There are very few small towns that will entrance you with its well-preserved medieval architectural charm. And the town center of Avignon will cast its spell as soon as you step out of the train station.
The magnificent twin towers of one of the seven gates of the 4.3 km medieval walls beckon you to explore the ancient town center. In the town center the cobblestone alleys, outdoor cafes, squares surrounded by ancient buildings and the impressive architecture will transport you into a time warp.
Paris to Avignon Train
There is a good frequency TGV from Paris to Avignon. The TGV (high-speed trains) takes about 2 hours 40 minutes to reach Avignon from Paris. There are also buses running from Paris to Avignon but the frequency is not very good and the journey time can be really high.
TGV also connects Avignon with other major cities like Lille, Nantes, Rouen, Lyon, Strasbourg, Brussels in Belgium and Geneva in Switzerland. More details here.
Avignon town center can be easily explored on foot but if you are getting outside the town center or looking for day trips from Avignon the best way to get around is to rent a car or hire a taxi. Alternatively, join one of the group tours covering your places of interest.
The Avignon Tourist office is at the start of the town. Visitors can collect the city attractions map and gather all the required information. The staff is very helpful and happy to guide.
Things to do in Avignon France
Avignon set on the banks of the Rhone River is one of the most beautiful towns in France. The historic town of Avignon in France’s Provence region houses prominent UNESCO World Heritage-listed sites of Palais des Papes, Avignon Bridge, the Avignon Cathedral and the medieval ramparts which are also the top Avignon Attractions.
Wander the Cobblestone Alleys and Streets
We sauntered the winding narrow streets through ivory-colored medieval buildings. Some of these building facades were decorated with remarkable stucco work and beautiful wrought-iron railings for balconies and windows which looked very impressive.
The Calvet Museum is housed in a magnificent 18th-century Franco-Italian style building. The museum collection consists of archeology, ethnography and fine arts comprising of paintings and sculptures from the 15th to the 20th centuries.
The entry to the permanent collection of the museum is free and can be explored with a free audio guide available in French and English languages.
The narrow cobblestone streets of the town center open up into a large lively square. The square has several outdoor cafes and restaurants bustling with people, kids frolicking around a colorful carousel for their turn and myriad of street performers. The square is also home to the 19th-century Neo-Classical buildings of Town Hall and the Opera.
The Town Hall or Hotel de Ville d’Avignon facade features Corinthian columns and balconies. The Bell Tower has a 14th-century clock tower with life-sized figures that strike the hours.
The car-free zone of the square also teems with boutiques, ice creams shops, and many antique shops. We enjoyed people watching and street performers along with several scoops of gelatos.
Palace of the Popes or Palais des Papes Avignon
The 14th century The Palace of the Popes located in Horloge Square is an iconic landmark of the old town of Avignon. The colossal palace dates back to the 14th century when it served as a residence to 7 popes from 1309-1378. Pope Clement V moved here to avoid the disorder in Rome.
The austere facade featuring two twin towers has a simple interior which was once decorated with frescoes, lavish furnishings, and beautiful tile work, the remains of which can be seen even to this day.
Visitors can take a tour of the palace to see the 25 rooms that are open to the public. Most of the rooms and halls are unfurnished. The frescoes adorning the walls and vaults of the Saint-Martial and Saint John chapels are inimitably remarkable. The painted tiles and the elaborate paintings of the Papal bedroom and the frescoes of hunting scenes of Stag Room exemplify the past glory.
The plain ceiling of the Grand Tinel banquet hall once decorated with gold and much of the artwork in Consistory Hall was destroyed in a fire incident.
The large halls like Grand Tinel and the Grande Chappell are a testimony of the grandeur of the events that took place here in the past.
Several of the rooms including the North Sacristy and the Consistory have outstanding statues of kings and cardinals.
The multimedia presentations depicted the bygone glory, the sumptuous frescoes, furnishings and other ornamentation from the 14th century.
