The 10 greatest sports venues

With The Masters starting today, the NCAA championship behind us and the Major League Baseball season just around the corner, lots of people are traveling to see their favorite teams, events, and players this week. Some of the most historic sporting venues in the world are easy to reach and boast loads of history. Here are the ten greatest sports venues and how to reach each one.

Fenway Park (above)
The oldest major league stadium has more character than most. It opened in 1912, and has been packing in fans ever since. The Red Sox have sold out every home game for over 600 games and counting – a major league record. Fenway is a legendary place that every sports fan needs to visit at least once. And since they have won two World Series in the last decade, I do not even need to mention the pesky curse.

Getting there and tickets: Located in Boston, Fenway Park is right off the Mass Turnpike in the heart of the city. Take the green line on the T to Kenmore station to reach the ballpark. Tickets can be purchased here. Since games are always sold out, it is easy to just pick scalp your tickets or grab a pair off of craigslist, ebay, or stubhub.

Lambeau Field
Opened in 1957 as City Stadium, the home of the Green Bay Packers was renamed after Curly Lambeau in 1965. The Super Bowl Champion Packers have one of the most loyal fan bases of all NFL franchises, and season tickets have been sold out since 1960. The stadium is a classic in football design, and Green Bay is one of the smallest markets to host a professional sports team.

Getting there and tickets: Fly into Austin Straubel International Airport in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Home game tickets for the Super Bowl champion Packers are hard to come by. There is currently 86,000 individuals on the Green Bay Packers season tickets waiting list. The best bet for a coveted spot at Lambeau is though

Old Trafford
The home of Manchester United was built in 1910. Known colloquially as the “theatre of dreams,” the famed football stadium houses the most successful club in English football history. Man U is one of the most, if not the most, popular sporting franchise in the world. From the far flung islands of Indonesia to rural villages in Russia, the Man U brand is a recurring staple.

Getting there and tickets: Old Trafford is located in Machester, England which can be reached by plane or train. From London, Virgin Trains can get you to Manchester quick for about 23.50 GBP. Tickets are fairly easy to come by for routine matches, though exceptional match-ups and Champions League games may require purchase on the secondary market.

Wrigley Field
The home of the Chicago Cubs since 1916, this den of futility has never seen a world series victory. In 1916, President Taft’s epically mustachioed son sold the team and the new owners moved to the location known today as Wrigley Field. With their last world series victory in 1908, they possess the longest championship drought in major league baseball. Perhaps, 2011 will be the year. This old field is famous for its ivy draped outfield walls and old-school hand-turned scoreboard.

Getting there and tickets: Located in Chicago, take the L train to the red line stop of Addison just a block from Wrigley. Tickets can be purchased here.

Wimbledon houses one of the four tennis Grand Slam events, The Chamionships, Wimbledon. It is widely considered to be the most prestigious of all tennis tournaments. Since 1877, royalty and commoners have piled into the small court at the All England Club to watch the best ladies and gentlemen of the tennis world trade swings. With a strict dress code and a tradition of strawberries and cream consumption, it is a very high brow affair. While Wimbledon has roughly 20 courts, the two most storied are Centre Court and No. 1 Court.

Getting there and tickets: The tournament begins each year on the first Monday falling between June 20 and 26. For tickets, you must apply by public ballot or marry into royalty. To get there, fly to London and take the tube to Wimbledon or Southfields on the District Line.

Masters at Augusta
The Masters at Augusta in Georgia is the pinnacle of professional golf. The only men’s major to take place at the same location each year, The Masters has been inviting the best golfers in the world since the tournament began in 1934. The tournament is also extremely rich in tradition. The winner of the tournament is fitted for the “green jacket” and chooses the meal served at the Champions’ Dinner for the following year. The Champions’ dinner is an ultra-exclusive event reserved for past winners of the tournament. After his win in 1997, a twenty-two year old Tiger Woods chose cheeseburgers, chicken sandwiches, french fries, and milk shakes for the illustrious Champions’ dinner.

