The 8 Best Soccer Stadiums in the World
Soccer is truly the world’s game. At its simplest, it is played by kids in the street. But at its grandest, the biggest games attract global televisual audiences of millions eager to watch the most talented soccer players in the world perform.
It is this popularity that has poured millions of dollars into the game and provided us with games and tournaments that live long in the memory. It has also produced some of the most interesting and remarkable structures for the game to be played in. Although some modern soccer stadiums seem to be built “off the shelf” and don’t have the individual charm of those in the past, there are many examples of soccer arenas that only enhance our enjoyment of the beautiful game.
What makes a good stadium is a very personal choice. Here’s my list of the 8 best soccer stadiums and why you need to visit them.
The Maracana, Rio de Janeiro
Built for the 1950 FIFA World Cup, the Maracana — or the Estadio Jornalista Mario Filho, to give it its official title — is on the bucket lists of soccer fans worldwide and has hosted some of the biggest games throughout the years. It was expected to be the scene of Brazil’s great triumph in that fourth World Cup, but Uruguay shocked the hosts by beating the selecao in front of a staggering 199,854 fans.
Although the Brazil national side plays many of its games there, it is the big Serie A fixtures that have some of the best atmospheres. Games between Flamengo and Fluminense provide the most vivid scenes in the stands, but all four of the big Rio clubs have used the Maracana as a base at some point.
There have been many rounds of renovations since the stadium was opened in 1950, but the biggest changes came in time for the 2014 World Cup. The traditional two-tier layout was demolished, and a one-tier bowl was installed in its place. The original concrete roof was also replaced by a fiberglass structure that covered more seats in the cavernous bowl. But the national side never actually played in front of its fans during the 2014 tournament, as it was sensationally knocked out by Germany in the semifinal after losing 7-1.
The Maracana deserves to be a must-see stadium purely down to the soccer history that the structure has been a part of. From some of the greatest-ever Brazil national sides to the passion of the local clubs, this place has provided the setting for the finest in samba soccer.
Estadio Azteca, Mexico City
The Aztec makes the list mainly for being the only other stadium in the world apart from the aforementioned Maracana to host two World Cup finals, and it actually beat its Brazilian rival to that claim by 28 years. The entire world has enjoyed some iconic moments at the Aztec, most notably the feast of soccer that was the 1970 World Cup. The first tournament to be televised widely in color, the heat and sunshine of Mexico City was transmitted around the world and gave soccer fans indelible memories, including the final in which a Brazil featuring Pele beat Italy to win its third Jules Rimet trophy.
The 1986 World Cup also evokes its own fair share of golden moments, including Diego Maradona’s performance in the semifinal against England when he triumphed thanks to the “hand of God,” as well as his own soccer mastery.
The Aztec is also home to Liga MX sides Club America and Cruz Azul. It is Club America that has been there the longest, and the excitement of the Mexican game is best experienced in the stands of the famous old stadium. But there have been recent renovations that have limited the capacity and increased the corporate sections — a move that some fans have said has lessened the experience.
The Aztec may not quite be the imposing stadium it used to be, but for a slice of soccer history, a trip to this Mexico City landmark is a must. It is scheduled to host some of the games in the 2026 World Cup, so that could be the perfect opportunity.
Wembley Stadium, London
The Twin Towers of Wembley Stadium had been an iconic example of soccer history, known around the world. The center of the “home of football,” the original stadium was opened in 1923 and hosted that year’s FA Cup final, forever known as the White Horse Final thanks to the famous image of a lone policeman on a white horse attempting to push back some of the huge crowd that far exceeded the official 127,000.
But for all its history, the old Wembley provided a cramped and uncomfortable experience for fans, and a new stadium was opened on the same site in 2007. The Twin Towers are now gone, but the Wembley Arch is now a recognized landmark on the skyline of London, and the state-of-the-art stadium is one of the very best in the world.
Other English grounds, such as Old Trafford, Anfield, and the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, may be lauded for their fan experience, but the design of the new Wembley Stadium probably beats them all. The total capacity is now 90,000, and it is the home for all of English soccer’s prestige events. It also houses NFL games and countless other music concerts throughout the year.
Unlike the others in this list, Wembley doesn’t double up as the home for any domestic club side, so only the biggest games get to be played there. Maybe that makes it an even more incredible place to watch a game.
San Siro, Milan
This is a remarkable structure and could be included here if only for its incredible architecture. But the fact that two of the biggest clubs in Italy call this place home means that it has seen some of the best players in the world every week since its opening in 1926. Since 1980, it has officially been known as the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, but every soccer fan knows it as the San Siro.
Milan was the sole occupant for the first 21 years of its existence, but in 1947, Internazionale moved in as well. The last real renovation of the place was over 30 years ago for the 1990 World Cup, but it is the original design that has made it one of the sports top destinations for almost a century now. The spiraling concrete ramps that adorn the outside of the stadium are an instantly recognizable feature and allow fans to enter the upper tiers of the 80,000 capacity arena. The added tier did cause the pitch to suffer due to decreased sunlight initially, but the soccer has always been of the highest standard.
Although the Italian national has occasionally used the San Siro for its games, it is the Serie A fixtures featuring Milan and Inter that provide the biggest spectacle. The color and noise of the fans are some of the best in Italy, and the Derby della Madonnina between the two is always a highly charged affair.
There are other stadiums in Italy that should be visited, including some of the more modern structures, such as the Juventus Arena in Turin. But for a slice of soccer history and the chance to see two of the most iconic club sides in Europe, the San Siro is hard to beat.
