Everyone knows sports fans will go to the ends of the earth to show their pride and support. Whether you cheer from 7,200 feet above sea level, keep your white garments clean and pressed for the end of June, or fly halfway around the world for a rugby match, there are spots all over the world where die-hard fans flock to get as close to the action as possible. So raise a glass of milk, stroll across the Swilcan Bridge or bring a bike to leave behind. Here are 7 pilgrimages a sports fan must take.
1. Churchill Downs
Often referred to as "the most exciting two minutes in sports," the Kentucky Derby is the oldest continuously held major sporting event in the United States, running every year since 1875.
Churchill Downs, the host site, is spread out over 190 acres with a 26-acre infield, 47 barns and 1,424 stables on-hand. Approximately 150,729 people attended the Kentucky Derby in 2019, while 18 million viewers watched the NBC telecast alone. Held every first Sunday in May, the Kentucky Derby is the most popular horse race in the world.
Racetrack aside, other on-site venues at Churchills Downs include the Skye Terrace, the Stakes Room, the Roses Lounge, and the Kentucky Derby Museum, which contains two floors of family-friendly interactive exhibits. Churchill Downs itself is a just quick drive away from plenty of other local sports-related destinations, including the Muhammad Ali Center, Louisville Slugger Field and Cardinal Stadium.
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Wimbledon has been held at London’s All England Club since 1877 and is the only major tennis tournament to be played on outdoor grass courts. Traditionally held in late June and early July, Wimbledon's host site has also been home to high-profile croquet events and the tennis portion of the 2012 Summer Olympics.
Getting tickets to Wimbledon is no easy feat. Most of the tournament's tickets are made available through a public ballot which applications can be submitted starting in early August of the preceding year. If that fails, a limited number of tickets are available on each day of the event, which leads to camping out the prior evening. Should you have some free time while attending Wimbledon, within 10 miles of the tournament grounds you can find a wide array of interesting attractions, including the National Gallery, the Victoria & Albert Museum, St. James' Park and the British Museum.
3. St. Andrews
Simply known as "the home of golf," the Old Course at St. Andrews Links is believed to be the world's oldest golf course. The Fife, Scotland destination was first used by golfers around the early 15th century. It has since been home to The Open Championship on 29 occasions – more than any other golf course – and is host every September to the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship tournament.
The 18-hole course is not the only sports-related claim to fame for Fife. It currently has four football (soccer) clubs within the Scottish Professional Football League, an Elite Ice Hockey League team – the Fife Flyers are the UK's oldest ice hockey club – and eight rugby union clubs.
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4. Hanazono Rugby Stadium
The oldest dedicated rugby stadium in Japan, Hanazono Rugby Stadium first opened in 1929. With a capacity of 30,000, the stadium – which served as a training site during World War II – was last renovated in 2018. Beyond being the home of the Kintetsu Liners rugby team and the location of the annual National High School Rugby Tournament, it was one of the venues of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, the first Rugby World Cup hosted in Asia.
Hanazono Rugby Stadium is located in Higashiōsaka within the Osaka Prefecture of Japan. When in town to catch a Kintetsu Liners match, you may also be able to experience soccer's F.C. Osaka, baseball's Orix Buffaloes, basketball's Osaka Evessa and/or volleyball's Suntory Sunbirds.
5. Azteca Stadium
Estadio Azteca (Azteca Stadium) in Mexico City is a multi-purpose stadium that first opened in 1961. It’s the home of Club América, Cruz Azul and, most notably, the Mexican national soccer team.
What makes Azteca Stadium stand out from the others is that it sits 7,200 feet above sea level and played host to some of the biggest games in the country, particularly those against the United States. But for Argentina fans, Azteca Stadium will long be remembered as where Diego Maradona scored the “goal of the century” during a 1986 FIFA World Cup game between Argentina and England.
The 87,000-seat stadium was the site of two FIFA World Cup Finals, the 1971 Women's World Cup and the soccer portion of the 1968 Summer Olympics. It’s slated to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup. Outside of the soccer realm, Azteca Stadium has played host to one regular-season NFL game every year since 2016.
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6. Madonna Del Ghisallo
Located near Lake Como in Magreglio, Italy, Madonna Del Ghisallo is one of the more unlikely sports landmarks of the world. Per legend, Medieval count Ghisallo was saved from robbers by an image of the Virgin Mary seen at a nearby shrine. The incident eventually dubbed "La Madonna Del Ghisallo" of travelers. But in 1949, local priest Father Ermelindo Vigano successfully proposed making "La Madonna Del Ghisallo" the patroness of cyclists, which was confirmed by Pope Pius XII.
These days, the church at Madonna Del Ghisallo is home to numerous race-used bikes and race-worn cyclist jerseys as part of the Fondazione Museo Del Ciclismo-Madonna Del Ghisallo, which opened in 2000. Among the artifacts found within the small cycling museum is the crumpled bicycle of Olympic gold medalist Fabio Casartelli, a Lake Como native, who died in a crash during the 1995 Tour De France.
7. Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Home to the Indianapolis 500 and NASCAR's Brickyard 400, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was constructed and opened in 1909. Located within the Indianapolis suburb of Speedway, Indiana, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was previously the home of the United States Grand Prix.
It is the highest-capacity sports venue in the world with approximately 400,000 seats. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum is on the grounds of the Speedway, which also includes the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall Of Fame. The grounds have also played host to the PGA's 500 Festival Open Invitation tournament, the LPGA's 500 Ladies Classic, the OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon and Pan American Games.