London, Wembley Stadium
As well as group games, London also plays host to both semi-finals and the final. A city with football in its blood, it’s home to 12 teams between the Premier League and League Two, as well as hundreds of semi-professional and amateur teams.
London is a huge, sprawling, tiring and expensive place to visit, but it’s also iconic, thrilling, vibrant and life-affirming. You can spend as much or as little money as you want, either by splurging in the shops and dining at some of the world’s best food and drink venues, or by spending time walking the streets, exploring the free museums and galleries, or relaxing in the parks. London has something for everyone, and is large enough that, if your team doesn’t win, you can escape the hordes of people and drown your sorrows in some friendly local pub or other.
Wembley Stadium isn’t served particularly well by public transport, so be sure to give yourself a lot of time to get in and (particularly) out of the ground. Shifting 90,000 people through a suburb of north west London is a tricky logistical challenge, so make sure your post-game plans are flexible!
Glasgow, Hampden Park
Scotland’s biggest city generally hosts its domestic cup finals at Hampden Park, what with Glasgow being the home of the two biggest clubs in the country, the Old Firm of Celtic and Rangers.
It’s a wonderful place: down-to-earth, gritty, almost aggressively matey and with a keen sense of individuality and pride. It’s a city of music and art with a large student population (although in summer this is obviously reduced); a city of industry and working-class ideals. You’d be hard-pushed to call it pretty (although Kelvingrove Park, Glasgow Cathedral, and the Necropolis are all worthy of your time), but what it lacks in beauty it makes up for in personality.
Hampden is away to the south of the city center, accessed by rail from both the Mount Florida and King’s Park railway stations. It’s also home to the Scottish Football Museum, home to thousands of objects tracing the history of the game in Scotland, as well as being able to sit in the original Hampden dressing room, visit the Hall of Fame, and see footage of some of the players that have graced both international and Scottish club football down the years.
Bilbao, San Mamés
Athletic Bilbao have some of the most passionate and fervent supporters in the whole of Spain, representing as they do a large proportion of football fans from the Basque region. Their policy on only employing Basque players seems an anachronism today, but their wonderful youth academy and tapping of Basque pride means they’ve not only stuck to this policy but remain — along with Spanish behemoths Barcelona and Real Madrid — the only team never to have been relegated from the top flight.
Bilbao as a city has carved itself a neat little niche as the cool, minimalist alternative to the tourist-heavy Barcelona, the grand but slightly stand-offish Madrid, and the package holiday-friendly Costas. Were it a person, it’d have very thin-rimmed glasses, dress in smart grays and blacks, and drive a Saab.
This doesn’t mean it’s cold though (although its location on the Bay of Biscay does mean it suffers from some very un-Spanish weather occasionally). The center of the city is shiny and modern, reflecting the Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Museum which, upon its opening in 1997, gave the city an instantly identifiable landmark and sparked a trend for forward-thinking design and architecture. It’s a triumph of urban renewal, from a heavily industrialized port in the middle of the 20th century to a city that’s smart, green, tasteful, sleek and cultured.
When Athletic are at home, San Mamés is a cauldron of noise, similar to their old ground (also called San Mamés) which was an old-school affair the like of which you didn’t see a lot in Spain. The new stadium is built next to where the old one stood, and is accessible on both the L1 and L2 lines of Bilbao’s small Metro system. The stop is simply called San Mamés.
Dublin, Aviva Stadium (known as the Dublin Arena during the tournament)
Dublin hosts a European football finals for the first time ever in 2020, and it’s a fine choice indeed. Ireland loves sport, whether it’s football, rugby, or one of their own widely-followed national sports such as Gaelic football or hurling.
Something else Ireland loves is having a good time, and Dublin doesn’t disappoint. The old, gray stone walls that follow the River Liffey are in contrast to the youthful energy that pervades the city. It’s a city of students and young people, and Ireland’s famously welcoming spirit is very much in evidence wherever you go. The medieval streets are dotted with fancy eateries and traditional pubs from which snatches of music can be heard. Buskers and street performers abound, most famously on Grafton Street, but in other parts of town as well, and come nightfall, the cobbled streets of Temple Bar are crowded with people of all nationalities, mixing, having fun, and enjoying (sound the cliche alarm!) the craic.
The stadium itself is Ireland’s only UEFA Elite Stadium, and was built on the site of the old Lansdowne Road stadium. Its unusual shape (one of the ends seems almost open) and beautiful swooping glass roof is light and airy, and designed specifically to avoid blocking light to local houses. It’s accessible using the DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit) directly to Lansdowne Road station.
Munich, Allianz Arena (known as the Football Arena Munich during the tournament)
The capital of Bavaria is rightly famous for two things — football and beer — that generally go hand in hand. Bayern Munich, Germany’s dominant footballing force and one of the world’s most famous clubs, are from here, as are 1860 Munich, their cross-city rivals, whose history of yo-yoing between the leagues is a spectacular contrast from the red-clad winning machine.
Munich in the summer is a beautiful place to be, with the vast number of parks and gardens (not to mention beer gardens!) filled with handsome locals sunning themselves and generally looking pretty happy that they’re alive and at large in this fine city. It’s one of the most affluent cities in the world, and its BMW-driving, life-loving citizens are rightly proud of it. Its six breweries have been producing beer for around 700 years and constantly turn out enough to keep the populace well-oiled, so there’s always somewhere to stop as you walk around. It’s this mixture of contentment, class and cozsiness that makes Munich feel friendly, yet also somewhere a bit special.
The Allianz Arena, although relatively new, is already one of the world’s most iconic football stadiums, what with its inflated plastic exterior that changes color depending on who’s playing. Location-wise it’s a bit of an oddity, located in rather a no-man’s land near a huge motorway junction to the north of the city, but it’s accessible by U-Bahn: simply take Line 6 to Fröttmaning.
Budapest, Puskás Aréna
With easy transport connections from a number of other cities in Central Europe (Vienna, Prague, Bratislava, Zagreb, Ljubljana and more), Budapest is a fantastic choice for a couple of days away. It’s a friendly, walkable city; elegant yet affordable, with a hidden underbelly of bars, gig venues and nightlife to explore after the games are over.
It’s easy to find your way around on foot, as all roads fan out from the Danube on the eastern, Pest bank of the river, while in Buda you can climb one of the hills for a magnificent view over both halves of the city. Buda is where you’ll find the older historical buildings (Budapest Castle, Fisherman’s Bastion, the Cave Church), whereas Pest is busier, livelier, and almost Parisian in its architecture and feel.
Named after Hungarian footballing legend Ferenc Puskás, the shiny new Puskás Aréna was opened in 2019 on the site of the old national stadium. It’s located right next to Keleti Pályaudvar, one of Budapest’s main railway stations, so it’s very easy to get to either by public transport or on foot from the city center.