Camp Nou, Barcelona
It may depend on which of the two La Liga giants you prefer as to which stadium is Spain’s finest — Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu or Barcelona’s Camp Nou. For imposing architecture, both offer towering stands that dominate their surroundings, and both have, of course, been home to some of the finest-ever soccer players to grace the game.
But as Atletico Madrid’s hugely impressive Wanda Metropolitano has now been added to that city’s tourist attraction map, the Camp Nou wins this particular battle between the two bitter rivals.
Opened in 1957, the capacity has now been reduced to 99,354, but that still makes it the largest stadium in Spain and Europe and the third-largest soccer stadium in the world. It has hosted two Champions League Finals, among a host of other continental finals, as well as Copa del Rey finals, World Cup games, and even soccer events at the 1992 Olympics. But the main attraction has to be the local soccer team.
Even when it wasn’t quite as successful as it is these days, Barca was still known for an attractive style of soccer and has had the likes of Cruyff, Ronaldinho, and Maradona turning out in the blaugrana over the years. There is also the small matter of Lionel Messi — possibly the most famous soccer player on the planet at the current time — also wowing the Camp Nou regulars every other week.
Other stadiums in La Liga may claim to have better atmospheres, but Champions League nights at the Camp Nou can be spine-tinglingly electric. If the action on the pitch is not exciting enough, then the sheer gradient of the stands affords some of the most spectacular views in soccer if you happen to be in the top tier.
Soccer City, Johannesburg
Many of the stadiums included here are home to some of the world’s most successful soccer clubs or national sides. But the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg — more commonly known as Soccer City — makes the grade for a number of other reasons. Although the original stadium was opened at the end of the 1980s, it is the renovated version, amended and improved for the 2010 World Cup, that is celebrated today.
Soccer City is home to the Premier Soccer League side Kaizer Chiefs, and games against local rival Orlando Pirates are some of the most exciting in African soccer. The South Africa national team also plays many of its games here, and it was famously the location for Bafana Bafana’s opening goal of the 2010 World Cup against Mexico.
The innovative design is one of the main reasons for its popularity, though. The cladding and mosaic on the outside of the structure are supposed to resemble an African pot called a calabash. There is even a ring of lights running around the bottom of the building designed to look like the fire underneath a cooking pot. The inside of the stadium is just as extravagant, with brightly colored seats adding to the general spectacle.
Another reason to visit Soccer City is to feel part of history. Aside from being the host of the first-ever World Cup finals game on African soil, it is also the place where Nelson Mandela gave his first speech after being released from prison in 1990. Ever linked to the nation, the 2010 World Cup final staged at the stadium between the Netherlands and Spain was the final public appearance of Nelson Mandela, and it was also used for the memorial service after his death in 2013.
At the current time, you may not see the best players in the world performing at the FNB Stadium. But for a different kind of soccer experience, it has to be up there.
Allianz Arena, Munich
Bayern Munich’s Allianz Arena was one of the first modern stadiums to incorporate spectacular design features when it was opened in 2005 and remains one of the most eye-catching arenas in European soccer. The main reason for that is the LED panels that cover the exterior of the building and glow in different colors depending on the event. This was especially important when it first opened as 1860 Munich shared the ground with Bayern, and the arena could be lit up in red or blue depending on who was playing at home.
These days, it is just Bayern that calls the Allianz Arena home, aside from the occasional Germany national team game. But that does mean that alongside the intense visual treat that the stadium gives visitors, it also puts on a show of soccer that is rarely rivaled in the country. There are other incredible stadiums in Germany that should also be considered for a visit, such as the Westfalenstadion in Dortmund and the iconic Olympiastadion in Berlin. But for the pure theater, the Allianz Arena is hard to beat.
Although there were early teething problems and criticism from fans, any problems with design have been largely rectified, and the stadium now provides an excellent view from any vantage point. The Olympiastadion, Bayern Munich’s previous home, incorporated a running track around the pitch. So the close proximity to the action that the fans now enjoy is another added bonus.
As with most of the very best stadiums in the world, the Allianz Arena has hosted World Cup games, but the best atmosphere can probably be found at a Bundesliga game between Bayern and one of its main rivals. German crowds are known for being some of the most passionate in Europe, and this is the perfect place to experience that.
La Bombonera, Buenos Aires
The final stadium on this list is unlike any other soccer ground in the world. Although the home side is one of the most successful in its own country, because of the exodus of its top players to wealthier clubs in Europe, a lot of soccer fans know little about the team and the place it calls home. And that is a real shame.
Its official title is the Estadio Alberto J Armando, but everyone refers to it as La Bombonera, or “the chocolate box” in English. That’s because of its unique shape thanks to one of the stands being flat, while the other three are very steep and curved. There are various stories as to why that is the case, but it’s mainly down to the lack of space in the La Boca neighborhood of Buenos Aries.
That shape also lends La Bombonera unique acoustics that makes the stadium an incredible place to watch a game of soccer. When the Boca Juniors fans really get loud, the whole place shakes — something that visiting players have said is highly disconcerting as they attempt to take on the home side.
The Estadio Monumental, home of Boca Junior’s bitter rivals River Plate, is much larger, but the 54,000 that cram into the La Bombonera would say that their home is the real beating heart of Argentinian soccer. The yellow and blue colors of the outside of the stadium dominate the neighborhood and let everyone know that this is Boca Juniors country.
There are many reasons why a soccer stadium might be regarded as the best. It could be iconic architecture or a historical landmark. Or it may simply be the place where the best soccer players in the world get to show their talent every other week.
The whole question of which stadium is the best is also, obviously, a subjective one. Everyone will have their own particular favorites and their own reasons for believing their viewpoint to be correct.
But these eight stadiums have to be some of the best places in the world to watch soccer, and if you can find a way to visit them in the future, I would heartily recommend it.
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