The role of the French capital in the history and development of the world game cannot be overestimated. The World Cup, the European Championship and the European Cup were devised and agreed upon in the boardrooms of Paris, which has played host to many finals.
The most memorable have involved France itself, namely the European Championship win of 1984 starring Michel Platini and the World Cup win of 1998 starring Zinedine Zidane. The venue for 1984, the Parc des Princes, and the arena built for 1998, the Stade de France, are international stages worthy of any great occasion.
Each hosted matches for the finals of Euro 2016, overshadowed by issues of security after the terrible events of November 2015. In a wave of city-wide attacks, terrorists attempted to infiltrate an international match at the Stade de France, explosions clearly audible during the first half. Four died, including the three suicide bombers. The two teams, France and Germany, spent the night in the stadium.
The tragedy occurred just as the domestic club game was going through a significant and seriously funded revival. Football in the French capital has changed completely thanks to the huge financial injection by the Qatar Investment Authority in Paris Saint-Germain, crowned champions seasons times running, then again in 2018. Based at the Parc des Princes, until 2013 PSG had only claimed two titles in over 40 years.
Before Neymar arrived for a frankly bonkers €222 million in 2017 and Kylian Mbappé for €180 million a year later, the signing of Zlatan Ibrahimović and David Beckham during the 2012-13 campaign put PSG onto a level they had never known before. The first post-Qatar title win of 2013 would have been the icing on the cake – until the pre-season signing of Uruguayan forward Edinson Cavani for a then French record €64 million upped the ante again.
Bringing in Laurent Blanc for Carlo Ancelotti as coach, PSG duly beat moneyed Monaco to a second consecutive title in 2014. In 2015, they went one better and won the treble.
2016 saw PSG win the title by mid-March, sweeping everyone aside. There was no more Zlatan in 2016-17, however – the title was lost and European success still proved elusive. The astronomical money paid for Neymar in the summer of 2017 moved the goalposts again, but still failed to bring PSG closer to Europe’s premier prize.
On the city’s southern outskirts, Paris FC are based at the Stade Charléty, 99 boulevard Kellermann, by the T3 tram stop of the same name, close to the Cité Universitaire station on RER line B. On the fringes of a play-off place for Ligue 1, success for Paris FC would give the French capital two clubs in the top tier for the first time since the heady days of the mid 1980s. Back then, the storied Racing Club groundshared the Parc des Princes and had World Cup stars Pierre Littbarski and Enzo Francescoli in their ranks.
Now way down in the league pyramid, Racing Club, the epitome of the pre-war Parisian game, were originally founded in 1882. Now going under the name of (deep breath) Racing Club de France football Colombes 92, Racing Colombes 92 for short, this venerable institution is still based in Colombes. Site of the national stadium before the Parc des Princes was built, Colombes – now called Stade Olympique Yves-du-Manoir – also staged the 1938 World Cup Final.
These days, Racing actually play in the 1,00o-capacity Stade Lucien-Choine in the same sports complex – gone are the days when Racing attracted the city’s movers and shakers – but it’s easily accessed via suburban station Gare du Stade, built for the 1924 Olympics. From Gare Saint-Lazare, take Transilien suburban line J (direction Gisors) for four stops and 15min. Colombes is a ten-minute walk down rue Alexis Bouvier, left down boulevard de Valmy and right along boulevard Pierre de Coubertin.
Now fighting for survival in the second tier, Red Star FC, are revered another club, formed by Jules Rimet, the man behind the World Cup. To see the former five-time French Cup winners in action, while their own Stade Bauer in St-Ouen is being rebuilt, head to Beauvais, some 75km immediately north of Paris in Picardy. More associated with the budget airport just outside town, Beauvais is home to its own football club, AS Beauvais-Oise (given the perhaps unfortunate abbreviation of ASBO), who shared the Stade Pierre Brisson with Red Star. In 2017-18, they were relegated from Groupe C of the fourth-tier National 2 and now play alongside Boulogne reserves in the fifth flight, running out at the Stade Omar Sahnoun. This modest 1,000-capacity ground sits alongside the Stade Pierre Brisson – and also hosts the local rugby club.
Paris has two airports: Charles-de-Gaulle and Orly. CDG is 25km (16 miles) north-east of the city centre. The RER (suburban rail) line B takes 25 minutes to reach the Gare du Nord, the main train station and terminus for Eurostar services from London. RER trains (single €9.10) run every 15 minutes. A taxi to town should cost about €50.
Orly is 13km (8 miles) south of town. The Orlyval shuttle links with Antony on the RER B line (€10.90 including onward journey to town). A taxi to town should cost about €35.
Some budget airlines use Beauvais airport, which is 85km (46 miles) north of Paris, linked by buses (€15.90 online/€17) to Porte Maillot (journey time 1hr 15mins).
