Watching soccer on TV is exciting, but there’s nothing better than seeing your favorite team in person. To help save you time and money on soccer tickets and transportation, we’ve done the research for you. We’ve taken trips around the world to watch games across Europe and the United States.
Traveling to see live soccer abroad can be the experience of a lifetime. But securing travel, lodging and most importantly, the actual soccer tickets themselves can be overwhelming. That’s why we’re here to help share our experiences and lessons learned.
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If you’re interested in traveling abroad to watch your favorite team in action, read on for our comprehensive guide:
Pros and cons of package tour operators
Let’s start with something that would likely ease the access to get over to Europe: package trips.
You may have seen many of these package tour operators advertising on television or online. There are advantages to what they offer which is a less stressful experience where they include game tickets, transportation and accommodations for what promises to be a trip of a lifetime. Depending on the service you use, flights and accommodations may or may not be included.
However, these trips can stack up, and fast. There are ways for you to save money in each facet of the trip. In fact, using some of the tips and recommendations in this guide, you can save over $1,000 by booking on your own compared to using a travel agency. Of course, it requires a little bit more work to nail down the right prices and to lay out your precise itinerary. Yet, that applies to everything. Work hard, play hard, as it were.
The other advantage of booking the trip yourself is that you’re in control. You don’t have to adhere to the strict itinerary that a package tour operator provides. Instead, going on your own allows you to focus your itinerary on only the games and places you want to experience.
The first thing to note is that trips to Europe are not cheap. It makes more sense to make a week out of the trip than just bouncing over for a long weekend.
As you will see in this guide, you can take advantage of Europe to get around easily and even go to multiple soccer games in multiple countries during your time over there.
Part of the fun of following your own plan is the flexibility at your disposal. For example, many package tours provide bus tours or planned meals. This can be great for someone who just wants a very relaxing trip with not a worry in the world. However, having dinner at a smaller, more authentic, restaurant, or sharing drinks with the locals, is the best way to truly experience Europe.
What you will find when over there is that it truly is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Our goal here is to make it affordable and enjoyable for everybody.
Grab a pen and some paper. Here is how to affordably travel to Europe to watch the beautiful game.
When to go
Pick the best time of the year to visit.
European soccer generally follows the same calendar. The top tiers in England, Spain, Germany, France, Italy and practically everywhere else in Europe run from August through May. Typically, the most expensive times to travel are in the summer months from June to August.
Fortunately for soccer fans, the cheaper months to travel are during the fall and winter from September to March, coinciding with most of the European soccer seasons. It also depends where in Europe you are traveling. For instance, Paris, London, Madrid and other major cities all have different prices for different times of the year.
Be creative when asking for time off work.
You’ll need to factor in how many vacation days you can take and how to seek permission from your boss to take the time needed. If you’re like most of us, taking time off work is usually a challenge, but here are some helpful tips.
- Tip: Schedule your vacation time around a holiday. For example, if you live in the United States, look into dates around Labor Day or Thanksgiving Day. Remember, flights domestically in the U.S. have price rises during that time, but internationally you should be able to find some bargains because those holidays aren’t recognized in Europe.
It’s easy to plan your own trip to Europe. Here’s how to do it:
First, figure out what time of the year you want to take the trip. You’ll want to look at the schedules of games in Europe. For instance, here are the latest schedules for the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, Bundesliga and Ligue 1, among other leagues.
Once you know what time of the year you’re planning to go to Europe, it’s good to remember that most flights over to Europe are overnight when leaving from the United States. Therefore, you get in the following morning. That way, if you want, you can often work the day then leave that night.
We recommend taking a week to experience European soccer. In that time frame, you could realistically fit in four to five games depending on which teams or competitions you want to see. Travel inside of Europe, if that is something that interests you, is also something to consider for your trip planning. Again, we recommend exposing yourself to as much variety as possible.
Where to go
Figure out which matches you want to see in Europe.
If you are a fan of a certain club in Europe, chances are you want to watch that club. For instance, look at German soccer. In some weeks, there are domestic league games on the weekend. Then, during the week, teams compete in the UEFA Champions League, Europa League, Conference League or in the DFB-Pokal, the German Cup. The same applies to every other nation in Europe, depending on the club you support. Use the list of soccer TV schedules to ping your dates for travel. You can maximize your opportunity to watch soccer in great ways. Or, it can go south.
- Tip: With the breadth of soccer, there are always options to watch. That could be domestic leagues, domestic cups, continental cups and international soccer.
- Tip: Always be checking to make sure the kickoff times stay consistent. Soccer has a knack for last-minute changes to kickoffs. This was especially true during the 2020 and 2021 seasons due to COVID-19. Oftentimes, the best place to learn updates is via the club you are interested in. Social media can play a major role in providing the latest news and updates for each game.
