Ever watch a sporting event on TV and think "I really need to go to that someday?" Every sports fan has that thought at least a few times a year. There are some sporting events that just rise above all else in terms of prestige. Some of them are harder to attend than others, but they make for great live experiences due to their uniqueness and importance. The sports fan travel bucket list is something every sports fan tries to get through. The luckiest of all actually make it to all of the events. Here are the 21 trips every sports fan should make at some point in their life.
Australia vs. New Zealand Rugby Match
The two best countries in one of the world’s most popular sports just happen to be separated by 1500 kilometers. Winners of four of the first seven Rugby World Cups, Australia and New Zealand have definitely made their mark on the sport’s landscape. Australia usually beats New Zealand is most sports, but rugby is the one in which New Zealand somewhat dominates Australia. That never goes over well with the Aussies, who tend to feel a superiority complex towards the Kiwis. The two countries usually face each other three times a year and each match is a battle. The weird thing is the most glorious point in every match happens before it actually starts when New Zealand performs their “haka,” the ancestral dance war cry of the Maori people of New Zealand.
El Clásico - Real Madrid vs. Barcelona Soccer Match at Camp Nou
Soccer is the world’s most popular sport. Barcelona vs. Real Madrid is soccer’s great club team rivalry. Others rivalries like the Manchester derby between Manchester City and Manchester United or A.C. Milan vs. Juventus are pretty great, but none have the intensity of Spain’s rivalry and none take place in a stadium as large. The fans are at their loudest in Camp Nou when Barcelona hosts Real Madrid. To make things better, Spain’s two best teams also currently have the two best players in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
New York Yankees vs. Boston Red Sox Baseball Game at Fenway Park
Baseball has many great rivalries, but none as great as any game featuring the Boston Red Sox taking on the New York Yankees. There are over 100 years of history including the Babe Ruth trade, Bucky Dent, Aaron Boone, and the bloody sock game. It's another scenario in which both fan bases can't stand each other. Every regular season game between these two squads feels like it has the bragging rights of a playoff game. The atmosphere kicks up a notch when they face off at Fenway Park, the oldest ballpark in the country. Now that the original Yankee Stadium has been replaced with a new one, Fenway offers the historical setting that elevates this rivalry to an elite level.
Most people know about the history of Wrigley Field and it starts when you see the red marquee before entering. It makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. You can stand on Waveland Ave before the game to collect balls hit over the fence during batting practice. Once you’re done with that, grab some drinks in at one of the many bars around Wrigleyville. (Or you can do that after the game too.) Once you get inside, it’s the ballpark that time forgot since you won’t see much advertising during a game and can focus on the baseball. The ivy and the scoreboard in center field just make everything seem right. And of course, there’s the always entertaining “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” which is usually done by a celebrity now that Harry Caray has passed. No baseball fan’s life is complete without seeing one game here and if it’s a rivalry game against the hated Cardinals then that’s even better.
Tour de France
Professional Cycling isn't what it once because of performance-enhancing drugs and sports fans drifting to other interests, but the Tour de France still holds a special place in the world of sports. Over the course of three weeks in July, the world's greatest cyclists take each other on in an event that's as much a team sport as it is an individual one. Since the route touches all parts of France and occasionally starts in other countries, the Tour de France provides a more wide-ranging opportunity than any other sporting event for fans to witness the action. Seeing one of the stages in the mountain adds an extra level of excitement as fans party the night before then wake up to scream for hours as their favorite riders endure the world’s most treacherous climbs.
There’s no football stadium in the country like Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers. It’s a stadium with a capacity of 81,435 in a city of only 104,000. No other NFL stadium comes close to being in a city that small. Every local fan’s Sunday revolves around football. The city is literally devoid of life when Packers games are taking places. The tailgating atmosphere outside of Lambeau Field is the best of any NFL venue. The Packers’ glorious history certainly doesn’t hurt. Watching a rivalry game against the Chicago Bears would add a little extra to the trip. There’s no other NFL stadium that you need to attend as a sports fan except this one.
Important Game 7 in the NBA Playoffs or Stanley Cup Playoffs
There’s no iconic venue in professional basketball or hockey like what exists in football and baseball. Thankfully those sports can still bring something to the table that’s a must-see event. A game 7 in the NBA Playoffs or Stanley Cup Playoffs means win or go home. You can tell the moment you step into the arena that the atmosphere on that night is different than the other playoff games during that round. Ticket prices shoot up for game 7s for a reason. They’re events everyone in the local markets wants to attend. Just be prepared to hold your breath for two and a half hours or more if the game goes to overtime.
