The Papal City of Avignon, home to many remarkable cultural sights, is a perfect city for your South of France holidays and cycling trip in Provence.
We got to spend a few days there and enjoy the Provencal life for a while. We fell in love with its laid-back atmosphere, stunning architecture, beautiful monuments & museums and food & wine.
Once the home of the Popes, Avignon is a vibrant city of culture and heritage. The historic centre is a UNESCO listed World Heritage Site with the Pope Palace, its famous bridge and its town walls.
The famous Avignon theatre festival, on every year during summer, brings thousands of tourists and theatre enthusiasts.
Finally its location in the heart of Provence, on the Rhone river and thus on the Cotes du Rhone wine route, makes it the perfect city for planning your holidays in the South of France.
Places to visit in Avignon : Monuments & Museums
Avignon hosts a great number of cultural sights and tourist attractions, all of them would be worth visiting but one can never visit every single place to see in a city. And even though we are kind of museums nerds, even we could not visit every attractions in town. Here are a few ideas for top places and off the beaten path to visit in Avignon.
Palace of the Popes
A little obvious – the number one top place to visit in Avignon is… the Popes Palace of course !
One thing can easily describe the Popes Palace : mind-blowing. The Popes Palace of Avignon is the most important monument of the Papacy and the biggest Gothic monument in the world.
Pope Benedict the XII built the Old Palace and Pope Clement the VI built the New Palace. Your tour guided by your audioguide, starts in the Old Palace.
Visiting the Palace can take a long time considering its size and stunning architecture. You can easily spend hours walking around its incredible interiors, the banquet room, the Saint John Chapel with its painted walls, the Consistory where religious matters were debated, the treasure rooms or the magnificent church.
The museum inside the Palace is included in the visit and gives you great insights into the history of the monument and displays some incredible objects.
Do not miss the amazing views on Avignon city centre from the top of the terrace. Skip the expensive and not so interesting cafe on the terrace though, there are much better options in the city centre.
The Doms Gardens and Cathedral
When leaving the Popes Palace turn right to go up to the Doms Gardens and Dom Cathedral on top of a 30-meters high rock overlooking the city.
The Doms Gardens are a great place to relax but most of all it offers incredible views on the Rhone valley all the way to the Mount Ventoux and also all over the city of Avignon.
Listed Unesco World Heritage site, the Saint-Bénezet bridge known in French as “Pont d’Avignon” is probably the second must-do in Avignon.
This 12th century urban construction is not only famous from the Pont d’Avignon song (Does this ring a bell to you ?) but also because it was a strategic point on a pilgrimage route and a toll bridge linking Avignon to Villeneuve-les-Avignon.
It suffered from wars and floods for centuries, was rebuilt many times before being finally abandoned in the 17th century. Now only 4 arches remain.
One thing you have to do on the bridge ? Dance, of course !
Set in a beautiful private mansion, the Collection Lambert is only open since December 2015. The modern art enthusiasts will be delighted to visit this museum and gallery of contemporary art which displays artworks donated by art dealer Yvon Lambert.
Antoine and I both are more admirers of ancient and Renaissance art, but I have to say this is one of the few contemporary art museums I enjoyed visiting.
Also because we visited on a closing day and lucky us, we got to watch Adel Abdessemed’s sculpture of Zidane giving head-butting Mazzerrati being installed in the courtyard. And it was quite the attraction that day !
You have to imagine trying to get a 5-meters high statue in the courtyard of a private mansion in the heart of central Avignon and its narrow one-way streets… It took a long time !
Another beautiful private mansion turned into a museum : the Calvet Museum. You can’t miss this 18th century Hôtel Particulier with its magnificent entrance door and paved courtyard. It can only inspire you to go inside !
The Calvet Museum displays artworks from the 15th to 20th century, as well as an Egyptian Collection. My personnal favourite being paintings from Flemish painters like Bruegel and the series of village feasts.
The building itself is worth visiting to walk around its beautifully decorated rooms, staircases and garden.
