Ah July, when the Boys of Summer are busy swinging for the bleachers, the kings and queens of the courts are serving up winners at Wimbledon, and the cyclists of the Tour de France are pedaling their way to victory. What better time for the sports-loving editors at Frommer's to step up to the plate and single out a few of our favorite sporting events from across the globe. It's by no means a definitive list of all of our editors' favorites (the sports junkies on staff think any good game is worth watching); they're suggestions that we either really, really liked or thought worthy of a visitor's valuable time.
We even point out a couple of events that allow you to get in on the athletic action if you favor a more interactive experience. But if you do prefer to be a spectator (and there are plenty of us who are right there with you), know that one of the best ways for travelers to break the ice with local populations is to bond with them at a local sports bar or stadium. Nothing brings a city's or country's natives together like rooting for the home team. And because we editors are just as loyal to our hometown, we'll admit that you'll find a number of events on this list that come right from our own backyard -- but New York is one of the sports capitals of the world, so no harm, no foul.
We hope you find these tips helpful and thought-provoking.
As always, if you'd like to comment on any of these choices, please visit our message boards.
Hitting the Courts at the U.S. Open
- The U.S. Open is just like New York: noisy, competitive, crowded, expensive, and gloriously alive. In 1991, I saw Jimmy Connors (backed by thousands of screaming, deliriously happy fans) beat Aaron Krickstein in a famous U.S. Open match that probably would have fit right in with the gladiatorial contests at the Roman Coliseum of old. Forget Wimbledon; this is the toughest tennis tournament in the world, and it usually serves up far better matches than those you'll see at the All England Club. For the best experience, skip the high-priced lower boxes, and sit up in the nosebleeds with the real fans (who might be sporting painted faces indicating their player allegiances and/or binoculars -- you sit here for the shared experience, not the amazing view of the players). Or better yet, come to Flushing Meadows during the tournament's first couple of days and stick to the outer courts -- seating is plentiful, the fans are knowledgeable, and the players won't look like ants. And don't forget the sunscreen if you come during the day -- the summer sun can be brutal on players and spectators alike.
Tickets (on sale through www.ticketmaster.com), for the tournament's later rounds tend to sell out fast, but you can usually snag a seat for day or night sessions of the earlier rounds up to the week before the Open starts. The USTA also offers several discounted ticket packages for those who want to attend multiple sessions. For more information, check out the U.S. Open's website at www.usopen.org. -- Naomi Kraus
Tackling the Tour de France
- Leave aside for a moment the near-mythic accomplishments of Lance "Live Strong" Armstrong (www.lancearmstrong.com), who has won this grueling 2,100-mile plus, three-week bicycle race for a record-breaking six years in a row -- a resounding accomplishment following his much-publicized struggle with testicular cancer -- and will race for number seven this July 2-24, 2005. The Tour (www.letour.com) is a can't-miss spectacle even without Mr. Live Strong's participation. Let's face it; rain delays for the cyclists? Snow tires on their bikes? Yeah, right. Brutal, weather-lashed ascents into the Alps and Pyrnees force the riders to climb to elevations as high as 6,500 feet. The next day, they might sprint 150 miles on a level straightaway. For these guys, just another day at the office.
This is one event we don't recommend seeing in person. Standing on the sidelines for hours to watch the peloton (main pack of riders) whoosh by for maybe three seconds is anticlimactic, to say the least. Watching the tour on TV gives the camera operators a chance to shine (judging by the you-are-there angles they shoot, these fellows are daredevils in their own right). Better yet, plan a trip to France or Italy during tour time, when locals gather in bars and cafes to agonize over every turn, every wobble of the wheels. The spectacle brings home just how fearsome, courageous and, yes, thrilling this race can be. -- Kelly Regan
Going to the Dogs at Westminster
- The competitors may walk on four legs and some may claim it's more beauty pageant than athletic contest, but if the American Kennel Club insists Westminster is a sporting event, well, I won't dispute them. Especially because the event in question -- the second oldest in the United States -- is so much fun. The crowds are remarkably well behaved, nobody gets booed (except, perhaps, an occasional judge -- but that's sports for you), and the losers still go home champions. It's a win-win situation for all. And what other world-class event encourages you to hang with the athletes backstage while they get a cut and blow-dry? I've spent hours walking through the benching areas behind-the-scenes at New York's Madison Square Garden, where the dogs are often just as happy to see you, as you are to see them. Besides, there's nothing quite like watching an Afghan Hound snoozing in curlers just before heading into the ring.
