One of the best ways to experience a city as a local does is to attend its local sporting events. The crowds are often friendly (as long as no one makes the mistake of wearing the other team’s colors) and they’ll point out the best street food, the cheapest beer, and most likely, they’ll be using local slang to insult the opposition. But not all soccer teams are created equal, nor are their arenas. Read on to find the 10 sporting teams whose arenas should be on your bucket list.
10. Estádio Municipal de Braga – Braga, Portugal
The Estádio da Luz might be “the Cathedral” and Estádio José Alvalade is bright and beautiful, but it’s the Estádio Municipal that should be on soccer fans’ must-visit list. How many stadiums are carved out of a quarry? The Portuguese stadium might be unique in its setting, providing a beautiful place to watch a match. Only two sides of the field are flanked by stands, meaning the stadium is on the small side, holding just over 30,000. But a glance toward the hew rocks on one end, upon which the scoreboard stands, can fool visitors into believing they’re in the middle of nowhere. Look around to the other end, however, and the city of Braga sprawls below. The stadium sits just a 15 minute walk outside the city center, meaning there’s also plenty of opportunity to enjoy the delights of Portugal’s food and drink.
9. Anfield Stadium – Liverpool, England
For neutral fans wanting to catch a game in the country that gave birth to modern soccer, Anfield is by far the best choice. While Manchester United has a slick new complex and both Chelsea and Arsenal are located in London, all three are known for the rather tepid atmosphere pervading their stadiums. So for those seeking both a great stadium experience and a fun city to explore, the choice must be Anfield. Liverpool hasn’t won a major trophy in over a decade, but that doesn’t mean Reds fans are any less dedicated. The stadium is filled to capacity for nearly every league match, and the Kop – where the most vocal supporters sit – is guaranteed to be raucous. Be sure to learn the words to the club’s anthem, You’ll Never Walk Alone, before showing up at Anfield, as the entire stadium sings along just prior to kickoff.
8. Juventus Stadium – Turin, Italy
Serie A was once the top league in Europe, but Italian football is on the decline. That means less money, and less money means once-glorious stadiums like the San Siro in Milan are now crumbling. Juventus Stadium, however, provides not just a bright spot on the peninsula, but a prime model other clubs are in the process of emulating. Filled to almost its 40,000 capacity for every game, all that money goes to the team, a rarity in Italy. For Juventus, that means the ability to buy better players, which has lead to a run of league titles. For fans, it means getting to watch great soccer in the comfort of a modern stadium. For the visitor, it’s a wonderful atmosphere with seats almost right on top of the field. In short, it’s where to go to see the future of Italian soccer.
7. Maracanã Stadium – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Brazil’s Maracanã is one of the most famous stadiums in the world. Even those who have no idea of its history (the venue was built to wow visitors coming to Brazil for the 1950 World Cup) would likely recognize it as an icon. All those memorable shots of Rio’s Christ the Redeemer statue, broadcast to millions during the 2014 World Cup final, often showed the stadium in the background. Visitors might be disappointed to learn they can’t see the famous statue from inside any longer, however, as the roof has been extended to protect nearly every seat in the house. But the upgrades make this a great place to watch a game, from the open, single tier of yellow and blue seats to the airy roof above. And lovers of soccer history will be thrilled to know they’re sitting in the same stadium where the legendary striker Pelé scored his 1,000th goal.
6. Celtic Park – Glasgow, Scotland
Celtic played their first match at Parkhead, as fans refer to the stadium, way back in 1892. The park has come a long way since those days when just one wooden stand loomed over the field. Rebuilt in the 1990s, 60,000 seats now enclose the field, and the noise from the stands creates an intimidating atmosphere for visiting teams. Those wanting to catch a game at Celtic Park should try to get tickets to an Old Firm derby, when Celtic play their rivals Rangers. More difficult to find now that Rangers are in the second division, when a tournament draws these two together, these tickets are some of the hottest in Europe. Not only does the Old Firm pit the two most successful teams in Scottish history together, but it brings together passionate fans that absolutely despise the other side, making for a cracking atmosphere.
