Tranquil and laid-back, Avignon is a small city in the magical Provence, in Southeastern France. Avignon has always had an important role in history, mainly because it became the seat of the Catholic papacy during the 14th century.
Today, the town is a popular place to visit. There are a lot of things to do in Avignon as well as interesting things to see, it has a wealth of magnificent historical buildings, a famous bridge, and is also a cultural center.
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Top Things to Do in Avignon, France
Basic Things to Know about Avignon
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Sitting on the banks of River Rhone, Avignon is a remarkable town in the south of France with plenty to see, do, and discover, no matter whether you’re planning to spend a morning or a whole weekend in town.
Mainly known for being the seat of the Catholic popes for nearly 70 years in the 14th century, Avignon was chosen as the city of residence by Pope Clement V.
Avignon remained a papal possession and was under papal control until 1971. After that period, during the French Revolution, the city became part of France once again.
While at the beginning of the fourteenth century Avignon was not an important town, it grew and underwent remarkable development during the next hundred years.
Where is Avignon
Avignon is in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region, on the left bank of the Rhone, in the southeast of France.
The city is now the capital of the Vaucluse department and one of the few French cities to have preserved its ancient city walls almost intact.
Why Visit Avignon
The main focus of the town has always been — and still is — le Palais des Papes, or the Popes’ Palace, which is in the heart of the old part of the city.
The palace is nestled among numerous medieval streets in the historic center, which not only features the Palais des Papes, but also a cathedral and the legendary Pont d’Avignon.
The whole complex is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its architecture and importance in medieval times.
How to Get to Avignon
The best way to get to Avignon is by train or bus. Both the bus and train stations are located right opposite the main gate of the walls that surround Avignon’s old town.
This makes it super easy to just cross the street and be inside the old town.
For that reason, it is quite easy to jump on a bus in any town in the Provence region and get there in about 2 hours, depending on the traffic.
We got there from Aix en Provence with a 90-minute bus ride (the bus company that operates in the area is Zou!).
If you are also visiting on a day trip, do check the hours for the last return bus of the day as they tend to leave quite early (about 5 pm).
You can also travel to Avignon from Nimes. The nearest airport to Avignon is Nimes Airport (less than 40 km away).
Or you can fly to Marseille, Montpellier, Nice, or Lyon and then reach Avignon by bus or train.
Trains travel to Avignon from all over France, it takes about 2.5 hours from Paris and about 60 minutes from Lyon.
There is also an international high-speed train (TGV) that connects Saint Pancras (London) to Avignon.
Another alternative is to rent a car at the airport and drive to Avignon from anywhere in France, this will give you the time and flexibility to visit several other towns in the region.
How to Move Around in Avignon
A huge bonus for visitors is that Avignon is a compact city so all the important places can be easily reached on foot, so if you’re just visiting the old town within the ancient walls, there is no need to worry about public transport, at all.
When is the Best Time to Visit Avignon
Being an important tourist destination, not just because of its medieval buildings but also because it hosts several important festivals, the city is always busy.
If you’re interested in the festivals held in town, then keep this July calendar in mind before you book your trip to Avignon:
Festival d’Avignon – The festival usually lasts for 20 days and offers itinerant theater performances.
Festival Off – Held during the last three weeks of the month, this is the most important arts festival in the region.
If festivals are not what interests you, remember that July is also the month when the lavender fields in the region blossom, so this is a great time to plan an itinerary in the southern towns around the area.
In general, autumn, the end of summer, and the first month of spring offer pleasant weather and lesser crowds.
And while October and November can be too rainy, sunny days increase in winter, although temperatures remain quite on the lower end of the thermometer and even if tourists do visit, it is not as crowded as in summer.
Where to Stay in Avignon
Despite being a small town, you won’t find problems finding accommodation in Avignon provided that you book early.
The warmest months of the year from May to September, tend to be the ones that get more tourists, so it makes sense to look for a place to stay at least a few months before the trip if you want to find a convenient place to stay in Avignon.
If you have no idea where to book your hotel or flat, these are the ones with better guest reviews and top amenities, take a look:
Convenient: Hôtel du Palais des Papes
An affordable 3-star hotel in front of the Palais des Papes in a pedestrian area. The hotel is set in a historical building and it offers comfortable rooms with views of the Palace or Horloge Square.
Click here for more information and to get the latest prices.
Mid-range: L’Observance Bed & Breakfast
Located in the center of Avignon, the rooms and the apartments feature a swimming pool, kitchenette, and private entrance while breakfast is served every morning.
Click here for more information and to get the latest prices.
Luxury: Le Mirande
A 5-star hotel in the center of town, this property offers top-class offers 18th-century-style guest rooms with views through the antique windows overlooking the Palais des Papes and a choice of American or continental breakfast every morning.
Click here for more information and to get the latest prices.