The 2006 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show will take place February 13-14. Tickets for the show usually go on sale in the fall and often sell out weeks in advance. For information, check out www.westminsterkennelclub.org. -- Naomi Kraus
Running with the Bulls in Pamplona
- For one week each year in early July, the sleepy mountain town of Pamplona, Spain, hosts one of the biggest parties in Europe. As the headline attraction of the Fiesta de San Fermin (www.sanfermin.com), the Running of the Bulls draws over half a million revelers from all over the world. Each morning of the festival at 8am, the bulls gallop from their pens through the streets of downtown Pamplona and into the bullring, the Plaza de Toros, a half-mile away. Though most merely watch and cheer, some hardy souls choose to run with the bulls, weaving and dodging to avoid being gored or trampled by the 1500 lb. beasts. Whether you consider those who run to be brave or foolish, you can't help but appreciate the energy and spectacle of this unique event. With everyone clad in white with red bandanas tied around their necks, a sense of unity and excitement permeates the crowd. Each evening many attend the bullfight (the stadium box office sells tickets to visitors on the night before each fight), and afterwards the party in the streets and bars of Pamplona lasts all night long -- and then some.
The Fiesta de San Fermin usually begins on July 6th and lasts until July 14th. Hotel rooms must be reserved months in advance and are usually quite expensive; many young visitors choose to sleep in city parks, but thieves can be abundant and aggressive. -- Paul Kruger
Burning the Midnight Oil in New York City
- Let the huddled masses freeze as they stand around waiting for the ball to drop in Times Square. I prefer to ring in my new year by racing into it, during New York City's midnight run (www.nyrrc.org/nyrrc/org) through Central Park. You can register in advance for the race through the New York Road Runners club, which will make you eligible for a number of prizes. Or you can take part in the 4-mile run around the park merely for the sport of it (yes, champagne-induced running is common). If you're not feeling up for sprinting, simply join the crowd of thousands of well-wishers that gather for the costume parade and DJ music that leads up to the run. Whether you decide to run or to cheer, you'll be rewarded with an amazing fireworks display that goes off promptly at midnight, marking the start of the race and, of course, the new year. -- Jen Reilly
Rooting for the Red Sox at Fenway Park
- 2005 is the year of Red Sox! (And yes, we know, 86 years after their last title, but so what? The curse of the Bambino is O-V-E-R.). What better time than now to visit the baseball champs at home? (Hint: You might consider watching Jimmy Fallon in Fever Pitch before stepping inside Fenway Park to try to prepare yourself for the spirit of true Red Sox fans.)
A baseball game at Boston's Fenway Park is one of the most classic U.S. sporting events you can attend today. Fenway is the oldest park in the major leagues (History buffs and young baseball fans, especially, might consider taking a tour of the park.) The park also remains small enough that any seat you can buy is a good one (in other words, the nosebleed section here is nothing compared to the cheap seats at Yankee stadium). If you can get a ticket to the Green Monster section (doubtful this late in the season and always expensive), take it: It's the most unusual seat in baseball, set at the top of the left-field wall. And no matter where you sit, "gettcha popcorn, peanuts, or hot dawgs" to fully enjoy the game (and the Boston vendors' accents). But adults, beware: If you want a beer at Fenway, be sure to bring your ID; if it's an out-of-state license, bring a piece of backup identification, too, such as a credit card. Go Sox!
