Buenos Aires, Argentina
In the end, everything in Buenos Aires comes down to fútbol. The metropolitan region of this vibrant South American city packs an incredible 16 first division football clubs into its 1,500 square miles, with six teams playing their matches inside the city proper. If you are handy with a GPS, you could spend an entire weekend hopping around Buenos Aires’ grounds, watching back-to-back football matches.
The Big Five clubs in Greater Buenos Aires are Boca Juniors, River Plate, San Lorenzo, Racing and Independiente (the latter two hailing from the nearby city of Avellaneda). All have their own huge and passionate fanbases, but the main show in town, without a doubt, is Boca vs River. One of the world’s best known football derbies, the Superclásico dominates Argentinian news from two weeks before the game to two weeks after. Whether you manage to get a ticket to Boca Juniors’ hostile La Bombonera stadium, in the cramped dockyard neighbourhood of Boca, or River Plate’s massive, expansive Monumental de Núñez, seeing a superclásico in the flesh is something you won’t forget in a hurry.
Madrid is a superb place to go and watch football. It has a wonderful contrast between its three local clubs, from the global superstars of Real Madrid and their boisterous neighbors Atlético, to the traditional local community club of Rayo Vallecano.
The stunning Santiago Bernabéu stadium is the home of Real Madrid, the 12-time European champions that just ooze glamor and success. Their local rivals Atlético Madrid used to play near the city center, on the banks of the Manzanares river, but have recently moved east to the brand-new Wanda Metropolitano Stadium. Don’t let appearances fool you, however, the Atleti fans are just as wild as they’ve always been.
While visiting Madrid, don’t pass up the chance to go to the southern neighborhood of Vallecas and catch a home game of Rayo Vallecano, the city’s third team. Always being in the shadow of Real Madrid and Atleti, Rayo remains one of the last remaining neighborhood clubs in the country’s professional football league. Their fans are known for being politically militant, often displaying anti-racist, anti-fascist and anti-homophobic banners in the stadium.
Though Chilean football has been struggling of late – the country’s big clubs are failing to make a dent on the continental stage and the national team has just failed to qualify for this year’s World Cup – a trip to Santiago is a must for all football fans, being home to a vibrant football culture and some of the world’s most iconic stadiums.
The most popular club is Colo Colo, whose home at the Estadio Monumental is one of the most beautiful football stadiums on Earth. From the stands at the Monumental, fans are treated with an amazing view of the Andes mountain range which towers over the city to the east.
Only a couple of miles up the road is the National Stadium, home of Santiago’s second club, Universidad de Chile. While being an impressive football ground in its own right, today the national stadium also serves as a historical reminder of Chile’s bloody military dictatorship, under the rule of General Augusto Pinochet. After the United States-backed coup d’état in 1973, Pinochet’s army famously used the national stadium as a prison camp and torture facility.
When the stadium was reformed in 2010, a part of the old wooden terraces were preserved and fenced off, as a memorial to the prisoners who were held, tortured and killed inside the stadium. Above the memorial, the words “un pueblo sin memoria es un pueblo sin futuro” are inscribed – a people without a memory is a people without a future.
Home to two European giants in AC Milan and Internazionale, as well as the breathtaking modernist San Siro stadium, Milan is an ideal city to visit for football fans. While neither Milan or Inter have been terribly successful in the last decade, seeing the two teams face each other in the so-called Derby della Madonnina (a reference to the statue of the Virgin Mary which sits on top of Milan Cathedral) in San Siro is an unforgettable footballing experience.
São Paulo, Brazil
São Paulo is rarely high on tourists’ lists of places to visit in Brazil – unfairly so, as it is one of the most thrilling and cosmopolitan cities in Latin America – but for football fans, São Paulo should be your top priority. This massive city is home to four equally massive clubs – Corinthians, Palmeiras, São Paulo and Santos – who each have their own stadiums, and the rivalries between the four pulsates throughout daily life in SP. Tickets for matches are notoriously difficult to buy for tourists, but there are plenty of tours available to meet all your São Paulo football needs.
When it’s not match day, do yourself a favor and visit the city’s municipal Pacaembu stadium, an art deco masterpiece which hosted matches at the 1950 World Cup and hasn’t changed terribly much since. Sporadic matches are still held there, and early evening kick-offs mean fans are treated to a beautiful view of the sprawling city around the stadium. The football museum, housed inside the stadium, is one of the best of its kind in the world.
Football fans around the world drool in front of their television sets whenever they watch Borussia Dortmund play at home in the Westfalenstadion. The Südtribüne, the stadium’s south stand, is the largest all-standing terrace of its kind in the world, fitting over 24,000 people. The incredible atmosphere generated there has earned it the nickname of the “Yellow Wall”.
The entire North Rhine-Westphalia region is full of great footballing destinations. From Dortmund, it is just a half-hour journey over to Gelsenkirchen to see Dortmund’s rivals Schalke 04, Germany’s third club, while Leverkusen, Cologne and Mönchengladbach are also within touching distance.
With three massive clubs, incredibly passionate fans and excellent stadiums, football in Istanbul feels almost South American in its raw passion and intensity. Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray, the two most successful clubs in Turkish football history, play out the Intercontinental Derby, one of the sport’s fiercest and most bitter rivalries. It is “Intercontinental”, as the two clubs play on opposite sides of the Bosphorus strait: Fenerbahçe on the Asian side, Galatasaray on the European side.
Mexico City, Mexico
There are tons of reasons to visit Mexico City, and football is just one more to add to that lengthy list. Home to three massive clubs (Club América, Cruz Azul and Pumas) and three massive stadiums, it has everything you need for an excellent football trip. The Estadio Azteca, which seats 87,000 people and hosts the home games of Club América, is a monument to football. It was the first stadium to host two World Cup finals: in 1970, when a legendary Brazil side crushed Italy 4-1, and in 1986, where Diego Maradona led Argentina to the trophy against West Germany.