So you ask what club has the best soccer stadium in the world? If you randomly asked 100 soccer fans today, you’d probably get 60-80 different answers. This article will review 10 of the best soccer stadiums that everyone soccer lover should visit in their lifetime.
1. Karaiskakis Stadium
The Karaiskakis Stadium in Piraeus, located on the outskirts of Athens, is Greece’s chief soccer stadium. Named after Georgios Karaiskakis, a leading figure in the Greek War of Independence against Ottoman occupation, the stadium holds more than 32 thousand fans, making it the largest soccer-specific stadium in the country and the second-largest venue overall after the Olympic Stadium in Athens.
Home to perennial champions Olympiacos FC, the Karaiskakis Stadium has seen it all: success, controversy, and a 1971 European Cup Winners’ Cup final, which Chelsea won after beating Real Madrid 2-1 in a replay. Recently, however, the home side has found itself in uncharted waters. The Red-Whites haven’t won the Greek Superleague since 2016/17. Moreover, reports have been swirling around that Greece’s most successful club could be punished with relegation to add insult to injury. An investigation into a 2015 match-fixing scandal has been re-launched after initially being dismissed. If found guilty, Olympiacos’ owner will face a hefty punishment that could entail the club’s forced relegation to the lower leagues. It would be a massive blow to a historic team that has never been relegated since its founding in 1925. With its tendency for controversy and unceasing passion, Greek soccer frequently resembles the famous dramas of ancient times, and the Karaiskakis Stadium is its most extraordinary stage.
2. Estadio Azteca
The Americas are jam-packed with mighty soccer stadiums, but few can rival the mystique and sheer legend of the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City. Trying to get a result at this ground is often a litmus test for teams from CONCACAF and beyond and a baptism of fire, especially for new generations of the USMNT trying to prove that they are the real deal.
The Azteca is the largest stadium, not just in Mexico but all of Latin America. As the home of Club América, these hallowed grounds have seen plenty of success since opening in 1966. Nicknamed “El Coloso de Santa Úrsula” (the Colossus of Santa Úrsula), the Azteca was the first stadium to host two World Cup finals. It has been the backdrop for iconic moments like Maradona’s “Hand of God,” the “Game of the Century” between Italy and West Germany. It was here that the highly sought-after original World Cup, the Jules Rimet Trophy, was lifted for the final time by Pelé in 1970.
With a capacity of more than 87,000 spectators, a sold-out Azteca makes for one of the planet’s most raucous and intimidating atmospheres. Yet, it is one of the best soccer stadiums in the truest sense of the word.
3. San Siro
Home to not one but two illustrious teams, the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza is easily Italy’s most recognizable soccer stadium. More commonly known simply as the San Siro, both AC Milan and Internazionale share this iconic ground. With 10 European Cups and 36 Scudetti between them, the San Siro has been the stage of many a classic match-up. It has hosted derbies between the two Milan clubs and Juventus, World Cup games, and four Champions League finals.
Paolo Maldini, Ronaldo Nazario, Lothar Matthäus, and, of course, the great Giuseppe Meazza himself all called this magnificent venue home at one point or another. But the list goes on and on; countless legendary figures have played at the San Siro. More recently, some somewhat unfamiliar faces have been spotted on the ground. For example, this season’s Champions League fairytale team, Atalanta Bergamo, played their European home games at the San Siro soccer stadium. As their ground, the Gewiss Stadium isn’t quite up to scratch for the Champions League yet.
Unfortunately, the future of the San Siro is uncertain. Inter and AC Milan have already begun making plans to replace their 94-year-old stadium. Although the idea has been met with skepticism, it seems that the two clubs are prepared to go through with the project.
4. Atatürk Olympic Stadium
Host to the grand 2005 Champions League final, the Atatürk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul is a true soccer sanctuary. Who could forget when Xabi Alonso dramatically converted the rebound of his saved penalty to level the scores between Liverpool and AC Milan? The latter held a three-goal advantage at halftime. However, the Reds, spurred on by an early second-half goal from Steven Gerrard, clawed their way back and achieved the unthinkable, lifting the European Cup after triumphing on penalties.
With a capacity of over 75 thousand, the Atatürk is the biggest and best soccer stadium in Turkey, dwarfing the homes of the famous big boys of Istanbul. And it used to be even larger! Built in 2002 and with a capacity of more than 80 thousand, the seating has been reduced to improve the viewing experience for spectators. Interestingly, the Atatürk was once home to İstanbul Başakşehir. In 2014, they traded their massive home for the much smaller Fatih Terim Stadium. Little did they know at the time that they would go on to become one of the more successful teams in the Turkish SüperLig, finishing as runners-up in 2017 and 2019.
