Stadium Guide: Camp Nou
The largest stadium not just in Spain, but also the entirety of the European continent – this is the amphitheatre of your wildest dreams. It’s also falling apart and there’s a good chance that time is running out for you to see the ground in its latest incarnation, before it is renovated again. Here’s everything you need to know about going to a game at the home of FC Barcelona.
Where is Camp Nou?
Camp Nou lives in the suburb of Les Corts, an area which accommodated its eponymous predecessor as Barcelona’s home stadium. It’s a part of the city which moves into a more tranquil setting as the raucous and pulsing city centre fades into the distance.
Of course it is connected to that centre by the main artery of the Diagonal. Across Diagonal, the comfortable portion of Barcelona society bides their time in the spacious and pleasant barris [neighbourhoods] of Sarrià, Sant-Gervasi and Pedralbes. Les Corts itself is not remarkable itself outside of being home to several sporting facilities and a couple of hospitals.
What is a match like at Camp Nou?
Attending Camp Nou is an entirely surreal and bizarre experience. With the obligatory request for forgiveness for being so bluntly obvious, the most striking thing about Camp Nou is the sheer size of it.
The pitch itself is slightly sunk down from the ground level outside and that adds to astonishment as you enter the stand. Particularly if you are up high – observing with the gods. When you step out into the stands, as the rectangle of sky you see from the stadium’s innards grows into a fully-fledged panorama of Camp Nou, it’s hard not to allow yourself a smile.
The presence of such a vast gathering of people in the open air brings with it a fantastic sense of anticipation. The sense that you are attending the peak of the footballing world, washes over you. Even if the football itself might not deserve it lately.
Beyond that, the experience of the game itself can vary greatly depending on the match and the time. Matches involving the lower end of the table are inescapably a spectator sport. The combination of tourists and locals who have seen it all mean these games can take on the feel of a theatrical drama, where the crowd must be entertained rather than an active participant in the event. If you are lucky enough to attend a full and vibrating Camp Nou on a big night, the atmosphere is unparalleled. Undoubtedly other stadiums will make more noise per capita than Camp Nou, but the combination of the population and the enormous, expansive green stage below make it a majestic spectacle. Butterflies included.
How to get to Camp Nou
The best way to get there is definitely the city metro line, despite the very suffocating and humid carriages. The earlier you go and the later you leave make the difference in terms of how tightly you will be packed into one of these very interpersonal trips.
From the centre of the city it takes around 20-30 minutes to arrive at the metro, followed by a further 5-10 minutes walking to the ground. Several metro stops are almost equidistant from the stadium, including Les Corts on the L3 line and Badal on the L5 line.
The best to go to is Maria Cristina on the L3 line, the stop after Les Corts. You exit the metro on the Diagonal road and turn left to follow everyone else towards the stadium. The best thing about this walk is that you turn a corner and Camp Nou springs out at you from seemingly nowhere. Walking down the hill, the stands grow gradually larger as the masses all buzz towards it together. You also walk past the old La Masia farmhouse buildings on the way, where the likes of Xavi Hernández and Andrés Iniesta grew up.
Where to go pre-match at Camp Nou
Sadly there’s no defined place of gathering for culés before the match, so you are more or less left to sample the incredible offering of central Barcelona. In recent years the club have worked out that people like to drink and eat before the match, thus they have created a ‘street’ of options for doing so called ‘La Fleca’ beside the stadium. There you can visit the shop and find tremendously overpriced culinary goods.
Alternatively, getting off at Les Corts is probably the best bet for finding a bar on the way to the stadium. Some of the singing section generally gather on the concourse inside the gates to warm up their vocal chords an hour before the match. One note: allow 10-15 minutes to find your seats even if you are beside the stadium. If you are in the third tier, it can take a while to find the right gate and well, there are a lot of stairs.
How to get tickets for Barcelona games
On the whole, the club website is the easiest way to acquire tickets. There are several official vendors dotted around the centre of the city too, but there is no advantage from going to them rather than the website. E-tickets are also available and as long as you have downloaded a ticket with a barcode/QR code on it, admission should be granted.
Tickets generally go on sale fairly early these days – currently you can buy tickets all the way up to the end of the season for domestic games. Frustratingly, you are not assigned an actual seat until 1-2 days before the match but actually securing a ticket is usually only an issue for big Champions League nights and Clásicos.
For those, tickets may not go on general sale until the week of the game. Be aware that LaLiga, as a competition, are liable to change the time and day of a game without much notice. Confirmation of a date and a time will often be 2-3 weeks before the Matchday.
What’s your favourite match at Camp Nou?
Without even a hint of hesitation, this has to be the visit of Paris Saint-Germain to Camp Nou in 2017.
As you may be aware, the match finished 6-1 to Barcelona in arguably the greatest Champions League comeback of all time. Facing a four-goal deficit from the first leg, I still wonder what possessed me to part with a relatively small fortune for a ticket. Only for it to turn into a historic, ecstatic, astonishing night of Champions League history.
Never have I witnessed the Camp Nou so hostile, ear-splitting and joyous as then. The entire match was a tense, pulsating mess of emotions. As time hurried towards the final whistle with Barcelona needing three goals, the atmosphere had begun to cool for the first time in the match. Seven minutes and three goals later, the greatest eruption of ecstasy and bedlam shook the entire stadium. A genuinely moving experience.
For days after, the entire city buzzed. The faces of those around me are etched into my memory and although it ultimately amounted to nothing, I find it hard to imagine something I would choose to experience over that.
Local secrets for Camp Nou
During the game, avoid taking photos in the walkways or obscuring someone’s vision mid-match to do so. This is sensible anywhere but with Barcelona increasingly sensitive to the impact of tourism on its culture, blocking the view for regular fans will not make you too many friends. To really ingratiate yourself with the culture, bring a half-time sandwich orpipas [sunflower seeds] for a snack. A quintessential of Spanish football as a whole.
If you’re slightly confused by the chants ringing around in the 17th-minute without much stimulus, that’s when the pro-Catalan independence faction of the support express their wishes. It commemorates defeat in the siege of Barcelona in 1714 and the 17th-minute protests have become a part of the identity politics at Camp Nou.
Where to sit? If you want to take in the sheer size, sitting centrally and at the top of the stands is probably the best place to do so. If you’re lucky with the time of the match, you may also be treated to sunset over the stadium. On the other hand, if you’re booking tickets just before the match and are worried about the weather, sit high up in the first or second tier for some cover from the rain. For atmosphere, sit behind the Gol Nord if you can. Behind the goal in the first tier is the grada d’animació (singing section) and they are responsible for most of the noise in the ground.
All in all, Camp Nou is perhaps not as homely nor as atmospheric as other stadiums in Europe. Finished in 1957, it was built in order to meet the high demand of those who wanted to see star Ladislao Kubala. In its essence, that kind of cuts to the heart of what Camp Nou is. A spectacle of gargantuan proportions, an amphitheatre for gourmet football. And on special nights, the largest bowl of noise in Europe.
Enjoy your matchday!
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