It’s time once again for soccer’s world championship (in case you needed reminding) and we want to spread the soccer love! We’ve compiled a list of six must-see destinations for those globetrotters who own more jerseys than shoes or know every player on the Bosnian team roster by heart. Russia isn’t only where it’s at, so pack your maps and your vuvuzelas and go explore!
While Zürich does have trace elements of a soccer culture, its main claim to football fame is the FIFA World Football Museum. Opened in 2017, it’s the ultimate stop for worldwide fans of the beautiful game. The permanent exhibition includes such relics as the trophy from the first ever tournament in 1930 and referee notes from the tetchy 1966 quarter-finals that led to the implementation of red and yellow cards. Also on display is the match ball from Carli Lloyd’s historic hat-trick performance and national team jerseys from each of the 211 countries in the FIFA alliance.
While you’re there: Stop by the 13th-century Fraumünster, with its sea-foam green steeple and stunning stained-glass windows.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
In a country that has produced the likes of Garrincha, Carlos Alberto, and some guy named Pelé, it’s no wonder that Brazilians suffer from a perpetual case of fútbol fever. In Rio de Janeiro, soccer is less a game and more a way of life. It’s played barefoot on the beaches and in the streets, where stripped of the glitz and glamor of iconic soccer temples like Rio’s Maracanã, it becomes a language all its own—proof that at our core we are one people. This devotion has translated to massive success: No other nation can claim the title of five-time world champions. It seems highly unlikely that support for the yellow, blue, and green will waver anytime in the next millennium.
While you’re there: It got a lot of coverage during the 2014 tournament and 2016 Summer Olympics, but the view from the top of Mt. Corcovado (site of the Christ the Redeemer statue) is truly unrivaled in the world.
The management of Borussia Dortmund knows how to run an organization. They said nein to reducing the capacity of Dortmund’s Westfalenstadion to make room for more high-priced executive boxes. Nein again to a 10-cent increase in beer prices. The cheapest season ticket for the Südtribüne (the terrace for standing supporters) is $220—that’s only $13 per game!—because the management doesn’t want fans to be priced out of attending. And really, isn’t that what lies at the core of soccer spectatorship? Being able to afford to show up, have a beer, and jump about wildly with 80,000 of your closest friends? There’s a reason that Dortmund has the highest attendance in world soccer, and it’s not all because of its success on the pitch (which is, admittedly, remarkable). It’s that the management is committed to the spectator experience. Lovers of the sport are the sport, and nowhere is fandom of a top-tier team more accessible than in Dortmund.
While you’re there: Take a stroll through 175-acre Westfalenpark and admire its more than 2,600 varieties of roses. It’s also home to the Ice Stadium, so if you’re visiting in the winter be sure to bring your skates (or, you know, rent them there).
You’d be hard-pressed to find a city more devoted to—and endearingly pessimistic about—its footy than London. While most soccer cities claim one or maybe two teams, London has 13. And they aren’t playing meaningless games in obscure venues, either. Wembley, Stamford Bridge, and Old Trafford are practically household names even for those who don’t follow the English Premier League. Football is at the heart of what it means to be English. The jersey-clad fans chant boisterously and delight in hurling insults at the refs. It’s a bonding experience. For the victors, it’s delirium; for the losers, it’s an evening spent nursing their despondency with a pint at the local pub, where they can bemoan their team’s dreadful performance in good company. It’s hard not to love the pessimistic English approach to the country’s favorite game. Far from the cockiness of many other leagues’ supporters, England’s fans remain reliably gloomy even in the face of triumph. As Lloyd Dobler says in the movie Say Anything, “If you start out depressed, everything’s kind of a pleasant surprise.” And ain’t that the truth.
While you’re there: Many of London’s football stadiums are less than 10 miles from Westminster Abbey. This means that the emblematic 12th-century church is an easy Tube ride away from wherever you’ll already be.
The Chinese Super League. It sounds like a multi-billion-dollar conglomerate poised for global domination…and that’s exactly what it is. Bankrolled by astronomical corporate investments, the CSL lures world-class players by dangling huge sums of money like very very expensive carrots in front of their faces. Players in their prime are turning down the chance to play at a higher level in Europe and South America for the whopping CSL paycheck. Carlos Tevez left his beloved Boca Juniors so he could earn nearly $813,000 a week with Shanghai Shenua. Shanghai SIPG offered English icon Wayne Rooney nearly one billion dollars over three years, which he declined. It’s not all players at the end of their careers seeking one last money-making hurrah—it’s young, skillful players persuaded to compromise the big leagues for the big bucks.
That being said, Shanghai is quickly becoming The Place in global soccer. Of the league’s 16 teams, three are in Shanghai. The city is throwing money into youth development programs so China can one day host and win the world tournament. There are still kinks to work out in the city and the league as a whole, but those who love the drama and flash of the game will find plenty to cheer for in Shanghai.
While you’re there: Get a feel for the architectural diversity of the city with a walk along the Bund.
The Sweden men’s national team is currently 24th in the FIFA world rankings. Its women? Ninth. They came in second in the 2003 women’s world championship and third in 2013, but despite never having won the trophy—or Olympic gold—they consistently rank among the best in the world. The country’s professional league, the Damallsvenskan, has attracted such global superstars as Marta, Nadine Angerer, Lisa de Vanna, and Hope Solo. In Malmö, proof of the national soccer culture that lured such high-caliber talent is in the success of its team, FC Rosengård. It has won the championship five of the last seven seasons (and ten times overall), and is the only Nordic club to reach the final of the European Cup.
While you’re there: Munch on a cinnamon bun, tour City Hall, or explore the shops around Gamla Staden, Malmö’s quaint cobblestoned Old Town.
Whether soccer is the reason for your trip or just an added bonus, go-today is here to you help plan it from the first to the final whistle.