With the Rugby World Cup in France coming up in 2023, we’ve had a few people reaching out to ask if we could plan an itinerary of activities for them that they can enjoy between the World Cup matches. The tournament will run from 8 September – 28 October 2023, and while we can’t book your tickets for you, we can plan a tour of France around the games you’ll be attending. In fact, we did the same for travelers attending the Ryder Cup in 2018.

Before starting to plan any of our customized tours, we always ask travelers to send us their France wishlists. These can include specific places you would like to visit, general interests you have that you’d like to explore further in France, and things you’d like to do. In this case, you can also let us know the games you'll be attending in which cities.

Below, we’ve written a short guide of the best things to do and places to visit in each of the French cities that will be hosting games during the World Cup. These cities are:

  • Bordeaux
  • Lille
  • Lyon
  • Marseille
  • Nantes
  • Nice
  • St Denis (near Paris)
  • St Étienne (near Lyon)
  • Toulouse

Please note that all of our tours around the Rugby World Cup are a minimum of 10 days. 

Please also note that nearly all hotel rooms and B&Bs inside the host cities are already fully-booked on game nights. The premium Bed & Breakfast accommodations we work with outside the cities and in rural areas still have availability. However, please keep in mind that this would mean driving into the city from your accommodation for the games.

Bordeaux

The Stade de Bordeaux will be one of the host venues; and what better opportunity to explore the largest urban UNESCO World Heritage site in the world?

Between games, you can explore most of Bordeaux city on foot. Collect a map from the Tourist Office on the Esplanade des Quinconces or download the UNESCO Heritage Tour map from the Bordeaux Tourism website. The 3-mile walking tour includes the following places of interest: 

Monument aux Girondins

This monument, ‘Liberty Breaking Its Chains, was built between 1895-1901 and sits atop a 43-meter column. It’s in remembrance of the people of Gironde who died in 1789 during the French Revolution.

Wine-tasting at Maison Gobineau

This building houses the Multi Disciplinary Council of Bordeaux Wine - serious business! Enjoy a wine-tasting at the Maison des Vins de Bordeaux. Their famous wine bar has been open since 1788 (just before the French Revolution.

The Grand Théâtre

This stunning building inspired the architect of the Opera Garnier building in Paris. Admire the columns at the entrance, and the 12 stone statues, which include the goddesses Juno, Minerva and Venus.

Notre-Dame Church

This is a gorgeous Dominican baroque church that has featured in a number of television period dramas.

Porte Dijeaux

This site has been a city gateway from the West since Roman times. It was rebuilt in the mid-18th century during the reign of Louis XV, who named it the Dauphin’s gate, after the future heir to the throne, Louis XVI.

La Grosse Cloche

This bell-tower is the only thing that remains of the old town’s 13th century defensive gate. The 7.8-ton bell was cast in 1775.

Shopping on Rue Sainte-Catherine

If you’d like to do some shopping between matches, head for the longest shopping avenue in Europe, Rue Sainte Catherine. The high-end boutiques are at the Place de la Comédie end (also known as the Triangle d’Or or ‘the Golden Triangle). 

Food from Marché des Capucins

At the other end of Rue Sainte Catherine is the Place de la Victoire, where you’ll find the Capucins market, Bordeaux’s largest market. You’ll be spoilt for choice, with fresh oysters, dozens of cheeses, charcuterie, fresh fruit, herbs and spices. Choose a few delicacies and then head to the Garonne river for a picnic at the Parc des Sports.

Saint Michel Antiques Market

Antique enthusiasts will enjoy the flea market that takes place on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays by the gothic-style Saint Michel Basilica. The Passage Saint Michel is full of galleries, antique stores and second-hand shops. Plus you’ll find some nice vintage offerings in Les Hangars.

Bassins de Lumières, the largest digital art space in the world

You can also immerse yourself in art at les Bassins de Lumières, the world’s largest digital art center. Huge digital images from famous artists are projected onto the walls of this former submarine base. It's quite an extraordinary sight!