Best Places to See and Top Things to Do in Avignon
So, without any further ado, here I bring you some really interesting and fun things to see and do in Avignon…
Relive History in le Palais de Papes
Situated in the historic part of the city, the immense white Pope Palace dates back to the fourteenth century when it worked as the Pope’s residency.
In the history of Christianity, six different conclaves took place in Avignon.
The Palace of the Popes is the symbol of the Church’s influence on the Christian West in the 14th century.
Therefore, from the Papacy of Clement V in 1309 until 1377 it was Avignon instead of Rome the seat of the Papacy, a time when the city and its surroundings were ruled by the kings of Sicily.
The construction of this remarkable palace started in 1335 and took less than twenty years. The whole complex is the work mainly of Pope Benedict XII, who built the Old Palace, and his successor Clement VI who built the New Palace.
The palace is the largest medieval Gothic building in Europe, hosting impressive halls and private apartments.
The building has twelve impressive towers, and two chapels decorated with amazing frescoes while floors boast magnificent tile work.
It was very much the perfect setting for coronations, conclaves, and all-important papal events.
Unfortunately, much of the interior has been ruined over the centuries, however, con can fully immerse in its history and imagine the original grandeur of the palace if you join a good guided tour.
Consider taking this Avignon 3-Hour Walking Tour & Wine Tasting if you want to explore the historical center of Avignon, visit the spectacular Palais des Papes, hear more breathtaking and interesting history, and enjoy a glass of Côte du Rhöne wine.
Admire the Cathedral of Avignon
Known in French as the Cathédrale Notre-Dame des Doms d’Avignon, the cathedral adjacent to the Pope Palace was built in 1111 in Romanesque style and it has always been the seat of the Bishop of Avignon.
The building has been extended and renovated many times over the centuries.
Its amazing interior has recently been renovated and its important artwork has been laboriously cleaned.
The cathedral hosts two huge organs while the Bishop’s magnificent throne dates from the 12th century and has been carved from marble.
The cathedral is best known for its Jesus on the cross surrounded by angels as well as for the gilded statue of the Virgin Mary (from 1859) which is perched high on the bell tower and overlooks the city and the Rhone.
Sing as you Walk on the Famous Bridge
The Pont d’Avignon or, to give the bridge its proper name, the Pont Saint-Bénézet, is a Medieval stone bridge that once stretched 900 meters across the Rhone River.
The bridge was the subject of the popular children’s song Sur le Pont d’Avignon that we can all remember singing!
And… I confess it was the main reason for me to visit Avignon.
According to different historic sources, a wooden bridge spanning over the Rhone was built back between 1177 and 1185 but suffered terrible damages during the Crusades.
A few decades later, a fairly narrow stone bridge (less than 5 meters wide) was built in its place.
Although the bridge did originally span the river with 22 arches, one by one, the arches collapsed into the water whenever the Rhone flooded.
The bridge was finally abandoned in the seventeenth century.
Only four arches and the tiny chapel of Saint Nicholas remain. Also known as Chapelle Saint Bénézet, this is a romanesque religious building made in perfect Provencal style with a unique interior space made of one blind arcade that stands on six columns.
It is possible to walk along what rest of the bridge paying the admission charge (reduced for children).
You can also use the free audio guide to learn more about this fascinating construction.
At the bridge’s gatehouse, you will also find an interactive exhibition telling about the history of the bridge.
You will also learn about the archaeological works that took place in the area to prove the full extension of the bridge before its collapse.
This is one of the best private walking tours to discover the bridge and the rest of Avignon: A two-hour walking tour to explore the history, culture, and customs of Avignon. See the Palace of the Popes and the remains of St. Bénezet Bridge with an expert guide. Click here for more information and to book this tour.
Go Shopping in Avignon’s Market
Les Halles – Avignon’s covered market – is situated close to the historic center of the city, and it is certainly a fun place to visit.
The market has nearly 50 stalls and is regarded as one of the best markets in Provence.
This is the ideal spot in town to stock on spices, herbs, lavender, and traditional Marseille soap.
As a bonus, you will be happy to know that Les Halles is air-conditioned, so is the perfect place to visit on hot sunny days!
In this market, it is possible to buy ingredients to cook but also a variety of foods you would like to eat.
You just need to pick the ingredients from a stall and then give them to one of the restaurant stalls in the market, the chef will cook the dish just for you!
Sample a Glass of Pear Brandy… or Two!
The city’s Maison Manguin Distillery is a well-known place in town thanks to its excellent cream liqueurs and brandy.
Moreover, it is one of the best places to visit for some Avignon souvenir shopping. Maison Manguin is situated on the river island of Barthelasse.
The distillery is best known for La Poire Manguin which was first made there in 1957 and quickly became its most popular product. And for a good reason, it is delicious!
Today it makes both a pear brandy and liqueur and also lavender and Corsican clementine liqueurs, Mirabelle and old plum brandies plus olive oil vodka.
