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.