It also helps to know that many of Europe’s biggest clubs are in the biggest hubs for travel. Or, at least, they are easy to get to from there. In England, the ‘big six’ are near London or Manchester. Barcelona, Spain and Paris are some of the most frequent destinations for Americans. Therefore, airlines schedule frequent flights to these cities.
Munich, Berlin, Milan and Rome all have major airports that have direct flights from the United States.
A helpful website for seeing what direct flights are available from and to destinations is https://www.flightconnections.com/
Money Saving Tips
Finding an inexpensive flight
This is probably the most stress-inducing part of planning a trip to Europe. Once the flight is booked, everything else can start to fall into motion. However, timing is key when it comes to booking airline flights. The general thought is that ticket prices rise as the date gets closer. This is not always the case. Oftentimes, airlines will raise ticket prices when they recognize a new desire by potential customers to eye up tickets. Therefore, let other sources do that searching and predicting for you. That way, you get the best price on airline tickets just based on when a program tells you.
The most helpful of these sources is Google Flights. This service, which is usable by simply searching ‘Google Flights’ into your search engine, allows you to put in all the necessary information. Dates, destinations, passengers. Then, it compares airlines to find you the best price.
However it does not stop there. Google Flights has tools that allow you to see which days have the cheaper flights for the destinations of your choice. There is a whole calendar spanning months that can help you in this regard.
Plus, Google will say how high the prices for those flights are, comparatively. It lists out the prices for the same flights as listed in previous days so you know if you can wait for prices to drop.
Other features on the free Google Flights tool include ‘Track Flights,’ which sends you an email notification when the price for a flight increases or decreases.
- Tip: Research shows that the best day of the week to book a flight is Sunday. You may often find that flights go up in price after a Sunday. Also, typically, the best time to book a flight is usually around three months away from your desired travel date.
- Tip: Always try to aim for the biggest cities in Europe for the cheapest flights. Ground travel once there is often more affordable, especially if carrying baggage. PLUS, many major clubs play in the biggest cities. Here are a few examples:
- Heathrow Airport / Gatwick Airport (London) – Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham, West Ham, Crystal Palace
- Charles de Gaulle Airport (Paris) – PSG
- Adolfo Suárez Madrid–Barajas Airport (Madrid) – Real Madrid, Atletico
- Malpensa Airport (Milan) – Inter, AC Milan, Atalanta
- Leonardo da Vinci International Airport (Rome) – Roma
These airports offer regular direct flights to the United States on a variety of airlines.
Other benefits of Google Flights allowing you to search by the number of connections you want, as well as the airlines you prefer.
All of the options available give you the power to select the choices you want and be in control of the search experience.
Next step is purchasing tickets to the games, all of which can be done online from anywhere in the world using a credit card.
It may seem logical, but do not scalp tickets off people selling them on the street. These people just want to turn a profit, not sell tickets to fans. Plus there has been an increase in the number of counterfeit tickets being sold to unsuspecting customers.
Instead, opt for a club’s official website to buy tickets. Keep in mind, however, that the major clubs throughout the world have a plethora of season ticket holders. Most of the time, especially for major games, these tickets are snatched up weeks or months in advance. Therefore, early preparation is key for a trip over to Europe.
Some clubs require you to be a member (for an additional fee) just to buy a ticket.
If that is unsuccessful, try reaching out to the official supporters groups in the United States. The parent club always tries to cater to its official groups, and part of that is giving them tickets to distribute to fans. Even if a game is sold out when you check, there may be tickets available from the supporters groups.
Other than that, tickets tend to go on sale for games about six weeks before they are scheduled. That can fluctuate, of course.
- TIP: Keep an eye out for cup games. Even though you may not be a killer league game, cup games present a cheaper opportunity to watch the biggest clubs. Plus, they can provide a different fan experience with, usually, more visiting fans in attendance.
As a last resort, pull up to the stadium and the club’s ticket office and see if there are any tickets available. There is a chance no one claimed their tickets, leaving an opportunity available.
You can also buy tickets on secondary markets, where tickets are guaranteed. These sites include Vivid Seats and Ticket Liquidator.
Save time and money by purchasing your currency ahead of time.
Just like the tickets, do not wait until you are in the country to exchange your currency. This is particularly true at the airports. Exchange fees are highest where most people are traveling through. There is no benefit to losing money trying to get usable money.
So, here are some solutions. You can go to your bank, which tends to have decent exchange rates. However, on top of that, you likely have to pay a fee to get the Euros or Pounds, depending on where you travel to. As a result, we don’t recommend your local bank for currency exchange.
