There are innumerable reasons to place the UK high on your list of countries to travel to. But one that probably doesn’t get enough attention is sport. While it may not match the U.S. across the ocean for the sheer variety of sporting occasions, the UK is about as passionate a sports country as you can find. Accordingly, there are incredible stadiums and legendary competitions all over the country. If you’re a fan of sports and the ways in which they can reveal a city’s (or a nation’s) culture, an athletics-focused jaunt around the UK is certainly in order.
These are some of the top places and events you should try to prioritise.
The Boat Race
You didn’t expect that kind of heading for the first choice, did you? Well, you may have if you’re familiar with traditional English sport. But if you’re not up to speed, “The Boat Race” (what a charming title) is an annual rowing competition between Oxford and Cambridge, and it’s one of the most historic events in the UK. It was first held in June of 1829, and while there have been a few breaks here and there (the World Wars, in particular, interrupted the cycle), it’s more or less happened ever since. The action on the Thames is always great, as these two are usually quite close in rowing prowess. And for fans, it’s a great excuse to take a day off and simply enjoy yourself. A comprehensive write-up before this year’s race referred to it as an all-day booze fest, and while that may or may not be your thing, it should give you an idea of the festive atmosphere surrounding the occasion.
WimbledonNow we’ll go from perhaps the most distinctly British event (The Boat Race) to arguably the most famous. Wimbledon is the world’s most prestigious tennis tournament, and it looks the part. Gorgeously manicured tennis lawns, professional players dressed only in white, and a crowd full of respectful and knowledgeable spectators all contribute to the general sense of wonder at Wimbledon. It’s a very expensive event if you’re hoping to attend the later rounds, but there’s nothing quite like seeing the world’s best players battling it out on centre court at the All England Club. Then again, provided you do your shopping in advance, you can find more affordable tickets that serve as passes to the grounds for the earlier rounds.
The Cheltenham Festival
There are a lot of tremendous horse racing events in the UK, and to be clear most of them are more like “festivals” than races. They take place over several days’ time, and they’re often known as much for traditions, food, and drink as they are for the races. Cheltenham is the first big race of the spring, and perhaps the most carefree. It’s got a party-like atmosphere given that it takes place over St. Patrick’s Day, and yet the races are still very prestigious. A preview of this year’s festival specified that it’s second only to the Grand National in total winnings up for grabs, which means the jockeys (and horses) are really going all out. Unlike our first two events, it doesn’t give you an excuse to hang out in London, but Cheltenham offers its own charms. It’s right on the edge of the Cotswolds – one of the UK’s most beautiful country regions.
The Manchester Derby
Some will argue that there are actually better rivalry football matches in the UK. But you get two chances to see the Manchester Derby each year, so it’s easier to potentially work into a travel plan. Plus, it gives you a chance to see a city besides London, and while Manchester has its drawbacks, it’s a great spot for culture, football, and lively pubs. The Manchester Derby matches are always highlights of the Premier League schedule – the two occasions when Manchester City and Manchester United play each other in the city they share. Both clubs are very strong, which makes the football good enough to match the spectator enthusiasm.
British Grand Prix
This is a Formula 1 race held annually in the village of Silverstone in Northamptonshire. It’s worth equal points to the other F1 races around the world, and it typically occurs almost exactly in the middle of the Grand Prix schedule. That means the standings tend to be rounding into form and the competition at the top is only getting more intense. The British Grand Prix is particularly thrilling these days given that British driver Lewis Hamilton is at the top of the sport, and it’s a treat to see him in his home Grand Prix (he placed first this summer). Travel-wise, Silverstone doesn’t have a whole lot to offer. But it’s also fairly close to the Cotswolds, and it’s also not too far north of the town of Oxford, which can be a sightseeing treat for tourists.
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