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When you travel, you usually want to do more than see the sights. You want to get a sense of the culture and the people as much as do the normal touristy things. One of the best ways to do that, if you’re a sports fan, is to catch one of the football games when you visit Istanbul!
Turkey is about as football-mad a country as you’ll find, with football results and controversies regularly dominating the headlines and being the only thing discussed for weeks on end. Every single person in Turkey has a team that they support, even if they don’t like football!
In Istanbul there are 3 main teams that are typically competing with each other for the title and have the most history. These teams are Galatasaray, Fenerbahçe and Beşiktaş. Each team views the others as a rivalry, each have their own zones of the city marked out, and each have a massive and rabid fan base that stretches across the whole country and on into much of Europe.
The league itself is high-scoring and fast-paced, which makes the games action-packed and exciting. In order to go to a game, you have to purchase a “passolig card” online, which allows you access to any game anywhere in the country.
One of the benefits of having 3+ teams in the city is that almost every week there’s at least one game for you to catch, and odds are that at least one of the games will be an important match between one of the Istanbul teams and another team that’s challenging for a top spot in the table, not to mention the teams playing in the Champions League and the Europa League. Recent years have seen teams like Liverpool, Manchester United, Porto, Monaco, Bayern Munich, and other major European sides come to play on the world’s largest stage.
The major team whose stadium is located closest to the city center is Beşiktaş. Their colors are black and white and they have a reputation as possibly the rowdiest of all the Turkish teams (though this is a hotly contested title!). Vodafone Stadium was recently renovated and is a state-of-the-art stadium located on an impossibly picturesque location right on the Bosphorus just below Beyoğlu.
You can walk to the stadium either along the Bosphorus or down the hill, and if your tickets are just right you can even watch the match with the view of the Bosphorus in the background. Due to the game’s popularity in Turkey, all of the stadiums are well-equipped to deal with huge numbers of fans, but Beşiktaş is comfortable in that you can easily just walk back to your hotel without needing to worry about transportation home.
If you’d rather not go to a game itself, Beşiktaş is a district of the city and during matches it will be packed with revellers watching the games, allowing you to join in the excitement without actually having to buy tickets and go to the match itself.
The 2018 champions of the league Galatasaray also have a relatively recently renovated stadium, and it’s conveniently located on a metro line, making it easy to get to and from games. Galatasaray have a storied history in Europe, and are the only Turkish team to have won a European cup.
Their stadium is relatively far away from most of the touristy neighborhoods of the city, but Taksim and Beyoğlu are usually packed with Galatasaray fans during important games, particularly if there’s an intercity derby being played. Their colors are red and gold, and fans will be welcoming if you join in and help them support their favorite team – particularly if you make an effort to wear the proper colors!
Fenerbahçe has also made deep runs in European competition, and also has a storied history of over a hundred years. Its stadium (and fan base) is located on the Asian side of the city, in the lively district of Kadıköy. A ferry boat ride will take you across, and from there it’s a short walk to the stadium, meaning that all 3 major stadiums are within comfortable distance of public transport.
Fenerbahçe’s stadium is also comparatively new, and provides a fantastic fan viewing experience. Their colors are yellow and navy blue, and like Galatasaray they have a large fan base scattered all over the city.
There are other teams located in Istanbul, and actually one, Kasımpaşa is located practically in the heart of Beyoğlu. The team isn’t nearly as storied as the other major Istanbul teams, but their stadium is very centrally located and if you want to catch a game, it may be easier to find tickets and see a bit of football.
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