Christmas gifts for sports fans: trips abroad they'll never forget

From rugby to racing, the gift of a trip abroad will have sports fans cheering

 

With the Rugby World Cup rolling around towards the end of the year, there is a perfect excuse to take a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Japan – but there are also plenty of other sports trips to take in 2019. From the bright green fairways and white sand of Augusta National to the historic first Test match between Ireland and England at Lord’s, there is plenty to choose from. Here are seven of the best.

Cheltenham Festival

Dates: March 12th-15th.

Location: Prestbury Park, Gloucestershire, England.

Tickets: With daily tickets ranging from €28 to €94, Cheltenham is one of the more affordable sports tickets for 2019, especially considering you get seven races a day. Gold Cup day tickets are the most expensive and are still available for the famous Tattersalls Enclosure. The Best Mate Enclosure provides the cheapest tickets while the Guinness Grandstand, right at the finish line, is the best seat in the house. That stand is sold out for Gold Cup day but you can still secure your seats there for any of the other days for €98-€132.

Getting there: Travelling from Ireland, Bristol is the closest airport you can fly to with both Ryanair and Aer Lingus. Currently, you can fly Dublin to Bristol on any day for less than €50.

Accommodation: A large number of houses and apartments in the town are available for rent during festival week and tend to be the best option. They can be found at cheltenhamracingaccommodation.com for reasonable value. Hotels in the area are always expensive during race week but you can still find good value if you book early.

US Masters

Dates: April 11th-14th.

Location: Augusta National Golf Club, Augusta, Georgia.

Tickets: With tickets sold out, a travel company is your best option. Marathonsportstravel.ie and linksgolf-ireland.com are two of the websites offering packages from Ireland. Linksgolf provides the most options, with prices ranging from €1,200 (for one night and access to one practice round), to €6,750 (five nights with access to Augusta on Friday and Sunday, as well as golf on Thursday and Saturday). Accommodation, tickets and transfers are all included in the prices.

Getting there: If you go with a tour operator, flights must still be organised separately, with Atlanta the best airport to fly in to. Delta flies direct from Dublin to Atlanta, as does its sister companies KLM and Air France, while there are plenty of options available with a connection.

Champions Cup final

Date: May 11th.

Location: St James’ Park, Newcastle.

Tickets: After going on sale shortly after Leinster’s triumph in Bilbao last May, ticket sales have already been steady for this season’s final, with Newcastle a much cheaper place to get to from Ireland. Plenty of tickets are still on general sale at epcrugby.com, with prices ranging from €22 to €132. Plenty of tickets will also be held back to be distributed by the two teams who reach the final.

Getting there: If any Irish team gets to the final, be prepared for flight prices to skyrocket. And that’s if they haven’t already. At the time of writing, you’re looking at return flights, going out on the morning of the match and back the following day, coming in at €355 with Ryanair and €455 with Aer Lingus. However, there are plenty of other options around with Edinburgh, Leeds and Manchester all less than 2½ hours away by train.

Accommodation: Again, as expected, hotel prices in the city are already at a premium. Plenty have already been either booked up or are holding rooms back, but at the moment the cheapest price you can get for the night of the match in the city centre is €313.

Champions League final

Date: June 1st.

Location: Wanda Metropolitano Stadium, Madrid, Spain.

Tickets: Champions League final tickets are always some of the hottest all year and will particularly be so in 2019 with the final set for Atletico Madrid’s brand new stadium. With a high percentage of tickets held back for the allocations of both clubs that reach the final as well as members of Uefa’s ‘Football Family’, general sale tickets can be secured via a ballot which opens in March. Only one application is allowed per email address but (handy tip) there’s nothing to stop you setting up as many email addresses as you want and making an application for each.

Getting there: The Wanda is located conveniently close to the airport in Madrid, with Aer Lingus, Ryanair and Iberia Express all flying direct from Dublin. At the time of writing, the cheapest flights available, departing on the morning of the match and coming back the following day, are €158 return.

Accommodation: Unlike Newcastle, there are plenty of hotels available in Madrid on the night of the match but, like Newcastle, they are extortionately expensive. If you have absolutely no qualms about where you stay, you can still get a cheap room but, for any sort of comfort, the average three-star hotel is currently coming in over the €500 mark for the night.

England v Ireland Test match

Dates: July 24th-27th.

Location: Lord’s Cricket Ground, London, England.

Tickets: Ireland’s historic first Test match against England will take place at Lord’s over four days. Ticket prices are always quite reasonable but can be difficult to get, with a ballot system taking place between mid-December and January at www.tickets.lords.org.

Getting there: There are plenty of options for this one, with Heathrow the closest airport to the ground. The Heathrow Express stops within walking distance but any of the other London airports also offer easy links to the city centre. Lord’s is located right next to Regent’s Park, with the famous Abbey Road zebra crossing just up the road if you fancy ticking off another tourist attraction while you’re at it.

Accommodation: There is an abundance of hotels to choose from in London, with Paddington, Camden Town and Regent’s Park all conveniently located areas for Lord’s. Madame Tussauds and the Sherlock Holmes Museum are within walking distance if you want a break from the cricket.

British Open

Dates: July 18th-21st.

Location: Royal Portrush Golf Club, Portrush, Co Antrim.

Tickets: It’s been 68 years since the Open championship was held on this side of the Irish Sea and it has already shown in ticket sales, with all tickets, bar those for practice days, already sold out. You can still sign up to waiting lists for each of the tournament days if tickets come free but otherwise you will have to look at other avenues.

Getting there: It really is a once-in-a-generation event to have the Open within driving distance. Coming from Dublin, head straight up the M1 and past Belfast. Portrush is located right on the very northern border so the drive wouldn’t be far off three hours in total.

Accommodation: Here is where the problem lies. Rooms of any description are already rare as hen’s teeth in the Portrush area, with the few that are available requiring a visit to the credit union. For instance, a nice holiday home just 7km from the course will set you back just shy of €10,000 for the four tournament days. Belfast, about an hour away, is an option but even a room at the city centre Holiday Inn is currently priced at €850 for Thursday through to Sunday.

Rugby World Cup

Dates: September 20th-November 2nd.

Location: Japan.

Tickets: Plenty of tickets are already sold for the 2019 World Cup but more will still be available via a real-time first-come first-served basis in January at rugbyworldcup.com/tickets. Tickets range hugely in price, with the cheapest for any Ireland game coming in at €24 for a Category D ticket to see Joe Schmidt’s men take on Russia in the pool stages while a Category A ticket for Ireland’s clash with hosts Japan will set you back €318. Tickets for the final range between €198 and €794.

Getting there: A variety of airlines provide flights to Japan from this part of the world, including Emirates, Cathay Pacific, Etihad, KLM, British Airways and Turkish Airlines. Return flights generally range anywhere between €400 and €900.

Accommodation: As always, prices are being ramped up in each of the host cities, with three-star hotels generally looking for about €250 to €300 per night. With so much to organise if you’re planning to follow Ireland around, you may be better off looking at a package deal with one of the three official travel agents in Ireland – Rugby Travel Ireland (www.rugbytravelireland.com), Killester Travel (www.killestertravel.com) and Club Travel (www.clubtravel.ie). Alternatively, you can find Gerry Thornley’s extensive guide to following Ireland around Japan at the World Cup on The Irish Times website at irishtimes.com/sport/rugby/rugby-world-cup-2019-how-much-will-it-cost-to-follow-ireland-in-japan-1.3629479.