To buy tickets or for more information on the Red Sox and Fenway Park (including tour schedules), check out http://boston.redsox.mlb.com/NASApp/mlb/bos/ballpark/tour.jsp. -- Jenny Anmuth and Marc Nadeau
Watching the New York City Marathon
- It's hard to stake out a spot by the finish line, and unless you're an early riser you probably won't get to see the front runners sprinting over the Brooklyn Bridge, but planting yourself anywhere else along the New York Marathon's (www.ingnycmarathon.org) 26-mile course will give you a close-up view of some of the 35,000 runners who complete this race every year. The runners are young singles and elderly grandmothers; they are celebrities like P. Diddy and inspirations like New York marathon co-founder Fred Lebow; they are racers in wheelchairs and sinewy record-breakers. And mostly they are work-a-day runners who train on treadmills and sidewalks and dream of cracking a 4-hour marathon. You'll want to cheer them all. -- Margot Weiss
Spending Time at the Stampede Rodeo and Nite Rodeo in Cody, Wyoming
- Buffalo Bill's old western town outside of Yellowstone National Park is the "Rodeo Capitol of the World" and a great place to check out a few bucking broncos up close. From June 1 through August 31, the Cody Nite Rodeo ($15; $7 children 7-12) features Saddle Bronc Riding, Bareback Riding, Team Roping, and a cute Calf Scramble in which hordes of kids chase a calf for the ribbon tied to its tail. The main event is the Stampede Rodeo ($17) from July 1-4, which wide-eyed cowboys around the world call "Cowboy Christmas." Brave the chilly evening winds on the bleachers, read about Famous Freckles Brown and Buster Ivory in the program notes, and marvel at this culture and multi-million dollar industry that reality television producers have heretofore neglected. Meanwhile, the town of Cody is a hoot -- check out the hoedowns at Cassie's Supper Club & Dance Hall (tel. 307/527-5500; www.cassies.com) or grab some steak at the Proud Cut Saloon (1227 Sheridan Ave.; tel. 307/527-6905), where many struggling local cowboys keep a tab. Visit www.codystampederodeo.com and www.codywyomingnet.com. -- Stephen Bassman
Hanging Out with the Other Yankees
- If you're like me, your enjoyment of a sporting event has very little to do with who's playing whom, much less who's winning or losing. The quality of your experience concerns itself more with proximity to sunshine, beer, hot dogs, and good company -- which is why I can think of no better sporting experience than an day at the ballpark with the Class A Staten Island Yankees. Though these players are fun to watch, they are, well, minor leaguers, and don't quite have the finesse of their pinstriped big brothers in the Bronx. But they have plenty of other things going for them. For one, they have a lovely stadium which sits just next to the Staten Island ferry terminal. (Transportation on the ferry to and from Manhattan is free.) Also, they've got cheap seats (box seats $11, reserved $9), so you can take the whole family. And then there's that spectacular view -- a picturesque backdrop courtesy of the Hudson River and the Manhattan skyline. In these days of astronomical ticket prices, steroid abuse, and ridiculous player salaries, it's hard to care much for professional sports. But an outing to see the SI Yanks reminds you of what can be great about sports: family and friends getting together, watching a ball game, and sharing some beers and dogs.
Games run June through September. For tickets, schedules, and promotional events call tel. 718/720-9200 or go to www.siyanks.com. If you're not in New York, you can still enjoy a minor league game (for the same cheap prices and offering the same amount of fun) at many cities across the U.S. For information on minor league teams, tickets, and game schedules, check out www.minorleaguebaseball.com. -- Cate Latting
Soaring with Ski Jumpers at Harris Hill
- I'd look to the 2006 Olympics (in Turin, Italy) for an exciting team struggle in the men's Nordic Combined event. To be good in this, athletes must master ski jumping and ski racing. The U.S. team finished fourth in the last Olympics and they're vowing to do better next time. I've weathered a broken car heater and a frozen windshield to watch the Olympic hopefuls at Harris Hill in Brattleboro, Vermont. The stairs beside the run are so close to the jumpers, it's impossible not to feel the whoosh of the skiers as they pass by at speeds up to 60 miles an hour. The modest gate admission ($10 for adults; $6 for children 6-12) includes a chance to talk to the athletes, maybe even share a soda in the heated food tent. The mid-February tournament's going into its 83rd year here, with "the Longest Standing Jump" a personal favorite; skiers go all out solely for distance, what they call "Big Air." To make the sport more accessible, there's now a SuperTour that visits cities across the U.S. in summer, yes, summer, and winter. (Warm weather can bring out plastic matting misted with water to simulate snow conditions.) A few mountains don't even charge admission to watch. Head to www.skijumpingusa.com (and click on "Related Links") to find info about sites in the U.S. and worldwide, and to www.harrishillskijump.org (tel. 877/254-4565) for updates on the local competition specifically. -- Naomi Black
Racing with Royals at Ascot
- It's not as out there as the famous scene in My Fair Lady, but if your sporting experiences trend more to beer and pretzels at the ballpark (or the seventh race at Santa Anita), a day at Ascot will definitely be a very civilized eye-opener. Technically, this highlight of the British summer social season is a sporting event. They actually do race horses, the races are usually exciting and pretty competitive, and the prize money now hovers around £3 million (close to $6 million). But the real competition takes place off the course by the socialites milling in the enclosures -- these ladies sport headgear and attire that pack serious visual punch (I saw some hats that would probably make even the most modern of designers do a double-take). Forget about rubbing elbows with the queen in the Royal Enclosure unless you're a blue-blooded thoroughbred who knows somebody (and you're willing to put up with a formal dress code that goes back to the days Beau Brummel was dictating London style). Instead, head with the lesser mortals to the regular enclosures where you can kick back in jeans and a T-shirt and watch the peacocks strut by in their finery before placing your bets on the horses.
