Paris and Saint-Denis, first and foremost
The 2023 Rugby World Cup could not have asked for a better grand opening! In Saint-Denis, just north of Paris, the first match of the competition will be played at the Stade de France, the largest stadium in the country. In the large 80,000-seat arena, the French Bleus will welcome the formidible All Blacks. The two semi-finals, the bronze final and the game final will also be played in Paris. The games are to be held just few months away from the 2024 Olympics, and City of Light promises to be more attractive (and convenient) than ever. So, grab your rugby jersey and head off to discover the capital's great museums before and after the games, as well as its beautiful exhibitions and the latest places to see and been seen, like The sumptuous Hôtel de la Marine, Place de la Concorde, the Bourse du Commerce (a new hotspot of contemporary art), as well as the newly rennovated Samaritaine and its incredible shopping, beauty, restaurant spaces. Try them all!
Marseille: the sacred opening
Normally it’s the roar of football supporters that has Marseille’s Orange Vélodrome stadium rumbling. Will it now be a try that gets the roar in this major Provençal city? The 2023 World Cup will be an amazing opportunity to explore Marseille, a city constantly reinventing itself. From the bold MuCEM in its lace sheath facing the old Port, to the trendy Friche de la Belle de Mai and its 8,000 square metres of roof terraces, through to the picturesque streets of the Panier district, Marseille has something to appeal to all – and is the perfect base for a longer stay in Provence.
Read more: Marseille’s top terraces with a view
Bordeaux: art galore
If there’s one French city that screams art and culture, it’s Bordeaux. There are over 350 UNESCO-listed buildings in its historic centre. Its numerous museums include the incredible Cité du Vin on the banks of the Garonne, the Meca, and the trendy new Musée Mer Marine in the Bassins à Flots area, a former naval base with sea-themed exhibitions. Whether you go before or after the matches at the Matmut Atlantic Stadium, they’re all must-sees in the world’s wine capital.
Toulouse: party in pink
In Toulouse, Occitanie, you’re in the land of Ovalie. The four rugby matches played at the stadium here will certainly be colourful, in the image of this ‘Ville Rose’ (Pink City) that’s always in party mode. You can never get bored around the pedestrianised Capitole square and you’ll have your head in the stars as you visit the Cité de l’Espace. Avoid being caught offside and explore the latest attraction, the ‘Piste des Géants’ (Giant’s Trail), which gets you on board some wacky machines to relive the adventures of the Aéropostale pioneers.
Read more: The best bars in Toulouse
Lyon: a great bounce
From the old medieval and Renaissance quarter at the foot of the Fourvière hill, walk through narrow streets and secret passageways, hidden staircases and stylish courtyards, to the roof terrace of the quirky and avant-garde Musée des Confluences. The city of Lyon is never on the sidelines. Always elegant, intriguing and surprising, the ‘Cité des Gaules’ is also a foodie’s paradise. Head to one of its ‘bouchons’ (traditional restaurants) to whet your appetite. After the matches at the Groupama Stadium, there’ll be plenty to get your teeth into.
Read more: 6 Lyon restaurants off the beaten track
Lille-Villeneuve d’Asq: communicative heat
The great technical feat of the Pierre-Mauroy stadium in Villeneuve d’Asq, where Lille’s rugby matches will be played in 2023, is not the only surprise in the Lille metropolis. Nearby there’s also the LaM (the Museum of Modern Art, Contemporary Art and Art Brut) set in a large sculpture park. And just a few metro stops away is the city centre of this capital of Hauts-de-France, with its warm, welcoming atmosphere. On the Grand Place, with its tall, 17th-century red brick houses, enjoy munching crispy fries or a delicious vanilla waffle from Meert.
Nice: healthy walk
In Nice, there’s no need to train for the dolce vita. The rugby teams might get their shirts wet at the Allianz Riviera stadium – but spectators can enjoy the pleasures of the Côte d’Azur without fear of penalties. From the famous sea-lapped Promenade des Anglais to the small hilltop villages inland, the flower market and trendy alleyways of the Petit Marais, the terrace of the MAMAC museum and the Gallo-Roman site of Cimiez… life’s sweet here, wherever you go.
Nantes: the beautiful team
Outside rugby season, the Beaujoire stadium in Nantes is home to the ‘canaris’, nickname for the local football team. You’ll also meet an enormous mechanical elephant in this beautiful city on the banks of the Loire, taking visitors for rides and spraying onlookers with its trunk. Also at the ‘Machines de l’Ile’ site – the former shipyards – you can climb aboard a giant carousel of extraordinary sea creatures. And soon you’ll be able to climb into the branches of the forthcoming ‘Arbre aux Herons’ (Herons’ Tree). Don’t believe us? Go and check it out…
Read more: An artistic guide to Nantes
Saint-Etienne: sport in the green
Almost bang in the centre of France, Saint-Etienne both preserves the past and nurtures the future. Go back in time at the fascinating Museum of Art and Industry and Museum of the Mine, then visit the cutting-edge Cité du Design. It’s a great city for green tourism, too: a gateway to the outdoor delights of Auvergne with its gently sloping mountains, dormant volcanoes and beautiful countryside. Even the local football team are known as the ‘Verts’ (the Greens), based at the Geoffroy Guichard stadium where in 2023, it’s all about the rugby.
Read more: Another side to Saint-Etienne