It’s that time again, when the city’s bars are under siege by soccer fans adorning their lucky team scarves, ready to watch the 2016 UEFA European Championship. From 10 June-11 July 2016, people from the 24 competing European countries will fill the streets of these 10 French cities. Whether you’re a soccer freak or prefer visiting the sights, these cities in France have so much to offer, no one will be left sitting on the bench.


Admire the Flemish influenced architecture of Lille

Northern France’s notorious friendliness, strong Flanders influence, and own Chti (Picard language) culture makes Lille a city worth visiting. For the full authentic experience, head to the Wazemmes neighborhood, where you’ll find a cultural hub of concert venues and bars, outdoor food stalls in front of the Halles de Wazemmes market, and the charming square of Place Casquette with its pétanque terrain.

Beer flows in the blood of the northerners, Lille institutions like the 3 Brasseurs serve locally brewed beers accompanied with northern food specialities like flammekueche with Maroilles (tarte flambée with infamously smelly cheese). For watching the game with the cool kids of Lille, Mother broadcasts the games on the big screen TVs in a hip, industrial décor.

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As grandiose as the Stade de France, the Saint Denis Cathedral will impress by its size and beauty

A close neighbor to Paris, Saint-Denis is a city most associated with the Stade de France stadium, and might not be on your list of cities to visit in France. Nevertheless, the city does have a few sights worth visiting such as the Basilica of Saint-Denis. This Gothic style church, full of impressive stained-glass work, is also the burial place of many French kings from the 10th to 18th century. Another place to check out between games is the mushroom shaped La Fabrique de la Ville urban history museum and archaeological excavation site, a great place to get a historical overview of the city of Saint-Denis.

For a day of shopping, check out the popular market on Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday mornings, or hit the Marque Avenue mall for stock brand clothing.

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Design and tradition collide in Saint-Etienne at the Cité du Design

Saint-Etienne could be on the list of most underrated cities in France, but this old mining city has a few tricks up its sleeves. Since 1998, the city organizes biennales of design, and in 2009 the former arms factory was renovated and integrated into the Cité du Design project. Other architectural features include the Ilot Gruner, an office building with flashy yellow facades, and Le FIL, a popular concert and event venue, all qualifying Saint-Etienne for UNESCO’s “City of Design” recognition in 2010.

The stadium Geoffroy-Guichard has undergone a design makeover as well for the Euro 2016. This renovation will allow for 42,000 spectators to enjoy the games. If you want to join the Stéphanois (people of Saint-Etienne) in local bars, hit the pedestrian streets in the city center, like Rue Martyrs de Vingré, and slip into one of the many bars and student bars broadcasting the games.

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The Louvre-Lens museum is an indispensible sight on your next visit to Lens

Scarred by its strong coal-mining past, Lens’ main attraction might have been the giant slag heaps, UNESCO World Heritage sites, back in the days. However, since its opening in 2010, the Louvre-Lens museum, the decentralized annex to the Louvre in Paris, has attracted art buffs and curious locals, making it the new must-see in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais capital city. Or, you can trade the sleek glass and aluminium facades for the Art Deco architecture as you stroll through Lens‘ city center.

The Bollaert-Delelis stadium is just a 15-minute walk away from the city center, so the fervor of the Euro 2016 is inevitable while in Lens. The stadium was awarded “best venue in France” in 1992 for its record attendance of 48,912 soccer supporters, which is more than the city’s population!

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Catch your reflection at the Miroir d’Eau fountain on the Place de la Bourse of Bordeaux

Along the Garonne River lies the gorgeous town of Bordeaux, inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Trade in your cleats for a pair of wheels, Bordeaux is a city best seen by two wheels, so rent a bike from many of the city street corners. Pedal across the Cours de l’Intendance and admire the Grand Theâtre both inside and out. Squeeze in a well-deserved coffee break and a bite of famous canelés bordelais (caramelized pastry) at Canelés Baillardran before pedaling across town to see the Grosse Cloche bell, featured on the city’s coat of arms.

If around sunset you’re not watching the game at the Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux (also known as Matmut Atlantique), watch the sky dance across the mirror-like fountain on the floors of Place de la Bourse, or catch a few key moments of the on-going match at one of the many bars in the Capucins-Victoire neighborhood. On these summer nights, you can also share a victory glass of delicious Bordeaux wines at La Guinguette Chez Alriq, a typical outdoor bar and dance-hall, set up at Port Bastide.