Getting there and tickets: The event takes place during the first week of April with the first round beginning on Thursday. Augusta Regional Airport is serviced by Delta, or one can drive from Atlanta or Charlotte to Augusta in under three hours. Since The Masters quit selling tickets to the public in 1972, it has become one of the most difficult sporting events to attend. Ticket brokers do sell tickets, and prices range from $1,500 to north of $10,000. Ticket Scalping is legal in Georgia (outside of 1500 feet from the venue), so you can also show up and hope for the best. Practice tickets are available to the general public.

Madison Square Garden
MSG is home to the New York Knicks basketball team and the New York Rangers hockey team. The earliest incarnation of Madison Square opened in 1879 and played host to boxing matches and an exhibition of Jumbo the elephant – whose name and popularity linguistically gave birth to the term jumbo. Three versions later, MSG opened the doors to its current form in 1968. It is the third busiest arena in the world in terms of ticket sales. Some significant events in Madison Square history include “The Fight of the Century” with Ali versus Frazier as well as Marilyn Monroe singing “Happy Birthday Mr. President” to JFK.

Getting there and tickets: Madison Square Garden is located in Manhattan at 8th Ave and 33rd St. Tickets can be purchased here.

Cameron Indoor
In the land of college hoops, Cameron Indoor is the church of basketball under the ministry of Coach Krzyzewski. Built over 70 years ago, it is a humble structure with an occupancy of less than 10,000. What it lacks for in size it makes up for in energy. The Cameron Crazies, students that sometimes paint their entire bodies blue, have made this one of the loudest stadiums in the world with a recorded decibel level of 121.3 – louder than a jackhammer. The Duke Blue Devils that call Cameron home have won four national championships and have made the Final Four a total of fifteen times.

Getting there and tickets: Fly or drive to Duke campus in Durham, North Carolina. Tickets can be bought on stubhub. Undergraduate students camp out in Krzyzewskiville for tickets – a temporary squatter settlement of tents near Cameron.

St. Andrews
The oldest golf course in the world is the old course at St. Andrews in Scotland. According to the mainstream, the Scots invented the game of golf. The earliest records of golf is a law put forth by James II decreeing that all playing of the sport in Scotland be halted in 1457. He felt it interfered with archery practice. Today the course is one of several locations used for the British Open – most recently used in 2010 for the men’s tournament.

Getting there and tickets: The nearest airport is Edinburgh, which can be reached by several European discount carriers. London to Edinburgh on easyjet costs about 25 GBP. From Edinburgh, car or bus is the best option. For rail travelers, one can reach St. Andrews by taking the train from London to Edinburgh and then from Edinburgh to Leuchars about 10km from St. Andrews.

Churchill Downs
Located in Louisville, Kentucky, Churchill Downs hosts the annual Kentucky Derby. The event has come to personify an embodiment of the South that includes Mint Juleps and gigantic hats. Churchill Downs has hosted the race since 1875, making it one of America’s oldest sporting traditions. Speaking of tradition, a strange one has emerged in the hard partying infield of the Churchill Downs – porta potty running. Brave entrants run the length of a row of portable toilets while other spectators heave various projectiles at them (above).

Getting there and tickets: Louisville is serviced by many airlines and tickets to the Kentucky Derby can be purchased here. For 2011, the Kentucky Derby takes place on May 7. Regular races run from Thursday to Sunday from late April to early July.

Chicago bed and breakfasts offer a hotel alternative

When I travel outside of the US, I often try to stay at bed and breakfasts. I love the personal attention I get at a b&b. I like the inside tips I get from the owners, who are usually more than happy to sit and chat over a glass of wine and offer recommendations on where to go and what to see in their city. I prefer staying in one of a city’s neighborhoods, rather than downtown, so I can imagine what life would be like if I actually lived there. And I like feeling as though the owners really care that I am there, rather than that I am just one of the many faceless guests at a hotel. These b&bs tend to be simply decorated, with modern furnishings. They’re relaxed, informal places where I can just as easily make friends with fellow travelers as I can keep to myself and enjoy my privacy.

