As the official travel partner of the UEFA Champions League, we’ve journeyed to the homes of the clubs that have got through to the final 16 to give you the lowdown on the hot spots for your next away trip. In this article we head to Barcelona, home of FC Barcelona.
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The striking modernist architecture of Antoni Gaudí may be the face of Barcelona, dominating some of its most famous buildings, but soccer is the city’s beating heart, worn proudly on its sleeve (usually attached to a team kit).
This beguiling Spanish city is home to two teams in Spain’s first division, La Liga—globally famous FC Barcelona and the less well-known (but passionately supported) second team, RCD Espanyol. Whether you’re a fervent fan of one of the clubs or just love soccer, it is tough to beat Barcelona as a city break destination.
From peeking behind the scenes at one of the world’s biggest and most buzzing soccer stadiums to pre-game tapas and post-game celebrations, discover the best things to see and do in the capital of Spain’s Catalonia region, on and off the field.
Meet the teams: FC Barcelona and RCD Espanyol
Five-time UEFA Champions League winners, FC Barcelona (nicknamed “Barça”) are true giants on the field, feared by rivals and beloved by fans. With 25 La Liga titles to its name, the club’s dominance would be almost boring if it wasn’t for Real Madrid CF, perhaps its main rival.
As you’d expect for a club of this pedigree, the roll call of famous former players is illustrious—Pep Guardiola, Xavi, Ronaldinho, Neymar, Rivaldo, Diego Maradona, and Romario da Souza are among the household names to have worn the blue and red kit.
The club was formed in 1899, after an advert was posted for players to join the city’s first soccer club.
It may be overshadowed by its home rivals, but Barcelona’s second team, RCD Espanyol, competes in La Liga and is known for its particularly passionate, loyal fans. Top names to have previously worn the blue-and-white kit include Ricardo Zamora, László Kubala, N’Kono, and Alfredo di Stefano—often regarded as one of the world’s best players.
Located in the suburb of Cornellà de Llobregat, RCDE Stadium has 40,500 seats, which tend to be filled by mostly local—and generally loud— supporters. Some argue that the atmosphere beats that of FC Barcelona’s home games. Whether that’s true or not, tickets are usually easier to buy on the day, so it’s a great option if you’ve missed out on a bigger game, or just want to immerse yourself further in Barcelona’s soccer culture.
FC Barcelona’s coffers may be better stocked, but RCD Espanyol was historically the soccer club of the rich, and politically conservative, elite.
Visiting Barcelona’s soccer stadium: Camp Nou
Camp Nou: Les Corts district
Even those who don’t live and breathe soccer will be impressed by Camp Nou, FC Barcelona’s home since 1957. With a seating capacity of just under 100,000, it’s the largest stadium in Europe and the third largest in the world.
The most-anticipated games sell out fast, and fixtures can change up to two weeks in advance due to TV scheduling. If you manage to get a seat, get there early—not just because, at a stadium this huge, it might take some time to battle through the crowds. The air is alive with pre-game excitement, building up to a crescendo by the time the players jog onto the field. You’ll want to be there for the duration.
If you can, choose a seat behind the goal area. This is where the diehard local fans tend to sit, and while the views might not be quite so panoramic as in the higher-perched stands, the atmosphere is arguably much more thrilling.
It’s a huge attraction even when there isn’t a game on, with popular guided tours through the huge roofless structure. You can walk through the players’ dressing room and tunnel and take a seat on the team bench before checking out the silverware in the museum. Tours also include the Virtual Experience where, seated in the stands, you can relive some of the club’s greatest and most exciting goals (and near misses) through virtual reality glasses.
Getting there: If you want to rent a car in Barcelona, it’s a 20-minute drive from the airport and a half hour from the center. Or take the Metro blue line to Collblanc, around a 10-minute stroll from the stadium.
Where to eat and what to do in Les Corts
Les Corts is a financial hub, but when there’s a game on, the most serious business takes place on the field. Barcelona hotels and restaurants that are usually filled with people having lunch meetings become lively pre- and post-game hangouts. For a pre-game bite on the go, head to shopping complex L’illa Diagonal, home to a few take-out places and cafés. Or just wander around and take your pick from the tiny, cozy tapas bars—many of which will be showing the game, in case you haven’t managed to get a stadium ticket.
- L’illa Diagonal, Avinguda Diagonal, 557, 08029 Barcelona
Partying in Barcelona after the game
Celebrating after the game: La Rambla’s fountain
One of the most enduring, and endearing, traditions among FC Barcelona fans is all about a small, ornate fountain on La Rambla. Fans have been gathering around Font de Canaletes, which is topped by a lamppost, to celebrate their team’s victory since the 1930s—game results were posted outside the local newspaper office that was located here.
Going out in Barcelona
When FC Barcelona is playing, you’ll be hard pushed to find a bar that isn’t showing the game. Just listen for the cheers and follow your ears. And many of the bars, particularly those by Camp Nou or along the Plaça d’Espanya, a 15-minute walk away, are just as buzzing as the stadium, if not more so.
Historic Eixample, home to some of Gaudí’s most famous buildings, including Casa Milà, is a half-hour walk away and has plenty of tucked-away cellar bars. Barri Gòtic, the Gothic Quarter, in the heart of town, is equally charming, with cavernous cocktail bars and jazz clubs.
Fancy getting all dressed up and heading out? Plush nightclub Razzmatazz is the place to be seen (and, if you’re lucky, to see some of the Barça players).
Razzmatazz, Carrer dels Almogàvers, 122, 08018 Barcelona
You can fly direct to Barcelona from some U.S. cities—it’s about eight hours from Philadelphia or nine from Miami—or fly via European airports such as Lisbon or London. Check out the rooms with a view in the city’s stunning rooftop hotels.
Ready to hit La Rambla and soak up Barcelona’s passion for soccer? From boulevards flanked by unique architecture to tiny cellar bars and glitzy nightclubs, the Catalan capital makes for an unbeatable getaway.