Nestled in the heart of the picturesque Provence region of southern France, Avignon is a city with a rich history dating back to Roman times. In Montreal, Quebec, I grew up singing, “Sur le pont d’Avignon” and knew one day I had to visit. This spring, my daughter and I stayed five nights, exploring all the best things to do in Avignon.
Known as the “City of Popes” for its illustrious past as the 14th-century home of the Catholic Church, Avignon is the perfect base for exploring Provence France. With its charming cobblestone streets, its medieval architecture and its location on the Rhône River, Avignon is an unmissable destination in Provence!
Wondering what to do in Avignon? I’ve got you covered with these 11 best things to do in Avignon.
Where Is Avignon Provence?
The city of Avignon is located on the banks of the Rhône River in southeastern France. It is the capital of the Vaucluse department in the Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur region of France.
11 Best Things To Do In Avignon
1. Visit The Palais des Papes
Topping the list of the essential things to do in Avignon is to visit the impressive Palais des Papes. The Palais des Papes, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the world’s largest Gothic palace. It is literally the Palace of the Popes. Until my Avignon visit, I had missed the historical memo that Avignon was the papal seat for 70 years. It was Clement V who left Rome in 1309, and the rest is history!
The power, influence and wealth of the papacy are evident as you wander through the Palais des Papes and its towering walls. Don’t miss the halls adorned with stunning frescoes by Italian master Matteo Giovannetti nor the Grand Chapel.
Make your way up to the roof terrace for panoramic views of Avignon and beyond. Marvel at sweeping vistas of rolling vineyards, charming rooftops, and the mighty Rhône River. I found the Pontifical Gardens to be an intimate and relaxing interlude in the visit to the Palais des Papes.
Palais des Papes Practical Information:
Hours: The Palais des Papes is open every day of the year. High Season: March 1 to November 5: 9 am to 7 pm Low Season: 10 am to 5 pm or 6 pm
Cost: Palace of the Popes 12€; Palace of the Popes and the Pontifical Gardens 14.50€; Palace of the Popes and the Pont d’Avignon 14.50€; Palace of the Popes, the Pontifical Gardens, and the Pont d’Avignon 17€
Or Book a Walking Tour of Avignon (includes entry to the Palais des Papes)
Palais des Papes Frequently Asked Questions
Is it worth visiting the Palais des Papes? The Palais des Papes is one of the most visited sites in France and is definitely worth visiting. Of all the Avignon tourist attractions, it is the most visited site.
How long should I plan on spending at the Palais des Papes? A visit to the Palais des Papes will take about 2 to 3 hours. It is an immense building with plenty to see including the views from the roof terrace and the gardens.
2. Dance On Le Pont d’Avignon
An Avignon visit is not complete without a visit to this famous bridge! You may never have heard of the Pont Saint-Bénézet but most likely you know of this bridge by its other name, the Pont d’Avignon. One of the best Avignon attractions is this medieval bridge, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which famously spans only half the width of the mighty Rhône River. Constructed in the 12th century, only four of its original 22 arches remain today. With the majestic backdrop of Avignon’s Papal Palace and the Rhône River flowing by, I was thrilled to stroll along humming my childhood song, “Sur le Pont d’Avignon, L’on y danse…”
Why is this famous bridge called le Pont Saint-Bénézet? A young shepherd named Bénézet saw a vision leading him to build a bridge over the Rhône River in Avignon. Be sure to descend the stairway into the tiny Saint-Bénézet Chapel. Although his bones were originally placed in this small chapel they are no longer there. The chapel is also dedicated to Saint Nicolas, the patron saint of mariners.
Pont Saint-Bénézet Practical Information:
Hours: The Pont d’Avignon is open every day of the year. High Season: March to October 9 am to 7 pm Low Season: November to January 10 am to pm Mid-Season: February 10 am to 6 pm
3. Step Into The Avignon Cathedral
The Avignon Cathedral, or Cathédrale Notre-Dame des Doms d’Avignon is nestled in beside the Palais des Papes. Its towering presence, with a gilded statue of the Virgin Mary watching over the city, hints at the treasures that lie within. Be sure to step inside.
4. Delight In Provençal Gastronomy At The Marché Des Halles
You can’t miss the wall of greenery outside the Marché des Halles in Avignon. It’s inviting you to enter this bustling covered market and delight in the gastronomic pleasures of Provence. With the scent of fresh bread, an array of artisanal cheeses and produce fresh from the fields, this is a critical stop for the gourmand in the group! Be sure to linger and watch the vendors interacting with their regular customers. A stop at the Marché de Halles is the perfect people-watching adventure! Pair it with a coffee and warm croissant, a lunch sitting alongside locals, or a shopping expedition for a picnic in Provence.
