Sports can shed light on a country’s values and traditions as much as art, music or food. Whether through watching a pre-game ritual, experiencing a fan ceremony, or actually partaking in a local pastime, sports are an excellent way to learn about a new place and its people. No matter what kind of fan you are, this list of pilgrimages for sports lovers will give you something to cheer about.
Visit Monaco for the Grand Prix
When: Last weekend in May
The hairpin turns, sharp corners and abrupt elevation changes of the Circuit de Monaco favor brains over brawn and focus over horsepower. The Monaco Grand Prix has frayed the nerves of the world’s best drivers since 1929, but this acclaimed auto race is also a delight for its fans. Whether you take in the madness from a grandstand near the finish, a yacht docked in Port Hercule, or a hotel terrace overlooking the Mediterranean, watching Formula One cars zip through narrow city streets at 130 miles per hour is a real thrill.
See Cricket up close on a trip to India
Where: Mumbai, Kolkata, Dharamsala and other cricketing grounds throughout the country
Though cricket is a British invention, it’s far more popular in its former colony. Kids all over India set up improvised wickets to imitate their favorite batsmen and bowlers, and the country all but shuts down when the national team plays a test match.
With options ranging from the slow-burning intensity of a days-long first class match in the Ranjit Trophy tournament to a condensed “Twenty20” affair that’s over in a few hours, there’s no wrong way to watch. Plan your trip around a match at one of India’s great cricketing grounds. The cricketer’s paradise of Eden Gardens in Kolkata, H.P.C.A. Cricket Stadium in the shadow of the Himalayas at Dharamsala, and Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai are all great options.
Play 18 holes (or more) in Scotland
Where: St. Andrews, Royal Troon, Carnoustie, and other top-flight public courses
When: Whenever you can book a tee time (though Royal Troon is only open April-October)
Since the game’s rules were written in Edinburgh in 1744, Scotland has been the center of the golfing universe. Today, this corner of the U.K. boasts well over 550 courses, each with its own mix of challenge and charm. Four of the nine courses in the British Open rotation are here, and three of them (The Old Course at St. Andrews, Royal Troon and Carnoustie) are public courses. Battling erratic winds, dense rough and vexing sand traps might hurt your handicap, but the chance to walk down the same fairways that golf’s legends once strode is a fair trade.
Learn about sumo culture in Tokyo
Where: Ryougoku Sumo Hall in Tokyo
When: During a honbasho tournament in January, May or September
On paper, the rules of sumo are simple: if you stay upright and knock your opponent down or force him out of the ring, you walk away a winner. Matches may be over in seconds, but the sport’s rituals have a history that spans the centuries. Its customs dictate everything from who can train a rikishi (wrestler) to the standard pre-match purification practices, making sumo a window into the strong respect for tradition that shapes Japanese cultural attitudes.
For an introduction to the ceremonial practices of sumo, attending a honbasho (fifteen-day tournament), where top pros compete to move up the rankings and become a yokozuna, is a great place to start.
Escape the offseason at a Dominican winter league baseball game
Where: Dominican Republic
When: Mid-October through December (check schedule)
Baseball isn’t just the national pastime here in the U.S.— it’s also the rage in the Dominican Republic. If you’re a baseball junkie in need of something to tide you over until pitchers and catchers report to spring training, fly south for the winter to catch a Dominican winter league game.
Because this abbreviated season is a showcase for top prospects (Robinson Cano and Yoenis Cespedes got their start here), you’re just as likely to sit next to a pro scout as a young fan with dreams of playing in the big leagues. Home to two of the LIDOM league’s six teams, the Estadio Quisqueya in the capital of Santo Domingo is the perfect place to join in with the locals as they cheer on the home-grown talent.
Queue up for some tennis at Wimbledon
Where: The All England Club in the Wimbledon district of London
When: Two weeks in late June and early July
As the last major tournament played on grass courts, Wimbledon occupies a special place on the tennis calendar. A grounds pass offers a great way to soak up the lively atmosphere of the early rounds, especially when a Brit is on the court or a plucky underdog is showing some fight against a higher seed.
Waiting overnight in one of Wimbledon’s famous queues for a same-day ticket is a right of passage that doubles as a chance to mingle with other tennis fans from around the world. The only thing sweeter than watching the world’s best face off the next day is a serving of the Wimbledon’s famous strawberries and cream.
Attend a college football tailgate
Where: University campuses of the SEC or Big Ten
When: Saturdays in September through November
College football is as American as apple pie, and no game day experience is complete without tailgating. From traditional fare like burgers and barbeque to offbeat local delicacies like roasted alligator, there’s no better way to gear up for kickoff.
But tailgating is only a prelude to the fervor and pageantry of a college football game. The spirited chants from the student section, the marching band performances at halftime, and the heightened drama of a grudge match between in-state or conference rivals is unlike anything else in American sports.
Cycle your way through the Tour de France
Where: Route varies by year, but always finishes in Paris
Every July, the world’s best cyclists push themselves to their breaking point to win the sport’s ultimate prize. This grueling 3,500 kilometer journey up the steep mountains of the Alps and Pyrenees, over the rolling hills of the French countryside, and finally down the Champs-Élysées in Paris is the ultimate test of physical and mental endurance. Watching on TV offers more comprehensive coverage, but nothing compares to seeing the riders of the peloton pedal by as sweat drips from their brows.
