Since Greece’s ancient Olympic games, skill, discipline, and spectators have been at the heart of sport. So too has culture. While the most esteemed national football leagues (the Big Five) can be found in Europe - the English Premier League, Spanish La Liga, German Bundesliga, Italian Serie A, and France’s Ligue 1 - the wider sport has an estimated 3.5 billion followers worldwide! Experiencing a football game is a truly unique way to experience culture, tradition, and the fierce local spirit all in one go.
So many fantastic cities are brimming with football fever - see the Spaniards race from the stadium into the plazas of Madrid, or cover your ears (or vocally contribute to) at the world’s loudest stadium in Istanbul. We’ve compiled a list of our favourite football stadiums that are well worth a city break.
It might not be a destination that immediately comes to mind when you think city break, but Liverpool’s Anfield Stadium has a certain magic to it. “It makes opponents feel small,” Pep Guardiola, manager of Premier League club Manchester City, told Catalan newspaper ARA. “The motto This is Anfield is no marketing spin. There’s something about it that you will find in no other stadium in the world.”
Perhaps it’s the fans that make it great. Football legend Diego Maradona remarked that Liverpool’s fans made the sport beautiful and ‘miraculous’, with their unrivalled passion and unconditional support. While Anfield is renowned for its electric atmosphere - particularly during European matches - Liverpool is home to a whole other form of culture: music. The city is the birthplace of the greatest bands of all time: The Beatles.
Arrive in Liverpool with football fever and leave with Beatlemania. The city is home to the Casbah Club, where the band started performing, as well as the lyrically inspiring locations of Strawberry Field and Penny Lane.
Against the ruins of ancient Greek civilisation, lies Athens’s eternal enemies. Playing between Apostolos Nikolaidis Stadium and Agia Sophia Stadium, the teams Panathinaikos and AEK Athens have one of the most formidable sporting rivalries in the world. Every one of their tension-fused matches makes the Greek city come alive with athletes playing their best games and the fans filling the air with loyalty and passion.
Football aside, a weekend trip to Athens will stoke the imagination, bringing to life the wonders of the Ancient Greek civilisation. The 5th-century Acropolis of Athens is a must-see with its enormous rock buttress topped with the ruins of the Parthenon. The nearby Roman Herodes Atticus Theatre is also incredibly interesting, with a 17-000-seat venue that once hosted the works of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides.
The magnificent Stadio Olimpico is Italy's most famous sporting venue. Constructed in 1928 to be the centre of the country’s burgeoning sporting culture, the stadium now seats a whopping 74,000 people and is home to clubs Lazio and Roma.
Like the aforementioned Greek teams, these squads have another one of those age-old rivalries. Fans are known to get very excited each time these teams come head to head. While the rivalry has simmered down in recent years, there’s no doubt a match between Lazio and Roma at Olimpico is the place to be for atmosphere and energy.
Of course, it's the city that also makes Stadio Olimpico, and the game, unforgettable. The city’s culture, monuments, and buildings beautifully reflect its 2,000 years of history. You’ll be happy in Rome whether it’s for a week or a weekend - gasp at Michelangelo's exquisite frescoes and ceiling in the Sistine Chapel, trot down the cinematic Spanish Steps, and make a wish at the magical Fontana di Trevi.
Real Madrid is one of the world's most recognised teams, so it makes sense that Madrid is the true hub of international football.
The team's home grounds, Santiago Bernabeu, has a seating capacity of 81,044 screaming, flag-flying fans. The venue is classic and elegant in design and is fringed by a lively scene of restaurants, bars, museums, and open spaces. It’s no wonder fans often spill out onto the streets to revel in the post-match atmosphere.
Madrid is a must-visit if you’re a fan of Iberian cuisine, or if you’re looking to indulge for the first time. The city is home to the oldest restaurant in the world, Botin, which dates back to 1725. Football fans and foodies will see that a holiday in Madrid offers endless possibilities.
Istanbul is a football-loving city. The stadiums are known to draw chanting fans as soon as three hours before kick-off, meaning the atmosphere flows through the city streets for most of the day. While Atatürk Olympic Stadium is Istanbul’s biggest, Beşiktaş JK‘s Vodafone Park is officially the world’s loudest. That’s right. Don’t attend a game here unless you’re ready for the rumble, or if you’ve slipped some earplugs into your pocket. The Turkish stadium holds the world record of decibels produced during a game (141 decibels) which is even louder than a plane during take-off!
The former centre of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires, Istanbul boasts intricate classical sites, churches, mosques, palaces, and bustling bazaars. The extraordinary Topkapi Palace and its priceless treasures, the Blue Mosque with its minarets, and the Byzantine church of Aya Sofya are guaranteed to be trip highlights.