If you are lucky enough to fly into London on a clear day and pass over the central part of the city, you are treated to one of the great city views on Earth. You can also see quite a few soccer stadiums, if you know where to look. Here’s a quick guide from Groundhopper Paul.
You can skip ahead to a video I took that shows Chelsea, Fulham, Wembley and the old place at Brentford.
(Revised March 2021, to account for new stadiums at Brentford and Wimbledon)
First, a map of the major stadiums, with Heathrow Airport circled and the rough location of Gatwick indicated. (For copyright purposes, I drew this on a Google Map that shows all the 92 clubs on a map of England.)
The easiest way to start, assuming you fly over the northern part of the city (which seems to usually happen), is to look for massive Wembley Stadium on the north side of town, notable for its giant arch and bright red seats:
Bonus points for spotting The Hive, home of Barnet FC, just north of Wembley. Look for a bunch of soccer fields, one with a helicopter pad, and hideous orange seats.
Way up north and west, in the middle of a residential area, you might see the distinctive red and yellow seats at Vicarage Road, home of Watford FC.
The Emirates, Arsenal’s home, is also on the north side and looks like a big silver oval with a hole on top. It’s massive! Nearby is their old stadium, much of which still exists; it got turned into apartments.
The New White Hart Lane, home of Tottenham Hotspur, is also in North London, northeast of Wembley and due north of Arsenal. Look for a giant new stadium next to a demolished old one.
Stamford Bridge (Chelsea) is pretty central on the southwest side, next to a big park with a keyhole-shaped structure in it. The blue seats have “Chelsea” on them in all capital letters.
Fulham’s Craven Cottage is right on the Thames, west of the center, and usually has something about Florida written on top of it.
Due north of Craven Cottage is QPR’s Loftus Road, a small rectangle with blue seats and two red roofs.
Over on the east side, look for the sprawling Olympic Park and West Ham’s perfectly oval London Stadium, with a bizarre-looking swirly red sculpture next to it.
If you can spot the famous 02 Arena (it looks like a circus tent) on a bend in the Thames east of town, look just to the southeast for Charlton’s The Valley, with CAFC on red seats.
On the southeast side of the central city, south of the river, look for Millwall’s home; it’s between a railroad junction and a housing project, with THE DEN written in yellow on blue seats.
Especially if you’re flying into Gatwick, you should see Selhurst Park, home of Crystal Palace. It’s a rectangle whose sides don’t match; one is huge and flat, one is tall and curved. The seats say EAGLES.
Off to your left as you get lower, you might be able to spot the new AFC Wimbledon stadium, Plough Lane. It’s a perfectly rectangular white roof with three housing towers on one end.
On final approach into Heathrow, if coming from over the main city, look for Brentford’s former home, Griffin Park; it’s a white rectangle with THE BEES written on red seats. It’s also been replaced for the 2020-21 season, so I’m not even sure if it’s still there. The new one should be easy to spot, just about a mile away and with a lot of shiny new roof, in the middle of some bigger buildings next to a major roadway.
Very near Brentford — just past it on final approach, actually — is the national rugby stadium, the 82,000-seat Twickenham Stadium. But that’s for another book.
And while we’re at it, here is a video I shot on a glorious day, showing several of the stadiums above. I really wish I had started filming earlier — I took the above pictures of Wembley and Arsenal on the same day — but I did zoom in on Chelsea, Fulham, Wembley (from afar) and Brentford.
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