Planning To Visit Avignon – These Are The Best Things To Do In Avignon France
Avignon is the ideal base for your adventures in the French region of Provence with a perfect central location.
However, it is a very charming city on its own with some incredible historical significance, many churches, gardens, markets, and shops all within its city walls. This blog provides a detailed overview of all the top things to do in Avignon so you can make the most of this fantastic location.
Highlights of Avignon France
1. Be Amazed By The Palais de Papes
Arguably what Avignon is best known for is the Popes Palace. Once you see it you will understand why. When you first come into the square where the Gothic Palace is located, it is quite an impressive sight.
There were nine popes who resided in Avignon from the beginning of the 14th century for a period of almost one hundred years. Each one added their own enhancements to the building. By the end of their time there, the imposing palace was nearly sixty metres long!
Towards the end of the 14th century, the changes to the Palace were grander and primarily aesthetic. What remains is a wonderful place to visit.
The reason the Popes began living in Avignon initially in 1305 was due to an uprising of the people against the church. The Pope at that time (John XXII) fled to France and added a residence to the existing cathedral. The next Pope Benedict XII, ordered the building to be made into a Palace, that was essentially a fortress, in order to remain secure.
Now you can tour the buildings and see more than twenty-five rooms that are open to the public. It is impressive to walk through the grand halls, the large dining rooms, the kitchen area, the pope’s bedroom, and dressing rooms, along with the large courtyard and to see the Window of Indulgence where the Pope’s would first appear after the coronation.
When we visited there was temporary seating still in place in the courtyard where they host a concert series in the summer.
There are several small chapels that have detailed and colourful frescos on the walls dating to the 1300s. They detail the life of different saints and prophets. The frescos have been painstakingly restored using traditional methods and are now considered priceless. To help preserve the life of the frescos there are no pictures allowed in these areas. However, there are images on the website.
The Pope’s chamber has some incredible painted walls that show vines, leaves, birds, and squirrels. The walls almost look as though they are covered in wallpaper but of course, these are painted as well. When the Palace underwent restoration, it was by the same architect that restored Carcassonne. You can see similarities in the two fortified Castles.
The Pope’s Palace tour ticket includes a tablet that you can hold up in each room to see images of what the Palace may have looked like originally. You can see where the furniture would have been placed and what the décor may have looked like. This is a creative way to give additional life to these incredible, grand rooms.
The gardens of the Pope’s Palace do require a separate ticket. This is not a flower garden but an herb and vegetable garden. You can check out what to expect by watching this video.
✅ The best way to see the Palace is with a guided tour. This is a fantastic way to learn more in-depth history and day-to-day life in the Palace. Check out this highly-rated tour of Avignon, including a guided tour inside the Palace and a wine tasting.
2. Marvel At The Notre Dame Des Domes Basilica
Adjacent to the Palace is the Avignon Cathedral Notre Dame Des Domes. This Romanesque cathedral dates to the 12th century with updates in both the 15th and 17th centuries. Currently, this is the cathedral of the Archbishop of Avignon.
You can see the bell tower from many places within the city highlighted by its famous gilded statue of the Virgin Mary that weighs 3600 kilograms! She was installed in 1859 and features prominently in the skyline of Avignon.
The cathedral was allowed to deteriorate during the French Revolution but thankfully it was restored in the 1800s. A mausoleum of Pope John XXII that sustained damage during this time was removed, repaired, and reinstalled in the Cathedral where it resides now.
There is also a large organ inside that dates to 1819. The cathedral hosts concerts of sacred music in the summer months.
3. Discover the Musee de Petit Palais
At one end of the grand square where the Palace is located is the Museum of the small palace. Although at three thousand square metres it isn’t really that small! The original building was the home of a Cardinal dating to the 1300s. The existing building was rebuilt in the 15th century.
The Palace now houses one of the biggest European displays of Medieval art and has been included with the Papal Palace and Avignon Historic Centre on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list.
Here you can view hundreds of paintings both from the Middle Ages and the Italian Renaissance. These are on permanent display along with sculptures from the same era.