Unfortunately, it seems that in the states, b&bs are envisioned as places overtaken by calico and creaky antique furniture, where “wine and cheese” hour strikes fear in the heart at the thought of awkward, enforced socialization and boring conversation with the far too perky elderly innkeepers. And that may certainly be the case at many bed and breakfasts around the world. But fear not, if you’re planning a trip to Chicago there are several stylish, accommodating options for fun, relaxing b&b stays around the city. Here are just a few.

Ray’s Bucktown B&B
Ray’s garners stellar reviews on TripAdvisor and is perfectly located for anyone seeking to experience some of Chicago’s trendy nightlife. Ray’s is right in the heart of Bucktown, a young ‘hood full of bars, restaurants, and boutiques that is just over 10 minutes from downtown on the El. The b&b offers 10 rooms, most of which have pillow-top mattresses, TVs with DVD and TIVO, free wi-fi, and phones with free local and long-distance calls. Some rooms have en-suite bathrooms, and rooms in the “Annex” have access to a shared kitchen. There is a free cooked-to-order breakfast daily, free parking, free use of the house’s Mac computers, and a steam room and sauna. Rates are on par with most other Chicago hotels and range from $119-$199 a night, but taxes are only 11.9% (downtown hotel tax is $14.9%).

House 5836
House 5836, in the northern neighborhood of Andersonville, boasts “hip urban rooms” for $99-$179 dollars per night. The rooms are simpler, with just a bed and bathroom in most, but the house offers wi-fi throughout and the common living room has a plasma TV. A free continental breakfast is served daily and you can book in-room spa treatments. The house is located just off the Red Line, about 30 minutes north of downtown, in an area known for its excellent ethnic restaurants.

Old Chicago Inn
Cubs fans coming to Chicago for a game won’t find a more convenient place to stay than the Old Chicago Inn. Located in the heart of the Lakeview neighborhood, the Inn is just a few blocks from Wrigley Field and about 20 minutes from downtown Chicago. Rooms feature pillow-top mattresses, free wi-fi, exposed brick walls, and hardwood floors. Some have en-suite bathrooms. Guests can also enjoy free street parking, continental breakfast daily, complimentary dinner at nearby Trader Todd’s restaurant, and a free local gym membership during their stay. Rates range from $100-$210 per night.

Villa Toscana
Villa Toscana earns mixed reviews, but at $99-$159 a night, it might be worth taking a chance on. Located smack dab in the middle of trendy Boystown (a part of the north side’s Lakeview hood), it’s the perfect spot to crash after a wild day at the annual Pride Parade or Market Days (the Midwest’s largest street fest) celebrations, which both take place right out the front door along Halsted Street. If you’re more interested in tamer activities, you can hit the boutique shops and restaurants of Lakeview or ride the El train 25 minutes or so into downtown. Each of the seven rooms in the historic 19th century building is decorated in a different style, from the chic and sleek British Colonial to the colorful Moroccan, and offers private en-suite bathrooms and free wi-fi. A continental breakfast is served daily.

One week in Chicago: Attractions

Chicago in the Summer is one of the most dynamic, energetic and entertaining places in the world. While I hate to over-plan any of my trips, I did have some must-sees that I had neglected on previous trips to the Windy City. I wanted to enjoy some of the museums and culture that the city has to offer, buy I also wanted to explore some of the outdoor views during the perfect Midwestern Spring weather. And, despite all of my previous trips to Chicago, I had somehow never been to Wrigley Field, one of the few remaining cathedrals of baseball.

So, fueled by a tremendous amount of local food, I set out to see some of the many treasures scattered around Chicago. By train, bus, foot and yes, Segway, I saw Chicago’s best spots and finally felt like I had taken advantage of a city that is not lacking in culture or activities.

