Stadio Flaminio in Rome will host Italy vs Wales on Saturday 26 February and Italy vs France on Saturday 12 March. The stadium is a couple of miles north-west of the city centre, within a 20-minute walk, or by metro on line A to Flaminio-Piazza del Popolo and then by tram along Via Flaminia.
Piazza del Popolo will be the meeting point for many fans and offers cultural distractions in the shape of fountains, sculptures, an obelisk and churches, but is likely to be too busy for sight-seeing on match day. Likewise the cafes and restaurants are likely to be packed. Either get a table early, or plan your meal or pre-match drinks in one of the city’s other atmospheric piazzas.
Campo dei Fiori will be buzzing on match weekend, and is great to visit at any time. In the mornings it has a popular food market, great if you want a snack or are staying in an apartment and want to pick up fresh pasta, cheese or salami. In the evening you will probably be able to eat outside thanks to the restaurants’ gas burners, and the early spring Italian sunshine. There are plenty of pizzerias to choose from, so dive into a margherita or try the classic Roman dish of penne all’ arrabbiata.
For a drink and a lighter snack, the Il Goccetto wine bar, just round the corner from the piazza on Via dei Banchi Vecchi, has an impressive wine list and won’t be as busy as some of the more obvious drinking haunts.
As for where to stay in Rome, the Casa Howard is an intimate pair of adjoining guesthouses with just 10 rooms that will place you close to the Spanish Steps for that early start. Rooms are homely and individual, with rates starting from £130-£150 a night on the two match weekends, including a delicious simple breakfast with orange juice freshly squeezed from Tuscan oranges.
If that’s booked up, the Daphne Inn is just as central, in the Trevi area, close to the fountain and the Spanish Steps, and costs from £130 a night. It’s chic and friendly with ensuite bathrooms, internet and a cracking breakfast spread to set you up for a day at the stadium.
Saturday 27 February will see Murrayfield host Scotland vs Ireland, and on Saturday 19 March, Italy will take on Scotland at the Edinburgh stadium. The ground is easy to get to from the city centre, either by heading to Haymarket station by train then walking for 15 minutes or so to the stadium, or by Airlink bus from the airport, or Sportslink buses on match days.
Pre and post-match eating and drinking will most likely centre on Edinburgh’s Princes Street and Old Town. The few pubs around the stadium will be very busy before and after the game.
One place to soak up some history over a beer is The Waverley, a Victorian bar on St Marys Street, just off the Royal Mile, where mobile phones are banned and drinks come with free crisps and banter from the charismatic owner.
For good food and fewer crowds, The Dogs is a smart gastropub on Hanover Street, which is a little harder to find, as it’s on the first floor. Expect fresh, seasonal Scottish ingredients and hearty dishes at reasonable prices.
If you want somewhere really quick, to grab a bite en route to the match, try Oink, on Victoria Street. It’s a hog roast takeaway joint which offers buns stuffed with delicious pork, apple sauce, stuffing, and of course crackling, for under £5.
If you’re staying overnight, Edinburgh’s Apex International Hotel on Grassmarket is a great option in the centre of town. It has rooms available from £107 a night on both match days and has a buzzy bar and restaurant plus a pool, gym and sauna.
A little more intimate is Le Monde on George Street, an 18-bedroom hotel with quirky rooms themed after different world cities. It costs from £225 for a two-night stay over the match weekends and has a fun bar to retreat to if everywhere else is busy.
France will play Wales on Saturday 19 March at the Stade de France, the vast national French stadium in the Parisian suburb of Saint Denis. It’s not somewhere that most visitors to Paris would see on a tourist trip, but it will come alive on match day, with temporary bars and stalls set up in the area.
Nevertheless, there’s little to offer in the vicinity of the stadium, and some parts of Saint Denis are best avoided after dark. For that reason, it’s advisable to stay in the centre of Paris pre- and post-match and take public transport to the stadium. The RER line A stop is Stade de France-St Denis, and line B is La Plaine-Stade de France. Or you can take the Metro Line 13 to Saint-Denis Universite, alighting at St Denis-Porte de Paris.
Most fans will congregate around Gare du Nord on match day. If you want to escape the crowds and get a good meal before setting off, you can sample classic French dishes at the popular Pied de Cochon restaurant on Rue Coquilliere. It’s particularly popular with the sporting crowd because it is open 24 hours a day – perfect if you want somewhere to celebrate (or commiserate) after the game in style. The eponymous dish is pig’s trotter, but there’s also French onion soup, gratins and countless Gallic specialities.
A little further away in the fashionable Marais district, there are plenty of little bistros with good-value set menus on the Rue Vieille du Temple, the main street for eating and drinking. You can hop in a cab from the station or it’s a 20-minute or so walk from Gare du Nord.
As for where to stay in Paris, the Pavillon de la Reine is an elegant hotel and well-placed on the Place des Vosges square. It offers charming, French-country style rooms or more modern affairs that overlook a quiet garden, amazing given the location. It has a spa, lounge and bar area, and rooms start from £400 a night for the match weekend.
A more quirky, and affordable, option is the Alastair Sawday-recommended Hôtel Prince de Condé, a three-star property on Rue de Seine in Saint Germain des Prés. The hotel is full of character with artwork, vaulted ceilings, antique furniture and library. It has 11 bedrooms, which cost from £140 for the night of March 19, and breakfast is £10 extra.
By Ginny Light, Travel Editor TimesOnline