4. Stroll the Parc Rocher des Doms
Located between the Cathedral and the Musee de Petit Palais is a walkway up to the beautiful English gardens of the Parc Rocher des Doms. Perched thirty metres above the level of the Rhone River, you can enjoy this serene area.
The park was developed in the 19th century and was transformed from being just a nice spot to stroll into an incredible garden with trees, grasses, plants, ponds, and statues. The whole area is so very pretty to wander around.
You can plan to spend some time here with a restaurant, picnic area, children’s playgrounds and toilets.
Be sure to walk a little further to the terraces where you will have wide-open views of the Rhone River and the city below. We understand that the tourist train will take you up to this area, but the walk is very beautiful and worth the effort.
After all the history lessons you will have covered you will need a respite. In our opinion, this is one of the top things to do in Avignon where you can relax and rejuvenate.
5. Promenade the Pont d’Avignon
From the terraces of the Parc Rocher des Doms you have a great view of the Pont d’Avignon otherwise known as Saint-Benezet Bridge. This bridge or rather what remains of it, dates to the 12th century when it originally connected the two sides of the Rhone River. But be sure to go down and actually visit the bridge at the water’s edge.
The legend says that a young man from the Vivarais region named Benezet came to Avignon in the 1100s indicating that he had received a message from God that a bridge needed to be built over the river. Many thought that he was a bit crazy, but he insisted he needed financial backing to build the bridge.
He was told by the church representatives that if he was able to pick up a massive stone and throw it in the water, they would support his idea. Of course, Benezet took on this challenge and successfully lifted and threw the massive boulder into the river. All the spectators assumed he had been assisted by divine intervention and that he was very special, so the money was provided for his bridge.
Once built, the bridge provided an important link and made trading at the river border possible. For many years this was the only crossing between Lyon and the Mediterranean Sea and helped to entice pilgrims to move to the area creating the community that would be the basis for the papal city.
There is a Romanesque-style chapel on the bridge that was created during the initial construction. It was never finished but remains to this day. Originally Benezet’s remains were buried there but have since been removed.
When first built the bridge was quite large with twenty-two arches and measured nine hundred and twenty metres long. It suffered damage during multiple wars and flooding and was rebuilt many times. In 1669 it sustained enormous damage due to a flood and was never fixed. It left the four arches that are available to visit now.
As you walk along the bridge, you will undoubtedly hear people singing the famous nursery rhyme “Sur le Pont d’Avignon”. This is the bridge that apparently inspired the song in the 1800s. It evolved from the wedding songs that were sung for past centuries.
But the funny part is that the dancing never took place on the bridge as the song goes – but under the bridge. Perhaps some literary license was taken with the lyrics!
The bridge is a fascinating structure to visit. You can purchase tickets that also include an audio guide that provides the legend and historical facts about the bridge and its famous location. This should definitely be on your list of things to do in Avignon.
✅ An excellent way to discover Avignon is with a local guide. If you are looking for a tour of the Popes Palace and also more of the city, including it’s fascinating history, be sure to look at this private tour. The guide provides insightful information about history, culture and life in Avignon.
6. Discover Saint Pierre Basilica
Just a little way from the Pope’s Palace area is the Saint Pierre Basilica. The original church that was located here dates to the 7th century. However, the basic structures of the existing church were built in the 14th century – including the cloister and belltower. It was enlarged in the 15th century with the addition of side chapels and a larger nave.
During the 16th century, there were enormous carved wooden doors installed that are still in incredible shape and worth some time to look at. Inside the church, you can see large, vaulted ceilings in the Gothic style.
Be sure to admire the sculptures, paintings and a massive tapestry showing the façade of the church
7. Walk The Old City Streets & The Walls
Avignon is truly a beautiful city. The old town that is located within the walls is quaint and lovely for strolling with many shops, restaurants, and cafes. There are loads of boutiques that entice you to come in and browse with their decorated window displays or bakeries with incredible pastries to tempt your tastebuds.
Additionally, there are pretty streets such as Rue du Vieux Sextier that offer shopping and the intersections of streets from here are interesting to see as well. We came across a street that had large streamers strung above which made for an interesting visual.
All this (three hundred and seventy acres) is enclosed within the incredible walls of Avignon that date to the 14th century. The walls are more than four kms long with many entrances now for both pedestrians and vehicles.