Step outside the American bubble for a second and you’ll realize the Grand Prix of Monaco is one of the five most spectacular events outside of the United States. It’s all about location when it comes to this race. Monaco has plenty of its high rollers in town with their yachts and bottles of champagnes. It’s an event to see and be seen. The race itself is super unique as the cars whiz through the city streets at 200 miles per hour. The grandstands are right on the track and you can feel the power of the cars as they drive by. Now you know why it’s a thing.
Champions League Final
Think of the Super Bowl for soccer fans. That’s what the Champions League Final is. It features the two best teams of European club football (arguably the best teams in the world) and moves from city to city every year. That means you’ll see the best players in the world on hand like Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, and Robert Lewandowski. There are parties in the host city leading up to the game. Unlike the Super Bowl, however, more fans of the competing teams actually make the trip for this one. These same fans riot in the streets after the game when their team wins. It’ll be easy to get swept up in the excitement.
University of North Carolina vs. Duke University Basketball Game at Cameron
There's nothing fina' than Duke and Carolina. There's a reason this saying exists. The state of North Carolina and the sports world stops when Duke University and the University of North Carolina play each other in basketball. It also helps that two of college basketball's best programs have been really good for most of the last 25 years. Both fan bases thoroughly detest each other, so that's never a bad thing for a rivalry either. There have been some epic games over the years and you never know when the next one will be. It's appointment viewing every year. The game is worth watching wherever it plays, but seeing it in Cameron Indoor Stadium, the best venue to witness a college basketball game takes it to epic levels. It's small and the air conditioning doesn't work well, but the student section makes more noise than any other and there's not a bad seat in the whole house.
World Series Game
Baseball games generally have a low key atmosphere. You enjoy talking with family and/or friends, you hope for a fly ball to come your way, and maybe you even keep score or drink a couple of beers along the way. A World Series game is a different experience because of how tense everything becomes. Managers try to outsmart each other. Every pitch of every at bat matters. And to be there as a fan experiencing it all is unlike any experience a baseball fan can have. Sure it's great if your team is playing, but you can still greatly appreciate it as a neutral bystander. You're also slated to enjoy one of baseball's best ballparks given which teams have been successful in recent years.
It’s odd for a sport’s season to begin with its biggest event, but that’s exactly what you get in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with the Daytona 500. Opening the season with a bang is part of what creates the fans’ energy for the race as they’ve been waiting all winter for the start of the season. President’s Day Weekend in February is synonymous for two things in sports with the Daytona 500 taking over the daytime on Sunday as the NBA All-Star Game dominates the night. The crowd is your typical NASCAR crowd with slightly more newcomers on hand to witness NASCAR’s Super Bowl. It helps that you can create a beach or golf weekend around the event at Daytona International Speedway as there are plenty of options 15 minutes or more away.
Marquee Boxing Match in Las Vegas
Las Vegas is always a fun place for a weekend, but the electricity in the city turns up a few notches on the dial when there’s a big boxing match happening. The city just has the extra buzz. You feel the tingle as you come off the plane at the airport. You end up playing craps next to Mark Wahlberg, eat dinner next to Tom Brady, and bet at the sportsbook next to Chris Rock. That definitely makes the weekend more fun. You probably have to leave earlier to get places, wait on lines, and even be denied at your favorite restaurants and nightclubs, but it’s totally worth it. Then there’s the actual fight, likely happening at the MGM Grand. The pomp and circumstance of the ring entrances are always a good time and maybe you’ll actually get your money’s worth on the boxing itself.
Great College Football Game on Campus
A word of advice from someone who's been to many college football games in his day: make sure to go to one elite college football game on campus at some point in your life. The experience is the closest thing the United States has to European soccer with the passionate fan bases, the pre-game build-up, and the energy inside the stadium. Naturally, you'll start trying to figure out which college is the best one to visit to pursue such an endeavor. The best venues for a college football weekend include enjoyable towns/cities with plenty of bars and restaurants, good tailgating, ease of getting around, and an engaged fan base.
