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World's greatest sporting venues

The <i>Maracana</i>, Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.
For many sports fans, following their team across the world is one of the best ways to travel. But there are certain venues that possess an extra-special magic — whether it's because of the history, sheer size or the calibre of the contests held there. We've picked out the best venues where some of the world's most popular sports are played, so you can plan your own favoured pilgrimage.

Football


It's the world's most popular sport and, naturally, there are great venues across the world. These include:

Wembley Stadium

London, England. Regarded by many as the game's spiritual home, Wembley recently underwent a complete rebuild. It's indisputably much better for spectators now, while the huge arc on top is an architectural triumph. But does it have quite the same magic without its original famous towers? Those wanting to get on the hallowed turf can take part in a 90-minute stadium tour. See the Stadium Tour website for details.

Sandygate Road

Sheffield, England. For the romantic, however, the real pilgrimage site is a far more humble affair. A sloping field with a tiny stand next to it, the Sandygate Road ground played host to the first ever football match between two clubs. Back on December 26, 1860, Hallam FC hosted Sheffield FC. Amazingly, Hallam FC still calls it their home ground and it's recognised as the oldest football stadium in the world.

The Maracana

Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. Football was born in England, but perfected in Brazil. And for an electric viewing experience, you can't beat watching a game in the enormous Maracana. Many of Brazil's top sides play here, including Flamengo, Fluminense, Botafogo and Vasco da Gama. But it's the sheer capacity that stuns as much as the atmosphere. It still holds the world record for a football game attendance, with an incredible 199,500 fans turning up to watch the 1950 World Cup final.

Other great grounds include Barcelona's Nou Camp and the San Siro in Milan.

Rugby union


Rugby School

England. The game originated in the otherwise uninspiring town of Rugby, when a schoolboy, William Webb Ellis, picked the ball up during a school football game and ran with it. The pitch — known as The Close — is still there, and it's possible to go on a tour of the school or visit its museum at certain times of the week. See the Rugby school website for further information.

Carisbrook Stadium

Dunedin, New Zealand. We all know that New Zealand is the real home of rugby (except for the traditional All Black World Cup bottle job), and that the country's most passionate fans are in Dunedin. Watching a game at the House of Pain (as Carisbrook is known) is a rite of passage, and a fabulous slice of tribal fervour.

Motor racing


Monaco

There are a few great Formula One circuits, but the street circuit in this tiny principality has the most glamour and gravitas. However, it rarely produces the best races, as overtaking is nigh on impossible. In fact, former champion Nelson Piquet compared racing around the circuit to riding a bicycle around your living room. But that's not really the point — Monaco's the one they all want to win. Visitors can walk around the track when the Grand Prix circus isn't in town — it's marked with red and white kerbs.

Cricket


Lord's

London, England. Regarded by the players in almost holy terms, Lord's isn't known as the home of cricket for nothing. It's where the Ashes trophy is kept, and on tours of the ground, it's possible to see the famous Long Room and Honours Board, where batsman scoring a century or bowlers taking a five wicket haul are immortalised forever.

The MCG

Melbourne. But forget Lord's — the truly great venue is "the 'G". The enormous home of Australian cricket and Aussie rules football hosted the historic first test match between England and Australia. It's also the venue for that venerable sporting institution — the Boxing Day test match. It'd be un-Australian not to attend at least once. It's possible to go on backstage tours of the MCG when no events are scheduled.

Tennis


Wimbledon

London, England. The four Grand Slam tournaments are all supposedly equal, but for history and atmosphere, Wimbledon rises head and shoulders above the rest. Until you've sat through days of drizzle, eating horrendously overpriced strawberries and cream, you can't really call yourself a proper tennis fan. The Wimbledon complex , which is endearingly amateur for most of the year, also hosts the Lawn Tennis Museum and tours.

Golf


St Andrews

Scotland. One of the oldest courses in the world, and the most frequent host of the British Open, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club is golf's "Mecca". It was at St Andrews where the game's rules were formulated, and the R&A is still in charge of the laws governing golf everywhere, except Mexico and the United States. Playing a round here, however, is rather expensive.

Augusta

Georgia, United States. If St Andrews is great because it was where the game developed, winning the US Masters at the Augusta National Golf Club is the pinnacle of achievement for golfers everywhere. The famous green jacket has been donned by the great names of the game, and the famous (and exclusive) course is almost certainly the most exciting place to watch the sport.

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