There are countless good reasons to visit the United Kingdom, whether you’re taking the whole family on a trip, escaping with that special someone, or even heading out for a solo getaway. You might explore London, go hiking in the countryside, take a castle tour, or enjoy any number of other travel experiences. Among the best options for some, though, is sports tourism. This wouldn’t necessarily be a way to design a trip just anywhere, but it so happens that the UK is home to enough world-class sporting events to make up a whole itinerary (or just give you a good reason to go someplace you’ve never been!).
Considering this, here’s a bucket list for sports tourism stops around the UK.
Iconic Football Clubs
The UK may love its sports in a fairly comprehensive way, but when you think of the British sports scene, it’s still football that comes to mind first. In a world utterly obsessed with the so-called “beautiful game,” in fact, the UK has a legitimate argument as the single most passionate football nation on the planet.
Accordingly, it’s imperative to consider visiting some of the UK’s iconic football clubs as part of a sports tourism trip around the region. The truth is that any professional match you see will be engaging and entertaining, from a national team contest at Wembley Stadium in London to a lower-level professional match in a quiet coastal town. With that said though it’s always fun to aim for some Premier League action (the top professional league in England), and some of the particularly famous clubs and stunning venues. These would include clubs like Arsenal (at Emirates Stadium in London), Manchester United and Manchester City (Old Trafford and Etihad Stadium, respectively, in Manchester), Liverpool (Anfield Stadium in Liverpool), and Chelsea (Stamford Bridge in London).
It’s best to know what you’re getting into at these matches, because the supporters are glued to the action. That means if you aren’t already a fan, you might consider learning a few of the star players and getting a feel for the matchup you’re seeing before you’re actually at the stadium. Even if you go in blind though, the pure energy surrounding football in the UK should sweep you up and into a memorable experience.
World Class Rugby
The UK’s rugby scene doesn’t get nearly the same level of international attention as the football leagues do. Within the country though, there are many who care just as much about this sport as any other. There are really only a handful of premier rugby nations in the world, and though the UK can’t quite boast the same history of international dominance as, say, New Zealand (whose “All-Blacks” national team is the stuff of legends), both Wales and England – and sometimes Scotland too for that matter – tend to rank among the most competitive nations. That tends to mean very high-quality play, and stadiums packed with adoring supporters.
There are various opportunities you can look into if you’re curious about seeing some rugby in person in the UK. Perhaps most prominent is the Six Nations competition, an annual contest between the top six teams in Europe: England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, France, and Italy. These teams alternate hosting one another from one year to the next, but naturally with four of them located on the British Isles, there are always “home” Six Nations matches there. You can also see some rugby on the club level though, with Premiership Rugby representing the highest league in England. Look to see Saracens (at Allianz Park in London) or the Leicester Tigers (Welford Road in Leicester), which have largely been the class of the league this past decade.
Horse Racing Festivals
If you’re visiting the UK during the spring and you’re interested in the sporting culture, you’d do well to look into the various horse racing festivals that take place throughout the season. The Cheltenham Festival (on the edge of the beautiful Cotswolds region), Grand National (near Liverpool) and Royal Ascot (on the London outskirts) mark the three main occasions. And rest assured, even if you’re not a horse racing enthusiast, you can get a lot out of them – because they’re ultimately about much more than just the races!
For one thing, the spectators are often in on the competition via betting interests, even more so than with other sporting events. The UK’s online bookmakers have made it easy to find horse racing tips for any given race at the tap of a screen, which makes the betting markets for these major festivals more accessible than ever. Whether or not you’re much of a bettor in general, or you know much about horse racing, these race tips can help you to place a small, informed wager, and thus have something riding on the outcome – which is a whole lot of fun.
Even if you’d rather avoid betting on the races altogether though, there’s plenty to enjoy at the big festivals. The grounds for these competitions are filled with terrific dining spots and bars (often serving champagne for people to sip with views of the tracks), and the fashion of the races makes for an event in and of itself. That is to say, even if you couldn’t care less about which horses win the race you’re attending, you’ll likely enjoy dressing up in traditional race day garb and indulging in some of the food and drink in the midst of a festive crowd.
Rowing & Sailing Competitions
These are less conventional sports to people from some parts of the world, but rest assured the UK loves its rowing and sailing. In fact, there are so many good British rowers and sailors that these sports tend to be among the nation’s strongest events at the Olympics.
On the rowing front there are occasional opportunities to see the national team in action, but the real treat is The Boat Race, which is an annual showdown on the River Thames between the teams (of men and women) from Oxford and Cambridge. These two prestigious universities have been conducting this duel on the river for over a century, and at this point the event is almost like a little festival unto itself. Watching the skill of the rowers is impressive from a sporting perspective, but really it’s the overall spectacle you’ll likely enjoy most. There’s nothing quite like crowds of people lining the Thames in a shared experience; it’s as if the parts of London along the river turn into an arena of sorts.
Where sailing is concerned, meanwhile, you might consider planning your UK trip around the Rolex Fastnet Regatta. Held every second August since 1925, this is considered one of the most prestigious regattas in the world. It can be watched from various locations around the South of England, though the best way to take it in might simply be to take a trip to London and get away for a few hours one day to see the sailors as they speed through the English Channel.
That wraps up our list! Rest assured, there are other wonderful sporting occasions to make time for in the UK as well. The Wimbledon tennis championships and The Open Championship golf tournament are extremely prestigious in their respective sports; cricket is very popular with British fans; and that’s all without even mentioning more niche sports like boxing, or the increasingly popular MMA. However, for travel purposes, the options above can make the most sense, as they all represent experiences that go beyond sport.