The Atatürk Stadium was slated to host the 2020 UEFA Champions League Final (15 years after the “Miracle of Istanbul”). But, unfortunately, those plans had to be put on ice due to the pandemic. It will next host the UEFA Champions League Final in 2023.
4. The Maracanã
In 1950, Brazil advanced to the final round of the World Cup, where they faced Uruguay. Stadium experts estimate that the crowd was about 210,000 fans – a record that is unlikely ever to be broken. Naturally, Brazil was expected to take care of business. Incredibly, Uruguay prevailed 2-1, silencing the masses in what would become known as the Maracanaço – the Agony of Maracanã. Despite the heartbreak, the Maracanã is one of soccer’s great sanctuaries.
The Maracanã, or Estádio Jornalista Mário Filho as it’s officially known, is one of South America’s best soccer grounds. Once the world’s largest stadium, the Maracanã, nicknamed after the nearby river, boasted a massive capacity of almost 200,000 before being renovated and having its seating reduced to 78,838.
As one of the beautiful game’s most iconic football grounds, it has seen its fair share of drama and excitement. Host to the 1950 and 2014 World Cup finals, neither of which saw Brazil triumph. Much to the dismay of the passionate locals, the ground is also home to some of the continent’s most heated rivalries, with both Clube de Regatas do Flamengo and Fluminense Football Club claiming bragging rights.
5. FNB Stadium (Soccer City)
Who can forget those vuvuzelas? The 2010 World Cup in South Africa sure was memorable! It was a tournament packed with so many firsts. First World Cup hosted by an African nation, first WC win for Spain, and the first time a European country won a WC outside Europe.
Though the tournament took place in multiple venues, the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg was the most prominent, hosting the opening match and final. This beauty, also known as Soccer City, opened its doors in 1989 and was designed to look like an African pot (the Calabash). In addition to the World Cup, The Calabash has also hosted the 1996 and 2013 African Cup of Nations. In the 1996 edition of the tournament, Soccer City was the venue for the final between the host nation and Tunisia. South Africa went on to win the game and the tournament for the first time in front of more than 80 thousand screaming fans.
The Calabash is also home to Kaizer Chiefs FC, one of the best teams in the South African Premier Soccer League and a force to be reckoned with on the international stage.
And soccer is not all the FNB Stadium has to offer. It has also served as a rugby stadium and the site of many important national events, including Nelson Mandela’s first speech in the city after he was released from prison in 1990.
On June 22, 1974, Volksparkstadion hosted the only World Cup soccer match between East and West Germany. That night, in front of more than 60 thousand screaming fans, East Germany would upset the host nation with a goal in the 77th minute—winning the group in the process. But West Germany would also advance to the next phase and were eventually crowned world champions a few days later. They defeated one of the best World Cup teams ever: Cruyff’s Clockwork Orange, in the World Cup final. The Dutch team was world-class but West Germany was loaded with talent including Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Müller, Sepp Maier, Paul Breitner, and Berti Vogts.
Today, the stadium is home to Hamburger SV, one of the most popular teams in Germany. HSV, also known as “Der Dino” (“The Dinosaur”) due to its longevity, was one of the top clubs in Germany and Europe during the 1970s and 1980s, winning several domestic and international titles. But it’s been a tough road lately. In 2017/18, the team was relegated to the second division for the first time in Bundesliga’s history. Now, they’re battling for promotion the past three seasons. Their return to the top division would be good for German soccer.
7. Municipal Stadium of Braga (The Quarry)
Not many stadiums win architecture awards. Fewer have been carved into a mountain. But both are true for the Municipal Stadium of Braga, also known as “The Quarry” (or “A Pedreira” by the locals). The stadium was built for the European championship of 2004 and is currently the seventh-largest soccer stadium in Portugal, with a capacity of over 30 thousand fans.
A Pedreira is the home of S.C. Braga, one of the top teams in the Primeira Liga. Matches between S.C. Braga and neighbors Vitória de Guimarães are the most intense in Portugal since both teams are usually battling coveted European competition spots.
