Visitors to the historic city of Nîmes in the South of France don’t have to spend their euros to get a feel for the city and its history, or to soak up the atmosphere and sample the delights of the local life. Happily, there are lots of sites that cost nothing at all. Read on for our top choices.
Jardins de la Fontaine
Botanical Garden, Ruins, Park
A real highlight in Nimes, Jardins de la Fontaine is a sprawling 17th-century park designed by King Louis XV, who wished to showcase the many Roman ruins and ancient remains in a tranquil, natural setting. The park features plane trees, archways and staircases interwoven with sculptures and grassy corners. The perfect place to escape the South of France heat and to explore some historic former buildings at your own leisure.
Archeological site, Ruins
Maison Carrée is quite something when you approach it. This temple holds the title of having one of the best-preserved façades from the age of the Roman Empire. And it looks it, too. Up close you can see some erosion but it’s generally in an incredible state, with the decorative tops of the columns still holding their own. Visitors can enter the small space to visit the back of the temple, but the real treat is seeing it from a distance.
Cities across France will often have a covered marketplace at its heart. Locals come in the morning to buy their bread for the day, stock up on olive oil or ham, and purchase a special cut of beef for the weekend meal. Produce is seasonal and regional, if not from just a few minutes away. Les Halles in Nimes is just such a place and whatever time of year you’re visiting, make sure to wander its aisles, treat yourself at a café, and get a sense of authentic local life.
Standing so casually amid modern Nimes are the archways where The Via Domitia route – the first Roman road linking Italy to Spain – passed under. Porte Auguste was part of the Nîmes Roman wall and was one of the main gates to the city. The two larger middle gates were for road ‘traffic’ and the smaller two on either side were for pedestrians.
Tour Magne is actually a pre-Roman building, which was developed under the rule of the first Roman emperor, Augustus. It stands at the highest point of Nimes at Mont Cavalier, dominating the land beneath. There’s a fee to climb the tour, which for most of the year is actually quite busy. For the free option, wind your way up the roads to the tour and enjoy it from the outside with the incredible views.
Covering over three hectares of the city center, the sprawling and leafy Esplanade Charles-de-Gaulle is an historic and much-loved part of the city. Dating back to the 16th century, the esplanade was initially designed as a point where the artillery guns could be exercised. In the 19th century, it was made into the pretty pedestrianised space similar to today. At its center is the Pradier fountain.