Visit Vineyards of St Emilion

The “Bordeaux” wine appellation relates to the geographical area surrounding the city of Bordeaux around 60 miles north, south, east and west. There are also more specific appellations from areas such as Médoc or Saint Emilion, which produce some of the best Bordeaux wines. Book a vineyard or wine-tasting tour - or if you book a tour with France Just For You, we’ll sort it all out for you.

You’ll find more places of interest in Bordeaux on the tourist office’s walking tour map, including the Hôtel Acquart, Saint André cathedral, Place de la Bourse and the Miroir d’Eau (the largest water mirror in the world), to name a few.

Find out more about our self-guided tours that include Bordeaux.

France Just For You
Bassins de Lumières digital art exhibition in Bordeaux - © France Just For You

Lille

The Stade Pierre Mauroy will host the Rugby World Cup games in Lille. The stadium was built for the Euro 2016 football tournament and has a capacity of 50,000. 

Lille is a beautiful city in northern France. It was Flemish before it was conquered by King Louis XIV in 1667, and this heritage particularly shows through its architecture. Here are a few things you can do if you'll be spending a few days in Lille: 

The Old Town of Lille

Like many French cities, its historical center is wonderful to explore, with baroque buildings, cobblestone streets, gabled roofs and pretty facades. You'll see Flemish features in the city's baroque architecture, which dates back to the 1600s and 1700s. There are also plenty of bars in Old Lille, so it's a great place to people-watch during the day or to enjoy a night out.

Palais des Beaux-Arts

Palais des Beaux-Arts is the second largest museum after the Louvre in Paris. You’d need about half a day to see the whole museum, so check the museum website beforehand to find out the latest exhibitions, and choose which parts of the museum you’d like to visit. 

You’ll find pieces by Monet, van Gogh, Raphael, Picasso, and Rubens, among many others.

La Vieille Bourse

The old stock exchange building in Lille is one of the most beautiful in the city. A central courtyard is surrounded by 24 renaissance houses with beautiful facades dating back to the 17th century. Nowadays you'll find locals playing chess in the courtyard and a daily book and flower market in the arcades.

Grand Place

Lille’s main square is flanked on all sides by gorgeous gabled buildings. The Théâtre du Nord is housed in the city's former guardhouse dating back to 1717. The more modern buildings in the square have adopted the same Flemish style.

Museum of Modern Art in Lille

See some of the nearly 7,000 pieces of modern art from the 20th and 21 centuries, including masterpieces by Braque, Picasso, Miró, Klee and Modigliani. There's a nice outdoor sculpture park to stroll through too on a nice day.

Birth Place of Charles de Gaulle

The birthplace of former French President Charles de Gaulle is in a leafy suburb to the north of the old town. The 19th century bourgeois home originally belonged to de Gaulle's grandparents. There are some interesting pieces of family memorabilia, including the cradle he once slept in.

Town Hall and Belfry, a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Belfries are a typical Flemish feature, and Lille was Flemish until 1667. The town hall has the highest belfry at 104 meters/341ft and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This also makes it a useful point of reference in a city that doesn’t have many high buildings. You can ascend the belfry by elevator or you can take the steps (all 400 of them!).

Marché de Wazemmes

On Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday mornings at the Place Nouvelle Aventure you'll find one of northern France’s most popular and largest outdoor markets. The best but busiest day to visit is on a Sunday, when there are hundreds of stalls. You'll find all kinds of goods, from tasty food, fresh local and exotic fruits and vegetables to clothes and antiques.

If you’ll be following the tournament in Northern France and would like us to plan a customized self-guided tour of the region, you can browse our sample tours of Northern France.

Alexander D, France Just For You traveler
Travelers in the old town of Lille - © Alexander D, France Just For You traveler

Lyon

France’s third largest city, Lyon, is in eastern France and the World Cup matches will be held at the OL Stadium (also called the Groupama Stadium).

Founded by the Romans in 43 BC, Lyon has a 2,000-year history, world-famous cuisine and impressive architecture. You may admire the Renaissance architecture of old Lyon as you explore on foot, see how the locals shop at the little markets in Croix-Rousse district, and wander through the more contemporary Confluence district.

