Best things to see in Avignon

Best Things To See And Do In Avignon

Avignon, the seat of the papacy in the 14th century, has remarkable architecture, including the Palais des Papes and Notre-Dame des Doms, as well as famous bridge Le Pont d’Avignon and gardens Rocher de Doms, offering a glimpse into a little known part of France’s history. It’s also famous for Le Festival d’Avignon, which overtakes the town each July, welcoming tens of thousands of theater-lovers for open-air performances with Avignon’s stunning architecture as backdrops. Plus, this historic city also makes a great base for day trips to other stunning cities in Provence. This post covers the top things to see and do in Avignon.

Best Things To See And Do In Avignon

Most of the top sites in Avignon fall within its historic core, inside its ancient medieval city walls.

Avignon’s Medieval City Walls

One of the first things you’ll see as you approach Avignon’s core are the ramparts, or medieval walls. Built in the 14th century by the papacy of Avignon, these walls completely enclosed the city, protecting it from roving mercenaries. There was a also a moat outside the walls.

The old medieval walls are one of the top things to see in Avignon.
Avignon’s Medieval Walls

Le Palais des Papes

Avignon was the seat of Catholic popes, or papacy, in the 14th century, moving from Rome due to conflicts and chaos. The Palais des Papes was built between 1335 and 1352, for the 7 Popes that reigned here. It’s one most important medieval Gothic buildings in Europe and the largest medieval Gothic Palace in the world.

Composed of two palaces, the old palais, built by pope Benedictine XII, and the new palais, by pope Clement VI, it covers over 160,000 sq ft (15,000 sq m).

Palais des Papes, one of the top things to see in Avignon.
Palais des Papes

There are 25 rooms open to the public. You can see the apartments where the popes lived, including the Papal Chamber and Stag Room, the Grand Chapel, ceremonial rooms, banquet rooms, and more.

Also make sure to see the stunning views of the city from its rooftop terraces.

And don’t miss Palais des Papes Square, in front of the palace, as there is usually some form of entertainment going on.

When the papacy returned to Rome in the early 15th century, the Palace fell into disrepair. It deteriorated even further during the French Revolution, when it was sacked, and later, when Napoleonic troops used it as a barracks and prison.

In the early 20th century it became a National Museum and has been under restoration ever since.


Palais des Papes, one of the top things to see in Avignon.
Exterior Detail

Notre-Dame des Doms

The Notre-Dame des Doms, or Cathedral of Avignon, is the seat of the Archbishop of Avignon and the oldest monument in Palais des Papes Square. This magnificent monument also fell into disrepair. It re-opened most recently in 2016.

With elements of Romanesque, Gothic, and Baroque styles, it contains, the tomb of Pope John XXII, the second of the Avignon popes, an elaborate treasury, and artwork. It’s located next to the Palais des Papes.

Le Rocher De Doms

These lovely English-style gardens offer a beautiful view of the Rhône and Pont d’Avignon, with many walking paths, and a waterfall. These gardens really shouldn’t be missed.

You can reach them by the steps leading from the Notre-Dame des Doms.

Notre-Dame des Doms is one of the top things to see in Avignon.
Notre-Dame des Doms

Le Pont d’Avignon

This medieval bridge, a landmark in Avignon, also known as Pont Saint-Bénézet, is another of the tops things to see here. It’s famous around the world, due to the French children’s song “Sur le pont d’Avignon”.

Originally a wooden bridge, the only one crossing the Rhône between Lyon and the Mediterranean, it was destroyed in the 12th century. Rebuilt in the 13th century with 22 stone arches, sections washed away and were rebuilt many times. It was finally abandoned in the 17th century.

All that remains today are 4 arches, partway crossing the Rhône, and the Chapel of Saint Nicholas. Yet, strolling this bridge to nowhere is a popular stop and one of the top things to see in Avignon.

The Pont d’Avignon is one of the top things to see.
Pont d’Avignon

Temple Saint Martial

This 14th century church has stately architecture, with its flying buttresses, and peaceful gardens. Its interior is a bit plain, and often closed to the public, but it’s nice to wander the courtyard and gardens. Temple Saint Martial is located near the tourist center.

Temple Saint Martial

Les Halles d’Avignon

Les Halles d’Avignon, a large covered marketplace, is a culinary extravaganza. Loaded with local produce, specialty foods, and fresh seafood, it also has several restaurants and cafes. A perfect spot after sightseeing, this is another of the top things to see in Avignon.

Top Museums in Avignon

Musee du Petit Palais

Located near the Palais des Papes, the Musee du Petit Palais has an excellent collection of Renaissance Art from both Avignon and Italy.

Musee Calvet

Located in the Hôtel de Villeneuve-Martignan, Musee Calvet is a fine art museum that also houses archaeological artifacts from Avignon.

Musee Vouland

The Musee Vouland, is the former mansion of Louis Vouland, a prolific Decorative Art collector. Per his request, it was converted to a museum after his death.

Musee Lapidaire

The Musee Lapidaire is small museum for archeology lovers, containing artifacts from Greece, Egypt, and other important historical locations.

Cimetière Saint-Veran

If atmospheric cemeteries interest you, stop by Cimetière Saint-Veran. Local artists, poets, and a philosopher are among the many graves here. Click here for location.