Marché Des Halles:
Opening Hours: Closed Mondays
Weekdays: 6 am to 1:30 pm; Weekends: 6 am to 2:00 pm
5. Climb To The Rocher Des Doms
Is the Rocher des Doms worth visiting in Avignon France? This lovely hilltop park has spectacular views over the Rhône River, the Palais des Papes and the Pont d’Avignon, making it one of the best things to do in Avignon. Climb the stairs, marvel at the views, explore the statues and the shady trails, and take a little break at the Buvette Café. Don’t miss the photographic display in this beautiful English-style garden.
6. Wander Avignon’s Cobbled Streets
Oh, charming Avignon! One of the best things to do in Avignon is to wander without a destination in mind or flâner. In fact, it’s a must when you visit Avignon to just explore aimlessly. From its majestic city walls encircling the old town, leafy, picturesque courtyards, and centuries-old architecture, It is impossible not to be swept away by the old town. I fell for Avignon’s coloured shutters, window boxes, towering plane trees, and charming hidden gems. Every time we turned a corner in old town Avignon, another delightful treasure was revealed.
7. Cross The River To L’Ile de la Barthelasse
My daughter and I were determined to cross the Rhône River for a spectacular view of historic Avignon including the Pont d’Avignon, the Palais des Papes, and the Rôcher des Doms. We strolled over the Edouard Daladier Bridge and then wandered along the pathway for great views.
Little did we know that we were on an island! In fact, one of the largest river islands in Europe! We were strolling along l’Ile de la Barthelasse which separates Avignon from the town of Villeneuve-les-Avignon.
Barthelasse island is a peaceful respite, perfect for a bike ride or a picnic, and full of fertile soil, even boasting a distillery that makes fruit brandy!
Pro Travel Tip: There is a free ferry that runs from behind the Pont d’Avignon throughout the day to Barthelasse Island. The crossing takes 5 minutes and pets are welcome.
8. Things To Do In Avignon: Attend A Festival
For three weeks in July, the Avignon Theatre Festival, the Festival d’Avignon, transforms the historic city into a vibrant, artistic mecca where theatre enthusiasts, actors, directors, and playwrights from around the globe gather to showcase their talents and engage in thought-provoking performances. One of the biggest international theatre events, the Avignon Theatre Festival hosts over 400 performances in a variety of venues in Avignon. Imagine being entertained in a leafy square or cobblestone cul de sac. The Avignon Theatre Festival is highly recommended and definitely one of the best things to do in Avignon.
July 2024: Saturday, June 29 to Sunday, July 21
9. Explore Avignon’s Museums
Avignon boasts an array of captivating museums housed in elegant buildings that cater to all interests. Art enthusiasts will love the Musée du Petit Palais, which houses an impressive collection of Italian Renaissance paintings. The most famous painting is Botticelli’s Madonna and Child.
10. Linger At An Outdoor Café
One of the essential things to do in Avignon is to linger. It’s the Provençal lifestyle. Find a beautiful square in Avignon lined with picturesque cafés. The tables and parasols are calling you to savour a meal, a hot coffee or sip a glass of local rosé. It may just be a highlight of your Avignon visit.
11. Plan A Day Trip From Avignon
There are plenty of things to see in Avignon but the city also makes a great base for day trips. Popular day tours from Avignon include:
The Luberon: Perched on rocky outcrops the charming hill towns of the Luberon make for an unforgettable journey through authentic France.
Arles: The Roman ruins and medieval architecture are captivating. Vincent van Gogh was inspired by the city’s beautiful light.
St Remy de Provence: Beyond charming. It just oozes the Provençal vibe. Go on market day.
The Pont Du Gard: A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the three-story Roman aqueduct bridge is an ancient Roman marvel. Spanning the Gardon River, spend a half-day exploring, kayaking under the bridge, or swimming.
The Lavender Fields Of Provence: It’s a magical experience standing in a lavender field in Provence. Just imagine the sweet aroma of lavender that fills the air!
The Camargue: Flamingoes, salt flats, and wild horses. This is the unspoiled beauty of Europe’s largest wetland.
Read More About the Camargue (coming soon)
Vineyards And Wineries: One of France’s premier wine regions is in the Rhône Valley. Local wines are made in the Luberon and the famous Châteauneuf du Pape is near Avignon.
Where To Stay In Avignon
This selection of hotels caters to different budgets and preferences, ensuring a delightful stay in this picturesque Provencal gem.
Pro Travel Tip: if you visiting the city in July, it is essential to book your hotel well in advance due to the crowds that come for the festival.
