5 of the best European cities for football culture

Celebrate the sport in these vibrant centres for football.

Europe loves football. Wherever you go on this intoxicating continent, you’ll find the game being played and enjoyed, from the banks of the Bosphorus to the streets of Dublin. There’ll be kids playing in the park, fans rushing towards a stadium, middle-aged men hoping to rekindle a bit of the old magic in a Sunday league kickabout. Nowhere else in the world has such a vibrant and varied football culture: the most successful international teams, the best players, and the most storied football clubs are here. This is the home of the Beautiful Game.

But while Europe shares a passion for football, there are huge differences in how different cities express that culture. There are places that reveal themselves through football, while others use it to welcome the world. For some cities, it’s about showing your skills on the street, a democratic expression of the game’s humble roots. For others, there are decades of tradition to call upon—tradition that can’t be matched or manufactured.

But where’s best to get an authentic taste of Europe’s most exciting football cultures? We’ve picked five cities that are unique in how they celebrate the game. These are football meccas, home to cultures that go far beyond the game itself. They take in everything from the city’s streets to its bars and restaurants, where good food and drink go hand in hand with football. If you want to really experience the game, here’s where to go.

Show Off Your Skills in Amsterdam

The Dutch are famous for the technical elegance with which they play football, and it doesn’t come by accident. Amsterdam, the Netherlands’ biggest city, is home to Europe’s most significant street football culture. This has helped to produce some of the nation’s most impressive talents on courts where a lack of space hones those elevated techniques.

There are more than 100 hard-surface courts, where you’ll see young talents practicing techniques like “akka” and “panna,” designed to impress and outwit opponents. Why not see if you can get involved yourself? The most central court is at the De Waag playground, not far from the Rembrandt House Museum.

Hotels - Amsterdam

8741 Hotels
View Hotels

Step Outside for a Taste of Munich's Football Culture

Not many cities have a football culture as rich and varied as Munich. There’s glory, from the many major trophies won and brought home here, and tragedy, in the form of the Busby Babes and the square named in their honor, Manchesterplatz. There are reminders of the game across town, from the sprawling Olympiapark, home to the stadium where West Germany swept to glory in 1974, to the various local clubs that represent immigrant communities, from Turks to Croats, drawn to the city by the post-war economic boom.

This is a great city to enjoy yourself in before and after the game. Biergartens like the Augustiner-Keller and the Hofbraukeller are lively spots to while away a few hours, with good food and elegant pale lager, helles, the local speciality. Both have plenty of indoor space if the weather makes sitting outside impossible.

Hotels - Munich

2464 Hotels
View Hotels

Experience Bilbao, a City Where Football Is Culture

In Bilbao, football is inextricably linked to the local culture. The city’s beloved football club only selects players who were born in the Basque Country or who learned their football skills there, a restriction that is unique in the modern game. Although the policy is hotly debated, there’s no doubt that it has created a very strong link between club and city, where scarves, flags and images of past teams are common on the walls of bars and restaurants.

There’s an irony in this policy, though: Bilbao is very up-front about its historic connection to Britain, and how English sailors brought the game to the city. Campa de los Ingleses is the area where football was first played here in the late 19th century by English sailors. There’s also something English about how football is played here, more blood-and-thunder than Spanish-style tiki-taka.

Hotels - Bilbao

1863 Hotels
View Hotels

Meet the Greats of the Game in Madrid

Anyone with the remotest interest in football could tell you those legends who have played in Madrid. Now, the soon-to-open Legends: The Temple of Football, a museum of football history, will confirm what every Madrileno believes to be true: This is the capital of football. With seven floors dedicated to the history of the game, it’s a must-see for any committed football fan.

It’s also a great city for those who like something distinctive and local to eat after the game. Calamari sandwiches are a Madrid speciality, while tapas bars like La Cervecería Deportiva and restaurants such as Meson Txistu combine food and football in a very Madrid way.

Spot the Next Superstar in Paris

So many of the best players in the world have come from Paris, you wonder if they’re putting something in the water. The latest off the production line is Kylian Mbappe, who inspired France to glory in 2018, following in the footsteps of Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira, both title winners in international and club football.

There’s plenty of history, too: The organization that runs world football was founded at 229 Rue Saint-Honoré, the headquarters of the Union of French Athletic Sports Societies in Paris, while big matches have been a part of the city’s football tradition since the beginning of the 20th century. Parisians might not always seem the most passionate of football fans, but the story of this city’s football culture suggests otherwise.