Things to do in Madrid: Santiago Bernabeu stadium tour - an elaborate celebration of Real Madrid

Modesty, it seems, is not Real Madrid's strong point. Before going into the interactive area that will explain just how brilliant the world's most successful football team is, there is a sign. 

"The Best Track Record of the World" it proclaims, before listing 10 European cups, 19 domestic cups, 32 league championships and a whole host of other less brag-worthy pieces of silverwear.

Yet for a club with such an aura around it – and the vast roll call of nationalities buying tickets for the self-guided stadium tour is fascinatingly impressive in itself – Real Madrid's home is surprisingly non-palatial.

This comes through being built up in hodge-podge fashion for decades. The Santiago Bernabeu stadium is not a purpose-built superarena, deliberately constructed in acres of wasteland to be surrounded by extravagant walkways and an enormous car park. Space, in fact, is at a premium. The busy main road runs practically next to it with little milling-around space, while residential tower blocks shoot up around three sides of the ground.

Shooting up is something that applies to the stadium, too. It climbs upwards steeply rather than sprawling outwards. The first stop on the tour, after trudging an awful lot of steps, is the third tier of the stands. From there, it's possible to look down on the men kicking a ball around below. But it feels more like you're on top of them than peering from a distance.

Real Madrid's glory is not based on having a pretty stadium.

Later, when wandering from the changing rooms out on to the pitch, there's a similar feeling – just from the perspective of the players way below.

It is by no means a beautiful stadium. Huge, ugly concrete support pillars get undue prominence, and any architectural flair is sacrificed for bums on seats and functionality.

But Real Madrid's glory is not based on having a pretty stadium. And once inside the museum-ish section of the tour, the bombardment of not entirely unreasonable propaganda begins in earnest.

The section taking visitors through the history of the club is an exercise in relentless, one-sided self-aggrandisement. Amongst the old footballs, boots and founding documents are scores of trophies – the most elaborate of which are for utterly obscure tournaments, such as the Holy Year Trophy Compostela in 1976 or airship-esque Colombino trophy in 1989.


There is a decade by decade of what was won when, with each 10-year period seemingly branded as "another golden age". This applies to eras where the team won pretty much everything in sight, as well as the 1990s which "once again saw Real Madrid at the top of world football" even though domestic rivals Barcelona won far more. This, oddly, goes unmentioned.

But the cynicism can't hold out for long. All around are video screens of Real Madrid players hammering home wondergoals. Then there are touchscreens delving into the footballers who have graced the Bernabeu over the years. For anyone with even the faintest interest in the sport, the likes of Di Stefano, Puskas, Ronaldo (both Brazilian and Portuguese versions) and Zidane are likely to inspire awe.

By the time you've gone past the shirts and garishly-coloured boots of the current team, then trawled past the Ballons d'Or and Golden Boots that Madrid's "galactico" players have won, the inclination towards snarky sniping has subsided. 

And then comes the cabinet of 10 European cups. The music being played and the gold paper being blown around by wind machines in the cabinet behind them are astonishingly tacky. But for any kid who grew up dreaming of lifting one of the these trophies, immunity to such cheap-and-nastiness is complete. For a football fan, this is the Real deal.




Etihad flies from Sydney and Melbourne to Madrid via Abu Dhabi (see and Emirates via Dubai (see


The hip Room Mate Oscar has a rooftop pool and rooms  from €79 ($115); see


The tour of the Bernabeu stadium is self-guided and costs €19 ($28); see

David Whitley was a guest of Room Mate Hotels.



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The home of cricket has undergone a bit of modernisation in recent years, but it still remains intimate and evocative. And the museum has that little urn every Australian cricketer wants to get their hands on. See


The home of the 2000 Olympics looks somewhat different from above – and the gantry tour takes you into the high parts the normal tours can't reach. See