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From Place Bellecour to the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière, Lyon’s a gracious lady

The saying goes that the city of Lyon has three rivers: the Rhône, the Saône, and the Beaujolais wine. Every street from Vieux Lyon to Croix Rousse has its share of bars and “bouchons” (typical Lyon restaurants) that often serve Beaujolais wine, which just might be the perfect elixir to unite soccer fans and foodies to watch the Euro 2016. Pair it with Lyonnais delicacies like quenelles (ground fish dumpling), or anything pork based – because any Lyonnais would tell you “Tout est bon dans le cochon” (everything in pig is delicious).

To get away from all the cheering and rooting, have a laid-back picnic on the Berges du Rhône, or meander through the traboules (almost secret tunnels and staircases) of the old city. Check out the view of the red rooftops from the Esplanade de Fourvière (the plaza in front of the basilica that overlooks the city), or try to find Bernard Lacombe (a director of Lyon’s soccer team) on the Fresque des Lyonnais.

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Once you see the Vallons des Auffes, you may never want to leave Marseille

The people of Marseille love their soccer like it’s a religion, so much so that an ex-voto of the Olympique de Marseille (a.k.a. OM) soccer team has been blessed in the Notre-Dame de la Garde Basilica (locally known as La Bonne Mère – the good mother) that overlooks the old port. As the only French team to have won the Champions League back in 1993, they have every right to be proud!

If you’re wondering what to do in Marseille, get yourself lost between past and present in the streets of the historic Panier neighborhood, while going up the iconic Montée des Accoules slope all the way to the Fort Saint-Jean where a newly constructed footbridge connects you to the modern MuCEM museum. Enjoy the southern laid-back rhythm, typical of port cities in France, by lounging on the rooftop of the Terrasses du Port or join OM fans at Le Bar du Marché for a cold pastis (anise-flavored spirit) and a warm ambience.

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Sunshine and sights, a great combination for a visit to Nice

This southern beach city says it all in its name: Nice (pronounced “niece”) is nice, very nice. Walk along the emblematic Promenade des Anglais, “La Prom” for locals, to get your fill of sunshine along the seaside. Choose between laying on a shingle or sand beach, private or public, or skip the beach altogether and head straight for the sports bar Wayne’s to join in the Euro 2016 spirit.

The old town, one of the attractions in Nice, is composed of charming red and yellow streets, perfect for meandering and window-shopping. Follow the bell tower of the Cathédral Sainte-Réparate; it will lead you to Fenocchio‘s family-run ice cream shop where you can try flavors such as Ginger, Tomato-Basil, or local Niçois speciality Tourte de Blette (Swiss chard tart). If you’re feeling adventurous, the Italian border is only a 40-minute car ride away, or you can take a day trip around the French Riviera to see the likes of Cannes, Fréjus, and Saint-Tropez.

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The bricks of Place du Capitole give Toulouse its nickname of the “pink city”

Just like Bordeaux, the southwestern city of Toulouse also lies along the Garonne river, but the city has nothing to envy its neighbor. Known as the “pink city” for it’s terracotta bricks present in its architecture, Toulouse provides for great sightseeing and sports-watching. Although rugby is a prominent sport in the southwest of France, soccer stands its ground and you can join up with other fans at bars like the Mulligans, situated on the Grand rue de Saint Michel. Placed only a 20-minute walk from the Stadium Municipal, it’s safe to say, you’ll be in the heart of the action!

The first thing to do in Toulouse is to admire the grandeur of the red-bricked Place du Capitole and its Occitan cross pavement, before walking to the Marché Victor Hugo, where you can indulge on the fresh market produce served at the nearby restaurants. No trip to Toulouse would be complete without a plate of canard confit (slow cooked duck) washed down with rich Gaillac wine.

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Stroll along the Promenade Plantée above the Jardin de Reuilly for a peaceful summer break

Don’t be fooled by the name, there might not be your prince charming in attendance at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris. Chances are you’ll have more luck while strolling around the lively, youthful neighborhood of République, where you’ll find many bars and cellars perfect for socializing with locals. In the summer months, people lay their picnic cloths down along the Canal Saint-Martin and listen to street musicians play the whole night through. Many bars in Paris will broadcast the Euro 2016 on big screens, but your best bet for blending in with the rowdy crowd would be the several bars that line the Grands Boulevards.

For extra peace and quiet, elevate yourself on the Promenade Plantée green belt, also known as the Coulée Verte René-Dumont, that leads you above the Viaduc des Arts from behind the Opéra Bastille all the way to Vincennes. A breather at the Jardin de Reuilly will have you forgetting all about soccer, until a group of kids play a game on the large green garden!

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