Touring the Bernabéu

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It’s one of Madrid’s most popular tourist attractions (the third most-visited museum in the city apparently) and is most probably near the top of any football fan’s wish-list when visiting the city, but is taking a tour of the Santiago Bernabéu worthwhile? 

I’ve actually taken the tour twice inside the last five years, once on a three-day visit to the city in 2014 and then again in February when I was playing host to a friend in the city. I’m using photos from both visits, although the tour I describe is obviously the 2019 version.

Buying your Ticket.

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As you’d expect, buying tickets is pretty straightforward. They’re available online and at the ticket office at the front of the stadium. You can also find them at tourism offices, kioscos and estancos (small newsagent-style shops) all around the city, which gives you the advantage of skipping the queue at the ground.

If you’re staying in a hotel or hostel, check the lobby as they often have promotional cards which grant some small discount on the price.

Ah yes, the price. Standard adult admission €25 and children (under 14) are charged €18. And you can add another €5 on top of that if you want the audio guide. It’s a bit on the expensive side – especially when you consider than entry to the Prado museum is €15 (€7,50 concessions) and there’s a special ticket which allows two visits inside a year for €22.

So anyway, on with what you get for your money…

Views

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Views from the top tier of the Bernabeu

The tour starts off with a bit of climbing. You have to climb up several flights of stairs in Torre B (at the Concha Espina end of the stadium, the side you approach of walking from Nuevos Ministerios) to see the panoramic view of the stadium.

If this is your first sight of the interior, this is admittedly very impressive. It manages to convey both a sense of how big the stadium is, but also of intimacy and being close to the action. The thing that always strikes me about the upper tiers of the Bernabéu is how good the view is. You could sit in pretty much any seat and have a clear, unobstructed view, not something which can be said for every top-class stadium.

The Trophies

As Spain’s most successful club, Real Madrid have quite a few of these to show off. Unsurprisingly one side of the room has shelves filled with silverware from the famous (La Liga, Copa del Rey) to the extremely obscure (gigantic trophies won from playing in local pre-season tournaments). It’s actually the latter that are more interesting. By looking at the designs you get to appreciate a bit more about the cultural significance of each design to a particular city in Spain and the history behind them.

On the other side of the wall from the trophy cases are video screens which let you explore the story of how the major trophies were won through photo montages and highlights videos. I could easily spend half the day in this part alone, watching the videos and reading through all the old results. But we should move on…

The Champions League Room

More than any other trophy, it’s the Champions League which defines Real Madrid and the museum pays an appropriate tribute to it.

This is the only place in the world where you can see 13 European Cups in one place (it has required a significant upgrade since the first time I visited in 2014.) You get to walk among them, with a golden ticket-tape effect surrounding you. It’s all very impressive.

The trophies are great, but I equally enjoyed the collection of memorabilia from the finals. Many players have donated shirts and boots to the museum and they also have programmes and tickets on display.

The Players 

Real Madrid pride themselves on being the best. So only the best players can play for them. This section of the museum pays tribute to those players who have proved that by winning the game’s top individual honours. Here you can see the Ballon d’Or and The Best award won by Luka Modric last year and look back at the various other individual trophies picked up by Madrid players.

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Pride of place however goes to the Super Ballon d’Or which was awarded to Alfredo de Stefano in 1989, who beat Johan Cruyff and Michel Platini in a special vote. This is the only time that the trophy has ever been awarded, though I’m sure that after they retire someone will propose another vote for this as a way of deciding once and for all who is better between Messi and Ronaldo.

Pitchside

After this you head downstairs and walk around the stands to the side where the benches are located and there you get to experience what it’s like to sit in one of the most demanding seats in the game. Imagine yourself looking up and hearing 80,000 people sing your name as you mastermind a victory in El Clásico, El Derbi Madrileño or on a big European night in the latter stages of the Champions League. Alternatively, shudder in horror at a sea of white hankies being waved and the ear-piercing screech of the stadium whistling in unison as you lose at home to Levante or Girona, or just as humiliating, record a routine but decidedly unimpressive win over markedly inferior opposition. (See a previous post of mine for more of this)

The Dressing Room

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Unlike many stadium tours, the Bernabéu allows you to see inside the home dressing room. Many stadium tours I’ve been on, including Barcelona, Porto and Benfica, operate the policy that the inner sanctum of the home dressing room as a sacred space, where mere mortals such as us may not set foot.

If I had to describe the Real Madrid changing room I would say it is “no frills”. The players are seated in numerical order along benches, each with a private locker bearing their name and a photo of them in action, something which seems more designed with the tour in mind than anything else.

The most notable feature is its slightly odd shape. Most dressing rooms are basic square or circle shapes allowing the manager to stand in the middle and all the players to see him. Here, players with higher numbers are almost tucked away in a corner, out of sight of those wearing the lower numbers.

The away dressing room is also part of the tour and boasts the same facilities as the home one, albeit somewhat smaller.

The Audio/Visual experiences

At frequent junctures on the tour, you’ll be invited to halt your progress and stand in a very long line waiting to get a photograph taken. There are two kinds, one where you can pose with a replica of the Champions League trophy and another where you get to pose in front of a green screen for a photo with an awkward digitally-rendered version of your favourite Madrid player.

The staff are fairly persistent in trying to persuade you to get the photos taken. If you do, you’re given a ticket which you can show to get the photo printed at the end. There’s no obligation to buy it though, so if you’re unhappy with how the photo turned out, don’t worry about having to fork out for it.

The trophy photo is a nice (albeit slightly overpriced) souvenir of a group trip – I actually got one on a trip to Barcelona years ago – but it’s probably not worth waiting in a line if you’re just by yourself.

Something that is worth doing comes up towards the end of the tour where you board a replica of the team bus and through the “windows” (actually video screens) you get to experience what the players see on a journey from the training ground at Valdebebas in the north of the city, to the Santiago Bernabéu on a matchday. It’s a cool video and if nothing else, offers you an opportunity to sit down and rest for a few minutes.

Exit Through The Gift Shop

Before you leave, there’s one last chance to part with some of your hard-earned cash. In the store you can find almost anything you want with a Real Madrid crest stamped on it.

Also, throughout the tour you will have been approached by staff inviting you to sign up for the Madridista card. This gives you a small discount on products in the shop and in future, early access to ticket sales. There’s also an introductory offer of money off a scarf if you sign up on the tour.

The Verdict

Regardless of whether or not you are a Real Madrid fan (I’m certainly not!) I’d recommend the tour as something any self-respecting football fan should do as part of a visit to Madrid. There’s plenty of variety in the exhibits, the interactive screens are informative and you can’t deny that the array of trophies is extremely impressive.

You can take as much or as little time as you want with the exhibits but bear in mind that if you want to avoid crowds and waiting ages to take your photos, it’s best to avoid going at peak times.

And with a long-planned revamp of the stadium due to begin soon (see below), it might be your last chance to see the Santiago Bernabéu in its classic form.

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