most of the world, this sport is called football (or some variation thereof), and I’m learning to call it that as well. But since I grew up in the United States, I’m used to calling it soccer. So forgive me, Rest of the World, my vocabulary is still in training.
Traveling sports fans often have a leg up on their non-sporty counterparts, because a sporting event is a great peek into the culture of a place and an excellent way to meet (or at least observe) the locals. So I’d suggest that even if you’re not necessarily a sports fan at home that you give it a try when you’re on the road.
While there are soccer stadiums in cities all over the world, and you should certainly ask the local tourism office if there’s a game going on while you’re in town, there are some places where if you don’t take advantage of the opportunity to see a soccer game while you’re there then you’re just plain crazy. Here, then, are the best places to see soccer games around the world.
Barcelona, Spain: Camp Nou
The city of Barcelona offers visitors enough in the way of entertainment options that you might wonder why you’d take time out of your busy sightseeing (or bar-hopping) schedule to see a soccer match. But FC Barcelona, the team that calls this city home, is one of the best and most popular teams in the world – and its stadium is the largest in Europe. Those two reasons alone should be enough to get you to a game.
Barcelona’s stadium is called the Camp Nou, which means “new field” in Catalan, and it seats more than 98,000 screaming fans. And if you’re lucky enough to get a ticket to one of the derby games with long-time rivals Real Madrid, you might not be able to hear yourself think for a week. Really, as long as BarÃ§a has a certain Lionel Messi on its roster, it doesn’t matter who the opponent is – so long as you get a chance to see this man work his magic on the pitch.
Tickets to FC Barcelona games at the Camp Nou aren’t cheap – they often start at around â‚¬50 for what may feel like a nosebleed section – so if the pricetag is too rich you can always skip the game and check out the Camp Nou museum (El Museu del BarÃ§a) instead.
Milan, Italy: San Siro
Like many countries around the world, soccer in Italy is more than just a sport – it’s something of a religion. And the San Siro in Milan is one of the country’s best-known
cathedrals stadiums. What makes it particularly great from a spectator’s point of view is that, as long as you’re not really a fan of any Italian team, there are two teams which call San Siro home – so you’ve got twice as many opportunities to see a game there.
Both AC Milan and Inter Milan play their home games at San Siro, which is technically called the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza. It’s the biggest stadium in Italy, holding more than 80,000 people – and although it isn’t typically filled to capacity, the home team’s fans usually make enough of a ruckus that you’d swear it was full.
Because two teams use San Siro as their home field, during the Italian soccer season there’s a game going on at San Siro almost every weekend. And as long as it’s not a big match, you can generally get tickets right up until moments before kick-off. Don’t try that with one of the Milan-Inter derbies, however, or you’ll be left ticketless.
You can get seats in the mid-levels for roughly â‚¬30-35 and there are usually seats in the upper sections for under â‚¬20, but they only take cash at the ticket kiosks outside the stadium – and you’ll need to bring ID with you or they won’t sell you anything.
>> Read about my personal experience seeing a match at San Siro
Buenos Aires, Argentina: La Bombonera
Many soccer stadiums have nicknames, and most of those are so common that the original name of the stadium has practically been forgotten. In the case of Buenos Aires legendary stadium, La Bombonera, it makes perfect sense – why would you call a stadium whose nickname means “the chocolate box” anything else but that?
La Bombonera (more formally known as Estadio Alberto J. Armando) is the home field of Boca Juniors, one of the most popular teams in Argentina. While its capacity is less than 58,000 people, the acoustics are such that the vocal crowds are amplified and have earned their own nickname – “La Doce,” or “the 12th man.” Things get particularly noisy (and interesting) during the big Boca games against their main rivals, River Plate.
There’s a Boca Juniors museum (Museo de la Pasion Boquense) at the stadium which covers two floors and pays homage, in part, to arguably Argentina’s most famous player – Diego Maradona. If you’re not intent on getting the best seats possible, you can get tickets to reasonably good seats for under $50, but that’s assuming (a) there are any tickets left, and (b) you’re not visiting during a big match where the prices can skyrocket.