Le Festival d’Avignon

Every year in July, Avignon becomes a city-theater with the Festival d’Avignon, including shows, readings, exhibitions, and films, attracting tens of thousands. It transforms more than 20 locations, most of them historic and outdoors, into scenic venues. There are about 300 performances and over 400 events, practically taking over the town. If you are a theater lover, consider timing your visit with this. Book well in advance.

Perfect Day Trips From Avignon

Avignon makes a perfect base to explore nearby cities in Provence. And, if you visit between mid-June and mid-August, trips to nearby lavender fields are also an absolute must!

St. Remy

The charming town of St. Remy is where Van Gogh committed himself to the asylum, St Paul Mausole, and created some of his best works, like The Starry Night, and the Irises. It’s located about a 30-minute drive from Avignon.

You can visit the room he stayed in and see the areas that provided him creative inspiration. You can also visit galleries, markets, and cafes, in St Remy, as well as great Roman ruins near the asylum called Glanum.

Visiting nearby lavender fields are a top thing to do in Avignon.
St Paul Mausole

Chateauneuf-du-Pape

The Chateauneuf-du-Pape region, aside from having outstanding wineries, is also the location of Chateauneuf-du-Pape Castle. Built for the second pope of Avignon, Pope John XII, to escape the chaos of Avignon, this is how the region got its name. Chateauneuf-du-Pape literally means the new castle of the pope. I had no idea!

Destroyed in the war, all that remains of the castle is its shell overlooking the valley. The views from here, however, are amazing.

This castle is located about a 25-minute drive north of Avignon, here.

Chateauneuf-du-Pape Castle
Chateauneuf-du-Pape Region

Arles

Arles, about an 45-minutes south of Avignon is best known for its Roman archeological ruins and where Vincent Van Gogh created many masterpieces.

Camargue

Camargue, famous for its images of mostly white, long-haired horses running on the beach, is also known for its Camargue bulls, bred for fighting, and a large bird preserve. The once wild horses, however, are now mostly domesticated and bred under strict guidelines. Carmargue is about an hour drive from Avignon.

Gordes

Another spectacular day trip from Avignon is Gordes, the most beautiful hilltop village in Provence. This picture perfect village has quaint cobbled streets, a medieval castle, bustling Tuesday morning market, lovely cafes, and stunning views! Gordes is about an hour drive from Avignon. You can also take the train to L’isle sur la Sourge or Cavaillon, then bus or taxi from there.

Gordes view point is one of the top things to do in Gordes
Gordes

Roussillon

Roussillon, famous for its striking red cliffs and old ochre quarries, sits at the foot of Monts de Vaucluse, inside the Natural Regional Park of Luberon. It’s located about an hour east of Avignon, or about 15 minutes from Gordes.

Lourmarin

The charming Provençal village of Lourmarin is nestled among olive groves and vineyards. It’s worth a visit to explore its windy cobbled streets lined with charming homes, see its castle, and visit its many art galleries. A little over an hour drive from Avignon, you can also take a train to Cavaillon, then a taxi or bus from there.

Visiting Lourmarin and its Castle
Lourmarin

Lavender Fields

Between mid-June and mid-August, Provence’s lush lavender fields bloom. Especially in the Valensole Plateau. Peak blooming varies due to weather conditions, so it’s best to work with a local tour guide, who will know the best spots closest to you.


Want More Of France?

Aix-en-Provence, Provence’s cultural capital is where Paul Cézanne was born and worked. You can follow a mapped route through the city called “In the Footsteps of Cézanne” to see where he lived and worked. Or just enjoy Aix’s high-end shopping and the many cafes of this laid-back sun-dappled town. Aix is about an hour drive southeast of Avignon.

The Cote d’Azur, or French Riviera, is also a short drive from Avignon. This 550 mile stretch of sun, sand, and crystal-clear azure waters is known as a playground for the wealthy. Explore laid-back coastal cities along the Mediterranean like Cassis, St. Tropez, Cannes, Nice, Antibes, and more.

Of course you can’t miss France’s most-visited city, Paris, one of the most romantic cities in Europe. And from Paris, there are several day trip options, like the must-see Palace of Versailles, or Giverny, to see Claude Monet’s house and gardens.

If you want to explore some of France’s more historic smaller cities, consider visiting Strasbourg, Lyon, Brittany, or Mont Saint-Michel.

And to learn more about France’s outstanding wines, there’s also Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, and the Loire Valley. Each with their own incredible terroir, varietals, and historic architecture.

To see all the places where you can fall in love with France, as well as tips on money, safety, scams, and how to best get around, see my France Travel Guide.

Travel Guide France
Chateau Villandry

Safe Travels!

Julie

Hello! I resigned from a corporate career in product development to explore the world. Although my goal was to travel for a year, 8 years later, I’ve been honored to have explored more than 60 gorgeous countries and met some unbelievably amazing people. Our world truly is a beautiful place! Follow me into the gorgeous unknown by subscribing below. You’ll receive details on fabulous destinations, comprehensive travel guides, travel tips and tidbits, and information on travel trends, like experiential, sustainable, and transformational travel. Where is your next gorgeous unknown? Julie

One Comment

  • Erynn Crowley

    Great clouds in these photos! I found the whole region very interesting – so much history and beauty.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Discover more from Gorgeous Unknown

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading