Things to do in Avignon
Avignon is a city of superlatives brimming with history and much more: gastronomic delights, excellent wines, art…. Check out these 17 plus 1 must things to do in this fascinating medieval city of southeastern France on the east bank of the Rhône River.
More than just cathedrals….
If you are not a cathedral aficionado, do not despair. These are wonderful edifices with awesome historical tales but you can balance the religious themes with a deep appreciation of area wines, year-round festivals, special productions, and the bon vivant lifestyle only the French offer.
Table of Contents
Palace of the Popes
The Temple of Saint Martial
Place des Corps Saints
Former Convent of the Carmes Church
The famous Pont d’Avignon
Sur Le Pont D’Avignon rhyme
The University of Avignon
Notre-Dame des Doms cathedral
Vestiges of the Convent of Sainte-Claire
Marché Les Halles
Avignon Tram network
Festival of Avignon
Plus 1 People of Avignon
Map of France
Sights and Sounds of Avignon
How to Get to Avignon
Where to Stay in Avignon
Where to Eat in Avignon
Getting Around in Avignon
Visa for France
1 – Palace of the Popes – Absolutely one of the must things to do in Avignon
Avignon is known as the ‘city of the popes’. The Palace of the Popes is one of the largest and most important medieval Gothic buildings in Europe. Once a fortress and palace, the papal residence was the seat of Western Christianity during the 14th century. Construction began in 1335 and completed in less than twenty years. Recently, the Avignon Tourist Board is reportedly offering a luxurious room to rent atop this incomparable location.
2 – Eglise Saint-Agricol
Constructed in 1327 on Roman Ruins, it is one of the oldest churches in Avignon. Saint Agricola (Agricol, Agricolus) of Avignon (c. 630–c. 700) was a Bishop of Avignon who sanctioned the building of this church, staffed by the monks of Lérins. The Bishop was famous for his charity and defense of the downtrodden against civil authorities.
3 – The Temple Saint Martial
Completed in 1388, this temple was enlarged in the 17th century but abandoned during the Revolution. Deeded to the Protestants for use as a church in 1881. Home to the Musée Calvet until the early 19th century. Resurrected as the Natural History Museum, it subsequently served as a Teachers’ College, Post Office and Tourism Office. Some temple property was confiscated for construction of the main street in 1853.
4 – Place des Corps Saints and behind the former Celestins Monastery
La Place des Corps Saints is the site of the tomb of Cardinal Peter of Luxembourg who died in 1387. Begun in 1396, construction was interrupted in 1424. Current home to numerous works of art: paintings, stalls, altarpieces, tombs of prelates. Restored in the 17th century, the Monastery contains the relics of Saint Bénézet.
5 – Former Convent of the Carmes Church
The Carmes Order settled here in 1267. In the 14th century this Church became a monastery college. Partially destroyed during the French Revolution, it has been home to many owners and uses during its lifetime.
6 – The famous Pont d’Avignon – formally known as Pont Saint-Bénézet
Having heard about this famous bridge in elementary school, we were so excited to finally see this heirloom! Imagine our surprise (and initial disappointment) when we realized it was only half a bridge!
Here’s the story: The bridge was first built between 1177 and 1185 as a narrow pedestrian wooden crossing. The bridge could also accommodate a single horse with rider. Once constructed, it provided the town with revenue from shipping taxes, becoming a control for boats on the Rhône. During its lifetime, the bridge was destroyed by flooding and conflict (and rebuilt) a number of times. It was finally abandoned in the 17th century after devastation from a flood. Now a major tourist attraction, the bridge has been upgraded to safely handle visitors.
7 – Sur Le Pont D’Avignon rhyme
One of our first songs to learn during French classes! Watch for an illustrated depiction of this famous French children’s rhyme on the wall in the entrance foyer to the bridge. The iconic verse originates from an Opera performed in Paris. The children’s song dates back to the 15th century. The story of the bridge itself begins with a shepherd tending flocks in the hills above Avignon.
8 – The University of Avignon
The university is under the auspices of the Academy of Aix and Marseille. Founded in 1303 by Pope Boniface VIII, it is one of the oldest universities in Europe. Closed in 1792 during the French Revolution, it reopened in 1984. One campus sits inside the historic city wall.
9 – Avignon Wall
The city centre of Avignon is entirely enclosed by 4.3 kilometres of a thick stone wall. Imagine its appearance with moats, drawbridge towers, and iron-studded wooden gates! The image provides a vision of fortification importance in 14th century France.
10 – Notre-Dame des Doms Cathedral
The earliest recorded mention of Notre-Dame des Doms Cathedral dates from 1037. The current metropolitan basilica — located just outside the walls of the Popes’ Palace — was built in the 12th century in three successive phases. First, the belltower and nave, then the cupola, and lastly the portico, all influenced by Roman architecture. The Cathedral was enlarged during the last two centuries of the Middle Ages with the addition of side chapels. A new apse and tribunes were added in the late 17th century. Mural paintings and framed paintings embellish the basilica. Look for the chapel with the tomb of Pope John XXII as well as church treasures of liturgical vestments and sacred vessels.
