Stade de France

Futuristic stage for Zizou, now home of Les Bleus

The field of dreams – and the stands around it

The Stade de France is the country’s national stadium, built for the 1998 World Cup. Its more recent showcase finals, Euro 2016 saw this groundbreaking arena stage seven games, including the opener and final.

Security was of paramount concern – the previous November, three suicide bombers had blown themselves up outside the ground during a friendly international between France and Germany, explosions clearly heard as play went on. French president François Hollande was quietly ushered from the VIP area and away from the stadium.

Stade de France/Peterjon Cresswell

A capacity crowd of 81,000 remained in place, unaware of what was going on inside, outside or across the city. After the match, many were instructed to stay behind, before leaving safely.

Such terrible events feel a far cry from the bold ambition of four key architects to revive a run-down neighbourhood in the capital’s northern suburbs.

Set around a former gasworks, this futuristic arena has been the main stage for the French game – home of Les Bleus from Zizou to Ikoné, scene of every single domestic Cup and League Cup final since 1998. The Stade has also contributed to the revival of the surrounding area, with swish offices and hotels where only derelict buildings used to be.

Stade de France/Peterjon Cresswell

The French Football Federation decided to build a new national stadium when France won 1998 hosting rights, shortly after the country’s disastrous, winless effort at Euro 92. Not having qualified for the previous two major finals, France and the French game needed to recapture the glory of the 1980s, when Michel Platini captained the host nation to victory at the Euro 84 final at the Parc des Princes.

The Parc was then the de facto national stadium. Its expansion was tricky, given the proximity of the Péripherique ring road and residential buildings. The brave step was taken to site the new arena in St Denis, between the city’s main airport of Charles de Gaulle and main station, the Gare du Nord, connected by swift, suburban train, the RER. Even braver was the design, by the four-man (and French) SCAU design team later responsible for the rebuilding of Euro 2016 semi-final venue, the Stade Vélodrome in Marseille.

Stade de France/Peterjon Cresswell

The major and most expensive feature was the signature elliptical roof, which cost €45 million alone, held up by 18 steel masts and appearing to float over the body of the stadium. ‘Heavier than the Eiffel Tower and longer than the Champs-Elysees,’ as they like to say on the stadium tour, the roof allows in plenty of precious sunlight. The other key feature was the movable lower stands, slid back for athletics meets and big rock concerts.

The total cost came in at just under €300 million – about a third of the new Wembley a few years later.

Tragically, the memorable final night of 1998 and two subsequent Champions League finals staged here must now stand alongside the heinous events of November 13 in the stadium’s history.

getting there

Going to the stadium – tips and timings

Two RER stations, La Plaine-Stade de France (line B) and Stade de France-Saint-Denis (line D) are both one stop from Gare du Nord (12 minutes) but require a ticket (€2.50) beyond zone 1.

The stations stand either side of the main Autoroute du Nord – RER B is closer to the ground. Note that the day pass Mobilis (€7) for Paris also covers this part of zone 2.

From the Gare du Nord, for RER B, follow the aeroplane icons signposted in the RER area – trains for the Stade also serve Charles de Galle-Roissy Airport. The signs lead you down to adjoining platforms 41 and 43. Check the departure board that La Plaine-Stade de France is illuminated.

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

Le Stade comprises four, three-tiered stands, Nord and Sud behind each goal. Est is closest to the RER B station, Ouest to RER D.

Purchase online is the norm. Tickets cannot be picked up on the day but must be printed out.

For France internationals against lesser opposition, tickets are as cheap as €15 in the upper tier (‘Haut’) of the Nord or Sud ends, €10 for under-16s. A decent spot (‘Inter’) in the Est stand is €45/€40, closer to the pitch €75/€70. Prices rise at least €10 for better opposition.

what to buy

Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts

There’s a modest outlet by the museum, open when tours take place.

The French Football Federation has its own boutique officielle (Mon-Sat 10am-7pm) at boulevard de Grenelle 87, between Dupleix and La Motte-Picquet Grenelle métro stations, near the Eiffel Tower. 

Note the two stars over the cockerel badge on the French national replica shirts – and the tricolore sewn into the inside of the collar. Away shirts are the traditional white.

Stadium tours

Explore the ground inside and out

For tours (1hr 30mins) enter through Porte H. Highlights include the changing room, lined with French shirts past and present, its resin floor and smooth wooden benches a design upon which Michel Platini himself advised, and the walk up the tunnel to the pitch. A four-room museum bookends each tour, with a detailed look at how the Stade was built, souvenirs from famous events and a wall of front pages from L’Équipe during the heady days of July 1998.

English-language tours take place from Sept-March (not Xmas hols) Thur, Sat-Sun at 2pm, and Apr-June & Xmas hols daily at 2pm. For July and Aug, it’s daily at 10.30am and 2pm.

Tickets are €15 for adults, €10 under-18s and free for under 5s.

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

Bars line avenue Jules Rimet on the east side of the stadium nearest the main entrance.

The first is Le Rendez-Vous, a classic corner brasserie with tasteful decorative nods to rugby and football – note the images of Eric Cantona and David Beckham. 

Nearby is La 3ème Mi-Temps, also recommended, a friendly, laid-back two-floor venue with TV sport behind the bar and on the back wall, and draught options of Murphy’s, Affligem, Heineken and Pelforth Blonde. Both offer full menus and offers at lunchtime, as does the more prosaic Le France at No.33, the standard brasserie set between them.

Café Gaspard/Peterjon Cresswell

Further along is trendier Le Balyann (No.23), part contemporary restaurant, part lounge bar, in the same family as Le 3ème Mi-Temps, with few sporting affiliations. Next door, Kick-Off specialises in global burgers – note the Belfast with 180g of beefsteak. Alongside, EVENTS is bland and pricy.

Back towards the RER stations, along avenue du Stade de France and adjoining place des Droits de l’Homme, the Café Gaspard and Café Balthazar are both stylish spots for a pre-match apéritif and/or meal. At the RER B station, Pizzeria PIU plenty of space to serve its wood-fired pizzas, with a large terrace and twin-level interior.

Inside the stadium itself, the only sit-down venue is superior and high-priced restaurant Le Club, open weekdays but not during the match.