10 Things To Do in Avignon, France
Heading to Avignon, France? Here are 10 things you can’t miss!
See the Palais des Papes
Avignon’s claim to fame is its Palais des Papes (Palace of Popes) and because of its historical link with the papacy, it is often referred to as the “City of Popes.” For most of the 14th century, popes and antipopes resided in Avignon after Clement V, a Frenchman, was elected as pope and opted not to live in the traditional centre of the papacy, Rome.
The Palais des Papes was built to accommodate Avignon’s new, very important residents, and in 1995 it was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the biggest Gothic palace in Europe, and though the rooms may appear harsh and stark today, they were once decorated with the ultimate in luxury.
The Palais can be packed with tourist groups, but if you visit at lunch time or other low-traffic times, it is worth a look. If you don’t want to pay to look inside, you can simply enjoy a picnic lunch on the front steps; it’s an excellent spot for people-watching.
Take a wine tour
Many wine tours leave from Provence and trail through the villages of the Côtes du Rhône and its wineries. Taste the different varieties Provence has to offer, and learn about the process of making some of the world’s best wines, such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
See the golden Notre Dame des Doms and sweeping views
Immediately beside the Palais des Papes is the Romanesque Notre Dame des Doms with its gilded Virgin Mary watching over Avignon. The small cathedral also contains several works of art, and also the resting place of Pope John XXII. Next door, you’ll find a park with plenty of paths to walk and foliage whose shade provide excellent refuge from the sun. Walk out to the many viewpoints, providing sweeping landscapes of Provence.
Go museum hopping
Avignon boasts a number of small but rich art and history museums within its walls. Pick up a free Avignon Passion pass to get reduced prices on museum admission and tourism transportation. You pay full price on your first visit, but for the next two weeks you can explore Avignon’s many museums at lower prices.
Eat fresh, homemade Provincial food
It’s no secret that the French are expert chefs, and Provence is one of its most famous culinary regions. With signature flavourings such as lavender and Herbes de Provence, and access to fresh, sun-kissed produce, Avignon is home to some excellent dining.
If your budget is more flexible, Cuisine de Dimanche boasts a creative chef who crafts her menu each morning based off ingredients purchased at the local market, an eclectic décor, and a vibrant ambience. If your wallet is smaller, L’Épice and Love dishes up excellent, hearty homestyle dishes in a funky, dimly lit bistro.
Explore the market at Les Halles
Every Tuesday through Sunday, Les Halles, the biggest covered market in Avignon boasts 40 merchants selling Provincial food from cheese to meat to fish to jarred sauces and tapenades. On Saturday morning there are free cooking lessons demonstrated by Avignon chefs. Audience members get to eat the final product along with local wine.
Walk on (or at least gaze at) St Benezet’s Bridge
Today, Pont St-Bénézet (St Bénézet’s Bridge) is barely half a bridge: 18 out of its former 22 spans were washed away in the mid 17th century. Though previously the bridge had been built, rebuilt, and repaired numerous times since its first construction in 1185, it’s ruined state now makes it one of Avignon’s most popular tourist attractions.
You can pay a fee to walk across its four remaining spans, or talk a walk across one of Avignon’s more modern bridges to Île de Piot and gaze at the crumbling bridge from afar.
Take in the nightlife
For a small Provincial town, Avignon has a surprisingly active nightlife thanks to its local university. Enjoy a drink alongside chatty students in one of Avignon’s bars in Les Halles, and then end the night student-style with a late night ice cream or shawarma.
Explore nearby villages
Avignon has excellent train service to surrounding villages, perfect for day trips around Provence. Visit Arles, known for being Van Gogh’s home in the late 19th century where he produced over 300 paintings and famously cut off his ear. Take the Van Gogh walk, which posts pictures of Van Gogh’s paintings next to the scenes that inspired them.
Also close by is Nimes, which boasts prehistoric artifacts, Neolithic settlements, and Bronze Age village sites.
Cross the river to Ile de Piot
Not only does Île de Piot provide nice views of historic Avignon, including Pont St-Bénézet and Palais des Papes, it also has shaded pathways perfect for walking and cycling. Pack a typical French picnic of cheese, bread, and wine, and enjoy a peaceful lunch on the river’s shore.
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