With the (belated) release of the Spanish football fixture lists last month, no doubt lots of you have been poring over them to try and fit in a weekend break for some La Liga action. Undoubtedly the thought of watching Real Madrid’s new galacticos at the Bernabeu, Messi and Co. at Camp Nou, or even seeing Simeone’s Atlético at A Stadium Called Wanda will be top of a lot of people’s wish lists.
However, if you fancy seeing a different side of Spain to the well-trodden calles of the two biggest cities in the country, here are my top five picks for great cities to visit and also see some football while you’re there.
Ok, so I’m cheating a little bit on this one as I haven’t actually managed to go to a Cádiz game yet, but having visited the city for the first time in April, I’ll definitely be back.
As Spain’s oldest city, it can boast remains from Spain’s eras of Phoenician, Roman and Islamic rule, as well as being the major port to the Americas during Hapsburg Spain’s golden age and the site of the signing of the first Spanish constitution in 1812. The old city is small enough to be explored on foot inside a day, make sure to check out the Torre de Tavira viewpoint for the best view of the city and leave plenty of time to visit one of the city’s beaches (I’d recommend La Caleta).
Cádiz’s stadium is located in the new part of the city and can be reached by bus and train from the old city. The home fans are famously among the most passionate in Spain and the team are on an upward curve, gaining promotion to the Segunda last summer and then reaching the play-offs for promotion to La Liga in their first season back, no mean feat. I’ll definitely be taking a trip down there sometime soon.
I’ve already covered San Sebastián in a previous post, but I can’t stress enough that it is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever been to. Built at the mouth of the River Urmea with amazing beaches on both sides, it pulled off the feat of being stunning even when I visited on a wet and windy November weekend. And the old city is just perfect for going from bar to bar, sampling pintxos wherever you go, though be warned, it’s quite expensive for a small city.
As I said in my previous post, I wasn’t totally sold on La Real’s Anoeta stadium. It’s situated quite far out from the city centre, though still within walking distance and it is well-served by public transport, and it has a nice cluster of bars where you can get some pre-match refreshments. Back in November 2015, it had everyone’s least favourite football stadium feature, a running track, which affects the atmosphere and the roof doesn’t offer much protection from the elements which meant I spent a lot of my visit sheltering from heavy showers.
The stadium has been redeveloped over the last few seasons, with the fans being brought closer to the action through the removal of the running track which will definitely ensure a much more pleasant matchday experience. Just be sure to bring an umbrella!
I visited Valencia for the first time at the start of May 2017 and it’s safe to say I’ll be going back when the opportunity arises.
One of Spain’s most historic and beautiful cities, there’s plenty to fill a long weekend with before you even consider taking in a game. There are the futuristic surroundings of the Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències and the historic streets of the Ciutat Vella. The city cathedral which boasts both the chalice reputed to be *the* Holy Grail as well as superb views over the city from the Micalet Tower. And then there are the beaches, within easy reach of the city centre and the perfect place to relax before heading for some authentic paella valenciana at one of the many restaurants dotted along the sea front.
The city can now boast two teams playing in La Liga this coming season, one of only four in Spain that can, so that means whenever you plan your trip, there’ll be a game on. Choose from Valencia in the wonderful, historic Mestalla, currently looking to restore past glories after a couple of decidedly ropey campaigns, or Levante, fresh from storming to the Segunda title at the first attempt, in their Ciutat de Valencia stadium
Situated on the rugged Galician coast, A Coruña (the Galician spelling is predominately used in the city rather than the Castellano ‘La Coruña’) is a real hidden gem. It’s a compact city, easily navigated on foot, but with plenty to see. Most notable is the world’s oldest working lighthouse, the Torre de Hercules, a symbol of the city and a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s at one end of the city’s seafront, which includes the Riazor and Orzan beaches, great spots to spend a warm summer afternoon.
Perhaps the real joy in visiting A Coruña is to be found in exploring the streets around the main square Plaza de Maria Pita and eating all the tapas you can manage. Go out of your way to visit O Remo and order the tortilla, it may be the best one I’ve had in Spain!
I’d also recommend going outside the city, Santiago de Compostela, the final destination of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage and its world-famous cathedral is just an hour away by train, while you can also hire a car and explore the stunning scenery of the Costa da Morte round to Finisterre – the end of the world.
In terms of football, Deportivo can no longer claim to be the ‘SuperDepor’ of yore and have spent the last few years yo-yoing between the top two leagues and are currently seeking promotion from the Segunda after missing out in the playoffs last time round. It’s hard to beat the location of the Riazor stadium, perched metres from the one end of the beach that gives it its name. While rarely full, it can always generate a good atmosphere from one of the country’s most passionate fanbases.
Even if you’re not into football, I’d recommend a trip to Seville. Actually several trips to Seville because the city has so much to offer that I don’t really know where to start. Why not Plaza de España? Built as the centrepiece of the 1929 Ibero-American exposition, its semi-circular structure houses alcoves depicting each of Spain’s provinces and is easily one of the most iconic symbols of both Seville and indeed Spain itself. It sits in the Parque Maria Luisa, the city’s largest green space and a perfect place to spend an afternoon wandering.
In the centre of the city itself, you can find the Real Alcazar, a royal palace built in Arabic style, and its gardens, the Torre del Oro, a watchtower on the Guadalquivir river, now a museum and viewpoint and the city’s huge cathedral, the hub of semana santa celebrations in the city and also the site of the tomb of Christopher Columbus. Make sure to climb the cathedral’s bell tower, La Giralda for an unparalleled view of the city.
Visit the neighbourhood of Triana, across the river and tour its tapas bars, see an authentic Andalucian flamenco show, dream about spending a night in the luxurious Alfonso XIII hotel in Puerta de Jerez. Even take the short bus ride out of the city to see the extremely well-preserved Roman town of Italica.
Oh yeah, and it’s one of the best places to watch football in Spain, home to two of the country’s biggest and most passionately supported clubs.
Sevilla have enjoyed lots of success on the domestic and particularly European front of late and have, without a doubt, the best club anthem in Spain. The Estadio Ramón Sanchez-Pizjuan is centrally-located and has recently undergone a facelift to bring it up to modern standards. The iconic mosaic remains though.
Betis have been more of a sleeping giant of late, but their fanbase remains huge and passionate and the recently renovated Estadio Benito Villamarín is without a doubt one of the best places to watch football in Spain.