What to visit in Avignon ?
View of Avignon © planetrail.co.uk
Avignon is a town located in Provence in France, capital city of the Vaucluse department and connected to Marseille via the TGV in just 30 minutes. This city, nicknamed “City of the Popes”, has a rich history and cultural life, and is a must see for your trip to Provence. It has a great location, at the foot of the rock of the Doms and it is crossed by the Rhône river, which gave the town its ancient name (“Aouenion”, the “city of the river”). In one day, you can easily visit its historic city center inside the ramparts, within walking distance, to travel to the historical past of the city. Its incredible historical and cultural heritage attracts many tourists and artists every year. Indeed, it has preserved many vestiges of its past: ramparts, palaces of the popes, steeples, mansions of the Renaissance, chapels, churches …
In addition to its historic side, Avignon is known worldwide for its famous contemporary theater festival which takes place there every year. This cultural event of great importance attracts visitors from all over the world.
Finally, Avignon is at the meeting point of two extremely famous vineyards: the Southern Rhône Valley vineyard, with the prestigious appellation Châteauneuf du Pape, and the Provence vineyard, with the Les Baux de Provence vineyard.
If you’re wondering if you should visit Avignon, and what to visit there and around, you will find here reasons to visit this city with a list of top things to do in Avignon and its region.
Le Palais des Papes
This former residence of the Popes is the emblematic building of the city and provides evidence of the importance of Avignon in the Christian world in the Middle Ages. Seven popes succeeded one another there, explaining why the city used to be qualified as “second Rome”.
The Palais des Papes welcomes 600,000 visitors a year and is one of the 10 most visited monuments in France. It is the largest Gothic monument in Europe (total area of 15,000m2) and you will for sure be impressed by this massive and majestic building. The Palace is located on the prestigious Place des Palais-des-Papes, in front of the Hôtel des Monnaies, an imposing Baroque building with a rich 17th century Italian façade. Its construction roughly lasted twenty years in the 14th century (between 1335 and 1342). It was built in two stages mainly by two popes builders who were Benedict XII and his successor Clement VI, which explains its architectural heterogeneity.
Le Palais des Papes © lefrancofil.com
The palace is organized in two adjoining buildings, centered around their own inner courtyard. On one side, the Old Palace (Palais Vieux) was built on the order of Benedict and is characterized by a sober architecture. On the other side, the New Palace (Palais Neuf) was built under Pope Clement VI, and its sumptuous appearance is really different from the other palace. Indeed, this palace has a smoother Gothic style, with many details, and houses the private apartments of the Pope decorated by splendid frescoes of the Italian artist Matteo Giovannetti.
You can visit many parts. Opposite the entrance, you will see the Pope’s Tower which contained his treasure and precious documents. Inside, you will visit many rooms of different natures and styles. For example, the Grand Tinel is a banquet hall where legendary banquets were held and the Consistoire is a place where meetings were held between the pope and the cardinals on political and religious issues. The Terrasse des Grands Dignitaires offers you a magnificent panorama on the Palace, the city and the river. The entrance of the Palace is at 11 € the full price.
Giovannetti frescoes at Saint-Martial Chapel © avignon-saintmartial.blogspot.com
If you have the chance to be in Avignon in August or September, you should not miss the “Les Luminescences d’Avignon” show which will make you live an incredible and magical moment. It takes place at night in the honor courtyard of the Palais des Papes. This monumental show accompanied by music, words and lights will take you on a 360° journey to make you live the historical past of the palace, the city and the region. To attend the show, the full price is 12 €.
“Les Luminescences” d’Avignon © francetvinfo.fr
Notre-Dame des Doms cathedral
Located right next to the Palais des Papes, the Notre-Dame des Doms cathedral is the oldest religious building in the city. Its construction was completed in the 12th century. Its bell tower is surmounted by a huge statue of Virgin Mary covered with a golden layer dating from the middle of the 19th century, which protects the city. The cathedral is also notable for its rich Baroque-style organ or its Romanesque altar. Inside, it is decorated by the 17th century paintings of Nicolas Mignard and beautiful windows.
The inside of the Notre-Dame des Doms cathedral © flickr.com
The Doms Garden is a few steps away from the cathedral. It was built at the top of the rock of Doms, about thirty meters above the Rhône river. It is a pleasant public park, embellished with fountains, ponds and statues that offers an exceptional view on the old town, the river and the entire region up to Mont Ventoux and Villeneuve les Avignon.
Jardin des Doms, Doms garden © wikipedia
Saint Bénezet bridge
This legendary bridge is known throughout the world thanks to the children’s song “Sur le Pont d’Avignon”, whose origins date back to the 15th century. It was built in the 12th century, but damaged and rebuilt several times as a result of wars or because of its low resistance to the current of the river. UNESCO World Heritage Site with the Pope’s Palace since 1995, it attracts more than 400,000 visitors a year. There are now only 4 arches out of the 22 it originally had and a cute chapel Saint Nicholas. So it’s really just a piece of bridge.
You can immerse yourself in its history by visiting the permanent exhibition in the museum space “Le Pont Retrouvé”. There, you will have interactive animations on its history and its construction as well as a digital creation where the bridge appears in 3D. The full price of the visit of the bridge is 5 €, possibility to buy a ticket coupled bridge and palace of the pope for 13.50 € the full price.
Avignon bridge, Saint Bénezet bridge © travelonline.com
Petit Palais museum
This museum is located at the very end of the Palace of the Popes Square. It houses the Campana collection. It is an exceptional collection of Italian primitives, gathering diversified canvases from the 13th to the 16th century. One of the most famous paintings is The madonna and child with angels of the great Florentine master Sandro Botticelli. The presentation of works by school and period allows to appreciate the evolution of styles in Italy.
In addition, you will find a selection of Romanesque and Gothic paintings and sculptures from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Despite the dominance of Italian painting, you will also discover the Provençal works of the school of Avignon. Its most famous representative is Enguerrand Quarton, known for its beautiful altarpiece Requin depicting the Virgin and Child between two saints and two donors. The full price of the museum is 6 €.
Petit Palais museum © getyourguide.fr
Historical town center walk
The historical city center is a large pedestrian and shopping area where it is pleasant to have a walk. It is surrounded by the almost 5 kilometers long ancient medieval ramparts dating back to the 14th century. Much of the activity is concentrated along the Rue de la République. This shopping street of the city offers many things to discover: museums, theater, city hall, opera. You will also find there many shops and stores.
The Rue de la République ends with the Place de l’Horloge in front of the Town Hall. The square owes its name to the first municipal clock tower of 1471 which crowned the Town Hall. Two characters parade above the dial of the clock: a soldier wearing an old-fashioned helmet and his fiancée holding a rose in her hand. This lively square is lined with terraces, cafés and restaurants. On the square, you will also be able to see the Grand Avignon Opera, a 19th century building with a beautiful Greco-Roman facade and inside a colorful Italian room.
Place de l’Horloge © carnetdetipiment.com
If the Rue de la République is the center of the city, the Rue des Teinturiers is its historical heart. This cobbled street dating back to the Middle Ages is certainly the favorite place of artists and musicians who gather in wine bars, cafes and restaurants in a romantic atmosphere. Planted with plane trees and following the Sorgue, this picturesque street is appreciated for its freshness in summer. Its name comes from the intense industrial activity of that time. Indeed, the river operated more than 20 water mills that were used for textile production. Only four are still working today.
Rue des Teinturiers © ilpiccolomondodipippo.com
The historical dimension of the city does not prevent it from having some modern places as well. The Lambert Collection is a good example. This museum of contemporary art gathers many works reflecting contemporary currents ranging from conceptual art to photography. It brings together great artists including minimalist and conceptual American artist Sol LeWitt or American photographer Nan Goldin. The full price is 10 €.
Lambert Collection © hidamistral.fr
During your walk, you will probably go through Rue Joseph Vernet which is the most posh of the city. It includes many luxury shops and luxury restaurants. Its aristocratic characteristic is coming from its numerous 17th and 18th centuries town houses with decorated facades.
