Avignon is a captivating city in the picturesque Provence region of France. Situated on the banks of the Rhône River, within the southeastern part of the country, it is renowned for its historical significance, breathtaking architecture, and cultural heritage.
The city was famously the center of the Roman Catholic Church between 1309 and 1376 when seven different popes resided there successively.
Today, its old town is surrounded by well-preserved medieval ramparts, offering a glimpse into its rich past. As you wander through the narrow, winding streets, you’ll discover charming squares, centuries-old buildings, and hidden courtyards.
Beyond its historical and cultural treasures, Avignon offers a delightful Provençal ambience. The city boasts a lively culinary scene featuring regional specialities like bouillabaisse, ratatouille, and lavender-infused delicacies. One of the most fun things to do in Avignon is exploring the local markets filled with fresh produce, fragrant herbs, and artisanal crafts.
Map of Tourist Attractions in Avignon
As vineyards and picturesque landscapes surround it, Avignon is also an excellent base for exploring the beautiful Provence region. From lavender fields to charming villages, there is much to discover in the nearby areas.
In this post, we'll cover:
14. Avignon Cathedral
Avignon Cathedral, officially known as the Cathédrale Notre-Dame des Doms d’Avignon, should be on every tourist’s itinerary.
Located within the historic center of Avignon, this majestic cathedral dates back to the 12th century and showcases a fascinating blend of Romanesque and Gothic architectural styles.
As you approach the cathedral, its impressive façade, adorned with intricate sculptures and ornate details, will instantly capture your attention.
Its interior, comprising stained glass windows, vaulted ceilings, and beautifully crafted chapels, is equally captivating.
One of the cathedral’s highlights is the Papal tombs, which house the sarcophagi of several popes from the Avignon Papacy period. From the cathedral’s terrace the views are spectacular, showcasing sweeping vistas of the cityscape and the surrounding landscapes, which extend for miles on a clear day. The views are even more incredible if you ascend it like we did at sunset.
13. City Walls
Visiting the City Walls of Avignon feels like you have been transported back to medieval times.
These well-preserved fortifications encircle the historic center and offer a fascinating glimpse into Avignon’s defensive history. They date back to the 14th century and were specifically constructed to protect the city during a tumultuous period of its history.
While exploring the ramparts, you’ll encounter soaring watchtowers, sturdy stone battlements, and fortified gates, each with distinctive characteristics and historical significance.
Walking along the city walls also provides panoramic views of Avignon and its picturesque surroundings, including the Rhône River, the Pont Saint-Bénézet, and the city’s distinctive skyline. It’s an excellent vantage point to capture stunning photographs or appreciate the city’s beauty from its elevated position.
12. Musee Calvet
A visit to the Musée Calvet will take you on a cultural journey through art and history. Housed within a magnificent 18th-century mansion, this prestigious museum exhibits a vast collection of artworks and artifacts that span centuries.
The museum’s diverse collection includes paintings, sculptures, drawings, ceramics and decorative arts, offering a comprehensive overview of European art from the Renaissance to the 20th century. You’ll be able to admire masterpieces by renowned artists such as Botticelli, Rembrandt and Delacroix.
Beyond the art, the Musée Calvet also showcases an array of archaeological artifacts, including ancient Greek and Roman sculptures, pottery and archaeological finds from the region.
Furthermore, the museum’s setting can be considered a work of art in itself. Featuring elegant salons, ornate ceilings and beautifully landscaped gardens, it is every bit as captivating as the exhibits and artworks inside.
11. Basilique Saint Pierre
The Basilique Saint Pierre is a beautiful Romanesque church from the 14th century.
Situated in the heart of Avignon’s historic center, it is an impressive structure with vaulted ceilings, stained glass windows and ornate altars.
The Basilique Saint Pierre houses several notable artworks, including exquisite frescoes and religious paintings, showcasing the artistic talents of the era. One of the major highlights is the Chapel of the Penitents, embellished with stunning 17th-century paintings. Try to get to the church as soon as it opens like we did, as you can observe it without too much distraction.
A visit to the church provides a profound connection to Avignon’s spiritual and artistic heritage and you’ll want to spend some time there soaking it all in.
However, it also has an impressive bell tower worth climbing for a unique perspective of the city’s rooftops, landmarks and surrounding landscapes.
10. Rue de Teinturiers
Rue de Teinturiers is a historic street. It is lined with centuries-old buildings and bordered by a tranquil canal, which creates a delightful atmosphere that captures the city’s essence.
Known as the ‘Street of Dyers’, Rue de Teinturiers was once home to textile dyeing workshops, and remnants of this vibrant past are still visible today. As you traverse it, you’ll encounter quaint cafés, artisanal boutiques, and inviting restaurants on its cobblestoned street.
The highlight of Rue de Teinturiers is its shaded canal, adorned with picturesque waterwheels and surrounded by colorful flowers and lush greenery. The calming sound of water flowing creates a serene ambiance, perfect for a gentle stroll or a peaceful moment of relaxation.
