Aside from watching octogenarians playing pétanques -- the lawn bowling game like Italian bocce that's always played in parks and always seems to draw spectators -- the French love to watch quite a few sports. Paris's biggest stadium, le Stade de France, is in the northern suburb of St-Denis, while several smaller stadiums are within the city limits. Rugby and soccer games (known as le football) are the most popular to watch alongside Parisians, and the city also plays host to one of the biggest tennis events in the world, the French Open. You can also join the locals at the races, as Paris's horse tracks are a big pull with a large number of very dedicated fans.
Paris boasts an army of avid horse-racing fans who get to the city's eight racetracks whenever possible. Information on current races is available in newspapers and magazines such as Tierce, Paris-Turf, France-Soir, and L'Equipe, all sold at kiosks throughout the city.
The epicenter of Paris horse racing is the Hippodrome de Longchamp, in the Bois de Boulogne, 16e (tel. 01-44-30-75-00; RER or Métro: Porte Maillot and then a free shuttle bus on race days only). Established in 1855, during the autocratic and pleasure-loving reign of Napoleon III, it's the most prestigious track, boasts the greatest number of promising thoroughbreds, and awards the largest purse in France. The most important events at Longchamp are the Grand Prix de Paris in late June and the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in early October.
Another racing venue is the Hippodrome d'Auteuil, also in the Bois de Boulogne (tel. 01-40-71-47-47; Métro: Porte Auteuil; then walk). Known for its steeplechases and obstacle courses, it sometimes attracts more than 50,000 Parisians at a time. Spectators appreciate the park's promenades as much as they do the equestrian events. Races are conducted from early March to late November.
A popular national sport is rugby, the rough-and-tumble precursor to American football. The most well known, professional level Paris-based rugby team is Stade Français, a team that plays matches at either the Stade Charlety, across the street from the Parc des Princes, or in the Stade de France (tel. 08-92-70-09-00; www.stadefrance.fr), the 81,338-person-capactiy stadium in St-Denis, Paris's northern suburb. Their seasons generally run from August to April. You can easily reserve tickets, starting at 12€ at the team's website, www.stade.fr. Also, if you're adventurous, check out the Dieux du Stade, a calendar and book of the French rugby stars in various states of, well, undress.
Known throughout France as le football, soccer is one of France's most popular national sports. Paris is home to several football clubs -- another term for a team organization -- including the one professional club, the Paris Saint-Germain Football Club, also known as Paris SG. They play their home matches at the Parc des Princes (tel. 01-47-43-71-71; 24 rue du Commandant Guilbau, 16e; Métro: porte de Saint-Cloud), a stadium with a capacity of almost 49,000 spectators. Their season runs from January to May; match tickets start at 12€ and can easily be purchased on their website, www.psg.fr.
Much like Wimbledon or the U.S. Open, France dominates the tennis world with the French Open, or as it's known here, Roland Garros (www.fft.fr/rolandgarros). Matches take place over 2 weeks between late May and early June in the Roland Garros Stadium in the 16e (Métro: Porte d'Auteuil). Tickets should be purchased well in advance, as this is a world-scale tennis event.
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