The 2018 World Cup kicks off June 14 in Moscow, but the host nation isn’t the only place worth considering for a soccer-centric trip. It’s also well worth thinking about a last-minute trip elsewhere for the most magical event in sports, which takes place throughout Russia through July 15.
If Russia isn’t in your travel plans this year and you need some last-minute ideas for joining the party without being at the party, the five participating countries below are prime places to be when the 2018 World Cup begins.
Credit terminal football fever, special intrigue at this year’s tournament, general travel destination bona fides, or all of the above. No matter the reason, one thing is certain: All five spots more than justify time spent setting up airfare alerts.
(Pro tip: For best results, consult team schedules and plan your trip during the group-play stage between June 14 and 28, before half the tournament field is eliminated.)
After the tiny island nation (population: 330,000) became a global soccer darling during a surprise run at the 2016 European championships, it’s preparing for its first World Cup . . . ever. But Strákarnir Okkar (translation: “Our Boys”) aren’t just happy to be there. Thanks largely to a fascinating soccer infrastructure, Iceland is capable of doing real damage in Russia despite being placed in a tough group.
Iceland—already a trendy travel destination with midnight sun and stunning geological features—is certain to be rocking with spirited supporters when its team takes the World Cup pitch for the first time in Russia this summer. Why not combine one of the world’s most visually stunning vacations with witnessing an special cultural moment in Icelandic history? We’ll skol to that.
Senegal surged to the quarterfinals during its only previous World Cup appearance, back in 2002. Thanks to a current wealth of talent, hopes are high among Lions of Teranga supporters for a repeat performance this year. Winger Sadio Mané, who stars professionally for the legendary English club Liverpool, leads the charge for Senegal in a wide-open group that also includes Poland, Japan, and Colombia.
Meanwhile, Senegal’s reputation as one of its region’s most stable nations helps make it an attractive place to travel. Sublime beaches soothe the soul. The dynamic capital, Dakar, dazzles the senses. Rich local culture mingles with photogenic French colonial architecture. If you’re a soccer fan and West Africa tops your travel list, a World Cup trip to Senegal this summer could be the perfect move.
What, you thought we’d make a list like this without including Brazil? The Seleção, as Brazil’s national team is known, is out for revenge in Russia after a heartbreaking turn as World Cup hosts in 2014. Electric forward Neymar will look to stake his claim as the new stud of global soccer while the entire country grinds to a halt every time he and his compatriots take the pitch in Russia. Brazil is the only five-time World Cup winner; winning a sixth time this year would offer redemption after failing on home soil four years ago.
There’s never really a bad time to visit a country as enchanting and culturally diverse as Brazil—but the 2018 World Cup could be the ideal time. Watching the Seleção among impassioned locals at a bar in Salvador, Rio de Janeiro, or some small town far off the tourist track is guaranteed to be a singular travel memory.
Spain is reportedly set to replace the United States as the world’s second-most popular travel destination, and for good reason: a fascinating history, amazing beaches, and delicious tapas, just for starters. At the same time, La Roja enters this year’s World Cup as one of the tournament’s favorites.
This means you stand a real chance of watching a deep tournament run while surrounded by fútbol-mad Spaniards if you decide to visit the Iberian Peninsula this summer. Whether you’re exploring Moorish history in Andalusia, bumming it on the beaches of Valencia, or sipping coffee in Madrid’s hippest cafés and museums, catching a Spain match will add a unique local twist to your trip.
And here’s a tip for added intrigue: Get to the capital on June 15. That’s when Spain plays its first World Cup match, against neighboring Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo, who also stars professionally for the iconic local club Real Madrid.
After an unlikely qualifying campaign, Peru is appearing in its first World Cup since 1982 as a decided underdog. That means fans in this South American country won’t be taking the moment for granted.
Peru certainly isn’t taken for granted as a travel destination—not with Machu Picchu, the Nazca Lines, and a slice of the Amazon jungle among its countless marvels. The May-September dry season is generally considered the best time to visit. And wouldn’t you know it? That just happens to align perfectly with the World Cup.
If Peru can pull off an upset or two, local fans will go wild with joy. And if not? No worries—you’re in Peru. A new adventure and an ice-cold Cusqueña beer await around every corner.