Maison Manguin Distillery is open from Monday to Saturday. Every Saturday morning there is a tour of the distillery, beginning at 11.00.
The tour is in French, but information sheets in English are available for visitors. You can find more details on the official website.
Browse along Rue des Teinturiers
Running parallel to a quaint canal and lined by lofty plane trees, the Rue des Teinturiers is a cobbled street with a long history.
It was once the heart of Avignon’s fabric industry and had numerous little workshops filled with weavers and dye makers, as you might have guessed, the name of the road means the street of the dye makers.
Today, the street features a wonderful mixture of shops, art galleries, and traditional cafés. There are several little bars where you can relax and enjoy a glass of regional wine too.
Walk the Walk
One of the things I most wanted to see in Avignon, after the Bridge, of course, where the city walls which I imagined were huge.
I never really thought they would be so big and well-preserved.
Known in French as Les Remparts d’Avignon, these magnificent defensive walls encircle the old town of Avignon.
They were originally built back in the fourteenth century and are more than four kilometers in length.
Thick and high, featuring impressive towers, the walls were built to defend Avignon and took about 20 years to be finished.
The wall can be seen from many parts of the city and it still has seven of the original twelve gateways. Today, there are fifteen car entrances and eleven pedestrian ones.
To fully soak in the spirit of this Medieval wonder, one of the best things to do in Avignon is to walk along the top of the ramparts from Pont d’Avignon as far as Rocher des Doms.
The views along the way are impressive.
Relax in Parc Rocher des Doms
This beautiful park is situated close to Le Palais des Papes and covers seven acres, so is certainly a sizeable city park.
There is a large grassed area ideal for those who want to take a break, stretch, relax, or for a summer picnic. And if you have children, they will love the lake with ducks and geese.
From this park, there are good views of many important landmarks as well as information signs for all of them.
On a clear day, for example, it is possible to see Mont Ventoux, the highest mountain in the Provence region, which locals nicknamed the Beast of Provence.
Sip Wine in the Place de l’Horloge
Place de l’Horloge, or Clock Tower Square, is Avignon’s main square and is the perfect place to sit, relax and soak up the traditional Provençal atmosphere.
The square is fringed by numerous restaurants and cafés and is always full of colorful bustle: friends sharing a coffee or glass of wine and children enjoying a ride on the old-fashioned carousel.
Ideal to enjoy an ice cream on a hot spring day, or perfect for a bowl of onion soup in colder months.
The square is perfect for people-watching but also to look around and discover impressive views that you would otherwise miss, such as the incredible clock tower that’s not as obviously located as you would expect.
The city hall (Hotel de Ville) and opera house theater are both situated in the same square.
Several artists sell their paintings close to the carousel, another great souvenir of Avignon that you can take home with you.
Enjoy the Taste of Provence!
The cuisine in Provence is as sunny as its climate and features many locally grown foods including tomatoes and olives.
The stars of local gastronomy, however, remain the fresh herbs such as the classic mix of Herbes de Provence you can find in most street markets and souvenir shops.
Traditional regional dishes include Bouillabaisse, a beloved fish soup that has made Marseille’s cuisine famous, and that is made from at least four different types of fish and shellfish.
Another dish you should not miss is Daube, a rich beef casserole made with red wine.
Finally, if you prefer to stay light, you can also order an Omelette aux Truffes, a delicious omelet made with shavings of black truffle.
In Avignon, you will also find some excellent local wines, including labels from famous winemakers such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
Although the area produces red, white, and rosé wines, it is its quality rosé wines for which it is world known.
Travel Tip for Wine Lovers!
Consider taking this Châteauneuf du Pape Afternoon Wine Tour to make the most of your time in Avignon with a scenic drive through the rolling vineyards of Châteauneuf du Pape. Enjoy a panoramic photo stop at the ruins of the Pope’s summer residence, followed by two wine tastings at two different wineries.
As you can see, there is a lot to see and learn during a visit to Avignon, the city is a magnificent Medieval gem with an incredibly vibrant atmosphere.
There are great places to stay, some very good restaurants, and the wine is excellent… I don’t think you need any else to make up your mind, do you?
Are you visiting Avignon this season?
Let me know in the comments below!
You might also want to read these France travel blogs:
- Fantastic Things to Do in Nice, France to Fully Enjoy the French Riviera!
- Best Things to Do in Bordeaux for a Great Time in Southwest France!
- Unique Things to Do in Paris in Winter That You Can’t Do Another Time
Pin this Guide to the Best Things to Do in Avignon for Your Next Road Trip in South France!
About the author of this blog:
Gabi has been living in Crete for the last five years. On the island, she juggles being a solo mom, hosting culinary tours in summer, translating, and freelance writing.
She’s written for Greek Reporter, published several travel guides about Greece, and had more glasses of frappe than any regular person would be able to handle.