Note these cities are in no particular order! They are all great places to take in some football for different reasons and each offer unique experiences, which are hard to rank.
Best Cities for Watching Football
Truth be told, Dortmund isn’t one of the world’s great travel destinations but the experience of taking in a match at Westfalenstadion is a must for any hardcore footy fan. The enormous single tier Südtribüne (South Bank) is the largest terrace in European football with 24,000 packing it on matchdays and creating the famous Yellow Wall, which generates an incredible atmosphere. British supporters, who long for the days of standing at games arrive in their thousands every matchday to experience it and it is certainly one of the continents growing football tourism venues. The on-field action isn’t bad either with Borussia playing an attacking brand of football that usually produces plenty of goals. With fellow Bundesliga clubs Schalke, Bayer Leverkusen, FC Köln and Borussia Monchengladbach not far away you might even be able to squeeze two games into your trip.
2. Buenos Aires
The Argentine capital is home to more professional football clubs than any other city in the world and to say the sport is taken very seriously here, would be an enormous understatement. 16 of the 30 teams in the Argentine top flight are based in Greater Buenos Aires with Boca Juniors and River Plate the most famous within the city itself. River fans may think otherwise but a trip to La Bombonera in the colourful working class district of La Boca is a real highlight. It is one of the iconic football stadiums and produces an incredible matchday atmosphere with club legend Diego Maradona often in attendance in his own private box. For the ultimate South American football experience make sure you’re in town for the Superclásico when River Plate and Boca Juniors meet in perhaps the biggest local derby in world football.
Forget London, Liverpool or Manchester, British football’s most passionate supporters can be found North of the border in Glasgow. Scottish football may have fallen on hard times and that is especially true of Rangers, who are still fighting their way back having been relegated 3 divisions for severe financial troubles. However the Old Firm Derby will be back in the top flight before too long and Rangers against Celtic is unquestionably the biggest rivalry in British football with deep political and religious divides providing a sometimes ugly under-current. Glasgow is a city that lives and breathes football and it’s another city that avid football fans need to tick off their list.
The Camp Nou almost certainly receives more tourists each matchday than any other football stadium in the world and that can take the edge off the atmosphere a little bit. Apart from El Clasico against Real Madrid or big European games, it certainly isn’t anything like as intense as some of the other clubs on this list but when you’re watching one of the great football sides of the modern era and in Leo Messi, one of the best players to have ever graced the game it is certainly worth the entry fee, which can be as low as 20 Euros for most matches. A stadium tour of the 99,000 capacity Camp Nou and visit to the wonderful museum can take up an afternoon too and with an abundance of budget airlines flying into Barcelona from around Europe it’s a very easy place to get to. Oh and it’s a great city too!
The Istanbul football experience is unlike anything else in Europe. Fans often arrive and start unveiling flags, flares, banners and chanting as much as 3 hours early with the atmosphere reaching boiling point by kick-off. The city is home to 3 major clubs in Galatasaray, Besiktas and Fenerbahçe, who play on the Asian side of the city at the Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium. Traditionaly Galatasaray against Fener is the biggest rivalry in Turkish football but the 3 clubs tend to dominate the domestic game and all are regulars in European competitions. Visiting fans and teams at Galatasaray’s old Ali Sami Yen Stadium used to be welcomed with ‘Welcome to Hell’ banners and although all the clubs now have new modern stadiums, Istanbul is still widely regarded as having the most intimidating atmospheres in European football and a visit is not for the feint-hearted.
6. São Paulo
Rio de Janeiro may be the first city that springs to mind when you put the words football and Brazil together. However the São Paulo clubs are traditionally the more successful and even the Campeonato Paulista (São Paulo State Championship), which precedes the Brazilian Serie A, is an incredibly tough competition. Brazilian clubs play an enormous amount of football which only very briefly pauses for a few weeks around Christmas and with so many clubs you won’t find it hard to find a match to attend in the city. The National Football Museum is also excellent and is located at Pacaembu Stadium. Corinthians, São Paulo FC and Palmeiras are the biggest teams but if you head 35 miles out of town to the coast, you find Santos, which acts like a conveyor belt of the world’s best footballers with the likes of Pele and Neymar having risen through the clubs academy.
Rosario is another Argentine city that is fanatical about football and is home to Newell’s Old Boys and Rosario Central, who both provide the biggest challenge to the virtual monopoly that the capital region holds on football in the country. The two clubs both attract large crowds to their old-fashioned English style stadiums, with fans right on top of the action. If you’ve already made it to games in a lot of the places on our countdown of the best cities for watching football and want something old-school then head to Rosario, which is a real throwback to how football was decades ago in Europe. You might be the only tourist but you’re sure to get an unforgettable match-day experience.
Hamburger SV might be the city’s most successful club with a bigger stadium and regular Bundesliga action but it is Hamburg’s other club, FC St. Pauli that is of most interest here. Over the decades it has developed a real cult following and despite only playing in the 2nd tier of German football, it boasts fans from all over the world. The matchday experience is more akin to a rock concert with Hells Bells by AC/DC greeting the teams onto the field and a crowd that is a little bit punk-rock. The club is very left-wing and supporters pride themsevles as being strong opponents to racism, sexism, fascism and homophobia. A visit to the Millerntor-Stadion is certainly a refreshing change in a sport that is often slow to take a stance against some of those issues.
Sevilla is perhaps a surprise inclusion but anyone who has taken in a game at the Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan or Estadio Benito Villamarín will testify to the fact that attending a game of football in the city is a special experience. It is the only city in Spain outside the capital to have two Primera Division clubs that both regularly attract crowds of over 30,000. If you’re in town for the Seville derby between Sevilla FC and Real Betis, you will experience Spanish football’s most fiercely contested local derby but regular matchdays are also pretty lively affairs. Another interesting facet to football in the Andalucian capital can be the kick-off times which are sometimes as late as 11:00pm to avoid the heat in what is mainland Europe’s hottest town. Check out this Spanish football blog for more on soccer in the country including a handy guide to catching a game in Seville.
10. Rio de Janeiro
Last but by no means least Rio de Janeiro makes it in as one of the best cities around the world for watching football or soccer for the benefit our American friends. The iconic Maracanã hosted the World Cup final in 2014 and hosts domestic action virtually every week throughout the year with Flamengo and Fluminese playing most of their home games at the ground. In Rio though you don’t even need to be at a stadium to take in skillful footy action. Just head to the Copacabana beach or indeed any of the beaches that circle this amazing city and it won’t be long before you encounter a game of beach soccer and witness locals demonstrating the slickest of skills.
These sort of lists are always controversial. If you think we’ve missed a city out, let us know by commenting below and explaining why it is a great city to watch football!
This article was published in October 2015.