By Herndon Hasty (Digital Performance Manager)
It’s the last of the NFL team towns – I know, it’s normally said the other way around, but Green Bay is truly a city of 100,000+ built around an NFL team. There’s still major industry, family attractions and more than enough to keep a town going outside of the team, but the Packers are the heart and soul of this community in ways that teams with larger and even more passionate fan bases never can be.
And yet it’s not set apart. The stadium parking lot bumps up against a parking lot for, among other things, a bank and a grocery store. The town exudes loyalty and passion for the team, but isn’t awash in trinkets and tchochkes that belie a tourist attraction.
And, of course, there’s the history. Sporting the oldest rivalry in the NFL with the Chicago Bears, the Packers date to the days when towns like Akron and Portsmouth sported professional teams, and when Buffalo was one of the bigger cities in the league. Lombardi, Lambeau, Starr, Hornung, and Nitschke are part of every breath you breath at the stadium and in the surrounding town. And between that history and that scale, the whole thing feels like the world’s largest high school football game. That is until they take the field, Aaron Rodgers lights up your defense, and Clay Matthews your offense.
Like a lot of destinations, Green Bay gets held up as a place to go ‘someday’ because it forever seems out of reach. Here’s how to make it happen.
The name of the game is availability. You can make a trip to Green Bay happen anytime, but to get in while prices are sane, start booking in June / early July. Weather is, of course, a consideration; games going into October can still be perfectly comfortable, but the later in the season you get, the greater the chances of experiencing the fabled Frozen Tundra – for better or worse.
Tickets are surprisingly reasonable: For the same amount we spent for near-upper deck corner seats at Foxboro, my wife and I sat on the 50 mid-deck at Lambeau. You can use that to your advantage to make the trip cheaper, or to remember that you’re probably only going to do this so many times and splash out a little.
Fly and Drive
Green Bay does have an airport. Unless you’re a millionaire and/or have bought all the leather your heart desires, don’t fly into it – even before the schedule is announced, flying into Green Bay will cost you an extra $600-$800 per person, and that’s after you connect in from Chicago, Milwaukee or Minneapolis.
The best alternative is to fly into one of those airports and drive in from there. Milwaukee is the closest option, and just a beautiful 2-hour drive away. A drive in from Chicago will take another two and still send you through Milwaukee, though it does also put the famous Mars Cheese Castle in your crosshairs about ⅔ of the way there.
After you get out of the city, it’s all farmland and small towns right up until you hit Green Bay. It sneaks up on you. Remarkably, we saw very few cows for a state that prides itself on dairy. I started to wonder if it was just naturally occuring in Wisconsin and drilled out of the earth like oil, until I was assured by a local that it was not.
Houses not Hotels
AirBNB, VRBO, and other services are fantastic for meeting new people and getting closer to local life in your adventures. For trips to Green Bay, they’re closer to necessities: Hotels book up very quickly after the NFL schedule is announced all the way out to Appleton, a solid 30 minutes out from the stadium. By all means check the nearby hotels when you’ve made your choice, but if there’s no vacancy, there are plenty of citizens with spare bedrooms to pick from – even ones close enough to walk to the stadium – for not as much as you’d think.
While you’re in town, be sure to check out Titletown Brewery for dinner – it can be a wait, but the food and local brews are worth the time. Just stroll the riverfront. Afterwards, head over to the stadium for a stroll, a tour, and a hundred pictures with the Lambeau Leap statue before the crowds get there – it’s all extremely accessible. If you have time during the day, the parks and nature preserves right on Lake Michigan are worth an excursion.
As long as you’re coming in early, or not trying to approach the stadium directly through Lombardi Way, traffic is not bad. If you’re going in another team’s colors, don’t worry. I took more flack at DFW airport for the college hoodie I was wearing than I did in Green Bay for wearing a Chiefs jersey.
Flights, tickets, travel and amenities, you can easily make a weekend of this for around $1,000 per person – a good chunk less if you’re not splurging on really good seats or being super frugal with your hotel choices.