Known as the gateway of Provence, Avignon is a popular base for exploring the wider region. It’s often chosen as a convenient place to stay, but once visited, it wins people over and becomes a firm favourite in its own right.
A city in name, the inner heart of Avignon feels more like a lively village in reality. Behind the beautifully preserved ramparts lay streets bursting with history, alive with the sound of music, and adorned with art. It’s a city that will seduce you and have you yearning to return.
At first glance, it may appear there aren’t too many things to do in Avignon. Indeed, most of the guides I’ve come across include more day trips from Avignon, than information about what to do in the city itself! But if you just want to stay put and enjoy what the city has to offer for a few days, or a few weeks, there’s plenty to keep you busy during a holiday in Avignon.
Top Avignon Attractions
With so many things to do in Avignon and the surrounds, I’ve decided to focus this list on the central city area. If you’re looking for more inspiration for things to do in Provence, check out my 7-day South of France itinerary, Day Trips from Aix, and Day Trips from Avignon articles.
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#1 PONT D’AVIGNON
When we first arrived in France, I bought an antique painting featuring a pretty bridge adorned with a petite chapel. It wasn’t until we moved to Provence a year later, that I recognised it as Avignon’s Pont Saint-Bénézet (often simply called Pont d’Avignon).
Once an important connection between the papal state of Comtat Venaissin and France, the bridge traversed the entire 900m over the Rhône river. After the original wooden version was destroyed, a stone version with 22 arches was rebuilt in its place. But over time, the river eroded the bridge’s iconic arches and they would collapse under the pressure of the swelling river.
4 arches and the Chapel of Saint Nicholas are all that remain of the once-stately bridge. Immortalised by the French song ‘Sur le Pont d’Avignon’ the bridge has earned a special place in the hearts of many, both in France and abroad.
To visit, you need to buy a ticket (purchase at the same time as you buy your ticket to the Pope’s palace for the best price). But the best views of the bridge itself are from above at the Rocher des Doms, or below on the île de la Barthelasse.
#2 RUE DES TEINTURIERS
If you entered the walls of the old city another way, you may never even know this little treasure existed. I’d visited Avignon plenty of times before, but it wasn’t until I stayed overnight in the city that I learned of the street of the waterwheels – rue des Teinturiers.
This utterly charming corner of Avignon was once the heart of the town’s textile industry. And the narrow arm of the Sorgue River that flows here was the driving force. Nowadays its values are mainly aesthetic, but four waterwheels still adorn the street as a memento of the once flourishing trade.
The street extends from the town walls through to Rue des Lices – in the direction of the centre ville. Walking down through the street, you’ll pass under the leafy sycamore trees alongside the canal. Dainty footbridges allow access to the historic residences on the one side, while the other is brimming with cafés whose terraces spill out onto the cobbled lane.
Notable buildings on the street include the Maison du IV de Chiffre – one of the oldest houses in Avignon, built in a gothic style. The Pénitents Gris d’Avignon – a beautiful chapel and home to the oldest brotherhood in Avignon. And the Couvent des Cordeliers which is all that remains of what was once one of the biggest churches in Avignon.
#3 PALAIS DES PAPES
No trip to Avignon would be complete without visiting the majestic Pope’s Palace. The largest gothic palace in the world, the Palais des Papes dominates the Avignon cityscape and draws all eyes to its grand towers and angular battlements.
While you can certainly appreciate the palace from the outside – perhaps while sipping a café creme in the square out front – you’ll appreciate it all the more after taking a tour of the interior. Admire the 14th-century frescoes and pick up a histopad (included in the admission price) to reveal what the empty rooms and chapels of the palace once looked like.
It’s an interactive experience that makes the tour so much more informative and enjoyable. By paying for admission, you’ll also be able to scale one of the palace’s towers for incredible views over the city, the river Rhône, the île de la Barthelasse and beyond.
#4 FERRY TO L’ÎLE DE LA BARTHELASSE
Separating Avignon from Villeneuve-les-Avignon is the island of Barthelasse. A peaceful sanctuary just a stone’s throw from the bustling city centre, it’s the perfect place to have a picnic, a riverside stroll, or a leisurely bike ride.
