Bill Shankly, one of the game’s greatest managers, once said: “Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that.” If you think that’s a far-fetched statement, then you’ve never visited these football-mad cities.
From the wild derbies of Istanbul and Buenos Aires to the iconic clubs of London and Madrid, here’s where every football fan needs to visit.
Football rivalries don’t get much bigger (or intense) than the Derby della Madonnina, Milan’s bi-annual battle between the red and black of AC and the blue and black of Inter. Over 80,000 Milanese watch these icons lock horns in their shared gladiatorial stadium, the San Siro. While it might be tricky to secure tickets to the big match, tours of the ground and trophy-laden museum are available throughout the year.
Now, if the Milan derby is intense, any meeting of Istanbul’s Big Three (Beşiktaş, Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray) is a mind-blowing assault of the senses that any true football fan needs to experience. The stands are packed with unbridled passion as fans shatter noise records. A 2011 meeting between Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe clocked an ear-ringing 131 decibels, which was then a world record for the loudest roar in a sports stadium. Best bring your earplugs.
Nobody needs an excuse to visit the sun-soaked city of Barcelona–especially fans of the Beautiful Game. The Catalonian city has long been established as a footballing wonderland thanks to the tika-taka on display at Camp Nou. Once you’ve had your fill of tapas, head straight to the stadium and learn about the likes of Messi, Ronaldinho and Cruyff as you tour the largest stadium in Europe and the club’s interactive museum.
Two great teams, one truly great city. Life in England’s northern powerhouse revolves around a couple of footballing giants, Manchester United and Manchester City. Head to the Etihad or Old Trafford to watch the world’s best in action or indulge in England’s rich footballing history at the National Football Museum. You can even enjoy a football-themed meal at Cafe Football, which is located just a stone’s throw from United’s famed stadium.
While most destinations on this list house some of football’s fiercest inner-city derbies, Dortmund is a one-team city of epic proportions. No city in the world gets behind their team like the locals of Dortmund, so it’s easy to see why a trip to the Westfalenstadion (especially the Yellow Wall) is near the top of every football fan’s bucket list. Like Manchester, Dortmund is home to a national football museum, which is a great place to get your football geekery on.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
If the city of Dortmund has one of football’s most united fan bases, Buenos Aires can claim to have one of the most divided. Home to the Superclásico between Boca Juniors and River Plate, Buenos Aires eats, sleeps and breathes football (with a side of tango, of course). The derby pits two of South America’s most successful clubs against each other in a true feast for football fans.
London is arguably the sporting capital of the world. From the traditional tennis tournament in Wimbledon to all-action rugby matches in Twickenham, the city has something to satisfy every sporting fanatic. But it’s football where London truly excels. Six of England’s 20 Premier League clubs are located in the city, and you can tour their stadiums, including the homes of Arsenal and Chelsea. You can also take a wander around the architectural gem of Wembley, the home of the English national team.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rio lives for football. Every street corner, patch of grass and sun-soaked beach is treated as mini Maracana by locals of all ages. The real Maracana, perhaps football’s holiest cathedral, is more than just home to the Brazilian national team. It’s a stadium steeped in history, and you can experience the captivating stories of this iconic stadium with a behind the scenes tour.
The people of Lisbon agree on plenty: Pastel de Natas are the best pastries around, their native city is the prettiest of them all and their seafood is to die for. However, one thing that divides them like no other is the small matter of football. Benfica vs. Sporting. Red vs. Green. Eagles vs. Lions. It’s a rivalry that defines life in the Portuguese capital, and one that you can get to know better with a stadium of the tour Estádio da Luz or the Estadio José Alvalade.
You can’t have a rundown of the world’s greatest footballing cities without mentioning Spain’s capital city. Home to both Real and Atlético, Madrid is a city that has defined the game for over 100 years. Head to the Bernabeu to see Real’s ridiculous amount of trophies, including 13 Champions League titles. Or if you fancy something a little more modern, check out the Wanda Metropolitano, Atlético’s state-of-the-art stadium.