We finally climbed to the rooftop terrace which provided stunning views of the Avignon Mint Building, the red-roofed city of Avignon and the Rhone River.
Check here for Papal Palace open times and ticket prices.
When we exited the palace it had started pouring and Chhavi was asleep hence we decided to take shelter in one of the outdoor cafes in the square. The mystical imposing edifice of the palace and the golden lady standing atop the cathedral under the curtain of misty drizzle was mesmerizing.
Cathedrale Notre-Dame des Doms
The Avignon Cathedral or the Cathedrale Notre-Dame des Doms is located next to the Palais des Papes. The imposing Roman Catholic church built in the Romanesque architectural style dates from the 12th century.
The most striking feature of the church is the bell tower which is topped by a 6 m high gold-gilded statue of the Virgin Mary. It was erected in 1859.
The interior is adorned with exquisite artwork inspired by Gothic and Baroque styles, remarkable frescoes and the marvelous stained-glass windows. The church also houses Gothic tombs of some of the Avignon popes.
Also close by is the Petit Palais a 14th-century mansion that once served as an episcopal palace. The palace building today houses a museum and art gallery which a wonderful collection of Renaissance paintings from 13th to the early 16th centuries and Romanesque and Gothic sculptures.
Jardin du Rocher des Doms
Rocher des Doms is a public garden atop a hill a few minutes walk from the Papal Palace and the Avignon Cathedral. The garden is a green oasis with a large pond dotted with swans. In the center of the lake is a beautiful bronze statue of Venus.
The garden offers wonderful panoramic views of the prominent landmarks of Avignon like Pont d’Avignon, parts of the Palais des Papes and the Rhone River winding through the city.
Saint Benezet Bridge or Pont d’Avignon
The intriguing 12th-century bridge running over the Rhone initially spanned for a km and had 22 arches of which only four remain today. The bridge rebuilt after severe destruction during the siege of Avignon was abandoned after frequent collapses and repairs due to the floods.
According to the legend, a 12-year-old shepherd named Benezet laid the foundation stone for the bridge commanded by a divine voice. Along the bridge stands a simple Chapel of St Benezet and above it is the Chapel of Saint Nicolas.
The entrance side of the bridge offers amazing vistas of the old town of Avignon.
Interactive multimedia and the museum provides an insight into the original bridge and its eventful history.
The Halles Market
The Halles Market is a is a popular food market in Avignon with a myriad of market stalls selling spices, meats, fruits, vegetables, cheese and much more.
The most impressive feature of the covered market is the hanging garden on its facade. Foodies can also indulge in gastronomic activities and try some local special delicacies.
Day Trips from Avignon
Avignon is a perfect base to explore the region of Provence which offers some of the breathtaking landscapes and has numerous charming medieval villages. We choose Avignon as a base to explore the beguiling Lavender fields and the Provence countryside. The tour also included a visit to the quaint villages of Gordes, Roussillon, and Fontaine-de-Vaucluse which are just an hour’s drive from Avignon. Here are some other amazing places around which can be explored on day trips from Avignon.
Best Time to Visit Avignon
Avignon is a perfect base to explore the beguiling lavender fields of Provence. These fields are usually in full bloom end of June until the start of August. Also, the famous Festival d’Avignon is also held in July so plan accordingly. June to September is also the dry months with sunny weather hence the best time to visit. It usually rains in October and November.
Avignon is popularly known as the city of festivals for it hosts many festivals. Here is the list of festivals so that you can plan your vacation.
Where to Stay in Avignon
When we visited Avignon Chhavi was only a year old and back then we used to book only apartments with kitchenette to prepare home food. You will find a great choice of apartments around the town center within 5 minutes walk from Papal Palace. Some highly recommended are Charme Au cœur D’Avignon, Nos Cachettes, Appartement Ferruce, and Studio Serenita.
Every year thousands of visitors flock into this medieval town of Avignon to witness the amalgam of the contemporary performances of the Festival d’Avignon (held in July) and the medieval monuments of the ancient times.
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