If you’ve ever dreamed of donning the yellow leader’s jersey, the Etape du Tour lets you test your mettle on one of the taxing mountain stages. For something more recreational, a ride along the Normandy coast, through Burgundy’s Vallée De L’Ouche, or on any of the country’s other scenic cycling routes is a très bien way to roll through some picturesque landscapes.
Get inspired at the New York City Marathon
Where: All over New York City
When: First Sunday in November
Running a marathon is a bucket-list accomplishment. But even if you’re not ready for the full 26.2 miles, the chance to see 50,000 runners pound the pavement through all five boroughs of New York City is worth traveling for. Whether you want to watch the leaders break away from the pack at Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, enjoy brunch or a beer as the race passes by First Avenue in Manhattan, or encourage a friend to push it through the last mile near Central Park, there are plenty of ways to take it all in. It might even give you the motivation you need to start training for next year.
Watch the world’s most challenging ski race at Kitzbühel
Where: Kitzbühel, Austria
When: Mid January
In Austria, ski racing is a full-blown spectator sport. Maybe it’s because the most distinguished downhill race on the World Cup calendar takes place on The Strief at Hahnenkamm peak in the country’s Kitzbühel alps. Notorious among racers for its near-vertical pitches, blind jumps and unforgiving turns, Streif is the kind of course that rattles even the world’s most poised skiers. Here, the line between victory and agonizing defeat is always razor-thin.
After watching from the finish area, take a chairlift up Hahnenkamm or head over to nearby Kitzbühler Horn to take some runs of your own. With over 1,100 acres of skiable terrain, everyone from aspiring Streif-conquerors to first-timers can find the challenge they’re looking for.
Get in the Gaelic spirit at a hurling match in Dublin
Where: Croke Park in Dublin (tournament semi-finals and finals)
When: August through the first Sunday in September
What do you get when you combine rugby, field hockey, and lacrosse with more than 2,000 years of Gaelic tradition? Hurling. This unique sport consists of two teams of 15 trying to knock a baseball-sized sliotar either into a net or above a crossbar with a hurley (flat wooden bat). Billed as the world’s fastest field sport, high-level hurlers are known for their remarkable hand-eye coordination and bravery—especially the goalkeepers.
Though the Irish diaspora has brought hurling to the shores of Europe, the Americas, and Australia, nothing can match the excitement of the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship. At the end of each season, county-level teams battle for the Liam MacCarthy Cup and a place in Irish sporting lore in front of an enthusiastic crowd of 82,000.
See the All Blacks dance the haka in New Zealand
Where: Various locations around New Zealand like Auckland and Wellington
When: Various (check their fixture schedule for more)
Though New Zealand might have some of the world’s most laid-back people, Kiwis take their rugby very seriously. While the eight-team domestic league is notable, the “All Blacks”—more formally known as New Zealand’s national men’s rugby team—commands the lion’s share of attention. The air is electric whenever they step onto the field and perform the haka, a Maori war dance that strikes fear in their opponents’ hearts. For those new to rugby, there’s no finer introduction than seeing the only three-time World Cup champions put on a dominant display.
Get a taste of Pato in Argentina
Where: Campo Argentino de Pato in San Miguel, or various fairs and rodeos throughout Argentina
When: March through November (see schedule)
Ranching and gaucho culture are part of Argentina’s national identity, so it’s no surprise that their national sport of pato is played on horseback. Though its name derives from the fact that it used to be played with a live duck, today’s more humane version uses a round ball with six handles for easier gripping. Fusing elements of polo and basketball, two teams of four compete to get the pato through a vertical ring. The most intense moment of play comes when two opposing players try to tug and wrest control of the ball from each other in a battle of wills.
While it’s not a mass spectator sport, pato is popular at fairs and rodeos. Alternatively, attending a tournament at the national pato grounds in the San Miguel district of Buenos Aires is an easy way to squeeze a match into your existing itinerary.
Sing your heart out at El Clasico in Spain
Where: Camp Nou in Barcelona (or Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in Madrid)
When: Whenever Barcelona and Madrid face off in El Clasico (see fixture schedule) between August and late May
Spaniards are passionate about futbol, and nothing gets them fired up like El Clasico. Whether it’s an exhibition match or the final of a major European tournament, Real Madrid and F.C. Barcelona bring out the best in each other whenever they face off.
Part of what makes their rivalry the fiercest in soccer is the fact that it transcends the sport. These two clubs were affiliated with opposing sides of the Spanish Civil War, and there’s still a lot of civic pride on the line whenever Spain’s’ two biggest cities face off. No matter your affiliation, singing and chanting alongside 99,000 fans at Camp Nou in Barcelona while the world’s best players are on the pitch is enough to give any fan of “the beautiful game” goose bumps.
Catch a wave on Australia’s Gold Coast
Where: The beaches of Gold Coast, Queensland
When: December through April for the best waves, early/mid-March if you want to catch the World Surf League event
All over coastal Australia, surfing is a mainstream sport and a way of life. Nowhere is this truer than around Gold Coast, Queensland, a literal Surfer’s Paradise. Whether you’re a lifer looking to tuck your way through an A-frame barrel at Superbank or you just want to paddle out and stand up for the first time at Currumbin Alley, there are more than enough beach breaks to keep surfers of all stripes stoked on the conditions.
You’ll find the largest swells sometime after the New Year, but if you want to see some of the world’s best surfers drop in, plan a visit around early to mid-March when the World Surf League season kicks off with the Gold Coast event at Snapper Rocks.
Nothing pairs with good sports like a good beer. Check out our list of beer lover’s pilgrimages so you can sample some hops as you hop around the globe.