Or, try taking care of it online beforehand. Websites like Currency Exchange International allow you to place a credit card order online, and they send the money to you before you depart. This can have a delivery fee, like a bank fee for currency exchange. However, some websites may provide free delivery on currency if you order a certain amount.TIP: Monitor the exchange rates between your country and your destination. These constantly fluctuate for a variety of reasons, and they can balloon on you. Look for the valleys and troughs to see when to avoid, and when to buy, respectively.
Be forewarned that ATMs in some cities try to trick you by charging you much more than how much it should cost. Watch this helpful video that walks you through what to avoid.
In some countries, using a credit card to pay for the vast majority of purchases in a foreign country should suffice – as well as having some cash in a local currency available just in case.
However, do the research before you go. For instance, this author made the mistake of going to Germany with the intent of making all purchases on a credit card. When I arrived in Germany, I quickly found out that a lot of places didn’t accept credit cards. Culturally, German residents are more concerned with privacy than residents of most western civilizations.
Another important step to take before you head to Europe is to make sure your credit card doesn’t charge extra for charges made in a foreign country. Your best bet is to use credit cards with no foreign transaction fees.
Book your transportation ahead of time.
If you are traveling over from the United States, it is likely that you arrive in Europe after a redeye. The last thing you want is to scramble for taxis or Uber rides early in the morning. Even worse, those fees can stack up.
So, let’s break down some ways to get around Europe once you are there. One surprising note for many Americans is the fact that travel across Europe is often cheaper by flying than it is by car. The car culture in the United States makes it seem practical. However, with everything relatively close together in Europe – and so many airlines competing against each other in Europe, flights can be cheap.
While these are not the super high-quality airlines you may expect, it is hard to beat the prices offered. Plus, these airlines go from the ‘big’ airports to many smaller ones – which may be closer to your final destination.
Similarly, you can go from London to any other major city for less than $200 round trip.
Getting out of the airport.
Major cities like Barcelona, Madrid, London, Paris, Munich, Milan and others have easy and cheap trains directly from the airport to the city center. Plus, these are cheaper than taxis. In fact, some of these options are less than $15 USD one way.
If the train is not for you, taxis are always an option. These can take you directly to your accommodation. Remember, however, that airports are far from the city center. Those distances lead to high fees on car transport.
There are always local buses available too in European cities. However, their frequent stops can be frustrating if you don’t have a lot of time.
Renting a car.
Maybe you want to be extra adventurous. Take the opportunity to drive on the other side of the road, which can be a scary task. Just to be safe, here is a guide on how to drive in the UK and Europe.
- TIP: Driving on the other side of the road is one thing. Keep in mind that Europeans often use manual transmission on vehicles. In the United States, most cars have automatic transmission. When renting a car, be sure to clarify that you are getting a car with automatic transmission from your rental service. It would be hard to get out of the airport not knowing how to drive that type of car.
Be sure to book a rental car well in advance to save money. Just like airfares, these can bounce up and down over time, so lock in a rental car price when you feel it is right. It differs based on the time of year, the location you rent from, the rental agency and what kind of car you want.Skyscanner, Sixt or Alamo are just a couple websites to use.
- TIP: If looking for rental cars in the UK, try searching “car hire” instead of “car rental.” The many linguistic differences are part of the fun traveling abroad, and this is just one instance. In fact it is probably best to do this search on the UK version of Google.
You’ll find that, despite the lesser dependence on cars, Europe is heavily connected via roadways. In some areas, it is especially fun. The German Autobahn is a speed-limit-free network of highways. Plus, despite the lack of a bridge, you can get a car from the United Kingdom over to mainland Europe. Take a ferry or the Eurotunnel to get your car across the English channel.
In England, the equivalent to the interstate system in the United States is the motorway system. The most widely used motorway is the M1, which links London to Leeds. The M6 begins near Birmingham and links it to major cities like Manchester and Liverpool.
Overall, however, you may find car rental prices in Europe too cost prohibitive. Prices have increased sharply in the last few years.
We certainly recommend traveling by train while in Europe. It is something many of us in the United States do not have the easy option to do. Plus, it is cheap and easy to do if traveling to multiple cities.
There are some options to save money by using multiple trains during your travels. If you are staying only in the United Kingdom, but you want to go to multiple cities, the BritRail Pass is a great option. While there are some exclusions, this allows the opportunity to travel across England, Scotland and Wales on a train using just one pass. The train system links all the major cities in the United Kingdom from Cardiff to Manchester and London to Edinburgh.
Check train schedules and where train stations are located in the United Kingdom using the National Rail website.