Just outside the city lies one of the most spectacular sites in the region: the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte. The Sanctuary is a popular pilgrimage destination famous for its architecture as well, especially its Baroque staircase. In 2019, Bom Jesus do Monte was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
8. La Bombonera
La Bombonera is fútbol stadium heaven. Given its legendary status, first-timers may imagine a behemoth. Yet at 50 to 55 thousand spectators (depending on who you talk to), it’s relatively small compared to stadiums from other teams of similar stature. River Plate’s Monumental, for example, holds over 70 thousand fans and Real Madrid’s Bernabéu well over 80 thousand. But what LaBombonera lacks in size, it makes up for with an unparalleled atmosphere. In 2015, it was named “The Best Soccer Stadium in the World” over Wembley, Azteca, Signal Iduna, Giuseppe Meazza, and others.
The stadium first opened its doors in 1940. Given the limited space, multiple levels were created along three sides while the last part of the stadium (with media boxes and preferential seats) rises completely flat. Its name, La Bombonera (Chocolate Box), comes from this peculiar shape. In some parts of the field, like the corners, lucky fans can touch their idols through the chain-link fence. This intimate setting can be exciting and terrifying for those on the field. Players have famously claimed that “La Bombonera no tiembla, late” (“La Bombonera doesn’t shake, it beats”). Legends like Diego Maradona, Riquelme, and Carlos Tévez made their names here. Their images are immortalized in graffiti, street art, and murals around the neighborhood, giving the local team its name, Boca.
A mere 5-minute walk from the stadium lies the picturesque Caminito, where the smell of steak, Quilmes, and cigarettes permeates the air. Meanwhile, tango dancers hypnotize tourists with their footwork, just like the playmakers dazzle fans on the field. Perhaps nowhere in the world does a team, stadium, and neighborhood come together as they do here.
9. Parkhead (Celtic Park)
The East End of Glasgow is a beautiful place to spend a sunny weekend afternoon (before coronavirus, and it will be again after we beat this thing). Glasgow Green, the oldest park in the city, is within walking distance of the city center. With over 130 acres, you’re bound to find a spot in the park that suits you. One of its prominent landmarks is the People’s Palace and Winter Gardens. The building opened in 1898 as a cultural center for the residents of East End, which was, at the time, an overcrowded area home to a large population of Irish immigrants. Today, the building serves as a museum and gardens. But if you’re lucky, and the Celtic are playing at home, you’re better off heading over to Parkhead.
Celtic Park, or “Paradise,” better known by fans, opened in 1892. The current soccer stadium has a capacity for over 60 thousand fans, making it the eighth largest stadium in the UK and the most significant soccer arena in Scotland. Players like Henrik Larrson, Kenny Dalglish, Virgil van Dijk, and Moussa Dembélé all called this place home at some point in their careers. It has also been the site of hundreds of derbies with local rivals Glasgow Rangers. The “Old Firm” is one of the oldest and most intense soccer derbies with a complex history involving religion, politics, and national identity. Looking forward, both teams have a lot to be excited about.
10. The Mestalla Stadium
Nestled between the Mediterranean sea and the Valencia city center lies a sleepy, family-friendly neighborhood called Mestalla. While most tourists flock to the excellent cafés, boutiques, and historical sites of the Ciutat Vella (Old City), the Mestalla area is home to several hidden gems. For example, the Tabacalera Building built-in 1909 is one of the most important examples of industrial architecture in Valencia and Spain. It’s also just a stone’s throw away from a soccer temple: the Mestalla Stadium, home of Valencia Soccer Club.
The Mestalla Stadium, inaugurated in 1923, is currently the oldest in LaLiga Primera División. The original stadium could fit 17 thousand fans. Like many structures in the city, it was nearly destroyed during the Spanish Civil War—when it was used as a concentration camp. After multiple post-war renovations and improvements, its capacity was expanded to over 48 thousand spectators. The stadium’s soccer history is extensive. It served as the national team’s home base during the 1982 World Cup group stage. It was also used as a venue during the 1992 Olympics, given its proximity to Barcelona.
Additionally, it has hosted multiple national and international cup finals. The infamous north stands are some of the steepest in Europe, creating an intense atmosphere for the players on the pitch. A Nou Mestalla (New Mestalla, but not in Mestalla ) has been in the works since 2007 and is expected to open in 2022. The current stadium will most likely be demolished, but the site will live on in soccer history.
Best Stadium In The World
With the game consistently growing, there is a need for bigger stadiums and better facilities for supporters. Every football club will have plans to create the best stadium in the world. The owners/committees of these soccer clubs will have dreams and goals to develop iconic infrastructures in great locations while retaining some of the old heritage. Let’s hope they can deliver in the pursuit of your team having the best soccer in the world someday.
Main Image: Leandro Neumann Ciuffo