Rugby World Cup 2023: a complete travel guide to France's host cities

The Rugby World Cup kicks off in France in early September. Here’s how to enjoy the tournament in cities all over France.

Rugby World Cup 2023: a complete travel guide to France's host cities
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An essential guide for rugby supporters to the host cities, stadiums and best pubs to catch all the games.

For nearly two months beginning next month, France will become the center of the world for rugby fans, when the country hosts the 10th men’s Rugby World Cup. 

With 20 countries competing in the tournament, France expects to welcome 600,000 international visitors throughout the games, which open September 8 and end October 28.

The tournament, which takes place every four years, will also be watched closely by non-rugby fans as a dress rehearsal for the upcoming Paris 2024 Olympic Games, when France becomes the stage for the world’s biggest international sporting event next summer.

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A total of 48 rugby matches will be played in nine host cities in stadiums across the country. Paris will host the tournament’s fan zone, with big screens that will live stream matches at the iconic Place de la Concorde (between the foot of the Champs-Élysées, and the Jardin des Tuileries), and a rugby village that will include music and entertainment, rugby training and workshops. 

Because France is so much more than just Paris, the traveling tournament is an opportune time to zoom in on the French cities that will play host to the world’s biggest rugby event. (All matches are listed in local time; suggested bars and pubs are recommendations from the French tourist office.) 

Clients eat at a bouchon, a traditional restaurant, in the old city of Lyon, France
A meal at a traditional Lyonnais bouchon is a must for any visitor © Emmanuel Dunand / AFP via Getty Images

The Rugby World Cup in Lyon

As the home base for New Zealand’s champion All Blacks team, Lyon is poised to be one of the most popular destinations during the tournament. But it’s also sure to attract the gourmets among rugby fans, given its reputation as the gastronomic capital of France and the birthplace of Paul Bocuse, one of the most influential French chefs of the 20th century.

A good starting point is the Halles Paul Bocuse, an indoor market where you’ll find regional specialties from local artisans. For the best dining experiences among the city’s signature bouchons (traditional Lyonnais restaurants), look for the quality label “Bouchon Lyonnais.” Walk off your meal by following the scenic footpaths along either one of the city’s two rivers: the Rhône or the Saône, or by exploring the historic districts that have been inscribed as a Unesco World Heritage site since 1998.

Rugby World Cup matches in Lyon

  • Wales–Australia: Sunday September 24, 9pm (pool C)
  • Uruguay–Namibia: Wednesday September 27, 5:45pm (pool A)
  • New Zealand–Italy: Friday September 29, 9pm (pool A)
  • New Zealand–Uruguay: Thursday October 5, 9pm (pool A)
  • France–Italy: Friday October 6, 9pm (pool A)

Lyon pubs for watching Rugby World Cup matches

  • The Smoking Dog 
  • Antidote Pub 
  • Wallace Bar
  • Elephant & Castle 
  • Ninkasi 
Rugby match at the Stade de France, Saint-Denis, France
The largest stadium in the country, the Stade de France in Saint-Denis will host the tournament final on October 28, among many other matches © Godong / Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The Rugby World Cup in Saint-Denis

The Paris suburb of Saint-Denis is home to the country’s largest stadium, the Stade de France, where the home team will square off against New Zealand on opening day in front of 80,000 fans – one of the most anticipated matches of the tournament. It’s one of 10 matches that will be played at the venue, which was inaugurated in 1998 to host the FIFA World Cup that same year.

The tournament will shine the spotlight on this Paris suburb, home to the historic Basilique de Saint-Denis, which rivals the grandeur of Notre Dame. Visitors to the region will also find the Saint-Ouen flea market, one of the largest antique markets in the world; the Musée de l’Air for aviation buffs; and the Canal de l’Ourcq, the longest of Paris’s three canals, which features restaurants, cafes, parks, a science center, boat rides, cinema, street art and long waterside walkways. 

Rugby World Cup matches in Saint-Denis

  • France–New Zealand: September 8, 2023, 9pm (pool A)
  • Australia–Georgia: September 9, 2023, 6pm (pool C)
  • South Africa–Ireland: September 23, 2023, 9pm (pool B)
  • Ireland–Scotland: October 7, 2023, 9 pm (pool B)
  • Quarterfinal 2 (Winner of pool B – second pool A): October 14, 2023
  • Quarterfinal 4 (Winner of pool A – second pool B): October 15, 2023
  • Semifinal 1 (Winner QF1 – Winner QF2): October 20, 2023
  • Semifinal 2 (Winner QF3 – Winner QF4): October 21, 2023
  • Match for 3rd place: October 27, 2023
  • Final: October 28, 2023

Paris pubs for watching Rugby World Cup matches

  • Café Oz Châtelet 
  • The Long Hop 
  • O’Sullivans by the Mill 
  • Le Truskel 
  • The Highlander 
People in the Place du Capitole, Toulouse, France
Toulouse is a rugby-mad city © Semmick Photo / Shutterstock

The Rugby World Cup in Toulouse

In the city of Toulouse, rugby is an important part of local culture. With five European championship titles under its belt, Toulouse has been described as the European capital of rugby, and every summer hosts a rugby festival that turns the historic Place du Capitole into a huge rugby field.

