Is your team heading to Sandy Park to play the Exeter Chiefs?
The area of Exeter isn’t a typical tourist destination in England, but every rugby fan should visit the Chiefs’ home ground at least once.
To get the most up-to-date advice on travelling to Sandy Park and Exeter, I surveyed supporters from across the England Premiership.
I was given great travel advice from local fans living elsewhere who return home for matches.
I also talked to Irish rugby fans who flocked to Exeter for some big European matches.
Here are the best tips for your travel and stay.
Standing And Seating Areas In The Stadium
I’ll run through each the advantages and disadvantages of each area.
East Terrace (Standing And Seated)
The East Terrace is a covered area full of friendly local supporters.
It is mostly standing with an upper seated tier.
If you’re looking for that loud and raucous rugby experience, then the lower standing area is the place to be.
The local nickname for the East Terrace is The Library. Don’t worry, that’s an ironic name.
When people talk about the great atmosphere at Sandy Park, they are talking about the noise generated by The Library.
Here are the best tips I’ve gathered:
- There are no allocated places in the standing area
- People who arrive first get to choose where they stand
- The best view is from the centre, but you need to get in early to get a place there
- Shorter folk should get there early to get a place at the front
SW Comms Stand (Seated)
SW Comms is a covered seated area behind the goal posts at the south end of the grounds.
That means you need good eyesight to see action up the other end of the pitch.
Personally, the SW Comms wouldn’t be my first choice if I had a pick of seats.
That’s because the stand has a shallow incline, which also makes viewing the far end a little tricky.
And if the fellow in front of you is wearing a tall bobble hat (or a headdress), then you’ll be craning your neck to the left or right.
However, its big advantage is that it’s a stone’s throw from the Wigwam Bar.
Not only do they serve a great pint, but they also show earlier matches on a big screen.
West Grandstand (Seated)
Going by viewing experience alone, the central areas in the West Grandstand are the best seats in the house.
But they are usually filled with club members and corporate groups so tickets are few and far between.
The most likely tickets you’ll get are at the outer ends of the Grandstand. These are still quite pricey, but the view of the pitch is very good.
If a Grandstand ticket seems cheap, it’s probably at the in-goal area.
North Terrace (Standing)
The North Terrace is a covered standing area behind the posts at the north end of the pitch.
The main benefit is that the tickets are cheaper than the larger stands.
The drawback is that action at the far end of the pitch is difficult to follow.
There are plenty of die-hard fans who congregate in the North Terrace. This makes the atmosphere almost as raucous as in the East Terrace.
Getting To Sandy Park
The first thing to know is that the Sandy Park Stadium is away from the city center on the east of the town.
The second thing to know is that taxis can be hard to come by on a match day if you haven’t booked in advance.
So you, should do some planning about how you’re getting to the grounds.
I won’t go through all the options here. Instead, I’ll link to the Chiefs travel page where you can book match-day parking or get local bus and train details.
I’ll focus in the rest of this article on getting to Exeter from afar, where to drink and eat, and where to stay.
Getting There By Air
Exeter has an airport but it’s only for domestic flights. You can fly there from Newcastle or Manchester if that’s where you’re based.
If you do fly into Exeter, be sure to pre-book a taxi. Otherwise, you could be waiting a long time at the airport.
The larger airport at Bristol is convenient for onward travel to Exeter.
Although Bristol Airport doesn’t have a train, you can hop on a bus into the town and get a train to Exeter from there.
Buses to Exeter From Bristol Airport
Alternatively, there is a coach and bus service from the airport. Some coach services are direct to Exeter, which is a nice option.
At the time of writing, Falcon and Stagecoach offers a direct coach from Bristol airport.
But the coaches may not go through the town centre.
If you talk to the driver, they’ll advise where to get off in Exeter to get a local bus to the high street.
Getting There By Train
My first tip is to be aware that there are two train stations in Exeter.
Exeter Central is more…umm…central.
Exeter St Davids is a twenty-minute stroll to the town centre.
If you’re flying from Ireland and intend to use the train, then be aware that ticket prices at peak times in England are far more expensive than most European countries.
It’s often more expensive than flying internationally.
The trick is to book off-peak flexible day tickets through one of several online sites. Here are two (there may be booking fees):
- www.gwr.com (Great Western Railway)
Where To Stay In Exeter And Nearby
If you want to stay in the centre of Exeter, be aware that the stadium is a good three miles away on the outskirts of town.
But you’ve got a great choice in the central area near the cathedral. I’ve heard good reports of the Premier Inn and the Holiday Inn as budget options.
Great Rugby Pubs In Exeter
People still talk about the Hole In The Wall on Castle Street, but this is now closed.
However, the venue is still a lively sports bar under a different brand. If you want to see a match that’s on before an Exeter game, they are likely to show it on the upstairs floor.
You can get food (great pizzas!) in the downstairs area.
If you’re looking for an olde-worlde atmosphere, you can’t beat The Ship. It claims to have links with Sir Francis Drake. I don’t know if that’s proven, but it certainly is one of the oldest pubs in the town.
You’ll find it on Martins Lane, here’s a link.
Traveling Irish supporters often congregate in the Stand Off in the town centre. This rugby pub is owned by Gareth Steenson.
When Gareth was a young flyhalf in Ulster, his career coincided with Ulster’s Irish international David Humphreys. So he left to play for the Rotherham Titans which led to a hugely successful club career with the Chiefs.
The Black Horse and Oddfellows are two other good central watering holes.
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