To get there, you can simply walk or drive over the Édouard Daladier bridge, or take the more scenic route with the free ferry service. The navette fluviale leaves from behind the Pont d’Avignon, near the base of the stairs to the Rocher des Doms, at regular intervals throughout the day.
The schedule varies per the seasons and is listed at the entrance to the dock. Dogs and bikes are permitted on the ferry also.
Among the largest river islands in Europe, the fertile soil of Barthelasse Island is laced with orchards and vineyards, and it provides the perfect habitat for many species of wildlife. Visit the Manguin Distillery to taste the exquisite fruit brandy on offer, have lunch on the terrace at Le Bercail, and pick up some locally grown produce direct from one of the farm-gate stores.
If you want to extend your stay on the island, La Bastide des Anges provides a farmhouse setting in which to get to know the island more intimately.
#5 LOSE YOURSELF IN THE OLD CITY STREETS
Avignon’s historic centre is an attraction in itself. One of the best ways to kill a few hours is to stroll the streets without an agenda and see what treasures you unveil. Duck into lanes to find hidden galleries, walk through ancient stone archways to discover sheltered gardens and climb stone stairs for the best views over the city.
In reality, it’s actually quite hard to get lost, as inevitably you’ll stumble across a landmark or the imposing city walls. And it’s a beautiful way to get acquainted with the Southern city and to admire the history that’s still etched into the buildings and cobblestone streets.
Deep within the city walls is a pedestrian area where ambling takes on an even more leisurely manner. Pop into the stores that catch your eye, grab an ice cream to cool off and pause to give the storekeeper’s dog a belly rub…
#6 LES HALLES FOOD MARKET
Is there a market in the world more romanticised than that of a traditional Provençal market?
Provence is famous for its markets (and perhaps the lifestyle they represent) and Avignon is home to one of the most famous markets in the region. Les Halles is its name, and unlike most markets, it’s a permanent fixture in the city’s landscape.
The somewhat industrial-looking building that houses the iconic Avignon market belies the delightful scenes that meet you within. The indoor market is brimming with local delights – ranging from delicately prepared pastries right through to produce still speckled with the dirt it was plucked from hours before.
Much more than a market, Les Halles is a meeting point, a one-stop-shop, and as some might say, the heart of the community. Open Tuesday through Sunday, it’s positively bustling on weekends. Particularly on Saturday mornings when local chefs give live demonstrations of their expertise.
#7 ROCHER DES DOMS
In an otherwise level city, the raised Rocher des Doms gardens offer a fresh perspective and a unique vantage point. Rising almost ethereally from the banks of the Rhône, a stone stairway leads the path to this enchanting garden.
Despite its elevated position, the treescape of Rocher des Doms provides a welcome respite from the sun, or protection from the mightiest of mistral winds. This makes it suitable for visiting all year round. But it’s in the warmer months that it really shines.
Sit and sip rosé at the café terrace, relax on a bench next to the pond, or take a stroll to one of the lookout points for unbeatable views over the Pont Saint-Bénézet and towards Villeneuve-lès-Avignon with its unmistakable hilltop fort.
To get there, take the stairs from the Boulevard de la Ligne or from behind the palace on Rue des Escaliers Sainte-Anne, or walk up and around the Avignon Cathedral. If you’re feeling less energetic, there’s also a little tourist train that will take you on a short tour of the old town and Rocher des Doms gardens for €9. Catch it from outside the Pope’s Palace.
#8 FESTIVALS OF AVIGNON
Every July, the streets of Avignon are alive with the sights and sounds of dance, music and theatre performances throughout the city. The official Festival d’Avignon is the oldest festival in France and draws in thousands of visitors from around the world. While the festival most famously takes place in the courtyard of the Palais des Papes, it also spills out into other unsuspecting corners and crannies around the historic city.
The existence of a second festival, the Off Festival, running almost concurrently with the main festival, means every park, courtyard, hall and theatre throughout the city is abuzz with excitement.
