Montpellier is an exciting city in the South of France, an excellent location in the country from where visitors can explore Provence, Camargue and many other beautiful areas. The city itself has no shortage of things to do, with fun museums, cobbled streets and tempting restaurants. Here’s our guide to the top things to do in Montpellier.
The Place de la Comédie is the center of Montpellier, close to the city’s main train station, easily accessible by tram and a perfect location from which to explore everything that Montpellier has to offer. The imposing building at one end of the square is the city’s Opera, and there are also many cute French cafes and cinemas lining the sides. At another end there is a shopping mall with some exciting French stores, and in front lies the Esplanade, a beautiful green area where there is a relaxing pond. The city’s main art museum is also located here, and the winding streets that lead from the Place de la Comédie upwards are great for shopping.
The city’s cathedral is spectacular; gazing upwards at the awe-inspiring towers is an almost dizzying experience. The Cathédrale St Pierre is Montpellier’s most important Gothic building, situated right in the middle of the old town. This Roman Catholic church is free to visit and has beautiful glass windows lining the cross, a stunning organ built in wood and gold and a spectacular altar. It was founded in 1364 although it was only declared a cathedral in the 16th century.
Also known as the Royal Square of Peyrou, this designates the part of the city leading from the elegant Arc de Triomphe to the magnificent Château d’eau. It is the work of Etienne Giral and his son Jean-Antoine, although the castle-like building with Corinthian pillars that stands on top of the romantic pond was designed by Henri Pitot in 1768. Behind it visitors will be able to observe one of Montpellier’s Roman aqueducts, a wonderful work of art that is beautifully preserved to this day.
Montpellier has four tramlines, and the city is aiming to expand this by adding at least one more in the next couple of years. The last stop on tram number three takes visitors to the beach for a very modest price. There they can rent some of the city’s Velomags (bicycles to hire by the hour or by the day) and either cycle to the shore, or opt for a leisurely stroll. Clear waters, soft sand and lots of sun make this a perfect excursion for spring or summer days.
French cuisine is renowned around the world for its elegance and sophistication, and Montpellier has much to offer in that regard. Visitors will be able to dine at Michelin-starred restaurants, explore typical neighborhood locales and delight in the careful presentation at fine-dining restaurants. They will also be able to eat delicious Argentinian empanadas, cheesy pizzas or yummy cupcakes. Having brunch in Montpellier is a fun experience and a great way of getting to know the city’s cuisine.
The Musée Fabre is the city’s most important museum, housing some excellent works of art. It is located on the Esplanade, by the grand Place de la Comédie, so it is very easy to reach from all parts of the city. Visiting the museum is not a quick affair, since there are always several exhibitions and several floors with admirable paintings and stunning architecture. The museum is free to visit on the first Sunday of every month, so visitors who are in Montpellier then should take advantage and spend a wonderful cultural afternoon here.
Montpellier’s Zoo is undoubtedly one of the city’s best features. Nowadays it is rare to find such attractions for free, let alone one that is so big and exciting. The zoo has everything from giraffes to lions to colorful frogs, and the animals are divided by continents and areas. The only part that requires a ticket is the Amazonian Jungle.
In Montpellier a ‘folie’ describes any house that was used as a secondary home by the aristocracy during the Ancien Regime, and Montpellier used to be one of the most important cities in France in terms of medicine, so many rich noblemen had mansions built on the city’s outskirts. The Château de Flaugergues is one of these ‘folies’, and it is considered by many to be the most original one in the city. The gardens are particularly beautiful, making this spectacular building worth a visit.
One of the best ways of getting to know a city is always wandering around the old town without a map, choosing random streets and exploring the area. In Montpellier this is particularly easy to do, as visitors will soon become enthralled by the picturesque cobbled streets that wind around the city center, lined by quirky French cafes and cute little stores. Shopping for souvenirs, eating macaroons, tasting some crêpes or even just practicing French in these tiny streets will make for an unforgettable evening.
Jardin des Plantes
Last on our list is the Jardin des Plantes, the city’s very own botanical garden. Montpellier has a rich history as a medicinal city, and in the olden days many of the country’s richest people would come down to Montpellier for its sea breeze and supposedly talented doctors. Nowadays the Jardin des Plantes is no longer used for medicinal purposes, but it still houses a vast array of plants, which are fascinating to explore. It is free to visit, so it is an ideal place for a relaxing morning stroll.