Reasons Why You Should Visit Avignon, France

The Palace of the Popes is one of Avignon's can't-miss attractions
The Palace of the Popes is one of Avignon's can't-miss attractions | © BTWImages / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Alexis James
24 August 2021

Culture and history converge in the west of Provence, as the small city of Avignon leaves a big impression. Its medieval streets and historic buildings have inspired everyone from Catholic popes to dancing schoolchildren, with both a bridge and a palace deemed worthy of Unesco’s prestigious World Heritage status. You may go for the storied architecture and endless panoramas, but you’ll stay for the buzz and warmth of a creative city that wears its arty heart on its sleeve. Here are our top reasons to visit.

Admire Le Pont d'Avignon

Bridge
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An old bridge that used to cross the River Rhone at Avignon, Provence, France.  The Pont Saint-Benezet also known as the Pont d'Avignon. Broken Bridge
© Stuart Crump / Alamy Stock Photo
A city landmark, Avignon’s bridge is actually called Le Pont Saint-Bénézet, named after the 12-year-old shepherd who believed he was instructed by God to build it in 1177. But, thanks to a 15th-century nursery rhyme that has somehow become famous around the world, its unofficial name has stuck. You’ll do well to take in the view without overhearing some jolly soul singing or whistling the tune, and as the lyrics encourage dancing on the bridge, it’s not uncommon to see tourists doing exactly that.

Take a nose around Le Palais des Papes

Archaeological site, Building, Monastery, Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark
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Palais des Papes / Palace of the Popes, Place du Palais, Avignon, Provence, France, Europe
© Martin Thomas Photography / Alamy Stock Photo
One of the most popular visitor attractions in all of France, this 14th-century fortress was once the centre of the Christian world. In total, nine popes lived here before the papacy returned to Rome, and it remains the largest gothic palace in the world. An organised tour includes 25 rooms comprising grand halls, dining rooms and private living quarters. More than 15,000sqm, the palace covers an area equivalent to four gothic cathedrals. What’s especially remarkable is that it all took just 20 years to build.

Amble around Le Rocher des Doms

Natural Feature
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Rocher des Doms Vineyard overlooks the Rhone River and Point Saint-Benezet or Le Pont d Avignon, an interesting bridge built only halfway in France.
© Carol Di Rienzo Cornwell / Alamy Stock Photo
Avignon’s headline acts may be its architectural feats, but we’ve got nature to thank for the best view of both. This rocky outcrop, nearly 100 feet above the Rhone river, ensures magnificent views over the city, and further afield towards Mont Ventoux. The leafy public garden at the summit is free to wander, and makes a perfect spot for a picnic. Footpaths meander past statues, ponds and playgrounds – and if you’re not in the mood for walking, there’s a small tourist train to transport you.

Ferry over to Île de la Barthelasse

Natural Feature
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France, Vaucluse, Avignon, ile de La Barthelasse, chemin des Berges
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It takes less than 10 minutes to cross the Rhone to Barthelasse island, thanks to a free shuttle ferry that runs from the dock near the Pont d’Avignon. You can board with your bike – the sparsely populated island is a hit among cyclists, and much of its 1,700-acre sprawl is perfect for pedalling around. It’s also a great place for bird-watching, with cormorants, grey herons and hawks all native to the island. There’s also an open-air Olympic pool, the splendidly named La Vie est Belle (life is beautiful).

Explore Musée Louis Vouland

Museum
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Musee Louis Vouland sign on the Villeneuve-Esclapon mansion facade housing the museum, Avignon, France
© Jason Knott / Alamy Stock Photo
Local businessman Louis Vouland was an avid collector of 17th- and 18th-century decorative art, who requested that his stunning townhouse on Rue Victor Hugo, along with his cherished collection, be open to the public following his death. Step inside to admire tapestries and paintings by Provençal artists, faience pottery from all over France, luxury gold and silverware, and elegant Parisian furniture including Louis XV cabinets. It’s open Tuesday to Sunday, and there are workshops, exhibitions and concerts throughout the year.

Celebrate Le Festival d'Avignon

Music Venue
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Avignon, France. 22nd July, 2017. An actor and an actress perform in a scene of "Juliette, le commencement" during the 71st Festival d'Avignon in Avignon, France, on July 22, 2017. The Festival d'Avignon was created by French writer and theater actor Jean
© Xinhua / Alamy Stock Photo
If you’re in Avignon in July, you’ve a good chance of stumbling upon its annual festival, one of the biggest performing-arts events in France. Shakespeare’s phrase “All the world’s a stage” comes to mind – any nook and cranny of the city may be transformed into a theatrical setting on any given day. The courtyard at the Palais des Papes is one of the more striking venues, while previous performances have also been held in the University gardens, the Boulbon quarry and even the city prison.

Shop for produce in Les Halles d'Avignon

Market
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A cookery class tasting ingredients at Les Halles indoor market of Avignon, Provence, France
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France’s passion for its produce is world-famous, and this fervour is evident every morning (except Mondays) at Les Halles d’Avignon. There are more than 40 stalls at this vibrant covered market, and the roof amplifies the din of feverish exchanges between traders and customers. You’ll certainly spend a few euros here if you turn up on an empty stomach, but with oysters, saucisson and cheese among the market’s Provençal specialities, you won’t have any regrets. Top tip: get there first thing after 6am for the heavenly smell of freshly baked baguettes.

Find peace in Notre-Dame des Doms

Cathedral
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France, Vaucluse, Avignon, Place du Palais des Papes, Palais des Papes listed as World Heritage by UNESCO, Notre Dame des Doms
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In a city renowned for its historic buildings, Avignon’s Cathedral, founded in 1150, is among the oldest and most storied. Restored sporadically since, it exhibits a unique blend of Roman, baroque and gothic architectural styles. Its noted golden Virgin Mary, who keeps watch over the bell tower, was introduced in 1859, while its most recent renovation, in 2016, revealed wall frescoes from the 13th century. Inside, you’ll find grandiose paintings by 17th-century Avignon artist Nicolas Mignard, along with the tomb of Avignon’s third Pope, Benedict XII.

Absorb ancient history in Musée Lapidaire

Museum
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Baroque Facade (1620) of the Musee Lapidaire or Archeological Museum, in the former Chapel of a Jesuit College, Avignon Provence France
© Chris Hellier / Alamy Stock Photo
You’ll find this engrossing lapidary museum a seven-minute walk south of the Palais des Papes on the Rue de la République, close by Avignon’s tourist information centre. Permanent collections comprise Greek, Etruscan, Roman, Gallic and Paleo-Christian antiquities. It’ll take you around an hour to admire all the sculptures, urns and jewels, and don’t forget to admire the 17th-century facade of the building – which was once the chapel of the Jesuit college.

Contemplate the war dead in Cimetière Saint-Véran


Cemetery
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The many graves of renowned figures – singers, rock stars, writers, fighters – at this centuries-old cemetery share similarities with those of Paris’s Père-Lachaise. There are more than 12,000 resting places spread across 14 hecatres, and such is the intricacy and splendour of some of the sculptures that guided tours are organised by the tourist office. You’ll be shown the memorial that honours France’s fallen heroes during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. Albert Severin Roche – France’s most decorated soldier from World War I – is also buried here.
These recommendations were updated on August 24, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh. This article is an updated version of a story created by Alexis James

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