With so much going on, it’s easy to get overwhelmed if you try to do too much. I recommend instead to chose a couple of ‘must-see’ shows and then let the others lure you in as you take in the atmosphere on the streets. Due to the popularity of the festival, accommodation within Avignon in July is booked up fast, so get in quick if you plan on attending this artistic spectacle.
#9 ART & HISTORY MUSEUMS
In a city so entrenched in history as Avignon, it’s no surprise that museums and galleries take centre stage. Find yourself in a world of art and grandeur, where often the buildings housing the exhibits are as attractive as the works displayed within.
Pop into the Musée du Petit Palais to view one of the most revered collection of medieval art in the world. Visit Musée Angladon for ancient archaeological findings of Greek, Roman and Paleo-Christian influence. Or bear witness to some of the greatest artwork produced by local artists – including Van Gogh, Picasso and Cézanne – at the Musée Angladon.
Many of Avignon’s museums are free to visit – making them accessible for all to enjoy. You can download a map of where to find the various Museums of Avignon here.
#10 FIND UNIQUE TREASURES TO TAKE HOME
Within Avignon’s walled city you’ll find a plethora of beautiful boutiques and shops. Alongside the usual suspects (the big name brands synonymous with any high street), there are independent stores selling everything from regional goods to antique treasures.
Head to the city’s pedestrian-only zone to browse the beautiful stores and indulge in some window shopping. Pop into CQFD for a bespoke collection of French-made and eco-friendly gift and homewares (I could spend all day in this stunning store!). Les Délices du Luberon for all your Provençal foodie finds. Le Château du Bois (also featured in my Provence Gift Guide) for the finest lavender products. Or Vox Populi for the very finest interior decoration by designer Pascale Palun – presented in an exquisite showroom.
If bargain hunting is more your style, head to the weekly brocante staged outside Les Halles every Tuesday and Thursday.
Where to eat in Avignon
Avignon is an exciting gastronomic hub. Not only is it home to several Michelin starred restaurants, but the city’s chefs are known to delight with their clever and often innovative creations.
Whether you’re wanting to try home-cooked regional specialities, upmarket French cuisine, or low key bistro fare, Avignon does it all – and well. Pop into Pollen for an ever-changing, seasonal menu in a comforting atmosphere. Savour a meal in the sumptuous surroundings of La Mirande. Or book a table at the crowd-pleasing Fou de Fafa (anyone else singing along to this Flight of the Concords song right now?!) to satiate the taste buds.
For visiting vegans, there are surprisingly plenty of options too. La Cantine du Nid offers healthy options in a relaxed atmosphere, the Coeur d’Artichaut has plenty of options for both vegan and gluten-free diets, and those looking for a more discerning dining experience can visit the Hotel de l’Europe for the vegetal menu.
In between meals, energy levels can be recharged by experiencing France’s café culture in the best way – slowly, and under the shelter of the broad-leaved plane trees in the city’s squares.
Best Avignon Tours
Sometimes you just want to see the best bits of a city without having to worry about logistics – and that’s absolutely fine! If that sounds like you, here are my picks of the best tours in Avignon.
3 Hour Walking & Wine Tasting Tour – take a stroll around the ancient city, experience the Pope’s Palace with your own guide, and then finish off with a glass of wine in a secret spot. Perfect for those just in town for the day.
Full Day Tour of Avignon & Côtes du Rhône – those wanting a full day excursion can join this tour that will introduce you to the Pope’s Palace, the historical centre, the Pont d’Avignon, and Les Halles before heading out into the countryside to sample some of the best wines in the region – straight from the cellar.
Le Grand Tour of Provence – short on time but want to experience the very best of Provence during your stay in Avignon? Book yourself into this full-day tour that takes in some of the finest attractions in the region, such as the Pont du Gard, Les Baux de Provence, and the villages of the Luberon.
With so many incredible things to do in Avignon, you’ll have no trouble filling your time in this charming Provençal city. Whether you’re staying for a few days or a few weeks there are boundless opportunities to fall head over heels with one of France’s most loved cities.
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