There are plenty of great soccer stadiums in the world. Modern palaces like Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium, structures overflowing with history, like Liverpool’s Anfield or Manchester United’s Old Trafford, and gigantic, unmissable destinations like Barcelona’s Camp Nou and Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabéu Stadium.
This list isn’t about any of those places.
This list is about the weird and wonderful stadiums of the soccer world. It’s about celebrating the unique and experiencing the quirks of architecture and culture that can only be found in the following 13 places. I advise packing your bags before you start reading.
1. Craven Cottage
Team: Fulham F.C.
Where: London, England
Capacity: 25,000 (soon to be 30,000)
What makes it unique: There really is a cottage inside the stadium. It’s used as a dressing room because the stadium’s original architect forgot to include a place for players to get suited up, and the cottage balcony provides a quaint vantage point for friends and family of Fulham players to watch their loved ones in action. Also worth a look: the magnificent, old-school, red-brick exterior.
2. La Bombonera
Team: Boca Juniors
Where: Buenos Aires, Argentina
What makes it unique: Three of the stands at The Chocolate Box are almost vertical, and so Boca fans always look as if they’re about to fall on to the field of play. It also gives the stadium incredible acoustics. Not recommended for vertigo sufferers.
3. Sapporo Dome
Team: Consadole Sapporo
Where: Toyohira-ku, Sapporo, Japan
What makes it unique: It shouldn’t be possible for one stadium to host both baseball and soccer without ruining the viewing experience for at least one of the sports. But the Sapporo Dome is like a Transformer. When switching from baseball to soccer, not only does the diamond-shaped artificial turf roll out as a rectangular grass soccer field rolls in, parts of the stand also rotate 90 degrees to suit the different viewing angles of the two different sports. Just as impressive, the dome is deigned to fight off the 20 feet of snow that falls annually in the Sapporo region—basically, it just slides off the rood instead of collecting.
4. Igralište Batarija
Team: HNK Trogir
Where: Trogir, Croatia
What makes it unique: Trogir’s stadium sits between two 15th-century protected buildings. At one end of the field is Kamerlengo Castle, built by the Venetians. At the other end is the Tower of St. Marco, a Renaissance-style fortress. In between is the beautiful game. Best way to watch a Trogir game is from the castle parapet, like the people in the bottom right corner of the above photo.
5. Soccer City Stadium
Team: Kaizer Chiefs FC
Where: Johannesburg, South Africa
What makes it unique: You might remember this beauty from the 2010 World Cup. During the day, gaps in the stadium allow natural light to burst through and on to the field. At night, the stadium lights up to resemble a ceramic cooking pot, complete with a bright ring of lights at the base to resemble a stove top.
6. Kenilworth Road
Team: Luton Town FC
Where: Luton, Bedfordshire, UK
What makes it unique: Sporting grounds nestled in residential neighborhoods are special places, but this is something else. If you didn’t know it was there, you could easily walk down Oak Road and not know that the entrance to Luton Town’s football ground was nestled amidst the Victorian terraced houses. When you head through the gates, an elevated walkway lets you peek at the gardens of adjacent residents before feeding into the stands. Kenilworth Road harkens back to an older, less polished era of English football.
—James Patrick Gordon
7. Estádio AXA
Team: S.C. Braga
Where: Braga, Portugal
Capacity: 30, 286
What makes it unique: The Estádio AXA has stands on two sides, a giant cliff on another and an open end overlooking the city of Braga on the fourth. The cliff is a reminder of the rock quarry from which the stadium was carved out. Want to go to the other side to meet a pal? No worries, just head under the pitch to get to the other side of this ground, which was built in part to host Euro 2004 matches.
8. Allianz Arena
Team: Bayern Munich, 1860 Munich, German national team
Where: Munich, Germany
What makes it unique: The luminous exterior of the Allianz changes colors to suit the home team. It can be red, or red and blue, when Bayern Munich are at home; blue, or blue and white, for 1860 Munich home games; and white, or black, red and yellow, for the German national team.
9. Cadbury Recreation Ground, Bournville Lane
Team: Cadbury Athletic FC
Where: Bournville, Birmingham, England
What makes it unique: There are plenty of quirky grounds in English nonleague football, but few have as much charm as the home patch of the semi-pro team Cadbury Athletic. The team, affiliated with the famous Cadbury chocolate company (I’m not even kidding), plays their fixtures in the Midlands Football Combination Division 1 in the shadow of a magnificent Edwardian pavilion, and with occasional chocolate aromas drifting from the factory the field.
—James Patrick Gordon
10. Taiwan National Stadium
Team: Taiwan national team
Where: Zuoying, Kaohsiung, Taiwan
What makes it unique: The 8,884 solar panels on the exterior of the spiral-shaped National Stadium provide close to 100 percent of the stadium’s power, and feed into the local power grid when the stadium is not in use.
11. Stadion Gospin dolac
Team: NK Imotski
Where: Imotski, Croatia
What makes it unique: There’s a 500-meter drop into a lake directly behind this stadium. So peer over the edge and enjoy the scenery … but don’t lean too far unless you want to go for a swim.
12. Estádio Municipal de Aveiro
Where: Aveiro, Portugal
What makes it unique: Easily the world’s most colorful stadium. The bright blues, oranges, yellows and greens, as well as deep purples and reds making the exterior of this place look like a gigantic children’s playground, and the kaleidoscopic color-scheme is kept alive inside the stadium with jaunty multicolored seats.
13. Estádio Janguito Malucelli
Team: J. Malucelli Futebol
Where: Curitiba, Brazil
What makes it unique: This “eco-stadium” was created entirely out of natural and sustainable materials, and by embedding seats into a grass hill instead of into a concrete construction.