Rising eight metres in height there are also towers and notches where firearms were installed to provide a defence for the Palace. You can imagine how well-fortified this city was back in the day.
8. Ride The Petit Train
When in Avignon, you will likely see the Petit Train pass you by. This is the same kind of train you will find in the town of Collioure, France. For those with limited time or mobility, this is a good option for seeing the main sights of the city. The train has a few different routes with varying durations – forty-five minutes, one hour or one hour and forty-five minutes.
You can expect to see the Pope’s Palace, the Rocher des Doms, Pont d’Avignon and of course the beautiful streets of Avignon. The tour is offered in ten different languages and can be picked up in the main square in front of the Palace.
9. Enjoy A Boat Ride On The Rhone
We didn’t have the chance to book a boat tour on the Rhone but are planning to do so on our next visit. If you were visiting for the day or several days this would be a lovely excursion to plan.
You can book a boat cruise on the river either for dinner or lunch and enjoy the beautiful scenic ride that is offered while partaking in a specially prepared Provencal meal. What a lovely way to see the sights while gliding along the river with a glass of rosé in hand.
10. Relax In The Place de l’Horloge
This is the main square in Avignon where people like to meet and tends to be busy most of the time. There are many restaurants and cafes that encourage lingering and resting after sightseeing. Or if you don’t want to sit down, you can pick up snacks at one of the many pastry or bakery shops.
Here too you will see artists looking to paint or draw portraits and small stands where artisans sell their work. And of course, there is a carousel for the children.
Be sure to move quite a distance back from the front of the Town Hall to see the clock tower inside that was built in the 14th century. It is difficult to see unless you have the right angle.
On the top, you will see characters that move each day at noon. Also in this square is the beautiful Opera building that was built in 1860. The main street from this square was created as the primary thoroughfare for reaching the train station.
Historically this area was the Square of the Butchers and where the residents would come to purchase meat on market day. And then for a time, it was where a guillotine was located during the Revolution.
Thankfully it is a much more pleasant spot to spend some time now! The large trees make for a lovely, shaded location where you can sit and watch the world go by.
11. Shop At Les Halles Food Market
The covered market in Avignon is a place you should visit. The original market was built at the end of the 1800s and updated in the 1970s. It has large aisles, and the shops have big display cases where you can see all the amazing products. Very similar to Les Halles in Lyon.
It has forty vendors offering the quality products of Provence. Here you can purchase fresh fruit and vegetables, cheese, fish, meat, wine, baked goods, and many specialty products of the region that make perfect souvenirs. And after all your shopping you can enjoy some local dishes and drinks at a booth in the market.
The market is open Tuesday to Sundays from 6:00am – 2:00pm.
And be sure to look at the green wall on the front outside wall of the market. This vertical garden was designed by Patrick Blanc, the famous French botanist who created the concept of vertical gardens. We have seen another installation of his at the Musee du Quai Branly in Paris. They are very impressive!
✅ If you enjoy tasting foods in a new city this Food Tour will be perfect for you. Spend time with a local visiting local shops to taste the specialties of the region. What a great way to get to know a city!
12. Uncover the Musee Calvet
Imagine that originally this grand building was a private home completed in 1753. It included a courtyard, a garden, and a tower! In 1833 the property was purchased by the city and made into a museum to house the art collection of Espirit Calvet, a French doctor.
This Musee Calvet is Avignon’s largest and houses a large range of fine arts. It has been expanded over the years through donations and includes drawings, sculptures, porcelain, tapestry, and paintings from the 16th to the 20th century.
Here you can also enjoy permanent exhibits from a wide range of time periods including Egyptian, Asian, and Islamic arts plus archeology and ethnography displays.
13. Explore The Rue des Teintures
This is one of the loveliest streets in Avignon. With a cobblestone road that runs along a small canal, this is a nice place to walk in the shade with its magnificent sycamore trees. It is also a great spot to enjoy a drink or something to eat.
This area had a bustling textile industry starting in the 14th century and lasting for more than five hundred years. The water that originally surrounded the moat of the walls around Avignon was used to support the thriving businesses.
