A love of sport can often take you beyond your local stadium to beautiful locations around the world. And that doesn’t always have to mean the typical trip to Chicago to see Wrigley Field or a stop in New York City to see Madison Square Garden. Sports can take you further than the next state or province to places across the sea that are bursting with culture.
The Olympics are the ultimate sporting occasion, taking place every two years in celebrated cities around the world. However, if you aren’t quite ready to splurge on a trip to the next Olympics (those tickets can get pricey), but still want to add some sport to your next vacation, where are you to go? Well, you can’t go wrong with these six destinations, which feature sporting highlights for fans of all kinds (especially soccer). They’re great bucket list destinations for sports fans.
If you’re like four billion other people on the planet and consider yourself a soccer (football) fan, a trip to England should be a priority. Old Trafford is the crown jewel of England’s soccer heritage, the stadium home of Manchester United, the most decorated club in the Premier League. You can arrange for a tour of the stadium, which seats around 75,000 spectators, or, if you’re lucky, you can snag tickets to a match in the future. Anfield in Liverpool is another of England’s venerated soccer stadiums. If you’re more interested in tennis than soccer, head to Wimbledon in the southwest of London to visit the home of the Wimbledon Tennis Championships, the most prestigious tennis tournament in the world. It makes for a good day trip while exploring the other highlights of London.
Continuing with the soccer theme, Brazil is the other nation that celebrates soccer above all other sports. If soccer is a religion in Brazil, then the Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro is the holiest of cathedrals. This soccer stadium fits around 78,000 spectators and hosted the final match of the 2014 World Cup. It’s a sight to behold, even if you only opt for a tour instead of sticking around for a match. Fans of Formula 1 should head to São Paulo in November to take in the Brazilian Grand Prix, one of the most prestigious races in the Americas. For other sports, Brazil has also seen a boom in interest in volleyball, often played on the many beaches, so don’t be surprised if you take in a match during a visit.
The most popular sport in Japan is baseball, but the one most tourists want to see is sumo, the national sport that sees massive men grabble each other until one contestant pushes the other out of the ring. Sumo is infused with meaning and traditions going back hundreds of years, so it’s a distillation of Japanese ceremony and sport all in one. The best time to watch sumo in Japan is during the basho tournaments, which take place six times a year. In summer and fall you’ll find the tournament in Sumida, Tokyo at the Ryogoku Kokugikan, the country’s centre of sumo. The basho moves to Osaka in the spring, while there are also regional bashos held in Nagoya and Fukuoka in the summer and fall, respectively. If you’re into baseball, you can also take in a game of the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB), which has teams in most of the major cities. The NPB has the highest level of baseball outside of the MLB in North America, and is typically more contact and speed-based than its American counterpart. Each team has elaborate fan rituals for their fanbase—the Tokyo Swallows have an umbrella dance—that are entertaining for visitors to witness.
Like England, Spain is largely defined by its soccer league, La Liga, which has popular teams like Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, which employs one of the top soccer players in the world, Lionel Messi. In Barcelona, you can tour the Barça, the stadium home for FC Barcelona, which lets you go behind the scenes of the club and sit in the first team dugout. Spain also hosts the Spanish Grand Prix in Formula 1 each year in Barcelona, and several teams in the EuroLeague of European Basketball. Spain also won the 2019 FIBA World Cup for basketball, so their prowess for sport goes beyond soccer. If you’re a traditionalist or a Hemingway enthusiast, you’ll also find bullfighting in Spain, which is on the decline, but still one of the nation’s oldest traditions. Bullfights run from March through October.
Australia is a great sports destination as it appeals to a wide variety of interests. The Australian Open is perhaps the best known of Australia’s sporting tournaments. It’s one of the world’s four Grand Slam tennis tournaments and takes place in Melbourne in late January each year. In Melbourne, you can also take in some cricket at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, which holds up to 100,000 spectators, and watch a match of Australian rules football, an intensely physical game that blends aspects of soccer, rugby, and even cricket. Sports fans will also find great surf spots all across Australia such as famous Bondi Beach in Sydney or the Noosa Heads in Queensland. Australia also hosts the yearly Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, where yacht captains journey 1,170km from Sydney to Hobart, Tasmania. It’s considered one of the most difficult races in the world and is a cause for celebration each year.
Three sports reign supreme in South Africa: soccer, rugby, and cricket. The country’s fascination with soccer reached it apex in 2010, when it hosted the World Cup. The main stadium in Johannesburg, Soccer City, remains one of the most popular tourist sites in the country and is a great place to relive the excitement of the cup (without the loud drones of vuvuzelas, luckily). For rugby, the national team known as the Springboks won the 2019 Rugby World Cup, and has a die-hard following within the country. Depending on when you visit, you may be able to catch test matches at stadiums across the country. Much like rugby, cricket has occasional international matches as well as league matches across the country.