Avignon is a great center of culture and art located in the Provence, South of France. It’s often called the “City of Popes”, because Avignon was the seat of papal power for over 70 years in the 14th Century. It’s been centuries since the Popes returned to Rome, but you can still see their influence in the beautiful architecture and art that you can find in Avignon to this day. The grand Palais des Papes is an ever-present example of the influence of the Popes in the city. Avignon is also one of the few cities left in France that still has its original medieval ramparts that encircle the city center. Inside the historic city you’ll find a vibrant cultural life, which reaches its climax in July when Avignon plays host to one of the biggest performing arts festivals in Europe. During the rest of the year, the Mediterranean climate, sunny squares filled with café terraces and amazing southern French cuisine make Avignon a city to remember!
In this article, we’ll show you how to make the most of your visit to the city in just 48 hours.
10 am – Explore the Palais des Papes of Avignon
Start your visit to Avignon in the historic city center. The city center inside the ancient city walls is roughly 1.5 km (1 mile) across, so it’s easy to explore Avignon on foot. Make your way to the northern part of the city center and you’ll see the towers of the Palais des Papes, or Papal Palace, rise up above the rooftops. The Papal Palace was built by the Popes around 1309, and is one of the largest medieval Gothic buildings in Europe. Once the home of Popes, today the Palace is a cultural site and one of the most popular tourist attractions in the South of France. You can take a guided tour to fully explore the Palace, or discover the Palais des Papes on your own.
1 pm – Have Lunch in the City Center of Avignon
After your visit to the Papal Palace, walk two blocks south towards the Place de l’Horloge. This is where the City Hall of Avignon is located, and it’s the main square of the city. In winter, the square is turned into one big Christmas Market. In spring and summer, you’ll find many terraces and cafes all around the square. You can choose to have lunch here, though eating at a restaurant some blocks away from the square will be considerably lower in price. Restaurant l’Orangerie on the Place Jerusalem a couple of blocks east of the Place de l’Horloge is a nice small Provincial restaurant with an outdoor terrace. This is also a great area to get some shopping done.
3 pm – See the Cathedral d’Avignon and the Rocher des Doms
Head back north towards the Papal Palace, and keep walking. Just behind the Palais des Popes you’ll find the Notre Dame des Doms, or the Cathedral of Avignon. You’ll easily recognize it by its gilded statue of the Virgin Mary on top of the Cathedral. Inside the church you’ll find many works of art, including the mausoleum of Pope John XXII.
Behind the Cathedral lies the park Rocher des Doms. This park is located on a hill and is one of the highest points of the city. The view from the top absolutely makes up for the steep climb. Enjoy the panoramic views of the city walls, the Rhone River and of the four arches of the Saint-Bénezet Bridge, which is our next stop.
4 pm – Avignon’s City Walls and the Pont d’Avignon
When you’re done taking in the views from the Rocher des Doms park, walk down towards the Rhone River. From the banks of the Rhone you’ll get an amazing view of the medieval city wall that surrounds the center of Avignon. Walk west along the bank towards the Saint-Bénezet Bridge. This bridge is better known as the Pont d’Avignon, which is the subject of the old children’s song “Sur le Pont d’Avignon”. The medieval bridge used to span the Rhone River, but nowadays only four arches of the bridge are left.
To get a truly amazing vantage point of the bridge, rent a canoe to explore the Pont d’Avignon from the water! The company that rents the canoes is located on the banks of the Ile de la Barthelasse on the other side of the Rhone River. You can get there by crossing the still intact bridge Edouard Daladier some 500 meters (1600 feet) to the west from the Pont d’Avignon, or you can take a free shuttle ferry across the river to the island.
7 pm – Have Dinner at Home in Your Vacation Rental Apartment
Come home to your own vacation rental apartment in Avignon. By staying in an apartment, you’ll have access to your own fully equipped kitchen where you can enjoy preparing your own French dinner! Avignon has many great food markets where you can pick up groceries. For example, there’s a covered market at the Place Pie right in the city center near the Place de l’Horloge that sells fresh produce and wines every day from 6 am to 1 pm. For some culinary inspiration, check out Famous Southern French Cuisine. By cooking a French dinner in your own apartment you’ll get to feel what it’s like to live in Avignon like a true local, and you’ll also save money by not going out to eat!
10 am – Visit one of Avignon’s many Museums
As a cultural hub, Avignon boasts many fantastic museums. Pick any of the following for a great cultural morning.
- The Musée du Petit Palais is located in a beautiful old bishop’s palace. The museum has a collection of pre-Renaissance Italian paintings that features painters such as Botticelli.
- The Musée Calvet is the fine arts museum of Avignon. Located in the lovely Hotel de Villeneuve-Martignan, this museum includes paintings ranging from the 16th to the 20th century.
- The Musée Angladon is a small impressionist museum that features works of artists such as Van Gogh, Cézanne, Picasso, Maney, Degas and more.
12 pm – Take a Trip out of Town
Go to the Les Halles food market in Avignon to stock up on food and drinks to bring for a picnic on a trip out of town. Les Halles is open every day of the week except Mondays, and features fresh local produce and delicacies. You may also take free cooking lessons here every Saturday at 11 am.
There are several great options for a day trip in the area surrounding Avignon. If you’re a fan of ancient architecture, the Pont du Gard is definitely something to see. Located about 30 kilometers (18 miles) west of Avignon, the Pont du Gard is a three-level aqueduct bridge built entirely out of stone by the ancient Romans around 50 AD. The recently renovated bridge is a marvel to behold, and you can enjoy your picnic on the banks of the Gardon River.
Another great destination for an afternoon trip is the city of Nîmes, located some 40 kilometers (25 miles) west of Avignon. Nîmes is well known for its stunning Roman arena, which was built around 100 AD. You’ll find many more relics of Nîmes’ Roman past in the city, such as a Roman temple and a park filled with Roman waterworks. After your visit to the ancient Roman structures, enjoy dinner at one of the fantastic restaurants in Nîmes.
9 pm – Return to Avignon’s City Center
Spend the evening back in Avignon at one of the many great cafes and bars in the city center. Drink wine with the locals and, if you still have some energy left, walk back to the Rocher des Doms park to watch the sunset over the Rhone River.
Visiting Avignon during the Festival d’Avignon
Ask a local when to visit and they will surely tell you July – the month of the Avignon Festival! Every year, thousands of visitors flock to the city to watch over a 1000 shows hosted by the “in” and “off” festivals. The official In Festival’s main location is the courtyard of the Papal Palace, and features performances by theater groups from all over the world. The Off Festival is the fringe festival of Avignon, and takes place all over the city. This includes the streets, cafes, and basically every other place that can be used for a performance. This makes the month of July an absolutely vibrant time to visit Avignon!
We hope you’ve enjoyed this short tour of Avignon! What’s your favorite city in France?
Related apartment rental posts from New York Habitat:
- Top towns in the South of France: #2 Avignon, Provence
- Hidden Gem: Four-Bedroom Villa in Mollans sur Ouveze, Avignon Region in the South of France
- 48 Hours in and around Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, South of France
- 48 Hours in and around Aix-en-Provence, South of France
- Fall Wine Festival in Avignon, France consider a Bed and Breakfast Accommodation