Here are some other things you can enjoy in the city while you’re visiting:

Explore the traboules, Lyon’s secret passageways

See if you can find Lyon's famous secret passageways, the 'traboules'! 'Traboule' stems from the Latin word trans ambulare, which means, ‘to pass through’. Many streets in old Lyon run parallel to the river, and this made quick access to fresh water difficult in the past. This is why they built hidden passages connecting adjacent buildings, creating shortcuts through the city.

Canuts (silk workers) also used them to quickly carry silk from their workshops to the merchants by the river, protecting them from wet weather.

There are hundreds of traboules in the old town of Lyon and in the former center of the silk trade, Croix-Rousse. Not all can be accessed by the public, but those that can be are marked by a bronze shield in the old town and a lion's head in Croix-Rousse. If you book a tour with France Just For You, we will help you find them!

Visit Basilica Notre-Dame de Fourvière 

This magnificent church in western Lyon, the oldest part of the city was built in the late-19th century. Several Roman sites have also been uncovered in this area. The extravagant interior is worth a look, as is the Museum of Sacred Art. You can also climb the tower to enjoy some great views of Lyon from above.

Colline de Fourvière

There are beautiful views across Lyon from this hill. And while you’re visiting the basilica, you must pay a visit to the Roman ruins nearby. These mark the place where the Romans first settled in Lyon. Every June and July there are live shows and concerts at the Théâtre Gallo Romain de Lyon-Fourvière during the Nuits de Fourvière drama festival. You can see other Roman artefacts at the nearby Gallo-Roman museum.

Parc de la Tête d’Or

North of central Lyon is one of the largest city parks in France. It has a botanical garden with more than 20,000 varieties of plant species and an impressive greenhouse dating back to the 19th century. If you’re traveling with children, they may enjoy a trip to the park’s zoo or a pedal-boat trip on the lake.

Musee Cinéma et Miniature

The Museum of Cinema and Miniaturism is in the old town of Lyon, inside the impressive UNESCO World Heritage and Renaissance building, the Maison des Avocats.

The cinema museum contains hundreds of movie props and artefacts from the last 50 years. 

The ‘Miniature’ collection has exhibitions of hyper-realistic miniature scenes, compiled by the best miniaturists in the world. The craftsmanship and minute detail is quite stunning, with recreations of famous places in France or daily life in France across the centuries.

Museum of Fine Arts, Lyon

This is the biggest ‘Musée des Beaux-Arts’ in France after the Louvre, housed in a 17th century former abbey. You’ll find pieces by the world’s most famous artists, including Degas, Renoir, Cézanne, Picasso, El Greco, Canaletto, and Max Ernst, to name just a few. There are also exhibitions displaying Oriental art and 600 artefacts from Ancient Egypt. These include the gates to the Temple of Medamud, which date back to the 3rd century BC.

If you'll be in Lyon for the Rugby in 2023, you may be interested in our self-drive tour of Lyon and eastern France. All of our tours can be customized to include other regions and to accommodate your preferences.

T. Deschamps, OT Lyon
View of Lyon from above at night - © T. Deschamps, OT Lyon

Marseille

The games in Marseille will take place at the 67,000 seat Stade Vélodrome. Marseille is France’s second biggest city and the oldest major city, having been founded by the Greeks from Phocaea in 600 BC. Some of our favorite places in this beautiful city in the south of France include:

Roman Ruins

When the Romans took over Marseille 2,000 years ago, they brought many changes to Provence. You can see some of the ruins at the Museum of the Roman Docks, near the Vieux-Port (Old Port). Or if you’d like to see more impressive and extensive Roman sites, the incredible Pont du Gard Roman aqueduct, Théâtre d’Orange Roman amphitheater in Orange and the Roman Arena in Arles are all within an hour and a half’s drive from the center of Marseille, and are well worth the day trip out of the city.

The Old Port

Much of the city of Marseille revolves around the Vieux Port, so it’s worth taking some time to appreciate it. For millennia, its location in the Mediterranean was central to international trade and migration. You may notice that Marseille’s migrant population has strongly influenced the culture of Marseille across the centuries.

