Join AC Milan's passionate supporters at the San Siro

Europe's premier club football competition, the UEFA Champions League, kicks off in earnest next week, so secure a ticket to watch some of the world's best players in action and throw in a cultural city break to boot with our top five football weekends on the continent.

Barcelona, Spain: FC Barcelona at the Camp Nou

Camp NouCamp Nou
Creative Commons Markus Unger

No trip to Catalonia is complete for football fans without a visit to the home of the great FC Barcelona, known to locals as Barça. Their imposing Camp Nou stadium, the largest in Europe, is the place to see many of the world’s greatest players strut their stuff, with almost 90,000 passionate culés (Barcelona fans) roaring them on each matchday. Be dazzled by the brilliance of the world’s best player Lionel Messi, and admire the precision and incisiveness of the famed tiki-taka style of play.

Tickets are not as expensive as you might think, with it being possible to obtain a ticket for a La Liga fixture for as little as €46. This will depend, however, on the category of the game and could mean you'll be sitting at the very top tiers of the cavernous stadium.

Barcelona also boasts another top flight club in Reial Club Deportiu Espanyol de Barcelona (commonly known as Espanyol) who play at the Estadi Cornellà-El Prat, a modern all-seater stadium that opened in 2009. Derbies between the two local rivals are passionate but reasonably cordial; FC Barcelona’s most fierce rivalry is with Real Madrid from the Spanish capital, in a match known and revered worldwide as El Clásico (The Classic).

Tickets: From €46.

What to see nearby: The Camp Nou boasts a fascinating museum charting the club's past and present, with an interactive multimedia area and detailed audio guide. The vertigo-inducing views from the museum's viewing platform high up in the stands give a sense of the sheer scale of the stadium.

Munich, Germany: Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena

AllianzAllianz Arena
Creative Commons tokaigabor

Germany’s most successful club side Bayern Munich moved from the severely dated Olympic Stadium to the futuristic Allianz Arena in Fröttmaning in the north of Munich in time for the start of the 2005/6 Bundesliga season.

The Allianz Arena boasts impressive acoustics and seat views, plus a stunning facade of nearly 3,000 diamond-shaped cushions that form a huge membrane cladding that lights up in different colours on matchdays: red when Bayern play; blue when their local rivals TSV 1860 Munich are at home; and white when Die Mannschaft (the German National team) are in town, meaning night matches can be an especially colourful and enjoyable experience.

Though the stadium - which hosted last year’s memorable Champions League final - holds just under 70,000 spectators on matchdays, it is often tricky to secure a ticket to watch Die Roten (The Reds) in action. Book well in advance of your trip to avoid disappointment.

Tickets: From €123.

What to see nearby: While Bayern may be a German institution in football terms, BMW has certainly been at the forefront of German automotive engineering for decades. Take a guided tour of the company's production plant; find out how the latest cars are designed; or spend some time at the museum in the BMW Welt complex. Located to the north of central Munich and to the southwest of the Allianz Arena, the complex provides a good stop-off en route to the stadium. 

Milan, Italy: AC Milan at the Stadio Giusseppe Meazza (San Siro)

San SiroSan Siro
Creative Commons / Danheap77

Milan is one of Europe’s great cities, so it is fitting that this highly fashionable metropolis in northern Italy boasts not one, but two of the continent’s very best football sides.

Both AC Milan (often referred to as Milan) and Internazionale (known as Inter Milan or simply Inter) play at the intimidating, 80,000-capacity San Siro stadium. Though Milan are not currently at the level of the vintage teams of the late 1980s and early 1990s (that featured football greats Marco Van Basten, Paolo Maldini and Ruud Gullit in the side), it's still a massive thrill to spend a Saturday or Sunday afternoon watching the Rossoneri (Red and blacks) roared on to victory by their passionate and noisy ultras. Going to a match is also a great way to ingratiate and mix with the Milanese locals and to experience just how much football means to the Italians.

If you’re lucky enough to secure tickets for the fierce Derby della Madonnina between the two rival teams, then you could see fireworks both on and off the pitch. Matches against Milan’s perennial rivals from Turin, Juventus, and Rome’s A.S. Roma and S.S. Lazio, can also get pretty tasty.

Tickets: From €18.

What to see nearby: The San Siro's museum, which is the only football museum within a stadium in Italy, charts the history of both home teams and houses original interactive experiences, such as the chance to recreate an Inter versus Milan match. The separate stadium tour provides access to the changing rooms and a behind-the-scenes look at the press area.

Lisbon, Portugal: S.L. Benfica at the Estádio da Luz

Benfica stadiumEstádio da Luz
Creative Commons / Massimo Catarinella

The city of Lisbon is an extremely cool, creative and cosmopolitan place. As well as boasting a steep hillside and coastal setting that is the envy of most cities, it also brags as its resident a major force in European football, S.L. Benfica. The Lisbon club has experienced something of a resurgence in recent years after enduring a painful and lengthy period in the shadow of Portugal's second city rivals, FC Porto.

Benfica’s Estádio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica, more commonly known as the Estádio da Luz (Stadium of Light), was built in time for the Euro 2004 tournament and holds up to 65,000 spectators. Getting tickets for most Portuguese Primeira Liga games is pretty easy, as the matches (with the exception of the Lisbon derby and games against FC Porto) are rarely sold out.

Tickets: From €12.

What to see nearby: Benfica's local rivals Sporting Clube de Portugal are also a club of considerable stature with a spectacular stadium of their own, Estádio José Alvalade, which is just across the main A2 route that dissects central Lisbon. Tours of this gleaming yellow and green-tiled arena are available, and there is also an on-site museum.

Amsterdam, Netherlands: AFC Ajax at the Amsterdam ArenA

Amsterdam ArenAAmsterdam ArenA
Creative Commons / Bjørn Giesenbauer

Planning on a weekend in the alluring canal city of Amsterdam? What better way to get in the party mood than joining the legions of football-mad Amsterdammers in cheering on the illustrious AFC Ajax at the Amsterdam ArenA on a balmy Saturday afternoon.

AFC Ajax are the Netherlands’ most successful and well-supported football club, and one of the most successful in European competition history. The Amsterdam club won an impressive three European Cups in a row between 1971-3 when they boasted the talismanic Johan Cruyff in their famous red and white shirts, and more recently bagged the 1995 Champions League.

Those European glory days may be long gone as the club now struggles to keep hold of its fine players moulded in their legendary youth system, but Ajax are still a major force in the Netherlands, winning the last two league titles after enduring an unusually barren spell of seven years without one.

Securing tickets for a domestic league match is not too difficult, but the club itself only offers tickets in travel packages for those outside the Netherlands. So if a package is not for you, search the many online ticket sellers for the best deal. Like many sports stadiums nowadays, the Amsterdam ArenA (which was the first in Europe to boast a sliding retractable roof when it opened in 1996), hosts rock and pop concerts in the off season.

Tickets: From €26.

What to see nearby: The area surrounding the Amsterdam ArenA is a veritable entertainment zone, with the Heineken Music Hall providing a modern venue for pop and rock concerts, while Amsterdam's largest shopping centre, Amsterdamse Poort, is located a few steps away on the other side of the railway line.

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