Guess what ? The Angladon Museum is also located in a 18th century mansion ! It seems to be the trend around here. The magnificent collection in the Musée Angladon will take you through the 19th and 20th century artistic life with works from Van Gogh, Picasso, Degas and Manet.
On the first floor you will walk through the reconstituted appartment of an art lover, with displays of objects from the Renaissance to the 18th century, books, drawings and some Eastern decorative artworks.
The original founders Jean Angladon and Paulette Martin wanted to share to the public the collection of paintings and furniture of fashion designer Jacques Doucet.
The City Library
It might not be on every list about the top things to do in Avignon but trust me, if you like exploring places off the beaten path and hidden gems you will love the City Library.
This 14th century building originally built for a Cardinal, hosted a Jesuit college during the 16th and 17th century. After changing from religious building, to barrack to high school, it has been turned into a library since 1982.
The façade got our attention but we came here in the first place to look for a place with free wifi to work in. The digital nomads and other online entrepreneurs coming to Avignon will not be pleased to know that Avignon library doesn’t have any Wifi. I know, disappointing… But, if you like old stuff like we do, go inside anyway and look for the beautiful wooden and painted ceilings. It will be worth it.
Where to eat in Avignon
Now that I’ve lined up a few must-do and off the beaten path places to visit, you probably would like to know where to eat and where are the best restaurants in Avignon.
There are tons of restaurants in Avignon so if there is one advice I would give you is that you probably want to avoid the restaurants on the “Place de l’Horloge” and on the Popes Palace square. Pricey and not so qualitative.
Here are two very opposite restaurants in terms of budget but which are our favourite places to eat in Avignon.
For a quick lunch : Ginette et Marcel
The perfect place to take a break in your day of sightseeing, Ginette et Marcel is a restaurant and cafe with a terrace on a lively square in Avignon’s city centre.
The blue metallic tables and red and white checked napkins make it quite the French touch. Here, you will eat “tartines”, salads and homemade cakes.
The menu is tasty, typical and cheap. Perfect combo right ? Keep in mind that the tartines are not the most filling dish so if you are a big eater you might want to order desserts or a side. Don’t worry though it will still be under 10-12€ for lunch !
For a gastronomic dinner : La Mirande
In a completely different category, we had dinner at the Hotel La Mirande on our first night in Avignon. Accompanied by Valerie from the Vaucluse tourism board, we got to experience a gastronomic dinner in this elegant private mansion at the base of the Popes Palace.
Nested in a originally medieval mansion tastefully decorated with antique furniture and old masters painting, a dinner at La Mirande is a dream-like but affordable experience. The luxury Provencal decor and relaxing terrace with vistas on the Popes Palace are ravishing.
New Chef Florent Pietravalle concocted a very surprising menu especially for us. He combined fish, seafood and traditional Provencal cuisine in a delightful way.
All the dishes were light, fresh, incredibly tasty and a delight for the eye. I particularly enjoyed the play on looks and presentation of the dish, like these “carrots” in a plant pot !
We tasted oisters along with truffles, a typical local product from provence. The service was professional but not in a cold way like you would expect from a gastronomic restaurant. Everything is made for you to feel welcomed, relaxed and comfy.
La Mirande offers also Provencal cuisine cooking classes in the ancient kitchen downstairs, with fresh products and all from the local terroir.
Where to stay in Avignon
Avignon’s old town offers a great range of hotels and bed and breakfast for all budgets and styles. We were invited to stay at Les Jardins de Baracane, a heaven of peace and tranquillity in the heart of the city.
Located in a 17-18th century stunning town house in the Corps Saints quarter, the Jardins de Baracane might just be the best bed and breakfast in Avignon. All right, it’s the only place we stayed at so it’s not like we could compare it to anything else. But, I can assure you, you don’t need a comparison.
Once you entered the tastefully decorated house, passed the relaxing terrace, the lush garden and got to seat by the clear blue swimming pool, you won’t want to go anywhere.
Wait until you come in your Provencal bedroom, relax in the armchair with a book or take a nap on the comfy bed… And the excellent French breakfast in the morning will just seal the deal. You will never want to leave Les Jardins de Baracane. At least, we didn’t !
Want to see more pictures ? Go there !