Having a ball: France's must-visit places during the Rugby World Cup and beyond
If you’re lucky enough to get tickets to the Rugby World Cup – there will be plenty of down time to explore the areas surrounding the iconic event.
And even if you’re not going, there’s plenty of inspiration to get planning for a trip.
Here, Sarah Ewing gets the inside track on where to go and what to see. around the nine stadia.
Don’t leave without: Seeing the Eiffel Tower (go on, try to miss it), sitting on the steps at Montmatre and taking a boat ride on the Seine.
Transport advice: Traffic can be a nightmare, so walking is often quicker. You can also hire one of the many city-wide electric bikes.
Best-kept secret: Parks are a must to explore, especially in autumn. My favourite is Parc Clichy-Batignolles-Martin Luther King in the city’s 17th arrondissement.
Budget tips: The free Paris Rugby Village at Place de la Concorde is a must for rugby fans. The hub has giant screens showing all matches, with food stalls and merchandising. The atmosphere is priceless (rugbyworldcup.com/2023/rugby-villages/paris)
Where to eat: The Jaja is an amazing bistro in a tiny, leafy courtyard, serving fresh seasonal French food.
Where to stay: Mercure Paris Opéra Hôtel & Spa is a short walk from the Paris Rugby Village, and has lots of eateries nearby. Try one of the short-term rental homes from Veeve in the 10th, 17th and 18th arrondissements, closest to Stade de France, prices from £148 a night (veeve.com).
Don’t leave without: With its Flemish heritage and 17th-century red-brick townhouses, charming Lille has a vibrant art scene. La Piscine de Roubaix is an art museum in a former swimming pool – and a must-see.
Transport advice: The most efficient public transport options are trams and buses.
Best-kept secret: ‘Rugby fans will appreciate Lille’s status as France’s beer capital, home to historic craft breweries. Until September 24, Lille hosts a beer festival featuring 80 regional and international breweries.’
Budget tips: Looking to bring a taste of France home that won’t break the bank? Visit Marché Wazemmes on Place de la Nouvelle – it’s one of the biggest markets in France, selling produce, beautiful gifts like honey and soaps, and is a great place to get lunch-to-go.
Where to eat: ‘L’Atelier Street Food is great value and known for its pre-match atmosphere. Soho Urban Food is a contemporary buffet-style restaurant with a great brunch and cocktails.
Where to stay: Hôtel Brueghel is centrally located and close to Gare Lille Flandres. Room prices start at £76.
Don’t leave without: Taking in the fantastical architecture of Château des Ducs de Bretagne and counting (we dare you) the 10,000 living species of flora and fauna in Jardin des Plantes.
Transport advice: To get to the stadium and city centre, trams, taxis, and buses are available.
Best-kept secret: Explore the elegant Passage Pommeraye, a 19th-century glass-and-iron shopping arcade.
Budget tips: Soak in the atmosphere without the cost of a ticket at Fleming’s Irish Pub or Le Rabelais.
Where to eat: Les Terrasses de l’Erdre is a fantastic wine cellar and gastropub with great views. Le Bouquet Garni is a top-rated and chic restaurant.
Where to stay: The boutique Sozo Hotel is in a transformed 19th-century chapel (rooms from £282). There’s also the Ibis Styles Nantes Centre Place Graslin, with rooms from £110.
Don’t leave without: Having a glass of Bordeaux in Bordeaux.
Transport advice: Trams, buses and a well-connected train station make getting around the city and to the rugby matches a breeze.’
Best-kept secret: France’s wine capital is home to 350 landmarks – a rival only to Paris. Savour canelé pastries, check out the interactive Cité du Vin and try some Arcachon oysters.
Budget tips: If you can’t get tickets to the match, watch it from Café Oz. It’s a lively sports bar with giant screens plus DJs in the evening.
Where to eat: Le Noailles is an upmarket brasserie situated in the Golden Triangle, great for people-watching. Les Voûtes translates at “the vaults”, and so it’s perfect for keeping cool in the heat.
Where to stay: Pullman Bordeaux Lac is a chic and glam hotel with lake views. It’s perfect for the tram that stops outside (rooms from £100).’