Hotel d’Europe: When I wandered by this luxury hotel in a 16th century house I knew it would be a winner! This luxury 5-star hotel is in a perfect location for the best things to do in Avignon. And, it is set on a delightful cobbled lane with cafés. Check rates and availability
La Divine-Comédie: This Avignon hotel has exceptional reviews (9.8/10) on Booking.com. with a garden and a pool, this stately mansion is an 8-minute walk to the Palais des Papes. Check rates and availability
Mas de Capelou: If you’d like to stay in a guesthouse in a farmhouse from the 1600’s Mas de Capelou is the place for you! Situated 9 km from the historic centre, you’ll need a car to stay here. Check rates and availability
La Mirande: This hotel is situated right in the historic centre by the Palais des Papes. It’s a charming retreat after a busy day of visiting the Avignon tourist attractions. Check rates and availability
Best Restaurants In Avignon
Where to eat in Avignon?
This question is not hard to answer! Avignon is a gastronomic centre with Michelin-star restaurants, French bistros, cafés, and a great selection of vegetarian restaurants. La Vieille Fontaine, with its one Michelin star, is located in the Hotel d’Europe and is perfect for an exquisite and elegant dining experience. Restaurant Pollen, also awarded one Michelin star, is a favourite with locals and highly reviewed. If you are looking for a homey venue specializing in French Provencal cuisine, why not try the highly recommended Fou de Fafa? Or stop by Hygge for a delightful homemade vegetarian lunch. It was our first stop in Avignon and a great meal!
How To Get To Avignon
By Train: From Paris Gare de Lyon, take the TGV (fast train) which stops at the Avignon TGV station. The trip is about 2h and 40 minutes. Check rates and availability.
There are trains from all over France that will get you to Avignon.
Pro Travel Tip: From the Avignon TGV station, it is a 5-minute train ride to Avignon Centre. The trains run regularly.
By Plane: There are planes that fly from both Paris Charles de Gaulle and Paris Orly to Marseille, Lyon and Montpellier. From each of these cities, a train can be taken to Avignon. Check rates and availability.
By Car: If you are planning an itinerary in Provence, having a car is a great way to see the region. You could rent a car in Paris or another major city or take the train to Avignon and pick up your rental car at the train station. Check rates and availability.
The Mistral Winds In Provence
What I didn’t know was that visiting Avignon Provence France would be my introduction to the famous Mistral wind. My weather app showed a wind emoji. No big deal, I thought. The Mistral is a fierce wind that sweeps down the Rhône Valley, often bringing clear blue skies and a chill to the region. We were freezing and windblown beyond belief! The Mistral was relentless and didn’t stop for five days. Locals will tell you that the Mistral can drive you to madness or inspire a sense of vitality. For me, someone who normally loves the wind, I’m not sure about the vitality theory.
Be warned, a wind emoji might mean a wind-blown trip in Provence France!
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it worth visting Avignon?
Avignon’s unique blend of history, art, gastronomy, and natural beauty makes it truly worth exploring. Read my list of 11 best things to do in Avignon! Avignon offers a rich experience for visitors and a truly authentic taste of Provence.
What is Avignon best known for?
Avignon is best known for its rich historical and cultural heritage and its charming ambience. The city’s most iconic landmark is the Palais des Papes and the annual Avignon Festival attracts theatre lovers from around the world.
How many days in Avignon is enough?
There is no shortage of experiences in Avignon. Whether one chooses to spend a weekend or a week in Avignon, each day will be full of new discoveries. A short stay in Avignon will leave you wanting more!
Can you walk around Avignon?
One of the delightful things to do in Avignon is explore the old town on foot! Wearing comfortable walking shoes as many of the streets are cobbled. Walking around historic Avignon is one of the best ways to be swept away by its charm.
Should I stay in Avignon or Aix en Provence as a base for exploring Provence?
I have used both cities as a base for exploring Provence and rented a car both times so that I could access the Luberon Hill towns, lavender fields, Arles, and the Camargue. Both historic centres of Avignon and Aix-en-Provence are unforgettable.
Travelling To Provence?
These 11 best things to do in Avignon might leave you tempted to explore more of Provence. You might also like:
- This 7-day Itinerary in Provence
- How To Kayak The Gorges du Verdon
- The enchanting town of Moustiers Sainte Marie
- The Calanques de Cassis and Cassis
- The fabulous cities of Arles and Aix-en-Provence
- Bormes les Mimosas: An enchanting hilltop town on the French Riviera.
I hope you enjoy these 11 best things to do in Avignon and are swept away by this enchanting city as I was.
Until next time,