Liverpool, England: Anfield
Soccer in England’s Premier League is hugely popular worldwide and is also a huge business. Frankly, there are plenty of stadiums in England where seeing a game could very well be the highlight of a sports fan’s trip. But there’s something about Anfield in Liverpool that sets it apart from the rest – and you’ll even hear that from people who aren’t diehard Liverpool supporters, too.
Anfield has been Liverpool FC‘s home ground since the club’s founding in 1892, and it just so happens to be right across the street from the stadium of cross-town rivals, Everton, who called Anfield home before Liverpool did. But aside from the great games you’ll often see at Anfield, one of the most stirring things about any Liverpool game remains the song that’s sung before every kick-off.
While going to a soccer match to hear music may seem a bit odd, the fans’ rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” which Liverpool adopted as their anthem in the early 1960s, is well worth the price of admission. And if you’re interested in learning more about this club’s history, be sure to visit the Liverpool FC Museum at Anfield, too. Tickets for a Liverpool game start in the Â£35 range.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: EstÃ¡dio do MaracanÃ£
It’s the Brazilians we have to thank for giving soccer the usually-fitting nickname of “the beautiful game,” and this is also a country that’s won more World Cup trophies than any other so far and produced some of the most famous players. So soccer fans who travel to Brazil without seeing a game are definitely missing out.
But even though you might be spoiled for choices when it comes to seeing a soccer game in Brazil, nothing quite compares to seeing a game at the EstÃ¡dio do MaracanÃ£, usually simply called the MaracanÃ£ – it’s South America’s largest stadium, with a capacity of more than 88,000 people. The stadium was built in order to host the 1950 World Cup, and it remains under the ownership of the state government rather than one of the city’s soccer teams, but several teams regularly use it for matches (including Fluminense and Flamengo). So even though there isn’t a team that plays at the MaracanÃ£ for every home game, you stand a decent chance of catching a game at the famous stadium anyway.
What’s particularly amazing about the MaracanÃ£ is that it’s massive today when it’s full, and yet it holds far fewer people than it did when it was first built. The record attendance at the stadium before they modified the seating somewhat was nearly 200,000 people. Tickets to a match start around $15BR, and can go up to $150BR. And if there isn’t a game at the MaracanÃ£ while you’re in Rio, don’t miss out on the stadium tour. The tour costs roughly $20BR and is available in several languages.
Mexico City, Mexico: Estadio Azteca
When it comes to aboslutely colossally huge stadiums, few can compete with the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City. With a capacity of more than 105,000 people, it’s one of the biggest soccer stadiums in the world – let alone Mexico. The Azteca is home to Club AmÃ©rica, and it’s also where the Mexican national team plays its home games.Estadio Azteca was built in the early 1960s and has hosted some truly memorable soccer games – including the finals in both the 1970 and 1986 World Cups. In fact, it’s the only stadium to date to host two World Cup finals. Two other famous matches played at the Azteca were the 1970 World Cup semi-final between Italy and West Germany (dubbed the “Game of the Century”) and the 1986 World Cup quarter-final between Argentina and England (containing what’s become known as the “Goal of the Century”). The chances of you seeing the anything-of-the-century during a game at this stadium might be pretty slim, but that’s no reason not to go.
Luckily for budget travelers, most of the time you can walk up to a ticket office at the Azteca just before kick-off and get a ticket for around 50 pesos. Be be aware that if Club AmÃ©rica is playing one of the other big teams in Mexico – namely Chivas, Pumas, or Cruz Azul – even this monster-sized stadium can sell out.
>> Find flights to Mexico City
Glasgow, Scotland: Hampden Park
Scotland’s soccer ties run deep, and in Glasgow in particular there are two teams in the Scottish Premier League which are fierce rivals – Celtic and Rangers. But rather than seeing a game at either of their home grounds, the best place to see a soccer game in Scotland is arguably the national team’s home field of Hampden Park.
While Hampden Park, commonly called simply Hampden, is mainly used as the home field of Queen’s Park FC, they’re Scotland’s only amateur club and regularly draw a crowd (if you can call it that) of under 500 people. That’s a cultural experience of another kind, and with tickets to Queen’s Park games coming in at less than Â£10 it’s a bargain of the first order. But to truly appreciate soccer at Hampden you’ve got to see Scotland’s national team play there. As any soccer fan will tell you, there’s nothing quite like watching a team play for their country.