Don’t leave without: Taking a selfie outside beautiful Basilique Saint-Sernin.
Transport advice: Toulouse-Blagnac airport provides easy access for travellers arriving by air. You can use trams, buses and the metro to explore the city. Taxis and ride-share services are available.
Best-kept secret: Known as the Pink City for its terracotta buildings and hailed as the European rugby capital (its club has five European championship wins), Toulouse celebrates its rugby culture with a summer festival at Place du Capitole.
Budget tips: Explore attractions such as Cité de l’Espace – an interactive museum for astronaut experiences.
Where to eat: Curry Café for classic Indian dishes, and Au Pois Gourmand for riverside fine-dining.
Where to stay: Hôtel Raymond 4 Toulouse is an elegant 1930s art-deco-inspired boutique hotel (rooms from £62). Hôtel Toulouse Centre – Albert 1er is family-run and close to Place du Capitole in the historic centre (rooms from £63).
Don’t leave without: A trip to Calanques National Park – cameras obligatory.
Transport advice: Unlike other host cities, the stadium is quite central and easily accessible. People can walk from the beach to it in about 30 minutes.
Best-kept secret: Check out Les Goudes, a fishing village on the outskirts of the city – perfect if you want to escape from the World Cup crowds for a few hours.
The rugby fans will mostly congregate around the Old Port. I recommend trying Les Quartiers Sud instead – you’ll find parks, beaches, restaurants, bars and everything you need.’
Budget tips: Boulangeries are always good. They sell not only bread, but pastries, pizza slices and sandwiches.
Where to eat: Maison Campo for a pre-match meal – big pizzas. It’s a road back from the main strip, so a good place to eat.
Where to stay: For a high-quality, lucky dip deal in a three-star hotel, try HolidayPirates’ three nights with flights, from £156pp.
Don’t leave without: Visiting the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, which has one of the biggest collections of such artwork in France.
Transport advice: The city is less than an hour from Lyon, and train tickets between the two start from £8.
Best-kept secret: Visit Chocolat Weiss, one of the oldest chocolate shops in the city, dating back to 1882.
Budget tips: Get the Saint-Etienne City Card (£14 for 24 hours), which gives you free access to museums other tourists sites and transport – and offers shopping discounts.
Where to eat: Chez Les Fondus Saint Étienne is a superb traditional restaurant serving delicious raclette, fondus, crepes and patisseries.
Where to stay: Kyriad Saint-Etienne Centre is a bright, modern hotel, close to the train station. Rooms from £58.
Don’t leave without: A leisurely stroll round Old Town.
Transport advice: Central Nice is best explored on foot and taxis are expensive.
Best-kept secret: Nestled in the charming Old Nice, La Cave de Stéphane is a hidden gem for wine enthusiasts.
Budget tips: Make sure to prepay when it comes to buses and trams for better prices. Bargain hunters will discover a plethora of flea markets and wonderful farmers’ markets, such as Marché aux Fleurs Cours Saleya just off the famous Promenade des Anglais.
Where to eat: SEEN is a fusion restaurant with an eclectic menu, and panoramic rooftop views of the Med.
Where to stay: The recently renovated Anantara Plaza Nice Hotel offers the perfect blend of old-world elegance with contemporary luxuries, set in a 19th century architectural jewel on Nice’s boardwalk. Prices from £235 per room.
Don’t leave without: Visiting the Thermes Antiques de Lyon, one of the best-preserved parts of Lyon’s Roman history
Transport advice: The metro is one of the best options to get around.
Best-kept secret: The glorious Le Bal des Ardents, is one of the best bookshops in Europe.
Budget tips: Get a Lyon City Card from £24.90pp – public transport is free with it and enjoy access to 23 museums, walking tours, visits, activities, river cruises, and get discounts for the city’s top leisure activities and shops.
Where to eat: Lyon is a foodie’s paradise. Try Maria for delicious wood-fired pizzas that won’t break the bank or Boleh Lah for authentic Malaysian street food.
Where to stay: Mama Shelter Lyon is luxurious, lively and centrally located with amazing food and bar, rooms from £85.
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