Final Four (NCAA Basketball Championship)
It may seem odd that March Madness concludes in April, but there’s nothing odd about the excitement that surrounds the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Maybe it’s the office pools or maybe it’s enjoying basketball in a more pure form than the NBA, but March Madness captures the nation for a full three weeks. It all comes to a head as the four surviving schools advance to the Final Four. While the quality of play has decreased slightly since the NCAA moved the tournament’s end from a basketball arena to a football stadium, the move allows more fans to enjoy the moment. That one shining moment sees one lucky team lift the trophy in the final.
The first Saturday in May is synonymous with the Kentucky Derby. The “The Run for the Roses” should be as good as any with 160,000+ fans cheering on whoever they wagered on. What makes the Derby great is not just that it’s the first of horse racing’s Triple Crown, but the upscale party atmosphere that surrounds the grounds. Between women in big hats, celebrities in classy attire, and a few mint juleps, the Kentucky Derby will always have an aura about it that's unlike any other sporting event. Don’t blink or you’ll miss “the most exciting two minutes in sports” at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. You don’t have to experience it at an extreme cost, however, as you can fly into closeby Cincinnati, drive to Kentucky, stay in the suburbs of Louisville, and enjoy the race from the infield. Whether you want to gaze at the crowd in the grandstand or enjoy the party in the infield, there’s a place for you to take in one of America’s great traditions.
The Championships, Wimbledon
Wimbledon is the greatest Grand Slam tournament on the tennis calendar. It’s rich with history and unique due to its grass courts. The atmosphere is elevated by the rules of the facility including the attire players are required to wear. On the last weekend in June and first week of July (with the exception of the first Sunday of the tournament when no matches are played), the best tennis players in the world take to the courts of the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club, also known as the All-England Club It’s a quick 20-30 minute trip outside of London and it's the toughest ticket in the sport. However tough it may be to attend, it's still the greatest spectacle on every tennis fan's bucket list.
In case you don't know it already, the World Cup is the most watched sporting event in the world and for good reason. Soccer is the most popular sport in the world. The World Cup features 32 countries in a tournament that takes place every four years in June and July. It moves from continent to continent so each one is unique in its own way for the local culture and the number of each country's fans who have access to attend. You won't ever see as many fan bases as passionate about their country in one spot. The build-up to each game and the atmosphere inside the stadiums is electric and unique as fans dress up in their country's colors. Even watching matches at the fan zones (public viewing areas for matches) are fantastic fun. You don't even need to be a fan of soccer to appreciate what you witness at the World Cup. It's like a six-week long party in whichever country hosts.
The Super Bowl is the most watched sporting event every year in the United States and that should be no surprise. Americans love the NFL and they devote fall and early winter Sundays to watching football. The season peaks on the first Sunday in February as America stops to watch the Super Bowl. A much smaller subset of that group actually gets to see it in person at a rotating venue from year to year. The game itself may be full of many corporate clients, but that can’t take away from how special the event is. There’s plenty of pomp and circumstance to go with some quality entertainment performing at halftime. The parties during the week leading up to the Super Bowl make attending a Super Bowl even more enjoyable. There aren’t many other events of which you could tell your friends that you went and receive a more positive reaction.
Summer & Winter Olympics
The Olympics are great for so many reasons. Just look at the size of the event for starters. The Summer Olympics features over 10,000 athletes from 204 countries participating in 302 events. The Winter Olympics includes almost 3,000 athletes from approximately 90 countries competing in 98 events. You never get so many of the best athletes in their sport in one place. You can see so many great events and be amazed by enjoying sports you've never seen before. Then there's the obvious play of national pride as fans embrace their country's colors, while athletes are quick to grab their country's flag following a successful performance. Both the Summer Olympics and Winter Olympics are great in their own way. It's also a showcase for the hosting city as they welcome incoming fans with open arms. If you can't see the enjoyment of attending the Olympics then you're not a fan of sports. The men’s 100-meter dash at the Summer Olympics and the women’s figure skating final at the Winter Olympics are the marquee events to attend if possible.
Every golf fan needs to experience the Masters Tournament in Augusta, Georgia at some point in their life. Every sports fan should experience it for that matter. It’s so glorious that even the practice rounds and the Par 3 contest at Augusta National Golf Club draw great crowds. Major reasons for the attention the Masters receives are the exclusivity of the event and the price of tickets to attend the rounds of the first major tournament during early April. You’ll likely never get to play the course, but walking around places like Amen Corner or the 18th hole are memories you’ll have for a lifetime. You won’t be able to take photos during the competitive rounds, so the visuals in your mind will have to last and they do. Enjoy a pimento cheese sandwich and take in sports at its purest.