5. Estadio Azteca – Mexico City, Mexico
Club América is one of the most successful teams in Mexico, and it’s definitely worth a trip to watch them play Chivas Guadalajara, another of the country’s best and América’s most bitter rivals. But the real reason to come to this stadium is for international matches. The Mexico national soccer team, nicknamed El Tri, rarely ever loses a game at its home stadium, largely due to the intimidating atmosphere in the stands, which hold more than 95,000 spectators. Even when El Tri isn’t playing, history gets made. The Azteca, the first stadium to host two World Cup finals, has given the world some of the most famous moments in soccer. In 1970, Italy beat West Germany 4-3 in what’s known as the “Game of the Century,” while 1986 brought not only the “Goal of the Century” from Diego Maradona, but his infamous “Hand of God” incident against England.
4. Türk Telekom Arena – Istanbul, Turkey
Once the holders of the Guinness Book of World Records title for the loudest crowd noise at a sporting event, now Galatasaray fans behave as though they’re determined to take back their crown. The Türk Telekom Arena isn’t one of the biggest in the sport, holding just over 50,000, but the cim bom faithful know how to create a fantastic atmosphere. Galatasaray supporters are also partial to fire, so keep an eye out for flares and flames coming from the sections that house the hardcore fans. For those lucky enough to score a ticket to the Intercontinental Derby, when city rivals Fenerbahçe come to visit, huge displays of choreography and massive banners exalting Galatasaray are to be expected. Expect to be entertained by antics on the pitch as well, as tempers flare there’s usually at least one sending off.
3. La Bombonera – Buenos Aires, Argentina
Officially named the Estadio Alberto J. Armando, this stadium is called “La Bombonera” due to the fact that it resembles a chocolate box, having originally been built in a U-shape, although the fourth side is now filled with a low stand and VIP boxes. The addition of more space for spectators along that fourth side hasn’t diminished the stadium’s acoustics. The triple-tiered stands along three sides trap the noise, aiding the 49,000 supporters in creating an atmosphere hostile to visiting teams. The smallish capacity can make tickets hard to come by, especially if Boca Juniors are playing rivals River Plate, but the experience of being among such passionate fans is worth the effort. Take time before the game to walk around La Bombonera, admiring the murals depicting important moments in Boca Juniors’ history – particularly the choosing of the club’s famed blue and yellow colors.
2. Camp Nou – Barcelona, Spain
The biggest soccer stadium that can be found outside North Korea, the Camp Nou is on nearly every serious soccer fan’s bucket list. And no wonder: the stadium plays host to one of the most successful teams in Europe and offers a stage to many of the best players on earth.The fans also demonstrate a fierce pride in Catalonia, the autonomous region in which Barcelona is located. The club’s Catalan motto, “Mes que un club”, is spelled out in the seats, the supporters sing in Catalan, and the region’s flag waves throughout the stands. If going to El Clásico, the meeting between Barça and Real Madrid, read up on the political background for some fascinating insights into the rivalry. Even without a visit from the rivals, however, visitors are certain to see some wonderful soccer played out.
1. Westfalenstadion – Dortmund, Germany
The absolute best place to go for fans who want to experience both entertaining soccer and a fantastic atmosphere. Officially named Signal Iduna Park, the Westfalenstadion is the biggest in Germany and one of the largest in Europe, holding 81,359 when both seating and standing are included. While standing is not allowed when Borussia Dortmund are playing in European tournaments, it is their standing section that is perhaps the most attractive feature of a trip to the stadium. Die Gelbe Wand, or the Yellow Wall, comprises the Westfalenstadion southern terrace. It was named so because Dortmund’s primary color is bright yellow. The wall is an intimidating sight, featuring 25,000 supporters doing their best to strike fear in the heart of the opposition. Also watch for Dortmund’s tifo, or giant banners, unfurled in impressive displays of choreography as the match begins.