See the best of European football without having to wait for the next World Cup.
Soccer. Some of the millions of American kids running around on vast, green fields every Saturday play only for the oranges at halftime. Understandable, as oranges are delicious. But, some kids play for love of the game. With each perfect cross or diving save, they get a sense of why so many people across the globe are so passionate about the sport. If they want to watch and learn from the pros they can watch Major League Soccer (MLS), but while David Beckham may have brought his bending free kicks to the United States, MLS still has a long way to go before attaining the skill level of leagues across Europe. For fans of all ages, a soccer tour of Europe is the best way to experience the Beautiful Game at its finest.
Since there are hundreds of professional club teams across the continent, such a tour can be confusing. The club season runs from August until the following May, with most clubs playing in several different competitions throughout the year. If you’re planning your first soccer-focused visit to Europe, build your itinerary around the best of the best (with apologies to fans of all other clubs): Manchester United and Arsenal in England’s Premier League and Real Madrid and FC Barcelona in Spain’s Primera Liga.
These four clubs, with long histories and dedicated fans, are sure to provide a memorable soccer experience. A note on safety: each club’s stadium is given, or is in consideration for, a Union of European Football Association (UEFA) Five Star rating that includes strict safety and security requirements. These stadiums, along with most other major venues, are as safe as any in the United States.
Start your tour in Manchester, England, home of perhaps the most famous franchise in the world, Manchester United. Winner of five Premier League championships in the last decade, the club plays its home games at Old Trafford, known as the Theatre of Dreams, the largest club stadium in England. Longtime manager Sir Alex Ferguson guided the team to the most successful year in English soccer history during the 1998-99 season with championships in the Premier League, Football Association (FA) Cup and UEFA Champions League, a feat called “The Treble.” Thanks to this accomplishment, he was knighted for his services to English soccer; that’s how serious England takes its soccer.
With a massive global following, game tickets are difficult to come by. However, the club does offer special “Dream Break” packages combining game tickets, hotel accommodations, tours of the stadium, museum and discount vouchers for meals and shopping. “Match Day” packages combine game tickets and discount vouchers for meals and shopping. With several different price options, this is your best bet to assure you get to see a match. Match Day packages begin at £69 (about $137), while Dream Break packages can run £200 (about $396) and up. If a game doesn’t fit into your schedule, you can still visit Old Trafford and take the museum and stadium tour on non-match days. Go inside the locker rooms and look out onto the pitch from the players’ tunnel. You can book online, and it’s best to do so well in advance. Tickets for the museum and tour are £10 (about $20) for adults and £7 (about $14) for children. Package prices for families of four and five are £30 (about $59) and £35 (about $69), respectively.
To the south, another Premier League powerhouse, Arsenal, plays in the new Emirates Stadium in London. Opened in July 2006, the stadium offers comfortable seating and an abundance of amenities, although some Arsenal supporters may still wax nostalgic for their cramped but historic old home, popularly known as Highbury. In 2003-04, the club won the Premiership undefeated, ultimately stretching their winning streak to a record 49 matches.
Tickets, once again, are difficult to come by, with club members demanding most of those available. However, like United, the club offers “Arsenal Match Breaks,” the official match ticket and accommodations package. Packages start at £114 (about $227) and include game tickets, hotel accommodations, a tour of the stadium and a visit to the Arsenal Museum. Make sure to book as soon as possible, as these packages sell out months in advance. If you can’t make it to a match, the Legends Tour offers not only a behind the scenes look at the stadium, but the accompaniment of a past Arsenal player. Tour prices are £35 for adults and £18 for children under 16 years (about $69 and $36, respectively). Children under 5 years old are admitted free of charge when accompanied by a parent.
If you haven’t gotten enough soccer, a quick flight from London will allow you to continue your tour in Spain, starting in the capital with Real Madrid. With an overwhelming number of championships in its history, Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) presented the club with a “Best Club of the 20th Century” trophy. Not a bad accolade.
Game tickets at Estadio Santiago Bernabéu are made available to the public after first being offered to season ticket holders and club members. You can check availability and purchase tickets on the official club Web site. Ticket prices start around €50 (about $79). Additionally, ticket offices across Madrid sell any available tickets the week before a game. Like those in England, a tour of the stadium and the club museum are available on non-match days. Tour prices cost €15 (about $24) for adults and €10 (about $16) for children aged 5-14.
To wrap up your European soccer tour, visit the Camp Nou, home of FC Barcelona. The massive stadium, holding almost 100,000 spectators, is perhaps the most famous stadium in the world. What sets it apart is not the structure itself, but the passion of the Barcelona faithful, sure to provide a fitting conclusion to your trip.
The general public can purchase tickets online through the FC Barcelona Web site beginning one month prior to the game. Given the size of the stadium, only major matches tend to sell out (games against Real Madrid, Seville and Champions League opponents). A program that allows season ticket holders to return their tickets might free up your options as the game date nears, so check back if you don’t find tickets for the game you’re looking for. Ticket prices start at €73 (about $114).
If you’d like to add more cities to your itinerary, Footietravel.com has hotel, travel and ticket information for most of the major clubs in Europe. Wherever soccer takes you, experiencing the best of the beautiful game is sure to be a memorable trip.
Themes: Family Travel
Great experience I recently attended my first 'futbol' game in Buenos Aires. The crowd was insanely energized, intense and fun. Hundreds of fireworks were fired from the crowd, chants shook the stadium. You can't help but caught up in the excitement. (At least that's the case if the home team is winning.) It was one of the highlights of our trip.
The real football This guide to see Europe's football powerhouses seems like a great introduction to the "Beautiful Game." I would love to take one of those stadium tours!