This vibrant street comes alive in the evenings as locals and visitors gather to enjoy live music performances and dine al fresco at the charming riverside restaurants.
9. Les Halles
Whilst in Avignon, foodies will want to visit Les Halles.
Made famous by authors like Jean Viard and Peter Mayle, this bustling covered market is a must-visit destination for gastronomic delights.
The market brims with stalls offering diverse fresh produce, local cheeses, charcuterie, aromatic herbs, spices, and many regional specialities. From vibrant fruits and vegetables to artisanal bread, pastries, and savory delicacies, there is something to tempt every palate. If you are hungry, it is a place you can really fill your boots!
For those wanting more of a leisurely dining experience, Les Halles also features cozy bistros and bars where you can savor delicious meals and sip on local wines.
In short, it allows visitors to taste Provence’s flavors, embrace the vibrant food culture, and experience the lively atmosphere of Avignon’s culinary scene.
8. Musee Lapidaire
For those yearning for cultural experiences during their time in Avignon, the Musée Lapidaire is a terrific place to visit.
Residing within a stunning architectural setting in a former 17th-century Jesuit college, its grand staircase, vaulted ceilings and beautifully preserved period features will dazzle you.
This museum is notable for its remarkable collection of Roman and medieval sculptures, inscriptions and architectural fragments. It also houses an impressive assortment of stone artifacts that provide insights into the region’s rich history and artistic traditions.
As you explore the museum’s galleries, you’ll encounter intricately carved statues, ornate sarcophagi, decorative reliefs and intricate mosaics that will impress. Informative displays and descriptions provide context and enhance the understanding of each piece’s historical significance.
7. Avignon Theater Festival
Those into performing arts should time their visit to coincide with the Avignon Theater Festival. This annual event, founded in 1947, attracts theater enthusiasts, artists, and spectators worldwide.
During the 3-week festival, Avignon transforms into a vibrant hub of creativity, with numerous theaters, outdoor stages, and unconventional performance spaces hosting a diverse range of productions.
From thought-provoking dramas and experimental works to physical theater, dance performances, and comedy shows, there is something for every taste and artistic inclination.
The streets of Avignon come alive during the festival, with impromptu performances, street theater, and lively discussions taking place throughout the day and night. The festival also offers opportunities to engage with artists, attend workshops, and participate in interactive experiences. For us, this was just as enjoyable as taking in a show.
6. Place de l’Horloge
Place de l’Horloge is the starting point for exploring many of Avignon’s main attractions. You can easily access the Palais des Papes, the Avignon Cathedral, and the bustling shopping streets from there.
But it is also a destination in itself. Surrounded by beautiful architecture and charming cafés, restaurants, and shops, Place de l’Horloge is a bustling square that exudes a lively atmosphere. The square takes its name from the historic clock tower, the Tour de l’Horloge, which stands tall at one end, adding a touch of historical charm.
The square is a perfect spot to relax and people-watch while enjoying a coffee or a refreshing drink. In the evenings, the square resonates with outdoor dining, live music performances, and a vibrant, yet intoxicating ambiance.
5. Trip to Pont du Gard
Though plenty keeps you occupied when in Avignon, you should factor in a trip to Pont du Gard.
This magnificent Roman aqueduct, situated just a 30-minute drive from the city, offers a chance to marvel at the engineering brilliance of the ancient Romans. The awe-inspiring structure dates back to 60 AD and is a testament to their architectural prowess, spanning the Gardon River with its towering arches.
You can explore the site on foot, walking across the top of the aqueduct to enjoy stunning panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. The area also features walking trails along the river, providing an opportunity to immerse yourself in the area’s natural beauty.
Additionally, the site has a visitor center with informative exhibits about the aqueduct’s construction and significance in Roman times. It’s a great way to learn about the history and cultural heritage of the region.
4. Rocher des Doms
Offering panoramic views, lush gardens and a serene escape from the bustling city, Rocher des Doms is a delightful place to visit.
It is located on a rocky outcrop in the heart of Avignon and provides a picturesque setting and a tranquil oasis to rest and relax.
At the summit of Rocher des Doms, you’ll find Jardin des Doms, a beautiful public garden with vibrant flowers, shady trees and well-manicured lawns. You can take a leisurely stroll through the garden’s paths or have a picnic while enjoying the breathtaking vistas of the Rhône River, Pont Saint-Bénézet and the surrounding countryside.
The garden is also home to the iconic Avignon Cathedral. An architectural gem, you can admire its intricate details inside or climb to the top of its bell tower for incredible city views.
3. Musee du Petit Palais
The Musée du Petit Palais is another must-visit destination for art lovers.
Housed in a stunning 14th-century building, this museum showcases a remarkable medieval and Renaissance art collection.
It displays a terrific collection of masterpieces, including paintings, sculptures and decorative arts from the 13th to the 16th centuries. Among these treasures, the works of Botticelli, Carpaccio and Van der Weyden stand out.