Avignon “Halles”, covered market © the-veghog.blogspot.fr
The local vineyard
Enjoy your stay in Avignon and go discover the Rhone Valley vineyards. The terroirs of the region benefit from good weather conditions: exceptional sunshine but also wind. The vineyards of the southern Rhône Valley and Provence are bordering Avignon. Each of these terroirs makes it possible to discover very different and famous wines.
We have selected wineries near Avignon that will welcome you to make you visit their estate and discover their wines. You have everything you need here to explore the vineyard!
Wineries and vineyard near Avignon
Firstly, the domaine Mayard is located in the heart of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape village, which is a pretty village surrounded by vineyards, at 20 kilometers north of Avignon. It offers good value for money wines in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation. Enjoy its historical tasting room, dug in the rocks, which was used to be an old cellar. The modern vat house is located a few kilometers away from the winery outside the village.
Vignobles Mayard tasting room, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
The domaine de la Janasse is an other winery of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation, and probably one of the most iconic of this appellation. It is located less than 15 minutes from the village of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. It produces exceptional quality wines and is famous for its classic and traditional wines as well as for its high-end old vines vintages. This is one of the few wineries of the appellation to also produce white wine. You will have the opportunity to taste a wide range of wines, between 10 and 15 different wines representative of their entire range (red, white, rosé, with first prices starting between 6 and 15 €).
Domaine de la Janasse cellars, Courthezon
At 35 kilometers north of Avignon, you can discover the Sang des Cailloux winery in Vacqueyras. If Vacqueyras is less known than Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the production there is growing a lot because of excellent value for money wines. The Sang des Cailloux is a family owned winery where you will be welcomed by one of the owners. The estate does not offer any visit, but you will be able to taste 3 exceptional white and red wines. In addition, the estate has been following the biodynamic viticulture principles for years. Biodynamics is rooted in their DNA and is a real philosophical choice for them.
Sang des Cailloux winery, Vacqueyras
About forty minutes from Avignon, head to Gigondas to discover the Caveau Gabriel Meffre winery. Quality wine tourism experiences are available there, like simple visits and tastings recognized by the Quality Charter “Côtes du Rhône, Terroirs d’Accueil”: the winery is classified “3 feuilles de vigne – distinction oenotourisme”. For the more adventurous, walk through the parcels of vines located at more than 480 meters high at the foot of the lace of Montmiral during a guided tour in SUV !
Caveau Gabriel Meffre – Domaine de Longue Toque, Gigondas
In the south of Avignon lies the domaine Dalmeran winery which welcomes you for a free or commented visit of this winery of Provence. It is located in the Alpilles Regional Natural Park and perfectly fits to its natural setting. There, you will live a moment of harmony in its landscaped park. You will taste several Les Baux de Provence appellation wines. The estate also produces olive oil that you will surely have the opportunity to taste.
Domaine Dalmeran winery, Saint Étienne du Grès
Last but not least, you should visit the Château Mourgues du Grès located at 35 kilometers south of Avignon. It is one of the best producers of wine in the Costières de Nîmes appellation. It offers an excellent value for money range of white wines, red and rosé that is listed in many wine shops and restaurants. The place is very pretty, with a historical hall to accommodate large groups and if not a smaller tasting room that is well appointed and very nice. If the weather is good, the tasting takes place in the garden.
Château Mourgues du Grès tasting room, Costières de Nimes
The Avignon theater Festival
This contemporary theater festival takes place every year during the month of July and is visited by many art lovers from all over the world. The city of the popes then becomes a huge theater. This worldwide famous event was created 70 years ago by Jean Vilar, actor and theater director. The aim of this festival is to introduce contemporary and classical drama to the general public. It is characterized by the mixture of avant garde and tradition, as well as a melting pot of artists coming from different aesthetic universes. Nearly 1400 shows and performances take place in more than 20 different locations in the city, including the Court of Honor of the Palais des Papes. The current festival director Olivier Py wants a festival that is both “a popular festival and a feast of the spirit”.
The Avignon festival in the Palais des Papes Court of Honor © lacourdessens.com
We wish you a nice discovery of Avignon and its region !