This is one of the toughest sports tickets in England, so be sure to plan months ahead if you want to attend Royal Ascot in 2006. For information on tickets, the races, and the various enclosures (plus that pesky dress code), head to www.ascot.co.uk. Note: Ascot's undergoing serious renovations in 2005 (the races this year were held in York). -- Naomi Kraus
Cheering On the Hoopsters at Madison Square Garden
- The City Game can be seen in its many forms at the self-proclaimed Worlds Greatest Arena: MSG to those who speak roundball. With two professional teams who call it home (the NBA's New York Knicks, www.nyknicks.com; and the WNBA's New York Liberty, www.nyliberty.com), the Garden also plays host to major men's and women's college games and tournaments, ranging from the National Invitational Tournament to regular visits from the Big East. While some may prefer seeing U2 or Bruuuce, Ringling Brothers' elephants or, in some years, the NHL, the big round arena at 31st St. and 8th Avenue was made for man-to-man (or woman-to-woman) on the hardwood. On the shiny parquet floor, which is put together like a jigsaw puzzle before every game, the sneakers squeak, you can hear the bodies collide, and even the nosebleed seats get a full view of center court in the 17,000-plus seat house. Yes, that's Spike Lee and Woody Allen and Joan Jett in the courtside seats. And they'll let the ref have a piece of their minds if they don't like the call! For tickets, schedules, and information, check out www.thegarden.com. -- Kathleen Warnock
The Grudge Matches
In a sports-obsessed country like the US, it's not surprising that some intense rivalries have developed over the years. These are some match-ups in several different sports that rarely fail to entertain; even if the teams aren't doing well in their regular seasons, they almost always bring their A-game to these showdowns, either out of mutual respect, mutual enmity or (only occasionally) both. It can be very difficult to get tickets for games like these, but in your travels across the US, it's always worth checking ahead to see if one of these games could be a part of your itinerary. Nicholas Trotter and Paul Kruger
- Boston Red Sox vs. New York Yankees. The biggest rivalry of them all!
- Chicago Cubs vs. St. Louis Cardinals. The die-hards always show up for these games.
- Los Angeles Dodgers vs. San Francisco Giants
Football (Professional): These are all great division rivalries that have rich, turbulent histories.
- Washington Redskins vs. Dallas Cowboys
- Denver Broncos vs. Oakland Raiders
- New York Jets vs. New England Patriots
- Minnesota Vikings vs. Green Bay Packers
- Georgia Bulldogs vs. Florida Gators, in Jacksonville, FL every fall; the tail-gate party is billed as the "World's Largest Cocktail Party." Cocktails, indeed!
- TexasLonghorns vs. Arkansas Razorbacks, Texas vs. Oklahoma Sooners or Texas vs. Texas A&M Aggies Texas has earned its enemies, it seems.
- Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Michigan Wolverines
- UCLA Bruins vs. USC Trojans
Basketball (Professional) : The pro rivalries seem to fluctuate over the years, without the staying power of other sports' grudges. Lately, the best ones are:
- Indiana Pacers vs. Detroit Pistons
- Dallas Mavericks vs. San Antonio Spurs
Basketball (College): These are some of the best in all of sports.
- Duke Blue Devils vs. North Carolina Tar Heels
- Michigan Wolverines vs. Michigan State Spartans
- Kentucky Wildcats vs. Louisville Cardinals
- Montréal Canadiens vs. Boston Bruins; Montréal vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
- Detroit Red Wings vs. Colorado Avalanche
- A three-way: New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, and Philadelphia Flyers
- New York Rangers vs. New York Islanders
- Minnesota Golden Gophers vs. North Dakota Fighting Sioux; Minnesota vs. Wisconsin Badgers
- Denver Pioneers vs. Colorado College Tigers
- The Beanpot tournament, a Boston tradition played every February, featuring four local teams: Boston University Terriers, Harvard Crimson, Boston College Eagles and the Northeastern Huskies.
Soccer (the real football)
This sport hasn't developed a huge following in the US; the fan base is largely composed of Latin American immigrants. However, a couple of interesting rivalries have developed:
- New York/New Jersey Metro Stars vs. D.C. United
- Los Angeles Galaxy vs. San Jose Earthquakes