Eventually, there were cotton printers, tanneries and dyers added to this area giving the street its name – rue des Teintures or street of dyers.
You can still see several of the water wheels dating back to this period helping you step back in time while visiting this charming street.
14. Admire the Couvent des Cordeliers
While wandering rue des Teintures in Avignon, you will come across this picturesque building that dates to 1233 and was originally one of the largest churches in Avignon.
This building has an interesting history – it was once used as a burial site for wealthy families who had their tombs installed within its walls including Laure de Noves (best known as the muse of the Italian poet Francesco Petrarch) who was buried in the vault in 1348.
Later, the history became much darker when a revolutionary Nicholas Lescuyer was hauled into the nave of the church and murdered on the altar. This incident began a period of terrible massacres.
The church and property sustained significant damage during the Revolution and continued to be demolished afterwards when it was sold as National Property. Now all that remains is the chapel and deteriorating bell tower. But no matter the current condition, it is still a beautiful structure to see.
15. Check Out The Musee Angladon
The Musee Angladon is housed in a beautiful 18th century building and displays the collection of Jacques Doucet. This museum is smaller and set up as a house museum that showcases the collection of art from the 18th century, furniture from Asia and modern artists. This collection was organized by Doucet’s two nephews who wanted to share the collection with the public.
On the first floor, you can view pieces from some of the most famous artists of the 19th and 20th centuries including Degas, Van Gogh, Cezanne, Manet, and Picasso, among others.
Here they also host rotating exhibits. Check the website for the current schedule.
Is Avignon Worth Visiting?
Avignon is a fascinating fortified city. When you arrive at the walls that surround the old town, it is exciting to enter through the gates and see what lies behind. It has a rich history, a lavish palace, and beautiful green spaces to enjoy. Avignon is worth visiting to discover the opulent Pope’s Palace, stroll the various museums, shop at the market for authentic foods and just enjoy a walk by the Rhone River.
When To Visit Avignon?
The busy season in Avignon is typically between June to September. We have visited in April and September. Our spring visit started out wet but dried up and the sun came out later in the day.
It can be colder in the earlier and later months of the year due to the Mistral winds. They can be very strong measuring up to 100kms per hour and will make the temperatures drop significantly. The winds are less common in the summer months.
How Many Days in Avignon Is Enough?
If you would like to enjoy the city in full, we would suggest two days. Avignon is also a great base to see some of the other wonderful cities in Provence such as Arles, Nimes or Aix-En Provence.
Can You Walk Around Avignon?
Avignon’s Old Town located within the wall is an ideal city for walking. Everything is easily accessible, and the streets are well-marked. Walking gives you the perfect opportunity to enjoy the vibe of the city and really immerse yourself in this historical location. Everything on the above list was within walking distance of each other.
Where To Eat In Avignon
✅ Fou de Fafa – a small, intimate restaurant serving a select menu of French dishes. Dishes focus on locally sourced ingredients and are made fresh by the chef. Also has an excellent wine list to pair perfectly with your meal. Reservations are recommended.
✅ Avenio – this charming restaurant is tucked away from the busy areas and provides a wonderful location with inside and outdoor seating. The dishes are imaginative and perfectly prepared. Set menus provide a reasonable way to experience a Michelin-starred restaurant.
Where to Stay in Avignon
✦ Hotel D’Europe – a small hotel with 44 rooms located in a beautiful 16th century building located in the Old Town within the walls. This property offers many amenities including room service, a bar and tea lounge, and a Michelin-starred restaurant. Guests rave about the spacious rooms, comfortable linens and the peaceful courtyard on the premises.
✦ Le Magnan Hotel – a boutique property with 30 rooms located within walking distance to all the sights of Avignon. The rooms are clean and comfortable with air conditioning and breakfast is available onsite. Many people commented how friendly and accommodating the onsite staff is with any requests.
Final Word On Things To Do In Avignon
As you can see there are a multitude of things to do in Avignon. Each time we visit this city we find something else that we have enjoyed seeing and experiencing which certainly demonstrates there is something of interest for everyone. Next time you are planning a trip to Provence, be sure to add the walled city of Avignon to your list.