Located in South-West France, Avignon is a town which to many, embodies what they expect from a French holiday. Fine food, stunning sights and a certain rustic charm that people just associate with France even in the cities. As such, it is an excellent place to go if you want to get a feel for “la vraie France”, and it has plenty of appeal for casual holiday-makers and travel buffs alike.
Read on to find out about the best things to do in Avignon, France.
1. See where history happened: Palais des Papes
Avignon is in the historian’s mind, inextricably linked with the period between 1309 and 1370 when, instead of Rome, it was the seat of the Catholic papacy. Between those dates, a total of seven popes, all French, resided in Avignon as a result of the ill-feeling between King Philip IV and the preceding popes.
The Palais des Papes is where these seven “Avignon Popes” reigned. For your 15.50 EUR (17.50 USD), you can see the wonders of the largest Gothic building constructed in the Middle Ages. Note, as you walk around, how the sections built for Pope Clement VI are markedly more extravagant than other sections - a nod to his taste for the finer things.
Palais des Papes
Address: Place du Palais, 84000 Avignon
Website: Palais des Papes
2. Dance to a song about the Pont Saint-Bénézet
If there is one thing that leaps to mind for most English-speakers on mention of Avignon, it will typically be the famous song “Sur Le Pont D’Avignon” (On The Bridge of Avignon). Pont Saint-Bénézet is that bridge (and it’s worth making the distinction, as there are a few bridges over the Loire as it flows through Avignon).
The original bridge was built between 1177 and 1185, and was then destroyed by the forces of Louis VIII. The four arches that have stood until today are a remnant from Pope Clement’s 1345 rebuilding, and remain visually stunning.
Address: Pont d'Avignon, Boulevard de la Ligne, 84000 Avignon
Website: Pont Saint-Bénézet
3. Witness the wonders of Cathédrale Notre-Dame des Doms
If the Palais des Papes is Avignon’s Vatican City, then Notre-Dame des Doms is its St. Peter’s Basilica. Along with the Palais des Papes and Pont Saint-Bénézet, the cathedral was classified in 1995 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Entry is free, which is also nice.
It is, of course, architecturally beautiful. One of those popes, John XXII, was buried here in a Gothic mausoleum in 1334. Along with that mausoleum, an 1859 gilded statue of Mary, Mother of Jesus sits atop the clocher, making for some of the most prestigious artwork in all of France.
Cathédrale Notre-Dame des Doms
Address: Place du Palais, 84000 Avignon
Website: Cathédrale Notre-Dame des Doms
4. Get a taste of Avignon with gourmet city tours
By now, your brain will be pretty well-nourished and your mind may creep to your stomach. This is France, after all. Food matters. Fortunately, there are daily tours of the region which introduce you to the best Avignon has to offer in food and wine. And considering the area includes Chateauneuf du Pape, you can be assured that the wine will be spectacular.
With the half-day morning tours costing 59 EUR for adults (that’s 66 USD) and including no fewer than ten tastings - including artisanal chocolate - this will be a no-brainer for gastronome voyagers.
Avignon Gourmet Tours
Address: 40 Rue Saint-Christophe, 84000 Avignon
Website: Avignon Gourmet Tours
5. Clock in at the Place de l’Horloge
On arriving here, you may glance around for the Clock Tower from which this square takes its name. In truth, you can barely see it from here, but don’t let that put you off a visit. The square is surrounded by restaurants and cafes, and fills regularly with locals for major occasions such as the Christmas Market. This is the perfect place to stop, have a bite to eat or drink, and prepare your inner compass for the next excursion.
Place de l'Horloge
Address: Place de l'Horloge, 84000 Avignon
Website: Place de l'Horloge
6. Swap artisans for artists at Musée Calvet
While religious history is a vital part of the story of Avignon, the historian need not find themselves bombarded with just one side of the past here. The Musée Calvet is filled with fascinating pieces for those interested in archaeology, fine art and Egyptology too. The museum itself is located chiefly in an 18th-century mansion with a beautifully appointed courtyard and garden. Entry is free for kids, and even at full price just 6 EUR (less than 7 USD) for grown-ups.
Address: 65 Rue Joseph Vernet, 84000 Avignon
Website: Musée Calvet (in French)
7. Admire the beauty of l'Église Saint Didier
Also known as “La Collegiale Saint-Didier d’Avignon”, this gothic church was constructed in the mid 14th-century during the Avignon papacy. It stands in much the same form today, with artworks from the 15th-century taking pride of place on the interior. One sculpture, of Jesus carrying the cross by Francesco Laurana, is believed to be one of the earliest examples of the Renaissance style anywhere in the world.
I'Église Saint Didier
Address: 10 Place Saint-Didier, 84000 Avignon
Website: I'Église Saint Didier
8. Pass through la Porte de la Republique
Any visit to a city with the history of Avignon would not be complete without a visit to the ancient city walls, which are found in this case just opposite the exit from the central train station. The Porte de la Republique forms the gate into the main city, with Avignon’s centre just a short trip down the Cours Jean Jaures from here.
Porte de la Republique
Address: Rue de la Republique, 84000 Avignon
Website: Porte de la Republique
9. Back to the palace: Musée du Petit Palais
While the Palais des Papes may be the centerpiece and key memento of the Avignon papacy, le “Petit Palais” nearby is now home to a museum built in 1976 and houses paintings from artists as prestigious as Carpaccio and Botticelli (whose Madonna with Child hangs here). This is an excellent place to round off your stay in Avignon. Don’t make the mistake of seeing it in the same trip as the Palais des Papes, as a true appreciation of it requires your full attention - which may be difficult on tired feet and a full head!
Musée du Petit Palais
Address: Palais des Archevêques, Place du Palais, 84000 Avignon
Website: Musée du Petit Palais
Avignon: a city of simple and diverse joys!
Avignon has plenty of charm and conventional treats to keep anyone amused on a short jaunt. While its importance as a historic location is certainly what makes it stand out, there’s more than that to be found here. Your eyes, your mind and your stomach will be in agreement that it’s a trip worth making.
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