Rugby World Cup: How to travel to French matches by train and ferry

The Rugby World Cup is the ‘perfect’ chance to explore France more sustainably over land and sea, according to the experts.

The Rugby World Cup is kicking off in France this week, with Les Bleus taking on New Zealand in Paris on Friday (8 September).


Around 600,000 fans will be touching down in the country for the 10th tournament, which runs until 28 October.

If you’re one of them and are still finessing your travel plans – or are concerned about the upcoming French airport strikes – why not consider arriving by train rather than plane?

“With the Rugby World Cup being held in France this year, it’s the perfect opportunity to try out travelling overland,” says Catherine Livesley, founder of No Fly Travel Club, a UK-based flight-free tour operator.

“With between 70 and 90 per cent lower emissions than flying, travelling by train is the fastest and greenest way to reach your fixtures.”

Air traffic control strikes have been called for 15 September and 13 October, making rail travel around these dates a particularly appealing alternative.

But embracing France’s speedy train network for your rugby adventure is sure to lead to a more memorable trip regardless.

We spoke to Byway Travel, another flight-free travel specialist, to get the lowdown on train travel to and around France, as well as how to make the most of your stays in the host cities.

How can you travel to France by train from the UK?

“Those reaching matches in Paris from the UK have an obvious choice with the Eurostar, but even matches further afield in Marseille, Bordeaux or Nantes can reach destinations within a day’s travel thanks to France’s high-speed train network – TGV,” says Livesley.

Many Eurostar services and TGV connections are already fully booked for match days, but a little bit of flexibility will get you far, advises Byway’s Head of Travel Experience Neil Steventon. Here are his top tips.

Travel early and stay later

“The World Cup is an incredibly popular event, which means a lot of the transport options will already be quite booked up and are likely to be pricier than usual,” he says.

“However, by heading to France a bit early or extending your stay by a couple of days, you get the added bonus of exploring more of the cities and avoiding the most crowded travel days.”


Get creative with your travel

If the London-Paris Eurostar you’ve been eyeing up is fully booked or too expensive, check out the Eurostar to Lille instead. The northern city has direct trains to many other parts of France, including other World Cup match locations like Lyon, Marseille and Bordeaux.

These trains tend to be a bit more expensive and, depending on the dates, can run at slightly less convenient times. But, the Byway expert points out, it could save you a schlep through Paris to get your connecting train.

Could a French railcard save you money?

Depending on your travel dates, investing in a French railcard could well be worth it. They’re available to people of all ages but have some restrictions on when they’re valid.

If you’re aged 27-59, for example, you can get a Carte Avantage Adulte which offers capped maximum fares and 30 per cent off travel on roundtrips that involve at least one weekend overnight stay or single journeys taken on a weekend.

If you have kids, you’ll get 60 per cent off their journeys too. The Carte Avantage is currently on sale for €24.50 (down from the usual €49), so you’ll save money on all but the shortest and cheapest French domestic services. You can get your card from the SNCF, France’s national railway company website.


SNCF is launching a number of other deals throughout September as part of its “Traincroyable days” initiative. On 6 and 7 September, 100,000 OUIGO tickets will go on sale at €10, and thousands of tickets at €16 and €19 will be on sale for trips from 11 September to 9 December for OUIGO High Speed and OUIGO Train Classic.

Can you travel to France from the UK by ferry?

Catching the ferry is another option for climate-conscious travellers.

Byway recommends avoiding the obvious Dover-Calais route as it’s not the most foot-passenger friendly. Try Newhaven-Dieppe or one of the various routes from Portsmouth or Plymouth, the travel specialist says.

“If you opt for the ferry, you can get that holiday feeling even earlier by travelling with operators who offer an almost cruise-like experience, with on board restaurants and even swimming pools!” says Steventon.

Some ferries operated by Brittany Ferries are at this more semi-luxurious end.

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