Known as the Pink City for its terra-cotta buildings, Toulouse is also the center of the country’s aerospace industry. Related attractions include the Cité de l’Espace, 43,000 sq ft of exhibition space where visitors can “train” like an astronaut and contemplate the wonders of the universe; and Aeroscopia, home to a collection of legendary aircraft parts including the Concorde and the A380.

Rugby World Cup matches in Toulouse

  • Japan–Chile: Sunday September 10 at 1pm (pool D) 
  • New Zealand–Namibia: Friday September 15 at 9pm (pool A) 
  • Georgia–winner of the final tournament: Saturday September 23 at 2pm (pool C) 
  • Japan–Samoa: Thursday September 28 at 9pm (pool D) 
  • Fiji–winner of the final tournament: Sunday October 8 at 9pm  (pool C) 

Toulouse pubs for watching Rugby World Cup matches

  • The Danu 
  • Connexion Live 
Chambre of Commerce and Statue and Column of Deesse (1845) at the Place Général de Gaulle, Lille, France
Lille provides a taste of its region’s Flemish heritage © jorisvo / Shutterstock

The Rugby World Cup in Lille

Often referred to as the capital of French Flanders, Lille features a Flemish heritage best experienced in the restored parts of the Old Town, where 17th-century red brick townhouses and stepped-gable roofs lend the city its trademark charm. But along with eye-catching architecture and a dynamic art scene (make sure to check out the nearby Piscine de Roubaix, an art museum housed in an indoor swimming pool), the city of Lille is sure to endear itself to rugby fans as the beer capital of France, home to some of the oldest and best craft breweries in the country. Incidentally, Lille is throwing a beer festival during the Rugby World Cup (September 17–24) that will gather 80 regional and international breweries throughout the city.

Take note: the Parisian bistro equivalent in Lille is the estaminet (or tavern). Don’t leave Lille without sampling a few of the region’s specialities, including the carbonade flamande, a beer and beef stew; gaufres (waffle wafer biscuits) from pastry shop Méert; and the flamiche au Maroilles, or Maroilles cheese quiche.

Rugby World Cup matches in Lille

  • France–Uruguay: Thursday September 14, 2023 at 9pm (pool A)
  • England–Chile: Saturday September 23, 2023 at 5:45pm (pool D)
  • Scotland–Romania: Saturday September 30, 2023 at 9pm (pool B)
  • England–Samoa: Saturday 7 October 2023 at 5:45pm (pool D)
  • Tonga–Romania: Sunday October 8, 2023 at 5:45pm (pool B)

Lille pubs for watching Rugby World Cup matches

  • Tír na nÓg
  • Box2Box 
  • BierBuik 
Place de la Bourse and the miroir d’eau, Bordeaux France
Beautiful Bordeaux is home to 350 historic monuments © / Getty Images

The Rugby World Cup in Bordeaux

Perhaps best known as the wine capital of France, this southwest city has other noteworthy claims to fame. Since 2007, Bordeaux’s crescent-shaped harbor, Port of the Moon, has been inscribed as a Unesco World Heritage Site – the largest single urban site on the list. The city is also home to 350 historic monuments, second only to Paris. 

One of the star cultural attractions is the Cité du Vin, an interactive experience that explores winemaking traditions from around the world. Don’t leave without trying the city’s signature caramelized custard pastry, the canelé, and local Arcachon oysters (oyster season in France just happens to start in September as well). The right bank of Bordeaux will be home to the Fiji rugby delegation throughout the tournament, with five matches taking place at the Stade de Bordeaux.

Rugby World Cup matches in Bordeaux

  • Ireland–Spain: Saturday September 9, 3:30pm (pool B)
  • Wales–Fiji: Sunday September 10, 9pm (pool C)
  • Samoa–Chile: Saturday September 16, 3pm (pool D)
  • South Africa–Spain: Sunday September 17, 3pm  (pool B)
  • Fiji–Georgia: Saturday September 30, 5:45pm (pool C)

Bordeaux pubs for watching Rugby World Cup matches

  • The Houses of Parliament  
  • Connemara Irish Pub 
  • Café Oz 
Fans at a match at the Orange Vélodrome, Marseille, France
The Orange Vélodrome is one of Marseille’s top attractions © Michael A Frankel

The Rugby World Cup in Marseille

Few French tourist offices include their local stadium as a landmark worthy of a visit. But you could say the Orange Vélodrome in Marseille is a second home for the thousands of devoted and zealous soccer fans of the local Olympique de Marseille club. With a capacity of nearly 67,400, the stadium is the second biggest venue in France (after the Stade de France), and will host six matches.