MUCEM Museum

In 2013, Marseille was the European Capital of Culture and opened the Museum of Mediterranean Culture (MUCEM). Unless you’re especially interested in Mediterranean history, a visit to MUCEM isn’t a ‘must’. But the design of the building is impressive, so it’s worth paying it a visit just to admire the architecture.

Up on the roof, there’s a walkway over to a 17th century fortress, Fort Saint Jean, which is worth a look. The museum normally opens at 11am, and is closed on Tuesdays.

Notre Dame de la Garde Cathedral

This is the place to go for great views over Marseille, including the old port. You can take the number 60 bus from the Vieux-Port, or take the long walk up, if you’re feeling energetic!

There have been talks of introducing cable cars up to the cathedral from the old port. Whether these will materialise remains to be seen!

A meal in Port des Goudes

After your self-guided walking tour of Marseille city, you may want to escape the city. We recommend driving to a lovely little village along the coast called Port des Goudes. You can have dinner at one of its waterfront restaurants and enjoy beautiful sunset views against a mountain backdrop. It can get very busy there at weekends and peak times, so keep this one for a weekday.

We love the L’Esplaï du Bar des Goudes restaurant (closed on Wednesdays). Book in advance and ask for a table on the terrace, so you can enjoy views of the marina.

The Beautiful Calanques in Cassis

The creeks or ‘calanques’ to the east of Marseille, around the town of Cassis, are very beautiful. Cassis is a lovely port town and the ideal departure point for boat tours of the calanques. There are also some easy walking routes you can take from Cassis, to three nearby calanques. Check out our post on things to do in Cassis for more details! 

Drink Pastis and Eat Bouillabaisse

The favorite aperitif in Marseille is ‘Pastis’ or ‘Ricard’, an aniseed flavored spirit while many locals drink with cold water to cool off. 

“Bouillabaisse” is a typical Provençal seafood dish that may be served either as a soup starter or as a main course with a large fish, croutons and “rouille” sauce (made from crushed chilli peppers, garlic, breadcrumbs, and other ingredients blended with stock).

There are often many different varieties of fish included in the dish, so for a main course you can expect to pay 50 to 60 euros per person.

Try some Aïoli sauce

This garlic mayonnaise is delicious served with summer vegetables, salted cod, crispy bread and croutons, mussels, snails, potatoes, or eggs. If you go to a fish restaurant in Marseille, you’ll definitely have a chance to try some! Here we share our own Aioli recipe!

Buy some soap as a souvenir

Marseille is well-known for its soap, so you’ll see many ‘Savon de Marseille’  manufacturers. We don’t recommend buying soap in the city though, because you can’t be sure of its origin. For the best quality and authentic soaps, head to the Marius Fabre soap factory to the north of Marseille. 

If you're interested in exploring the south of France, get inspired by our self-guided tour of the south of France.

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Panoramic view of the old port of Marseille - © Pixabay CC0

Nantes

The city of Nantes lies on the border between Brittany and the Loire, and the Rugby World Cup games will be held at the Stade de la BeaujoireSome of our favorite things to do in Nantes include:

Les Machines de l’île

A great family day out, this ever-growing world of mechanical animals is amazing. It might remind engineering enthusiasts of the mechanical designs of Leonardo da Vinci, or literature lovers of the magical worlds of Jules Verne. The Machines de L'île theme park is a wonderful tribute to the industrial history of the city of Nantes.

While you are there, take a tour on the huge, water-blowing elephant, or take a ride on one of the newer machines, the 35-meter high Heron Tree.

You can also see upcoming projects and new machines that engineers and artists are working on in the gallery.

Jules Verne Museum

The building itself doesn’t have any connection to this famous French writer, but is close to where he was born in 1828. If you’re a fan of Jules Verne’s work, you will enjoy seeing the books, portraits, documents, manuscripts and games in the museum’s galleries, which once belonged to the writer.

Jardin des Plantes

Also known as one of France’s “remarkable gardens”, the seven-hectare botanical garden is in the center of Nantes. The Palm House, a late-19th-century structure made from metal and glass houses plants from the American tropics, while the other three greenhouses have African and Asian orchids on display. As you walk through the gardens, look out for the 220-year-old magnolia tree and 150-year-old sequoias.