If you don’t want to get a train pass, you definitely want to use the following site which will save you a lot of money on the prices of train tickets – https://www.thetrainline.com/
For those of you traveling throughout Europe, the train systems often take you right to the center of the city. It can also be more comfortable and more scenic than traveling. Of course, you lose the benefit of time. Flying can be considerably faster than train.
The Eurostar is the one train to link England with France and Belgium via the Channel Tunnel. Another option is Eurail, which is the much more widespread option for train travel. There are locations as far west as Dublin and Lisbon going all the way east to Ankara or Helsinki.
The Eurail website lists out a number of passes that can suit how you plan your travels. While it does say you can book as close as one day in advance, it is still recommended to book farther in advance. That way, you can really plan out where you will be going.
Book your car rental ahead of time
If you’re feeling adventurous and want to drive on the opposite side of the street in England, save a ton of money by booking your car rental on the internet before you arrive in the UK. Helpful sites with great discounts include Sixt or Alamo.
- Tip:If you want to do your own research for car rental prices, use the term “car hire” instead of “car rental” when you search in Google. In fact, your best bet is to search via the UK version of Google.
Make a list of the stadiums you want to see
Whether it is your favorite team’s stadium or some of the cathedrals of the sport, many major clubs offer behind-the-scenes tours of the stadium that includes visits to the dressing room, press area and the pitch itself. Tickets are one thing, but it is great to see an in-depth view of the stadium. You can learn about opportunities using a club’s website. Or, reach out to the club’s official supporters group for more information in that regard.
Research hotels and accommodations beforehand
Hotels in Europe often get a bad rap. Particularly in the United Kingdom, people criticize hotels for being the same size as closets. To add, they can often not be clean.
Fortunately, that stigma is moving towards the past. Newer hotels follow the cleanliness guidelines travelers are used to. Frankly, the COVID-19 pandemic helped the cleaning protocols at many hotels. With the uptick in quality, there is an ensuing uptick in price.
This is not just selective to the UK and London. In fact, Barcelona, Paris, Milan, Berlin and other major cities have high accommodation costs.
As is the case with much of what we establish in this travel guide, the key is booking in advance. During the summer months, prices are higher with the rise in tourism. Fortunately, the primary soccer season runs from the fall through the winter into spring. Prices are somewhat cheaper during this time.
Before booking, review the virtual tours and photographs of the hotel on sites such as Booking.com, Expedia and Priceline.
If you are more someone who is purely trying to save money, budget hotels and hostels are a viable choice. These are far from there for comfort. If anything, they are a place to stay while you spend the day in the city going to a game or sightseeing.
You may want to sacrifice staying outside of the center of a city or away from the touristy areas. People pay for easy access.
Of course, there are apartments and houses available for rental through services such as Vrbo, Airbnb and Skyscanner. The advantage of Booking.com is that it often combines hotel listings with apartment or house rentals. Our experience has been that Booking.com often has the best rates.
Get set with your phone and texting
As you likely know, calling internationally is not included in most phone plans. Certain providers have international calling packages that you can add on.
Our recommendation is T-Mobile, which offers free data and texting internationally without incurring roaming charges. The benefit is that when you travel from country to country with T-Mobile, it’s much less of a stressful experience. You can keep on using data to surf the Internet and message your family via text.
For everyone else, check with your phone provider to see what they offer for your international travels. Upon arriving in Europe, your provider will send you a text message to let you know what you can and cannot do abroad. Plus, it should list out additional fees for calls or using data.
Texting also costs extra when you are abroad. However, there are apps you can use in lieu of texting for no additional charge. The most popular of these is WhatsApp. Many people use this app regardless of whether they are traveling or not. It is easy to use, as it resembles any messenger. Plus, it is free to use on any internet connection. Therefore, if your hotel has free WiFi, you have access to free texting.
The atmosphere in European soccer is not just for the 90 minutes of play. It starts hours in advance and goes deep into the night, or afternoon depending on when kickoff is.
That all starts at a pub for many supporters, particularly in the United Kingdom. As is the case with American sporting venues, there are places to grab food and drink in close proximity to almost all stadiums. Even the newer spots away from the center of the city have bustling areas around them. The best bet for you to go and find people of similar interest if you are watching your favorite club is to reach out to the local supporters groups. Few have their knowledge and expertise, making that the best bet for how to learn the best spot.
- TIP: Some pubs are specifically set to cater to away fans. In order to avoid some bad blood, keep an eye out to make sure people are wearing the same colors and club badge as you.
- TIP: Get to these bars and pubs early. With the bigger clubs, more and more fans will want to meet up with thousands of their closest friends prior to the game to sing songs. Get there early, grab a drink and some food and enjoy the atmosphere.