Set on the banks of the mighty Rhône River in the west of Provence, you will find the historic town of Avignon. Cobblestone lanes and ancient buildings are trapped within medieval walls. Once a home for the exiled popes of Rome, Avignon has grown from a quiet village into a thriving city. Today, Avignon is an intoxicating blend of medieval history and intricate architecture, enjoyed for its lively outdoor ambiance rather than quaint museums.In my opinion, some of the best cities to visit are those you haven’t heard much about. Whether a history buff, an architecture lover, or simply a curious wanderer, if you have a spare day in Southern France, you must make a stop in charming Avignon!
Sights to see in Avignon, France
1. Marvel at Palais des PapesFrom afar, the magnificent Palace of Popes appears to be straight out of a fairy tale. A mix of towers and spires and make up the world’s largest Gothic structure. Built to accommodate the Popes who fled from a corrupt Rome in the Middle Ages; Avignon became the capital of Christendom and home to seven popes over the next century. Take a look inside at the 25 rooms open to the pubic to imagine the grand coronations and conclaves that once took place. Once lavishly decorated, today, its vast stone rooms are mostly empty. The first floor flaunts the Chapel of Saint John, Great Audience Chamber, Consistory Hall and Banqueting Hall. The Bedchamber features an intricately tiled floor and an ornately painted ceiling. From the Window of Indulgence, the Pope used to give his blessings to the faithful.The palace has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site and entry is 111 €.
2. People watch at Place de l’HorlogePlace de l’Horloge or Clock Tower Square is Avignon’s main gathering area for locals and visitors alike. Sip a coffee or enjoy a meal under shady trees at one of the many street cafés and restaurants.
The busy square is also home to a 19th century Hotel de Ville (City Hall), Maison du Jean Vilar (house museum of a famous theater man) and Opera House. Street vendors sell souvenirs and street performers will take care of the entertainment. In July, Festival d’Avignon brings clowns and balloons.
3. Walk along Pont Saint-Bénézet BridgeSt Bénézet’s Bridge, once connected the pope’s territory to France to allow the local bishop to cross the river to Villeneuve-lès-Avignon. Legend has it that in 1177 a shepherd named Bénézet was ordered by angels to build a bridge and miraculously did so by lifting a massive stone and tossing it into the river. The bridge became unsafe following numerous floods and much was washed away in the 17th century. Only 4 of the 22 arches now remain. Entry is 5 €
4. Take a trip out to Le Pont du GardPont du Gard, a three-level stone ancient Roman aqueduct bridge is one of the most striking and best preserved pieces of Roman architecture in France. Take the A15 Edgard bus or catch a taxi from the SNCF station for around 50€. It costs €18 for five people to visit the site by car.
5. Visit Cathédrale Notre-Dame-des-DomsCathédrale Notre-Dame-des-Doms, a spectacular Roman Catholic cathedral next to the Palais des Papes is the seat of the Archbishop. Built in the second half of the 12th century, the building was abandoned and allowed to deteriorate during the French Revolution. It was reconsecrated in 1822 with its prominent feature: a gilded statue of the Virgin Mary atop the bell tower.
6. Picnic along The Rhone RiverCheese and meat platter? Check. Rhone Valley Red wine? Check. Chocolate? Check.
7. Shopping at Rue de la RepubliqueRepublic Street is the cities main strip, just waiting for you to shop til you drop! Want a taste of someting different? Check out Rue Joeseph Vernet Boutiqes.
8. Market Les Halles d’Avignon The covered markets of Les Halles open in the morning, from 6 am, every day except Monday. Stock up on local specialties including fresh fruits and vegetables, olive oil, herbs and spices, lavender, sugared fruits, chocolate, and regional wines.
9. Attend a Festival
Avignon is known as a center of art and culture. The city hosts a wide variety of festivals throughout the year, from Jazz and Blues Festivals to Epicurean and Gourmet Food Festivals in the summer to a traditional Christmas market in December.
10. Check out Les Remparts Over 2.5 miles long, the Les Remparts crenellated walls were built by the popes in the 14th century to protect from armies. The walls remain well preserved, still encircling Avignon today.
Bonus: Toss the map and take a wander!There are a variety of guided tours offered but why not explore with no set intentions? Discover the quaint streets of Rue des Teinturiers and elegant squares like the Place des Corps Saints.
Have I convinced you to visit this lesser known town of Southern France?