Hampden is particularly famous for the deafening noise a full stadium creates, affectionately known as the “Hampden Roar,” although after the capacity was decreased in recent years to roughly 52,000 the volume is said to have decreased as well. Note that even if you’re not in Scotland during a national team game, you might still be able to see a game at Hampden if you’re visiting in May. The Scottish Cup Final is held at Hampden Park each May, although getting tickets for that match could be even more challenging than for a national team game.
If all else fails, the Scottish Football Museum is housed at Hampden Park, and you can sign up for a stadium tour for Â£6 (Â£9 if you combine the museum and the stadium tour in one ticket).
>> More information on getting to Hampden Park here
Madrid, Spain: Estadio Santiago BernabÃ©u
Barcelona may have Lionel Messi and the enormous Camp Nou, but Madrid lays claim to Spain’s most decorated team, Real Madrid, and its famous stadium, Estadio Santiago BernabÃ©u. The stadium is most commonly called just the BernabÃ©u, and seats more than 80,000 people.
The BernabÃ©u was opened in 1947 but has undergone several renovations and facelifts over the years. The current appearance of the stadium, including its instantly-recognizable curling entry ramps at each corner, dates from 1992. And while you might think that seeing a soccer match with 79,999 of your closest friends might seem like a lot of people, consider that at its peak the stadium held around 120,000 when general admission standing areas were still allowed.
Tickets for games at the BernabÃ©u range from as little as â‚¬15 to as much as â‚¬100, depending on the game, so there’s really something for just about everyone’s price range. For bigger games, such as the ones with FC Barcelona, sellout crowds (and lots of noise) are to be expected. If you’d prefer a quieter look at the stadium be sure to take one of the guided tours at the BernabÃ©u, which gives you a peek not only at the stadium but also the team dressing rooms – all for â‚¬9.
Belgrade, Serbia: Stadion Crvena Zvezda
Sports fans might not put Serbia on their list of sporting hotspots, but the Stadion Crvena Zvezda in Belgrade is known in the soccer world for its notably enthusiastic fans. The stadium, known locally as the “Marakana” (a reference to the famous stadium in Rio), is the home field for Red Star Belgrade and so is also sometimes called the Red Star Stadium. It can hold around 54,000 people.
The diehard Red Star fanbase has historically been divided among those who chant and sing during games, and those who take the opportunity of a game to get thoroughly drunk and then into fist-fights. Unfortunately, some would argue the hooliganism has eclipsed the singing and chanting to the point where actually seeing a game at the Marakana could be considered dangerous. But if you’re looking for passion, you’re certainly going to find it in Belgrade. Should you decide to see a game there anyway, you’d do well to avoid sitting in the North Stand, which is where the most vehement supporters gather.
Tickets for games at Stadion Crvena Zvezda are in the RSD 400-1000 neighborhood, depending on where you want to sit and how big the match is. And if the idea of attending a Red Star Belgrade game sounds a bit too dodgy for your tastes, then head for the stadium’s on-site FC Crvena Zvezda (Red Star Belgrade) Museum instead where you can gaze at the club’s 680 trophies.
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About the Author
BootsnAll writer Jessica Spiegel learned that being an Italophile means picking an Italian soccer team to cheer for, and she’s become quite the ardent AC Milan supporter as a result. You’ll find her on game day in her Rossoneri scarf, having had her morning coffee from her Milan mug. Y’know, for luck. You can read about her affection for Italy (not to mention the beautiful Italian men who play the beautiful game) on BootsnAll’s Italy travel guide.
original photos: fans at top by *Dario*, Camp Nou by Missha, San Siro fans by Michelangelo_rd, La Bombonera by Henry.Lambert, Anfield by R. Motti, MaracanÃ£ by Mantelli, Estadio Azteca by Heriberto CortÃ©s, Hampden Park by ToxicWeb, BernabÃ©u by ArchiM, Marakana from FC Crvena Zvezda website