City transport in Paris consists of the famous metro, RER lines, buses and trams. A single ticket is €1.80, a carnet of ten €14.10 and a Mobilis day pass €7 for zones 1 and 2 (including the Stade de France). For a taxi call +33 60 76 04 914.
Reservations can be made at Paris Info.
For the Stade de France, the four-star Suite Novotel is directly opposite, on restaurant-lined rue Jules-Rimet. Rooms start at €110 but are quickly booked for big games, rugby too. There is also an Ibis on two sides of the stadium Sud and, one star up, Ouest, plus a bottom-of-the-range Formule 1 option nearby.
For the Parc des Princes, the nearest lodging is the elegant Molitor, halfway between the north end of the stadium and Roland-Garros. A classy swimming pool opened by Johnny Weissmuller in 1929, it fell into disrepair, became unofficial artists’ studios then was converted into a 124-room/suite luxury lodging with high-end restaurant, sauna and, of course, pool.
Cheaper options surround Porte de St-Cloud metro station, including three-star Hôtel Murat has doubles for under €100. The nearby Holiday Inn Paris-Auteuil is a step up in price but not that much more, while rooms at the modest Hôtel À l’Orée du Parc over the road can be had for around €100, depending if you wish en-suite or not.
Equally convenient for the Parc, across the confusing tangle of roundabout and off-streets, the Radisson Blu Paris-Boulogne is again a notch above, but not too much more expensive, and offers a gym, quality restaurant and terrace, and lounge bar. Practically alongside, the ibis Styles Paris 16 Boulogne, opened in 2017, offers upper economy lodging.
Handy for the Eurostar terminus and transport to the Stade de France, hotels of varying quality ring the Gare du Nord. In the Accor group are the Ibis Styles Gare du Nord TGV and the four-star Mercure Terminus Nord while in a similarly wallet-friendly nationwide chain is the Kyriad Paris X Gare du Nord. Squeezed between the chains, the Richmond and the New Hotel are perennial cheapies. Even cheaper, a short walk away right by the Gare de l’Est, the Lorraine (3 rue d’Alsace, +33 1 40 35 81 80) is strictly no-frills but eminently affordable.
Also in the vicinity, and in the lower price range, the Campanile 10 is another nationwide chain while the Hôtel des Arts is conveniently located in Bastille. For St Michel, the Hôtel de Nesle is that rare combination of charming and affordable.
Paris has a bar on every corner. Locals still flock to Oberkampf and Bastille while tourists swarm around St Michel. There, happy hour at 4pm on rue de la Huchette sees a frenzy of activity, bar staff trying to tempt in punters with promises of cheap (€5!) pints. Venues include Bull’s Brothers, Ze Bar and Georges Café, as well as nearby Shywawa. Generally you’ll be treated as a one-time-only visitor.
More authentic and personal, close to place de Clichy métro, the wood-panelled and flag-ceilinged Harp Bar attracts Celtic supporters and Racing 92 rugby fans on away trips. It stands by a branch of the pub-like Irish-themed Corcoran’s chain, with eight operations around Paris, including Bastille, St Michel and Sacré-Coeur. Also close is a branch of O’Sullivans, who also specialise in post-work drinks, pub grub and TV sports. Half-a-dozen branches are placed in prominent spots around the city, including the Grands Boulevards. The other main chain in town is the more Anglo, sport-centric Frogpubs, with ten branches in Paris, one in Toulouse and one in Bordeaux. These are smart operations with own-brewed beer and a textopint service to buy someone a drink by your mobile phone.
In terms of individual venues, the Moose is one of the best of the expat pub genre, North American sports getting more of a look-in thanks to the bar’s Canuck character. Also on the Left Bank, The Long Hop is another long-term favourite, a steep stroll away from the Bombardier, with sister Anglo-friendly operations in Bordeaux, Toulouse and Montpellier. Staying on the south side of the Seine, The Mazet (61-63 rue St-André-des-Arts) can be great on its night while on nearby rue Dauphine, the La Tavern de Nesle provides cheap beers at happy hour, live music and DJs.
In the same vicinity on rue de Nevers, The Highlander has four screens upstairs and two down, Scottish beers on draught and 80 types of whisky. Compatriot pubs The Pure Malt on rue Caron and the nearby Auld Alliance on rue François Miron, with eight screens and its own football team, are just over the river.
All of the above do a roaring trade on big-match nights.
Paris is also full of PMU betting bars, some of which have been revamped and turned into contemporary hangouts, some with TVs, some without. For a dyed-in-the-wool PMU bar where regulars focus on the gee-gees and football as day turns to evening, Le Longchamp (9 rue du Faubourg-Montmartre), close to the Grands Boulevards, is a classic example of the genre. It stands diagonally opposite the former offices of L’Équipe and France Football, where the European Cup and European Championship were conceived in smoky editorial offices.