It's that time of year again. The Super Bowl is upon us, and the 51st edition of the NFL championship game serves as the culmination of another season. The Falcons and Patriots will smack each other around in Houston in a contest watched by more than 150 million people worldwide. The annual spectacle is more than a game, too, with all the leadup hype and a halftime show featuring Lady Gaga this time around.
But as popular as the NFL has become and as big a deal as we Americans make of the Super Bowl each year -- it's essentially a national holiday (Who's calling in sick on Monday?) -- it's not the ideal sporting event to tack onto your travel bucket list. I mean, who the heck can afford those tickets? And the cities that have hosted Super Bowls are fine destinations for sure (Indianapolis, Detroit, Minneapolis, Miami, Dallas, Los Angeles, New Orleans), but many might not rank among the top spots in the world on your list.
Here is a list of the seven best sporting events that you must travel to see at least once during your lifetime. These extravaganzas are the perfect blend of sports pomp and circumstance against the backdrop of a marvelous top-notch destination. This way, you have plenty to enjoy as both a sports fan and a travel buff.
Tour de France -- Spread out a blanket on a rolling hillside in the Pyrenees or Alps and munch of cheeses and pastries while sipping a glass of wine and watching the peloton stream past. The three-week stage race offers plenty of time to mix mornings viewing the cyclists cranking on pedals and nights exploring the streets of Paris or dozens of other French villages that host portions of the race that finishes along the Champs-Elysees.
America's Cup -- This year, the 165-year-old yacht match racing series is held in Bermuda. You don't even have to be avid fans of the sport that features wind- and sun-burned sailors scrambling over the decks on billion-dollar vessels while cutting through the surf competition for a the oldest trophy in sport (the "Auld Mug"). You're going to have fun anyways. It's Bermuda, baby!
Prior venues for the America's Cup races have been San Francisco; San Diego; Valencia, Spain; Auckland, New Zealand and Fremantle, Australia. So, each America's Cup race takes you to a destination well worth exploring.
Wimbledon -- The most prestigious tennis tournament takes place on all-grass courts during the summer in London. Volley your time catching dominant performances by Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic between visits to Buckingham Palace, the West End theater productions, the London Eye and the British Museum.
The tourney lasts two weeks, so you'll be able to squeeze in plenty of tennis and sightseeing, as well as tea times and strawberries and cream.
British Open -- Put this oldie but goodie on your list especially when it's taking place at the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews in Scotland. This is the birthplace of golf, and for those especially devoted fans of chasing little white dimpled balls around a stretch of pasture for hours at a time, it's the equivalent of holy ground. When you're done watching a round, Scotland offers plenty to see and do: whisky distillery tours, castle visits, scenic drives overlooking majestic bluffs and train journeys to name a few.
World Cup -- The destination is new every four years when the greatest soccer (football) spectacle takes place. This is the world's most-watched sporting event, and the host country is always a top travel destination, meaning hundreds of thousands of soccer fans make the pilgrimage. You're immersed in a intoxicating embrace that's both patriotic fervor and party-time free-for-all as people proudly adorn the colors of their nation.
The most recent World Cup was in Brazil in 2014. In 2018, it will be in Russia, and past cups have been hosted in the United States, Italy, France, Spain, Argentina, Germany, South Africa, Mexico and England.
Olympics -- Like soccer's World Cup, the Summer Olympics, the greatest display of a wide range of sports disciplines, comes around only once every four years. The Olympics also are hosted by a new city each time, giving travelers a look at the destination after it has polished all the silverware and spiffed up for the big occasion.
Stars are made at the Olympics, and you can witness some of the most breathtaking performances by the best athletes in the world. And when you're not at the Olympic venues, you can explore the dynamic host cities. Tokyo will host in 2020 and three candidates are vying for 2024: Los Angeles, Budapest and Paris.
In the past, you could have gone to Athens, London, Beijing, Seoul, Rome and Sydney among others.
Boston Marathon -- The most historic marathon in the world takes place in one of the United States' most historically significant cities. The annual race takes place on the third Monday in April each year in conjunction with the city's Patriots Day celebrations. The world's oldest marathon is a vibrant gathering that puts citizen runners and the elite on the same course.
Runners weave amid throngs of supportive onlookers, and after the race concludes, the festivities continue throughout the city. The Boston Red Sox play at Fenway Park on race day. Also, in the weekend leading up to Patriots Day, you can attend parades, Revolutionary War reenactments and museum and pub tours.