To get a better sense of the buzzing, multicultural port city, make time to explore the historic Vieux Port, which last year inaugurated its first food hall; Le Panier, the oldest and perhaps most charming neighborhood in the city, with narrow, flower-lined alleyways, colorful facades and street art; and the region’s natural assets. Though the coves of Marseille are the most popular, concerns of overcrowding and erosion have driven Calanques National Park to impose visitor limits. A good alternative is the Côte Bleue (Blue Coast), which also features coves, small ports and beaches, all popular among the locals. 

Rugby World Cup matches in Marseille

  • England–Argentina: Saturday September 9, 9pm (pool D)  
  • South Africa–Scotland: Sunday September 10, 5:45pm  (pool B) 
  • France–Namibia: Thursday September 21, 9pm  (pool B) 
  • South Africa/Tonga: Sunday October 1, 9pm  (pool B) 
  • Quarterfinal 1–winner: Saturday October 14, 5pm pool C/Second pool D)  
  • Quarterfinal 3–winner: Sunday October 15, 5pm (pool D/Second pool C)  

Marseille pubs for watching rugby matches

  • O’Brady’s
  • O’Malley’s
  • Shamrock Irish Pub 
  • Red Lion
The giant elephant at Les Machines de l’île, Nantes, France
Les Machines de l’île enchants any visitor to Nantes  © Oliverouge 3 / Shutterstock

The Rugby World Cup in Nantes

You could call the city of Nantes, which sits along the Loire Valley in western France, fertile ground for the imagination. Along with being the birthplace of French writer Jules Verne, author of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and Journey to the Center of the Earth, one of its most unique, family-friendly attractions is Les Machines de l’île, where giant mechanical elephants, herons, spiders, hummingbirds and caterpillars are brought to life in mesmerizing machine form. Two of the city’s most historic and beautiful landmarks include the 15th-century Château des Ducs de Bretagne in the heart of the city, and the bright and airy Passage Pommeraye, a 19th-century shopping arcade made of glass and iron that’s one of the most beautiful covered arcades in Europe.

Rugby World Cup matches in Nantes

  • Ireland–Tonga: Saturday September 16, 2023 at 9pm (pool B)
  • Argentina–Chile: Saturday September 30, 2023 at 3pm (pool D)
  • Wales–Georgia: Saturday October 7, 2023 at 3pm (pool C)
  • Japan–Argentina: Sunday October 8, 2023 at 1pm (pool D)

Nantes pubs for watching rugby matches

  • Le Rabelais 
  • Gigg’s 
  • Little Atlantique Brewery 
The Promenade des Anglais, Nice, France
You can’t visit Nice without indulging in a leisurely stroll along the stunning Promenade des Anglais © Marco Bottigelli / Getty Images

The Rugby World Cup in Nice

Nice is one of France’s newest additions to Unesco’s World Heritage List thanks to its unique history as a popular winter resort town getaway for the British elite in the 18th century. One of the first stops for any visitor is the Promenades des Anglais, a palm-lined corniche that stretches four miles along the waterfront. Its heritage as a winter playground for European aristocracy lives on in the luxury hotels that line the French Riviera.

Take in sweeping views of the city and its coastline at the hilltop Colline du Château, a 50-acre that can be reached by foot or by elevator lift. The historic district of the city, Vieux Nice, is where you’ll find narrow lively squares, flower, fruit, vegetable and flea markets. The colors of Nice also inspired artists Henri Matisse and Marc Chagall, whose works can be explored at separate museums dedicated to the artists.

Rugby World Cup matches in Nice

  • Wales–Portugal: Saturday September 16 at 5:45pm (pool C)
  • England–Japan: Sunday 17 September at 9pm (pool D)
  • Italy–Uruguay: Wednesday September 20 at 5:45pm (pool A)
  • Scotland–Tonga: Sunday September 24 at 5:45pm (pool B)

Nice pubs for watching Rugby World Cup matches

  • Ma Nolan’s
  • L’Ovale 
Cité du Design, Saint-Étienne, France
The striking Cité du Design in Saint-Étienne © iew Pictures / Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The Rugby World Cup in Saint-Étienne

Located about an hour southwest of Lyon, the city of Saint-Étienne was the industrial capital of Europe in the 19th century, and later became the first French city to be designated a Unesco Creative City for Design. Its Cité du Design is an incubator for artists and designers and hosts the Saint-Étienne International Design Biennial, while the city’s Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art is home to the largest collection of contemporary art in France after the Centre Pompidou. 

Rugby World Cup matches in Saint-Étienne

  • Italy–Namibia: Friday September 9 at 1pm (pool A)
  • Australia–Fiji: Sunday September 17 at 5:45pm (pool C)
  • Argentina–Samoa: Friday September 22 at 5:45pm (pool D)
  • Australia–Portugal: Sunday October 1 at 5:45pm (pool C)

Saint-Étienne pub for watching Rugby World Cup matches

  • Bar Six Nations

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