Passage Pommeraye

This isn’t just a passage - it’s a gorgeous piece of architecture and luxury shopping arcade dating back to 1843. Admire the neo-renaissance sculpture and stonework, glass roofs that flood the galleries with light - and perhaps do a little shopping.

Château des Ducs de Bretagne

This 13th century castle was occupied by the Dukes of Brittany for 300 years until it was taken over by the French royals in the 16th century. It’s the most western château in the Loire.

It’s free to go into the courtyard and ramparts, and you pay to visit the Nantes history museum. In the museum, you can learn about the city’s evolution, from the times of the slave trade to the time it operated as an industrial port.

The green space by the deep moat is the perfect picnic spot on a nice day.

Cathedrale de Saint-Pierre et Saint-Paul

The construction of Nantes Cathedral started in 1434 and took over 400 years to finish. It’s extravagant gothic design was already well out of fashion by the 1600s but it was kept in order to match the earlier work. Look out for the white marble Tomb of Francis II, Duke of Brittany, considered a masterpiece of the French renaissance from 1507.

Why not browse our sample tours, if you would like to explore the Loire Valley by car while you're in France?

Guilhem Vellut - CC BY 2.0
The mechanical giant elephant at the Machines de L'Ile theme park in Nantes - © Guilhem Vellut - CC BY 2.0

Nice

The rugby matches in this part of southern France will take place at the Stade de Nice. There is so much to see all along the Cote d’Azur, so we’ll just share some of our favorite things to do:

A day at the museum

The French Riviera was a popular vacation spot for the nobility and artists around Europe. Our favorite big art museums in the French Riviera are the Chagall Museum in Nice, or the Picasso Museum in Antibes, not far from Nice.

Fragonard Perfume factory, Èze

Just a half-hour drive from Nice, learn how the perfumes from this famous brand are made. If they have workshops running, you might have the opportunity to make your own perfume. 

Exotic Botanical Gardens, Èze

A short walk from the perfume factor are the stunning botanical gardens of Èze. There are beautiful views of the Mediterranean and across the hills of the French Riviera.

Hilltop village of Mougins

About 30 minutes’ drive into the hills from Cannes is the lovely village of Mougins. It’s a welcome break from the noisy crowds of the Riviera, with lots of independent art workshops and studios. An ideal opportunity to pick up an authentic arty souvenir from this part of France. 

Sainte Marguerite, Lérins islands

If you’d like to enjoy a relaxing day away from the mainland, take a boat from Nice to the Lérins islands, just off the coast of Cannes. Bring a picnic with you and stroll around the island of Sainte Marguerite in a couple of hours. There are lots of easy hiking trails and little creeks.

For a customised tour of Nice and the Cote d'Azur, visit our website!

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Panoramic view of Nice and Mediterranean sea - © Pixabay CC0

Saint-Denis

The Stade de France is in Saint-Denis, just north of Paris - it’s only 5 minutes by train from the Gare du Nord, and then 10 minutes walking from La Plaine-Stade de France station.

Enjoy a day at Paris’s museums

The Atelier des Lumières is a digital art exhibition that projects some of the world's most masterpieces onto the walls of this exhibition space. They’re turned into moving images accompanied by music, so this really is a treat for the senses.

A visit to the Marmottan Monet Museum is a must if you like Claude Monet's work, especially smaller versions of his famous water lilies. You could then follow this with a visit to the Orangerie Museum to see the giant canvases of Monet's water lilies.

If you enjoy both art and visiting gardens, head to the Rodin Museum. Inside the museum you can see some of the works of Auguste Rodin, before taking a stroll through the sculpture garden outside. It's peaceful and the ideal spot for a picnic lunch if the weather permits!

Admire the views over Paris

For impressive 360-degree views of Paris that include the Eiffel Tower, head to the observation deck on the 56th floor of the Montparnasse Tower.

Other places with nice views include Le Georges restaurant at the top of the Centre Pompidou, and the rooftop cafe of the Institut du Monde Arabe.

Discover Paris's neighborhoods

If you’d like to discover any of Paris’s neighborhoods in more depth, we have suggested a self-guided walking tour of Montmartre and have written about our favorite things to see in Le Marais.

