Avignon is a like a city dreamt up by a child: still surrounded by its intact medieval walls and lapped on one side by the Rhone, stepping inside and onto the cobbled streets feels like another time and place. It’s a noble city with a fascinating history that has been granted UNESCO heritage status, and it’s not hard to see why.

Despite its obvious grandeur Avignon is a small city, confined within clear city walls and easy to explore on foot in a day. The most obvious landmark is the Palais des Papes and its great square, to the north of the city. From here a lane takes you to the bustling Place de l’Horloge, full of outdoor restaurants, and from there the main axis, the Rue de la Republique runs south, ending at the city walls and station.

“He who takes leave of Avignon takes leave of his senses.”
Old Provence proverb

Avignon Gallery

Our Top Ten of Avignon’s best sights


  • Pont Saint-Benezet:  The official name of the famously incomplete Pont d’Avignon, the one in the song.
  • Palais des Papes:  Huge, cavernous and atmospheric palace built for the Popes.
  • Rue des Teinturiers:  A pretty street packed with bars and restaurants, the heart of Avignon’s ‘Off Festival’.
  • Rue Joseph Vernet:  For window shoppers and those with cash to splash.
  • Place des Corps Saints:  More trendy than touristy with plenty of outside seating.

  • Les Halles d’Avignon:  A year-round indoor food market.
  • Place Saint Didier, Places des Carmes and Places des Chataignes:  Just beautiful spots to walk about in, real eye candy for lovers of Provence.
  • Ile de Barthelasse:  An island between the two branches of the Rhone with open green spaces and the best view of the bridge.
  • Rocher des Doms:  The rocky outcrop next to the Palais des Papes – gardens with wonderful far-reaching views.
  • La Mirande:  For a drink in the bar or a gastronomic dinner at Avignon’s best hotel – opulent yet cosy.

Discover Avignon


For Kids

Avignon for kids and the young at heart


  • Palais des Papes:  If your kids are steady on their feet and have a good imagination, they’ll love the palace with its firePlaces and ovens big enough to stand in.
  • Square Agricole Perdiguier:  Just behind the Tourist Office is the Square Agricole Perdiguier with room for the kids to run around and a playground for the younger ones. In summer there is a cafe.
  • Musée Requien:  Avignon’s Natural History Museum – you can find it next to the Musée Calvet. This is no high-tech museum, it dates back to the 18th century, but it’s a good way to find out about past and current wildlife of Provence with a stuffed bear, wild boar, wolves and a T-Rex skull!
  • Carousel:   Gilded horses canter around this lovely carousel in front of the Town Hall (Place de l’Horloge).
  • Les Luminessences:  Les Luminessences is a great way to see the Palais des Papes – an extravagant light show and video installation telling the history of the castle; some shows are in English. Runs from mid August to October.
  • Ile de Barthelasse:  The land you see on the opposite bank to Avignon is in fact a huge island in the river – a wonderful spot for a picnic with a glorious view of the bridge and the city.
  • Ginette & Marcel – Place des Corps Saints:  This bistro is well geared up for kids with tubs of sweets and afternoon snacks that involve plenty of jam and nutella.

Food

Avignon for foodies


  • Les Halles:  For 150 years there has been a food market selling local produce at Les Halles, now undercover and open from 6am every day except Mondays. Every Saturday (except in August) at 11am local chefs give cooking demonstrations with copies of recipes and samples. Conveniently there is a car park right underneath.
  • La Mirande:  is a beautiful 5 star hotel tucked away behind the Palais des Papes. For the active cook, classes in English are offered all year. If you’d rather just watch the cook, book the ‘guest’s table’ downstairs in the original 19th century kitchen ‘Le Marmiton’.
  • Michelin Star restaurants:  Le Diapason, Christina Etienne and La Vieille Fontaine

For wine lovers


Chateauneuf-du-Pape which translates as ‘the new castle of the pope’ is the legacy of Clement V and subsequent popes. As lovers of a fine wine they were instrumental in the development of viticulture in the region.

Today Chateauneuf-du-Pape is one of the most recognised names in the world of wine, and the village with all its wine producers/vendors is 10 miles north of Avignon.

Culture

For History fans


Though first inhabited in 4000BC it was the Romans who put Avignon on the map. It became one of Europe’s most important settlements, but of course with that honour comes an endless tide of ambitious rulers trying to take it over.

Perhaps the greatest honour bestowed on Avignon was by Pope Clement V who chose to move the entire Papal city here from Rome in the 14th century. Avignon is full of reminders from this illustrious period, not least the wine of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and the imposing Palais du Papes.

When the Popes returned to Rome, Avignon was subjected to yet more invasions, the final insult being the German occupation during WW2. Despite the haggling over the centuries, Avignon still stands grand, with over-sized squares and over-sized buildings – its historic centre has UNESCO heritage status and it’s not hard to see why.

