With the World Cup now about a month away, summer tourism conversations are taking on a different tone for many people all over the world. In addition to being one of the most incredible sporting events on the planet, the World Cup provides a great excuse for people from all different nationalities to congregate in one fantastic location for what essentially amounts to a month long party. And with the Cup in Brazil, the party is going to be bigger than ever!
Brazil and its 12 host cities will offer a limitless variety of entertainment for visitors: festivals, restaurants and bars, carnival events, wonderful beaches and wildlife preserves, and even, at one venue, a glimpse of the Amazon! One could conceivably design any sort of vacation at this year’s Cup, given the scope of the country and the diversity in its host cities’ attractions. But at the end of the day, no trip to the World Cup is complete without seeing a few great matches, no matter how appealing the host cities and venues may be. So, for those travelers who could use a few tips on the actual soccer taking place at this summer’s Cup, here’s a look at each of the 12 venues—and the best match you can hope to see at each one!
Perhaps the most intriguing host city due to its location in the Amazon (and its brand-new Arena Amazonia stadium), Manaus will also play host to two incredible group stage matches: Italy vs. England on June 14, and USA vs. Portugal on June 22.
The famous Castelao stadium has been renovated for the World Cup, and that in and of itself is an interesting draw to Fortaleza, where you’ll find some of the most passionate fans in Brazil. Brazil will play Mexico on June 17, which is sure to be a major draw, but the best match may well be on June 14, when Uruguay meets Costa Rica.
With tropical weather and great beaches, but lacking the huge crowds of the bigger cities, Natal will be one of the more fan-friendly destinations at the Cup. A June 24 showdown between Italy and Uruguay is clearly the most intriguing match at the venue.
Another hot beach town, with a brand-new arena in the beautiful Arena Pernambuco, Recife will be another fan-friendly draw unless it’s too hot (which is a possibility!). Additionally, Recife will play host to a fantastic looking USA vs. Germany match on June 26. U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann, a former German star, has to like his squad’s chances after the U.S. managed a 4-3 win over Germany in a 2013 friendly—but the U.S. will still be heavy underdogs.
Salvador is one of the most varied destinations, in that it offers everything from a unique city, to a calm bay attraction, to standard lovely beaches. Spain vs. Netherlands on June 13 and Germany vs. Portugal on June 16 are both matches to put on your list.
As the smallest host city, and one that was almost entirely abandoned in the past, Cuiaba is a very interesting destination from a cultural standpoint. Its stadium, too, is on the smaller side, but it could play host to a surprisingly enjoyable match in Nigeria vs. Bosnia on June 21. Nigeria is viewed by many as the strongest African team in this year’s Cup, and in a recent analysis of teams likely to score the most goals, sports reference site Betfair noted Bosnia as an entertaining offensive team to watch.
Brasilia is admittedly a little bland in comparison to most of the other host cities, but its gigantic Estadio Nacional should be a spectacle in and of itself. Brazil will play Cameroon on June 23 for what will certainly be a raucous crowd, but Portugal vs. Ghana on June 26 is likely to be the better match.
Belo Horizonte will offer a unique atmosphere as one of the most inland host cities, though its attractions include Lake Pampulha and a number of nearby colonial towns. A June 24 match between Costa Rica and England will headline the schedule here and likely have major implications in who comes out of the very difficult Group D.
Rio De Janeiro
Not much needs to be said about Rio, as the seaside metropolis is already one of the most recognizable tourist destinations on the planet. June 15 will offer an interesting match as Lionel Messi makes his appearance in Rio against Bosnia, attempting to lead Brazilian rival Argentina to a World Cup title. However, Belgium vs. Russia on June 22 is also intriguing. Belgium is recognized as a quiet contender and Russia recently wrapped up a list written up by Sporting News of World Cup dark horses! Also worth noting is that Rio will host the Cup final on July 13.
Another city with a reputation that speaks for itself, Sao Paulo is the only host city that might offer a bigger party than Rio. Arena de Sao Paulo will be one of the newest and most impressive stadiums at the Cup, and the slate of matches is unparalleled (including a semi-final on July 9). The group stage in Sao Paulo will be headlined by the opening match of the Cup, with Brazil battling Croatia on June 12. But Uruguay vs. England on June 19 is a very promising match.
One of the most naturally appealing host cities, Curitiba is located at a high elevation fairly far inland. Also, it is home to a number of beautiful parks and open natural areas. It can be a relaxing, remote getaway at a Cup full of big city and beach options, though its match schedule is somewhat weak. A chance to see defending champion Spain play Australia on June 23 is probably the best event in Curitiba.
Porto Alegre can feel somewhat stiffer than most of the host cities, as it’s a fairly corporate city whose main attractions are more in the vein of museums and the like. However, world-class vineyards are within reach for those who want an adventure out of town. Additionally, a June 25 match between Nigeria and Argentina has potential to be one of the more entertaining group stage matches.
So there you have it. For a full match schedule, you can visit FIFA’s schedule page, and further research on each venue can clue you in to specific sights and attractions. But for those visiting the Cup for the matches, these are certainly some of the group stage highlights to put on your list.