Other places of interest in and around Paris include the Paris Catacombs, the Palace of Versailles and its gardens, and Fontainebleau castle.

You may like to browse our sample self-guided tours that include Paris for an idea of how we would plan the ideal itinerary for your trip - just for you!

Henrique Ferreira - CC0
View over Paris at sunset from the Montparnasse Tower - © Henrique Ferreira - CC0

Saint-Étienne

Saint-Étienne is in east-central France, about an hour’s drive from Lyon. The Rugby World Cup matches will be played at the 42,000-seater Stade Geoffroy-Guichard

Historically, Saint-Étienne was known for its mining and manufacturing industry. However, in recent years it’s transformed itself into a hub for the creative arts, with many factories now being used as art spaces.

If you’ll be in this area, or in Lyon, for the tournament, you may like to visit:

Musée des Verts

If football/soccer lights you up as much as rugby, make sure you visit this museum at the Stade Geoffroy Guichard. ‘Les Verts’ are the local team, AS Saint-Étienne (ASSE), who are always in the top half of League 1. In fact, 50 or 60 years ago, they were THE team to beat, having won the French league 9 times in 18 years. You can learn more about the local team’s history in the stadium’s museum, browse their trophies and learn more about the team’s legendary players.

Musée de la mine

St Etienne has a strong coal-mining history, and you can explore this deeper at the Musée de la Mine, which has preserved the city’s last coal mine. Discover what a day in the life of a 20th-century coal miner would have been like in the reconstructed tunnels. You can also see some of the old mining machinery and buildings.

Musée d'Art et d'Industrie

Learn more about St Etienne’s manufacturing history, including the large-scale production of bicycles in the 19th century. In the gallery dedicated to bicycles, you can see some early prototypes and how the bicycle evolved in time. The city also manufactured weapons, which is why there’s a display of more than 300 guns. There’s also a space dedicated to the textile industry, as the city was well known for its ribbon-making.

Cité du Design

The Manufacture-Plaine-Achille district in St Étienne is dedicated to innovation and the creative industries. The neighbourhood’s showstopper, the Cité du Design, opened in 2009 and is housed in a former weapon factory. The ultramodern building, La Platine, is a sight to behold, and inside you’ll find interesting design exhibitions.

Ville de St Etienne CC-BY SA 4.0
View of the Cité du Design in St Etienne - © Ville de St Etienne CC-BY SA 4.0

Toulouse

If you have tickets to a match at the Stadium de Toulouse, you must take the opportunity to explore the city, also known as ‘La Ville Rose’ (pink city). Toulouse is a university city with a vibrant music scene and a very nice old town. 

Canal du Midi and Garonne River

Take a boat trip along the Canal du Midi or the Garonne River and admire the warm pastel colors of the city’s buildings, or go on a self-guided walking tour.

Place du Capitole

In the old town, admire the majestic neoclassical palace containing extravagant ceremonial rooms painted with gorgeous frescoes. Entry is free.

Basilica of Saint Sernin

Then walk north to the beautiful medieval Basilica of Saint Sernin, which is said to contain the relics of 128 saints and a thorn from Jesus's Crown of Thorns.

Visit the Japanese Garden

By the Canal du Midi you’ll find the lovely Japanese garden with its traditional red bridge and a large dragon sculpture. 

See the art at Les Abattoirs art museum

Les Abattoirs art museum is a good option if you’re a fan of art. Check the exhibitions beforehand on the museum’s website. 

Enjoy a drink on a cafe terrace

Then finish off by enjoying a drink in one of the old town’s squares - there are plenty of cafés and bars to choose from.

 

Toulouse is just a short drive from the medieval fortified city of Carcassonne. We highly recommend a visit to Carcassonne if you have space in your schedule!

 

MaxPixel CC0
Toulouse (the Pink City) - © MaxPixel CC0

We hope that this extensive guide of the Rugby World Cup host cities has been helpful. If you would like us to plan a self-guided tour of France around the rugby games, contact us, Emilie & Laura, and we will be more than happy to help!

France Just For You

Experts in self-drive tours in France

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