  • Palais des Papes:  Take the secret tour, also offered in English, to see parts of the buildings not available otherwise and get a real sense of history. This palace is not staged and much of it is unrestored – a treat for historians.
  • Rue des Teinturiers:  Translates as the ‘street of dyers’ and the medieval water wheels used by the silk industry can still be seen
  • Avignon City Walls:  Though earlier ramparts have existed, those seen today were built in the C14th and restored in the C19th.
  • Rhone:  Throughout the history of Avignon, the river has been crucial for trade between Northern Europe and the Mediterranean. Leaving Avignon was wheat, leather, rope and cloth, in exchange Avignon bought dye, wool, copper, tin, fish and cattle.
  • Rocher des Doms   Where Avignon began – a Neolithic settlement followed by Roman oppidum and eventually below this rocky outcrop the city took shape.

Plan around the Avignon Festival


With an atmosphere very similar to the Edinburgh Festival (but a tad warmer), Avignon hosts a festival of performing arts throughout July.

The festival is divided in to the On (main) and the OFF (fringe). Don’t worry if your French isn’t up to scratch – just walking the streets is entertaining enough.

For the young and young at heart Festival Resonance tags three nights of clubbing on to the end of the main festival including an early evening open-air dance floor on the Ile de Bathelasse, open to all ages.

Fashion Lovers


The chic Rue Joseph Vernet has midrange to high-end fashion: brands include Bensimon, Comptoir des Cotonniers, Petit Bateau, Cotélac, Repetto and the fancier Façonnable, Sandro and Ventilo.

For high street names head to Rue de la République.

Transport

Getting to Avignon


Car:  You will find it very hard to park on the street in the centre, far better to pick one of the convenient and large underground car parks, for example the Parking Palais des Papes from which you emerge right in front of the Palais.

Train:  There are two train stations to get into Avignon.

 

Bus:  Bus routes are plentiful and reasonably priced

 

Plane:  Avignon boasts it’s own Airport but is also served easily by Marseille just 45 minutes away

Getting around Avignon


Walking:  Avignon is a perfect city for exploring on foot, not too big, everything close together, and enough mischief in the layout to get temporarily lost in back alleys and side-streets, which is often when the best discoveries are made. Don’t wear high heels, there are plenty of cobbles along the way.

Electric vehicle:  Alternatives to walking around town: the green Baladine electric vehicles can be hailed, they follow a circular route and you pay the driver.

 

Velopop bike:  You can also hire a Velopop bike at 11 points within the city walls (1€/day).

 

Le Petit Train:  And, don’t knock it, the tourist train ‘Le Petit Train’ – leaving from the Palais des Papes, the 40-minute ride will take you to all the key sights, with an informative commentary (it’s not actually a train).

 

River boat:  Tourist river boats can be taken to give a different perspective on the city from the Rhone.

To Note

Things to note


  • The famous bridge, the Pont Saint-Benezet, the one in the song, is on most people’s must-see lists, but you may find it rather underwhelming. It is not an unfinished bridge, it is a partly dismantled bridge that partly spans the river, and that’s about it. To deflate you even further, the song is actually not about dancing on the bridge, but under the bridge…
  • The mistral wind comes straight down the Rhone river, which runs through Avignon, so when the mistral is blowing (you will know it), best avoid an exposed place like Rocher des Doms, as this could be a hair-raising experience.
  • Some restaurants and museums are closed on Mondays.

We Like

What we like


  • Rocher des Doms:  Because it provides an unexpected oasis of tranquility and greenness, with a great view too.
  • Ile de la Barthelasse:  for *the* essential view of Avignon that makes sense of it all – the Palais de Papes, the city walls, the bridge in the foreground – a medieval fortress city come to life. Take the free ferry, bring a picnic, even bring a hire bike because this is the largest river island in France.
  • Les Halles:  it’s not especially pretty, but it’s all about the regional produce, and you can even park underneath.
  • Wine:  Avignon, gateway to the fine wines of the Rhone, starting with Chateauneuf des Papes just to the north of town, then to Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Cornas, Cote-Rotie, Crozes-Hermitage, Condrieu, Saint-Joseph…the list is long. Some say it’s why the Popes chose to move here.
  • The Avignon Festival:  For 3 weeks in July Avignon turns into one of the biggest performing arts festivals in the world, and even if you don’t speak French well enough to take in a play, there is music, dance and mime, and the town is worth visiting in the evenings because it is pulsing with energy, not to mention street performers.

Avignon Restaurants

The main pedestrian square, Place de l’Horloge, has many restaurants, all aimed at tourists and of dubious quality. Better to head off into the side streets and look out for where the locals are eating.

Below you will find our Avignon restaurant recommendations:


Budget:
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