11 – Lapidary Museum
In 1564, this was the College of Jesuits. Following the French Revolution, it became the Chapel of the College of Jesuits in 1857. In 1933, it formed part of the Calvet group of museums in Avignon. An impressive collection of Egyptian, Greek and Roman artifacts — mainly ‘stone cuts’ and marbles — of over 1,200,000 pieces, only 10% of which are on display, is now located here. This is one of five city museums (all free entry).
12 – Water Wheels
Watch for Water Wheels along Rue des Tienturies in a picturesque neighbourhood of old Avignon. The street name comes from the makers of the textiles resembling those made in India who worked along the riverbanks. Weavers, spinners and dyers used the energy generated by the 23 water wheels (as they were in 1877).
13 – Vestiges of the Convent of Sainte-Claire
The ‘Poor Clares’ settled in Avignon about 1230 shortly after the foundation of their order. Rebuilt in the 14th century thanks to the gifts of Pope John XXII, the church is embellished in the 17th and 18th century styles. During the Revolution, the Convent was dismantled and sold. This Church also marks the location of a famous romance begun on April 6, 1327. That’s when the Humanist poet Francesco Petrarch met Laura, beautiful wife of a Count/ancestor of Marquis de Sade. Petrarch celebrated Laura in his literary work. Is this a true love story? Visit and find out! Seems fitting a theatre now occupies the convent.
14 – Marché Les Halles
Located in the centre of the old city. A venerable indoor market with local products of fresh fish, fruits, vegetables, cheeses, fresh meat, deli, wine, breads, pastries and more.
15 – Avignon Tram network
Trams have finally returned to the streets of Avignon after 87 years. Currently, the Avignon tram service includes one 5.2-kilometre line with 10 stops. A second route, 3.2 kilometres long with 7 stops, is expected to be in service by 2023. All trams have been named with famous personalities of the city.
16 – Millévin
The Millévin is an annual wine festival that takes place the third Thursday of November in Avignon. Our recommendation: don’t miss it!
Millévin celebrates this area’s new and old Côtes du Rhône vintages along with gastronomic delights. Throughout ancient cobbled streets, we hear the word Santé, as the French raise a glass to your health. Close your eyes and pretend you’re with us. For the moment, forget about the world’s problems and yours.
Wicked treat early
In the morning there are tastings (free of course) at the fresh food market Les Halles in central Avignon. Wine at 10 a.m. is a wicked treat.
A Celebration of Wine
Throughout the day, enjoy tastings of the Côtes du Rhône Primeur wines, sales of the recent Côtes du Rhône vintages and a parade of wineproducing brotherhoods. Each winemaking vinyard flies its own banner and employees wear its distinctive gowns.
The evening continues in Avignon restaurants that offer special Côtes du Rhône menus and streets filled with music and revelers.
17 – Festival of Avignon
The Festival d’Avignon, or Avignon Festival, is an annual 3 week arts festival held every summer in July in the courtyard of the Palais des Papes as well as in other locations of the city.
Founded in 1947 by Jean Vilar, it is the oldest festival in France and one of the world’s
greatest. Art critic Christian Zervos and poet René Char once organized a modern art exhibition held in the main chapel of the Pope’s Palace. The Festival now offers thousands of art, music, theatre, film, and street performers throughout the old city.
Plus 1 – People of Avignon
Book your tour of Avignon by clicking here
Map of France
Sights and Sounds of Avignon
How to get to Avignon
Air France flies to Paris (CDG airport) from many major cities in the world. Most major airlines also have flights to Paris. From Paris take a high speed train
The train from Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport to Avignon TGV usually takes 4 hours 19 minutes on average to travel 367 miles (590 km), although the quickest services can take as little as 2 hours 41 minutes. You can expect to find 14 trains per day running on this popular route. Good news! There are direct trains available to Avignon TGV, so you can just make yourself comfortable as soon as you board the train and just enjoy the journey. Cost ~14 € to over 70 € , one way. Upon arrival in Avignon TGV station, take a taxi to the centre of town.
Where to stay in Avignon
We found a small apartment through Airbnb just outside the ancient wall of the old city and near the domestic train station. Easy walking distance to everywhere in the old city.
We initially stayed at Ibis Avignon Centre. A very acceptable moderately priced hotel in a good location just outside the Avignon Wall. Very accessible to the Tram and to the centre of town. prices start at 70 €/night
Very soon a luxury room at the top of the Palace of the Popes will be available to rent
Book Your Stay in Avignon by Clicking Here
Where to Eat in Avignon
Our favorite restaurant in Avignon is Le Petit Chaudron. It is small and chef owned. Food and service were excellent. The chef actually served us. It was a quiet night and at our request he prepared an outstanding saboyan dessert. It is at 4 Av. de la Foire, a few streets outside the historic walls. 3 course prix fixe 22€.
There are so many choices in Avignon – best do some online and walking around research.
Getting Around Avignon
So many options here. Try the Baladines which are nimble little seven-seater electric-powered vehicles. The new Tram system is a treat. In addition – buses, taxis, cars, bicycles, motor scooters and even boats on the Rhône. Of course the historic centre is best explored on foot. Cost 4 € for a day pass, 1.40 € for single fare. Reduced fares for over 65. Trams operate every 15 min.
Visa for France
All the information for visas is here
Travelled: Last there in November, 2018 – updated to 2022
See our other posts from France
We welcome guest bloggers – contact us here with the tag ‘blogger’