Architecture Boat TourI don’t know much about architecture. I wish I did. But several of my friends told to me check out Chicago’s myriad skyscrapers and other architectural marvels, many of which are consider iconic. To maximize my time and learn a little something along the way, I opted to take a boat tour down the Chicago River that focuses solely on architecture. There are a few companies that offer these educational boat tours, but I opted by Shoreline Sightseeing’s offering. The 90 minute tour winds down the river and an incredibly knowledgeable guide explained the history and style of Chicago’s many influential designs. While I still am pretty clueless when it comes to architecture, I feel like I saw Chicago from a perspective that I have never experienced before.

Field Museum of Natural HistoryCall me a geek, but the Museum of Natural History in New York is one of the favorite places in the world. Well, the Field Museum in Chicago more than holds its own and is an impressive space with an outstanding collection. It’s home to Sue, the largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton in the world. Standing next to Sue, I couldn’t help but feel like a little boy again as I was beyond amazed by the sheer size and ferocity of this long-exctinct beast. The Field Museum is also currently hosting Real Pirates, a phenomenal exhibit on the “Golden Age of Piracy” that is incredibly well done and is a must-see if you are in town between now and October 25, 2009. I lingered in the Field Museum for close to three hours as I marveled at the vastness of its collection.

Art Institute ChicagoRemember when I mentioned that I don’t know much about architecture? Well, art isn’t my forte either. Call me uncouth, but somewhere art history and appreciation escaped me. Still, I enjoy strolling through art museums, particularly on rainy days. So, on one dreary day in Chicago, I wandered downtown to check out The Art Institute’s famed exhibits. While it houses many impressive pieces and would take you some time to truly appreciate everything that it has to offer, you can have a pretty fulfilling experience in just a few hours. I stared at American Gothic for 10 minutes and it alone was worth the price of admission. This iconic painting is oft-parodied, but to see it in person is to feel as if you are experiencing something that transcends art. Well, maybe I just like that viewing such an influential painting made me feel cultured. And with the recent opening to the Art Institute’s Modern Wing, the museum now offers an even more complete view of the many periods and styles throughout history.

Wrigley Field
Built in 1914 and home to the Chicago Cubs since 1916, Wrigley Field is an icon not just in sports but in American culture. The ivy covered brick walls, the red sign welcoming you to the ballpark and the hand-operated scoreboard make you feel like you’ve been transported back in time to a period in history when steroids weren’t the top story and the game seemed pure. I experienced Wrigley twice while I was in Chicago. I took in one game from a rooftop overlooking the stadium and one with a ticket that I scalped right outside the park. If you want a unique view and enjoy all-you-can-eat (and drink) packages, watch a Cubs game from one of the many rooftops across the street from Wrigley. But for the true Chicago experience, get yourself inside. I took the train to Wrigley and arrived an 45 minutes before the game. I scaled not just a ticket but a front row seat! I watched my first Cubs game a mere 18 inches from the field on a gorgeous Spring day. You don’t have to be a Cubs fan, or even a baseball fan, to appreciate the beauty and simplicity of Wrigley Field.

Segway TourSegways are much maligned. They’re a folly that never really had a chance to catch on with mainstream American. Honestly, who was going to commute on a Segway? But for tourism, Segways are brilliant. And, since I am a massive geek, I have always wanted to experience riding one. And what better way to check that off the list than while exploring Chicago? Several companies offer Segway tours in town, but none can match the price of Bike Chicago. For $50, you get more than two hours of “gliding” around town, including an orientation on how to use your Segway. After five minutes it all felt like second nature and I was enjoying every minute of it. We toured Grant Park, the lakeside, Millennium Park and several other sights along the way and the tour guide was patient, helpful and knowledgeable. There may be no better way to see Chicago up close and, well, it’s just plain fun.

There are plenty of other sights to visit in Chicago, and I’ll be covering two very special places tomorrow when I share my experiences with some of Chicago’s furry and scaley friends. What are your favorite Chicago sights? Share below in the comments.

Check out my gallery of these attractions here.

Read about my Chicago food adventures here.