In almost every corner of the globe — well, besides the U.S., of course — soccer dominates the sports headlines. Just look at the social media imprint of the two clubs participating in the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Champions League Final: Bayern Munich has more than 7 million Facebook likes. Its opponent Borussia Dortmund boasts 2.5 million. Comparatively, the reigning Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens haven’t eclipsed the 1.5 million marker yet. But if you think the virtual excitement is high, you won’t believe the actual intensity for the match inside London’s Wembley Stadium on May 25. Our editors put together a guide to everything on and off the pitch, ensuring you’ll meet your goal of having a great weekend with all of the other soccer-obsessing revelers in the U.K.
What to Know
Though many soccer pundits pegged the final to be yet another chapter in the storied rivalry between Spain’s La Liga giants Barcelona and Real Madrid, Bayern and Borussia Dortmund (BVB), the stalwarts of Germany’s Bundesliga, had other ideas. Bayern Munich, a disciplined, talented club led by Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry, is making its 10th finals appearance and third in four years. As for the other side, upstart BVB, which is anchored by striker Robert Lewandowski, is playing in just its second Champions League Final ever. The two clubs had a dress rehearsal on May 4 that ended in a messy, slow-moving draw. Expect a much crisper affair when the rested starters get in on the action this time around.
What to Do
Iconic Wembley Stadium, which has hosted the UEFA final seven times, has a capacity of 90,000 fans. When the final was last held at the venue in 2011, there were 87,695 spectators. If you have your druthers about being one of the lucky fanatics to get inside this year, get in line. Some 500,000 Dortmund fans entered a lottery to purchase just 24,000 tickets allotted to the club. If you come up empty with lotteries and online ticket houses, there are a host of upscale pubs in London that will be showing the match and pouring the pints. If you’re looking for a chic, sophisticated venue, Carlsberg Sports Bar in Leicester Square is a smart option. However, if you’re in the mood to chest bump kits in a more traditional scene, The Regent in Balham offers true local flavor.
Now, if you just have to get your live futbol fix before the men’s finale, the UEFA Women’s Champions League Final will take place between France’s Olympique Lyonnais and Germany’s VfL Wolfsburg on May 23 at London’s Stamford Bridge. And while more than 50,000 attended last season’s finale, tickets for this year’s event are quite inexpensive (around $16) and relatively easy to score.
Another event to circle on your action-packed weekend calendar is the UEFA Champions Festival (May 23 through 26) on the International Quarter at the entrance to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Soccer fans will most certainly have a ball at this free four-day celebration, considering all the concerts, skills clinics for kids and meet-and-greet sessions with former English pros like Steve McManaman and Faye White. One of the highlights of this year’s fest is the Kings of Europe—UEFA Icons photo exhibit, an impressive collection of 160 memorable images from the competition’s history. Expect long lines to see shots of greats such as Ryan Giggs, Lionel Messi and Andrés Iniesta in action.
Where to Stay
While there are certainly places closer to Wembley, we suggest staying 25 minutes or so away from the city’s center at a hotel where crowds will be a bit more manageable and you’ll have a considerable upgrade in luxury. Though the soccer-friendly Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star The Langham, London—just look at all the futbol-related posts on its blog—is a winning hotel any time of the year, you’ll truly score on this big weekend with its Enchanted Weekend package, a deal that includes a stay in an elegant room, complimentary English breakfast for two and free Wi-Fi access.
The timing couldn’t be any better for a stay at Four-Star The Ritz London, either, as the Hightail It to Highgrove package is offered just a day after the UEFA final (May 26 through 27). The package includes two nights in a posh Louis XVI-styled room, as well as a guided tour of the stunning gardens at Highgrove House.
Photos Courtesy of Nikada, Langham Hotels International Limited and The Puzzler