As the official travel partner of the UEFA Champions League, we've journeyed to the homes of the clubs through to the last 16 to give you the lowdown on the hotspots for your next away trip. In this article we head to Gelsenkirchen, home of FC Schalke 04.
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Gelsenkirchen may not be a classic weekend break destination like Berlin or Hamburg, but this unassuming city on the banks of the Rhine-Herne Canal has plenty of attractions to keep you busy for a few days.
Many of them are built upon scars of the past, from the renowned, world-class zoo - ZOOM Erlebniswelt - founded on an area shelled during WW2, to Nordsternpark, a strikingly landscaped park with bridges and an amphitheatre, built on a former coal-mining compound. Old 'spoil tips' or slag heaps have become popular parks thanks to sensitive replanting and panoramic views across the region.
Gelsenkirchen's football team, FC Schalke 04, is equally resilient, bouncing back from relegation in the past to be a real contender in Europe.
It's easy to book a twin-destination trip, too, with exciting cities nearby including Düsseldorf, known for its dynamic fashion and art scene. Or make it a football double by combining your visit with a jaunt to Dortmund, whose team Borussia Dortmund has a long-running rivalry with FC Schalke 04.
Discover the best things to see and do in Gelsenkirchen, and the best places to eat and drink by the stadium, Arena AufSchalke.
Meet the team: FC Schalke 04
Fußballclub Gelsenkirchen-Schalke 04 was founded in 1904, hence the digits in the name. The club's name is usually shortened to FC Schalke 04, S04 or simply Schalke. The club's nicknames include 'The Royal Blues', after the strip, and 'The Miners' - a nod to the Ruhr area's industrial heritage.
The club's last league title was in 1958 and it has just one UEFA Cup win, in 1997. But FC Schalke 04 isn't a walkover, having reached the UEFA Champions League Final 16 more often than not in the past decade. Klaus Fichtel, Jens Lehmann, Andreas Moller and Klass-Jan Huntelaar are among the biggest heroes who once donned the blue-and-white kit.
FC Schalke 04's links to the coal industry run back to its working-class founders, and the club has always honoured the connection; the stadium's tunnel was designed to replicate a coal mine and, whenever a colliery closed, its last pit light was handed over to the board.
Visiting Gelsenkirchen's football stadium: Arena AufSchalke
Arena AufSchalke - Erle district
FC Schalke 04's home stadium is surprisingly sleek and futuristic, with a capacity of 62,271 and four hospitality areas. It also fills out fast, thanks to Gelsenkirchen's football-mad residents.
Arena AufSchalke was hailed as one of the most modern in Europe when it opened in 2001, thanks to its retractable roof, moveable south stand and a slide-out pitch that allows it to be used for other sports like athletics. The 2006 World Cup thrust it, and Gelsenkirchen, into the spotlight as one of the host stadiums.
You can learn about all that technology, and the history of the team, with a stadium tour and museum visit, exploring the players' tunnel, dressing room and stands.
All transactions at this cashless stadium are via 'Knappenkarte', a free card that you load up with currency at kiosks dotted about the ground.
Getting there: It's a 10-minute drive from the city centre. Dortmund has the nearest airport, a 40-minute drive away. Or catch tram 302 from Gelsenkirchen's main railway station (Hauptbahnhof) - it's a 15-minute ride to Arena AufSchalke. On match days, your ticket entitles you to free travel on public transport throughout the region.
Where to eat and what to do in Erle
There are a few Gelsenkirchen hotels close by the stadium and in the city centre. Alternatively, Dortmund, Duisberg and Munster are each a quick train journey away, widening out the accommodation options.
Looking to kill time before or after the match? Head to the neighbouring recreation centre, Sport-Paradies, which has swimming pools, water slides and a grassy area where you can purchase food for a picnic.
There's also a cinema and entertainment complex with a few decent food options. Try L'Osteria Gelsenkirchen, a cosy spot for Italian food, or load up on delicious wok-cooked buffet dishes at XIAO Gelsenkirchen. YUMINI, a few minutes' walk away, is a top-rated Japanese restaurant that's perfect for filling up before or after the match.
Walk north of the arena to Buer, the city's largest suburb and home to busy shopping street, The Hochstrasse. Or, for some football nostalgia, check out the remains of FC Schalke 04's former (and far less flashy) ground, Parkstadion. The old pitch, which served the club from 1973, is right by Arena AufSchalke.
Partying in Gelsenkirchen after the match
Celebrating after the match: fan clubs
There aren't many pubs by the stadium. Charly's Schalker, overlooking the training ground, is a popular place for a beer and bite to eat before or after the match. . Biergarten am Fontänenteich, around 20 minutes' walk north, is a nice beer garden in the middle of a park. Otherwise, the kiosks within and outside the stadium are good places to gather with supporters.
The die-hard fans, though, will head to Schalker Meile, a stretch of road by the original Glückauf stadium, still used for youth games. A group of supporters transformed the street into a kind of FC Schalke 04 shrine in 2006. Auf Schalke, a pub run by the fan club, is unsurprisingly packed on match days. Other bars by the old ground include Vereinslokal Schalke 04 'Bosch', where the players used to drink.
Biergarten am Fontänenteich, Schloss Berge Gelsenkirchen, Adenauerallee 103, 45894 Gelsenkirchen
Auf Schalke Fan Club Verband, Kurt-Schumacher-Straße 119, 45881 Gelsenkirchen; Vereinslokal Schalke 04 'Bosch', Ernst Kuzorra Platz 1, 45881 Gelsenkirchen
Going out in Gelsenkirchen
Many visiting football fans and FC Schalke 04 supporters gather around Hauptbahnhof, or main railway station. You'll find jazz clubs, cocktail bars and pubs with regional beers on tap. This is a good area to watch FC Schalke 04's matches if you can't get a stadium ticket, too.
Bubble, one of the city's hippest hangouts, serves cocktails into the early hours, while Manyos is a fun late-night bar and Mexican restaurant.
Bubble, Hauptstraße 45, Gelsenkirchen; Manyos, Goldbergstraße 14, 45894 Gelsenkirchen
Gelsenkirchen doesn't have an airport, but is served by fast rail links from Dortmund and Düsseldorf. The latter has the best choice of flights from the UK. It takes an hour and 20 minutes from London, around 1.5 hours from Manchester or Birmingham, and an hour and 50 minutes from Edinburgh. There are plenty of hotels in nearby Essen, a short drive away.
Planning to visit Gelsenkirchen for a match at the _Arena AufSchalke__? In the heart of Germany's Ruhr region and within easy distance of several cultural, creative and nightlife hubs, there's plenty to keep you occupied on a city break._
Want to learn more about travelling in Germany? Check out these eight amazing German beach locations, or read about how to spend three days in Munich. We also have a guide on where all the Berliners hang out in Berlin.