The museum’s layout allows for a captivating exploration of different artistic periods and styles, with galleries dedicated to religious art, portraiture and secular subjects. The elegant architecture and serene courtyards provide a fitting backdrop for the collection.
Additionally, the Musée du Petit Palais often hosts temporary exhibitions, allowing visitors to discover new artists or thematic displays.
2. Pont Saint-Bénézet
Arguably Avignon’s most endearing landmark is the Pont Saint-Bénézet.
Spanning the Rhône River, this medieval bridge is a testament to the city’s rich architectural heritage. Walking along its remaining sections, it offers a unique perspective on Avignon’s past.
Initially built in the 12th century, the bridge once connected the city to the river’s opposite bank. Only four arches remain today, but they still exude a sense of grandeur and historical significance.
You can enjoy picturesque views of the Rhône River, the city skyline, and the surrounding landscapes from the bridge. It’s also a great spot to capture memorable photos and soak in the beauty of the city.
Whilst at the Pont Saint-Bénézet, you can also explore the bridge’s small chapel, dedicated to Saint Nicholas, and learn about its fascinating history through informative displays.
1. Palais des Papes
The historic Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes) is an immense fortress and palace complex that signifies Avignon’s pivotal role in the Catholic Church during the 14th century. Pope Clement V commissioned one of Europe’s biggest and most significant medieval Gothic buildings after fleeing Rome in 1309 due to violent unrest that erupted after his election.
Features grand halls, opulent chambers and beautifully preserved courtyards, its massive scale stood as a testament to the medieval power of the Roman Catholic church.
For 60 years, the church was a papal residence that served as the seat of Western Christianity until the papacy decided to return to Rome. During that time, Benedict XII (1334), Clement VI (1342), Innocent VI (1352), Urban V (1362), Gregory XI (1370) and Benedict XIII (1394) were all elected here.
Today, the palace also houses fascinating exhibitions that shed light on the history and significance of the papal residence. From religious artifacts to artistic masterpieces, these displays provide a deeper understanding of the papal court and the cultural and political dynamics of the time.
During your time at the Palais, take the opportunity to ascend its towers and ramparts. You’ll be rewarded with views of Avignon and the surrounding city skyline that will blow you away. Again, try and do this at sunset like we did. You won’t be disappointed.
Where to Stay in Avignon
When visiting Avignon, it is best to find accommodation within or very close to its historic city walls. This area boasts many of the most notable attractions in Avignon and its best restaurants. It is also well connected by shuttle bus from the TGV station, which doesn’t have that many restaurants near it and only a couple of hotels. So the station isn’t a good place to stay.
The Avignon Grand Hotel is situated just outside the city walls, providing easy access to Avignon’s main sights. This modern hotel boasts comfortable rooms, some with balconies overlooking the city and a rooftop terrace with panoramic views. The hotel’s standout feature is its indoor pool, perfect for relaxation after a long day of exploring.
On the other hand, the Régina Boutique Hotel is nestled in the historic city center, close to the Palais des Papes. This charming boutique hotel combines traditional architecture with modern amenities. Elegantly decorated, some of the rooms offer views of the palace.
How to get there
Avignon is a straightforward city to get to, as several transportation options are available. If you reside abroad, you can fly into Marseille Provence Airport, about 85 kilometers from the city and then take a train or a direct shuttle to Avignon.
Alternatively, you can take a train from most French cities, including Paris, Lyon, or Marseille, which all run regular services to it.
If you prefer driving, major highways can easily reach Avignon and rental car services are available at the airport and most city centers.
Approximate travel times:
- Nîmes – 45 minutes by car, 20 minutes by train
- Arles – 30 minutes by car, 20 minutes by train
- Marseille – 1.5 hours by car, 1 hour 15 minutes by train
- Montpellier – 1 hour by car, 45 minutes by train
- Aix-en-Provence – 1 hour by car, 30 minutes by train
- Paris – 7 hours by car, 2 hours 40 minutes by train
- Barcelona (Spain) – 4.5 hours by car, 3 hours by train
- Nice – 2.5 hours by car, 2 hours by train
Best Time to Visit Avignon
With massive crowds of tourists flocking to the city each summer, both July and August are the busiest and most expensive months to visit Avignon. Temperatures also stay at a sweltering 28 to 29°C (82 to 84°F) which makes ambling around the center during the day hot and tiring sometimes.
For 3 to 4 weeks in July, street musicians, actors and other performers put on stunning shows almost everywhere as part of the Festival d’Avignon. This is also roughly the best period to see Provence’s lavender fields at their prettiest. Although June and September are just a couple of degrees cooler, there are fewer crowds, though prices remain high.
Spring is another lovely time to visit Avignon as March to May sees more comfortable temperatures of 14 to 22°C (57 to 71°F). While they can be a bit damp, you can also go wine tasting without all the crowds of summer.
From November to February is the low season due to the colder weather. Its lights and Christmas market do make it pretty magical in winter though. As its strong mistral winds blow around 120 to 160 days a year, bring a jacket whenever you visit!