One of the most highly anticipated (and, ahem, highly photographed) things we did in Madrid was tour the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu. The home of the revered soccer (or football, depending on where you're from) team Real Madrid, the Bernabéu is quite the place. It opened in December of 1947 (although it has undergone renovations and expansions throughout the years) and can seat just over 81,000 people. I walked by it twice a week from October to March (one of my students lived across the street) and it never felt all that large to me, but obviously it is. 81,000 people is an awful lot.
Anyways, we were waiting till the end of our time in Spain to take our tour because the Tour Bernabéu tickets don't come cheap (think 20€!). We really wanted to do it, though, so we went first thing in the morning (in an attempt to avoid some of the crowds) on one of our last days, and stayed for quite a while. The website says to allow an hour and a half, but I think we were there for at least two hours, and could have taken even more time - true fans would probably want closer to three hours or so. Seriously, if you're a soccer/football fan, give yourself a good half day for the tour. You'll be glad :)
The tour begins at the very top - we took escalators up up up until we reached the top level of seats and got a great view and feel for just how massive the stadium is.
Next stop was Real Madrid trophies, old game balls and shoes worn by players, large screens showing big moments in Real Madrid history, as well as a variety of other paraphernalia that we just didn't appreciate like true fans might. We kind of breezed through this area, as we just don't really care all that much. As Danny said while we were there - if we were at Gillete Stadium (where the Patriots play) and taking the same tour, he wouldn't be able to get enough. It's just we're not diehard Real Madrid fans, so while we were impressed by the size and amount of trophies, that was about it. Don't worry, we still snapped a few pics though ;)
Back outside we went for a chance to sit in some seats closer to the field.
Then we were directed inside for our next stop, where we got to take some pictures with Ronaldo and the team (wink, wink). Essentially you stand in front of a special green screen and pretend to put your arm around someone and they photoshop a player in. They were, of course, available for purchase at a *low* price. Danny tried to get a picture on one of the computer screens (for the blog) but when an attendant noticed he threw himself in front of the screen and yelled something in Spanish. We resisted the temptation to buy our pictures with Ronaldo and continued taking some of our own ;)
We kept walking through the stands for different views of the stadium (note: the tour is self-directed, but you must follow a certain path and everyone must make the same stops). You wouldn't want to miss a view from one of the approximately seven different levels!
And...into the locker rooms we went! I was surprised to really see it all - the showers, the massage tables, the hot tubs, the changing room - and this was for Real Madrid. When I've taken stadium tours before (for the Broncos or Avalanche or Nuggets or others) we've gotten to see the visitors' locker rooms but never the home team's locker rooms, so this felt so strange.
Next up was the "bench" and seeing the field from field-level (at last!). I'm using the term bench loosely here because it's actually made up of plush Audi car seats and it has a substantial cover over it, and its one of the most luxe benches I've ever seen!
And our final stops: the visitors' locker room (not nearly as exciting as Real Madrid's!) and the press room, where Danny pretended like he was Cristiano Ronaldo, giving a press conference.
And that's a wrap! A lot to see = a lot of photos, but a really good tour even for non-soccer fans. I loved seeing the inside of a building I'd walked by countless times, and to be honest, a building that millions of people worldwide have seen (on TV) and likely wanted to visit (supposedly, Real Madrid is somewhere between the first and third most popular soccer team in the world. Whatever it is, a lot of people love Real Madrid). Some of the history and special-ness of being there and seeing all the memorabilia was lost on me I think, but I still enjoyed getting to be in the stadium and having the experience. Definitely a must-see for anyone who is at all interested in sports and in Madrid.