Travel

Your ultimate guide for euro 2016

As 2015 draws to a close, there can be no doubting its significance for Irish football. From trailing Germany, Poland and even Scotland in the table this time last year, we narrowly missed out on an automatic spot to Poland having clawed our way back into contention.
 
In November we took on Bosnia in a two legged play-off and emerged as comprehensive 3-1 winners, with this Jonathan Walters’ goal securing our place at next year’s finals in France.
 
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And then who can forget that iconic Shane Long goal, the one which effectively put us on the road to Franc, the one which sent the Aviva into unprecedented decibels of roars and cheers and silent prayers for the final whistle. 
 
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Yeah, that’s the one. 
 
From Long to Walters, O’Neill to Keane, Zenica to Gelsenkirchen and all the bits in between, Ireland’s campaign was one of the most eventful sporting campaigns we’ve seen for years. Think the 2009 Six Nations and London 2012 and that will give you some indication of what we witnessed.
 
So much so, that even Roy struggled to contain a smile at the end and RTE’s panel failed to mention a crisis in Irish football. Not even once!
 
So with games against Sweden, Belgium and Italy in store for O’Neill’s men, they are expected to be joined by an estimated 50’000 supporters, as reported by the Irish Independent earlier this month. 
 
The supporters will be hoping to emulate the atmosphere of Poland this time four years ago, although the results may have to improve for that to happen. 
 
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With that in mind, we take an in-depth look at Group E and Ireland’s host cities and how Irish supporters might fare in France next summer. 
 
Paris 
By David Gorman
 
Undoubtedly the cultural hub of all things French and one of the cosmopolitan capitals of Europe, a trip to see Ireland take on Sweden on June 13th won’t come cheap. 
 
The first thing to consider when going to Paris is who you should book your flights with. Ryanair flies to an airport called ‘Paris Beauvais’, situated 90km from Paris, which is like having an airport in the Midlands and calling it ‘Dublin Athlone’. They also charge €18 for roughly a one and a half hour journey from the airport to Paris. Michael O’Leary strikes again.
 
With Air Lingus offering direct flights to the centre of Paris, this is undoubtedly the most comfortable option, although comfort comes at a cost. 
 
For those savvy students looking to save enough for a couple of nights in a hostel, a flight into one of mainland Europe’s airport is perhaps the most cost effective option – with Ryanair flights to both Amsterdam and Brussels offering low cost solutions provided you are prepared to take a train or coach into France.
 
Once you reach Paris, it quickly becomes apparent how spectacular the city is and you learn to understand why even Adolf Hitler could not bear to destroy its beautiful architecture.
 
There are a number of fairly obvious sites to see such as the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe and Versailles. All main sites are easily accessible by the Metro, the French underground service. 
 
Top Tip: Spend some time to bask in the glory of the Champs-Elysee.
 
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Paris is the most visited city per year by tourists so this means waiting in queues for hours for most of the obvious attractions. However, most of them live up to the hype, particularly the most famous one of all – the Eiffel Tower.
 
If you have never been to Paris before and have time for some  sightseeing then going up the Eiffel Tower should be on your agenda. The view of the whole of Paris lives up to its billing, especially if it is sunny and if you are travelling with a significant other.
 
If you have any time to relax then I would recommend visiting the Luxembourg Garden with its immensely pretty selection of flowers and fountains.
 
The closest Irish pub to the stadium is King Lewis which is about a twenty minute walk to the stadium. Otherwise, there are plenty of Irish pubs dotted around the city to visit. 
 
So although Paris won’t come cheap, it’s undoubtedly worth the trip for Irish fans looking to combine atmosphere with scenery. 
 
 
Bordeaux
By David Gorman
 
From Paris, Ireland travel to Bordeaux on June 18th to face Belgium in what is the highlight of our group stage encounters.
 
Bordeaux is best-known for its wine; it is the world capital of the wine industry. While there are many wine-tasting bars to visit, which is sure to please the older audience, Bordeaux has much more to offer than just that.
 
There is a vibrant atmosphere in a city that has a high student population that is sure to come to life when Ireland and Belgium visit in June.
 
The main Irish pub in Bordeaux is called the ‘Connemara’, which is quite near one of the main squares – Place Gambetta. However, while the ‘Connemara’ is good fun, we always found it to be a little bit away from the heart of the city. 
 
The city really comes to life in the little streets just off the quays leading up to the main promenade, Place de la Bourse.
 
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In particular, I would suggest the pubs Houses of Parliament and Charles Dickens to visit which, despite their names, are bustling with Irish and other nationalities alike. 
 
All pubs however should be absolutely packed when it comes to near the match day so it may come down to where you can get into!
 
For shoppers, Bordeaux has the longest shopping street in all of France. Rue Sainte-Catherine is 1.2 km long and caters for all your shopping needs.
 
If only there for a night, Place de la Bourse is a must-see with its beautiful 18th Century architecture that lights up at night. 
 
Its main feature is the Miroir d’Eau, the world’s largest reflecting pool. The tiny waves rising from the water are the perfect way to cool off from the summer heat, which should be around 25 degrees in mid-June.
 
Transport in Bordeaux is easily accessible by an efficient tram system. Trams are the best way to travel through Bordeaux. Buses are similar to Irish transport systems in that they can be volatile and sometimes late so be careful if you’re running behind time.
 
On the downside, Bordeaux is not a particularly cheap city either. Most pints will set you back over €5, meaning cut-backs must be enforced on accommodation once again.
 
However, there is a massive gap between the price of alcohol between shops and bars and the alcohol in supermarkets like Carrefour is cheaper than Ireland if you fancy saving money.
 
Top tip: If recovering from a hangover, heading to a boulangerie to get some of the best pastries France has to offer and chilling in the public park Jardin Public is highly recommended.
 
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Lille 
By Lee Eustace
 
In what is undoubtedly the clutch game of group E, Ireland face Italy in their final game on June 22nd in the Northern city of Lille. 
 
Situated over 800km from Bordeaux, the trip to Lille presents a challenge to Irish supporters, with many expected to opt out and perhaps fly home with Ryanair from the Southern based airport of Toulouse. 
 
For those who do stay on, however, the rewards could be plentiful, as Ireland would be almost guaranteed qualification as one of the best third place teams at the very least with a victory over Italy, provided they have not lost both their previous games at this point. 
 
With two train main stations and direct train links to Paris, Nice and even Brussels, travel to Lille is possible although it may take some planning if you wish to avoid high costs on French rail. Think internal flights, or maybe hiring a car would work best for this trip, if you have a willing driver that is!
 
For accommodation, you might have to get creative as the city itself is likely to be saturated with Irish and Italian fans for the final game.  For a general idea visit www.lilletourism.com.  
 
But be warned, you may have to set up camp outside of the city for this one. Perhaps you could use Lille’s train connections to situate yourself off the beaten track? Did somebody say Brussels?
 
Top Tip: Tripadvisor recommends a visit to Lille’s Old Quarters otherwise known as the Vieux-Lille, a maze of plazas, shops and restaurants as an alternative to the more industrialized parts of the city.