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If you’re an avid sports fan, you probably don’t like missing the big game when you’re on vacation. Even if you prefer more leisurely activities, it’s still fascinating to get a glimpse behind the scenes at a stadium or discover the stories behind the world’s most successful sporting legends at a museum. Here are 10 places around the world that every sports fan needs to visit.
Tennis: London, United Kingdom
Wimbledon hogs the spotlight in June each year when an event called “Fortnight” attracts the world’s top tennis players and their celebrity followers. This southwestern London neighborhood is home to the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. Secure a ticket to watch players battle for the trophy on the prestigious Centre Court, or enjoy a picnic of champagne and strawberries in front of the big screen on Henman Hill (also known as Murray Mound).
If your visit doesn’t coincide with the famous championship, Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum is open year-round. It features many interesting exhibits devoted to the sport, including a racquet used by Björn Borg, Serena Williams’ shoes, and, of course, those gleaming trophies. Practice your own serves on the museum’s BATAK wall and dream about what it might be like to step out in front of the star-studded crowd.
Sumo: Tokyo, Japan
Sumo is Japan’s national sport. Six tournaments are held annually: three in Tokyo (in January, May, and September) and others in Osaka (March), Nagoya (July), and Fukuoka (November). It’s a spectacle you can’t miss if you happen to be in one of these cities during a match. Sumo wrestlers fight in a clay ring covered with sand. The rules are pretty simple: If a wrestler exits the ring or touches the ground with any part of his body apart from the soles of his feet, he forfeits the match.
To excel at sumo requires hard work and discipline. To get an idea of the kind of dedication required, head to Tokyo, where a handful of sumo stables admit visitors to watch training sessions. Inside Ryōgoku Kokugikan National Sumo Stadium, you’ll find a sumo museum with exhibits chronicling the sport’s history and a gallery of past and present tournament winners, known as yokozuna.
Aussie Rules Football: Melbourne, Australia
Australian Rules football, usually shortened to “Aussie Rules,” is the country’s most beloved sport. Despite its name, however, the game has more in common with rugby than it does football (or soccer). The ball is oval-shaped, for starters, and players kick, hit, and run with the ball in similar fashion. Though you can catch games across the country, the best place to see a match is in Melbourne, where the sport was first played in 1858.
The Australian Football League (AFL) final takes place at the end of September and is hosted by Melbourne Cricket Ground, a stadium with a capacity of more than 100,000 spectators. If you miss it, head to any sports bar on a match day from March to September. Grab a beer and cheer for the local team. Your fellow drinkers will explain the rules.
Football: Buenos Aires, Argentina
Football (soccer) is incredibly popular across Latin America. According to a comprehensive report by the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) in 2019, three of the top five nations ranked — according to the number of professional players and clubs — come from the region. Mexico and Brazil top the chart, but although they beat Argentina statistically, they can’t match the nation’s passion for the sport. Attend a game at the Boca Juniors’ home turf in Buenos Aires and you can feel the excitement for yourself — especially during a match against rival team River Plate.
The frenzied supporters that pack La Bombonera (“The Chocolate Box”) stadium stomp their feet and jump around to such an extent that the ground shakes. The players even feel it on the pitch. The acoustics of the stadium also increase the decibels: The D-shaped ground and steep-sided stands further intensify the roar of the crowd. When your ears have stopped ringing, visit the on-site museum to learn about Club Atlético’s history.
Rugby: Auckland, New Zealand
After the All Blacks men’s national rugby team performs their traditional haka dance, it takes a brave man to walk out onto the pitch and compete against them. If you want to see such a battle, the New Zealand rugby team’s home stadium is Auckland’s Eden Park. A few miles away, located within the SkyCity complex, you’ll find the All Blacks Experience.
This interactive attraction details the history of the game and explains how the sport has become such an intrinsic part of the Kiwis’ national identity. There are interactive exhibits that encourage visitors to practice their kicking, catching, and lineout skills, as well as first-hand accounts by some of the greatest names in the sport that offer a unique perspective from the playing field.
Cricket: Galle, Sri Lanka
You don’t have to be in Galle long before you realize just how much of an obsession the Sri Lankans have with the game of cricket. In the park known as Ramparts Green, parents picnic on the grass beside makeshift stumps as their kids hone their batting skills, dreaming that one day they might be good enough to play for their country. A few hundred yards to the north is Galle International Cricket Stadium.
The ground was originally laid out as a race course, but it was repurposed to host cricket matches by the 1920s. It sits in the shadow of the UNESCO-recognized Galle Fort, built by the Portuguese in the 16th century. Flanked by the Indian Ocean, this spectacular setting makes the field one of the most beautiful sporting grounds in the world.
Taekwondo: Muju, South Korea
The martial art of taekwondo originated in Korea. It’s characterized by head-height kicks and fast spins, jumps, and punches. Located in the town of Muju, three hours south of Seoul, you’ll find the Taekwondowon. Sometimes referred to as Taekwondo Park, the facilities span an area roughly the size of Central Park in Manhattan and took seven years to complete.
The Taekwondowon is an academy for taekwondo instruction — a place where skills are honed and techniques improved. But this place is also a one-stop shop for anyone who wishes to know more about the sport, featuring a museum, arena, theater, observatory, and sculpture park. Experience it from the comfort of your own home with this cool cyber tour of the complex.
Ice Hockey: Toronto, Canada
The National Sports of Canada Act, passed in 1994, designated ice hockey as the country’s official winter sport. With enthusiastic fans across the country, there are plenty of Canadian cities where you can see a match, but Toronto takes the obsession of the sport up a notch with the Hockey Hall of Fame on Yonge Street. Player trivia, trophies, and memorabilia — they’re all here, providing an insight into this thrilling, fast-paced game. Right around the corner from the museum is the Scotiabank Arena, a popular place to watch the Toronto Maple Leafs duke it out against North American rivals.
The Toronto Maple Leafs professional hockey team has played its home games at the arena for over two decades. If you’re inspired to strap on a pair of skates, head to Ford Performance Centre arena in the suburb of Etobicoke. This rink is where the Maple Leafs train, but it’s also open for recreational users when the pros aren’t on the ice.
Downhill Skiing: Kitzbühel, Austria
Across the Alpine region of Austria, donning a pair of skis is as much a part of the winter routine as warming your toes in front of the fire. While many Austrians are content swooshing rhythmically down scenic pistes, adrenaline junkies are drawn to the town of Kitzbühel, where they can launch themselves down a mountain called the Hahnenkamm. The mountain, whose name translates to “rooster’s comb,” hosts a famous World Cup ski race called the Hahnenkammrennen.
Competitors tackle the Streif, a challenging downhill course that’s not only fast but highly technical. The steepest section has a mind-boggling 85% gradient. By the time racers reach the final jump, many are traveling at speeds over 90 miles per hour. The Museum of Kitzbühel tells the story of those who’ve braved the obstacle.
Cycling: Paris, France
Together with the Giro d'Italia and the Vuelta a España, the Tour de France forms part of cycling’s Grand Tour. First held in 1903, the race takes place in 21 stages across France, occasionally venturing into other European countries such as the U.K., Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands. The route varies, but since 1975, the race has always concluded in Paris, where riders lap the iconic Arc de Triomphe.
Cheering crowds line the Quai des Tuileries, Rue de Rivoli, and, of course, the rattly cobblestones of the Avenue des Champs-Élysées. To find out more about the race and shop for your very own famous yellow jersey, head a couple of hours west to La Belle Échappée: Bicycle Museum in the town of La Fresnaye-sur-Chédouet.