Avignon is the former seat of the popes, as well as being a charming Provencal city. If you think only the famous bridge when you hear the name Avignon, be sure to check out what other attractions are worth seeing in the area.
Avignon, along with its monuments, is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, and definitely must be seen. This city, located in Provence, provides enough attractions for at least a whole day. It will mostly be a walk into the past, but also a culinary feast – there’s no shortage of interesting restaurants serving good food in Avignon.
Also recommended for you: Marseille, the capital of Provence
The Papal Palace in Avignon
Although Avignon is most often associated with its famous bridge (about this in a moment), the greatest attraction of the city is undoubtedly the Papal Palace. Avignon was the seat of popes during the years 1309–1377; this period is called the Babylon captivity of popes. It was Clement V who moved the papacy from Rome to Provence: following him, a total of seven popes and two antipopes lived in Avignon. Interestingly, it was only after returning to Rome that the Pope settled in the Vatican. Before the Avignon period, popes were situated in the Lateran Palace (Rome).
Visiting the Papal Palace is paid, and costs 12 euros; but it’s worth buying a combined ticket for 14.50 euros. With this, you can also visit the famous Avignon bridge. Information about the palace’s opening hours can be found on the palace’s website.
The bridge in Avignon (Pont Saint-Benezet: Bridge of Saint Benedict of Avignon), also called the Avignon Bridge, is actually only a fragment of the original bridge. Built in the 12th century, it connected both banks of the Rhone, and today is probably the most famous bridge in the world. Songs are sung about it, such as the famous French song: Sur le pont d’Avignon. Of the original 900-meter structure only four spans (of the initial 22) and the Chapel of St. Nicholas (in which the tomb of Benedict was located) survive today. The rest were repeatedly destroyed by the Rhone’s waters, and the bridge was not rebuilt after the 17th century.
You can listen the history of the bridge’s creation, which is related to its builder – St. Benedict – in different languages thanks to the audio guides. These can be rented for free with every ticket, which costs 5 euros (unless you buy the combined ticket in the Papal Palace in advance). The facility is open at various times depending on the month; it is worth checking the details on the website.
The bridge and Papal Palace are not the only attractions that are worth seeing in Avignon. There are two more in the same area. These are the cathedral of Notre Dame des Doms with its gilded statue of the Madonna at the top of its tower (within the cathedral there are, among others, the tombs of Popes John XXII and Benedict XII); and the park on the hill, Rocher des Doms. From the hill you can admire a panorama of the area – you can even see the highest mountain in Provence, Mont Ventoux.
One of the world’s most famous theater festivals has been taking place in Avignon since 1947 – the Avignon Theater Festival. Every summer, crowds of people interested in this field of art come to the city.
Of course, there are also many museums in Avignon. You can visit, among others, the Museum of the Small Palace (Musee du Petit Palais), located in the former archbishop’s palace; the Calvet Museum (Musee Calvet); the Angladon Museum (Musee Angladon); and the Lapidari Museum (Musee Lapidaire). They all collect souvenirs of the past, and admission to every one is paid.
Even if you are not planning to explore anything more than the Pope’s Palace and the bridge, it is worth taking a walk around the narrow streets of the Old Town of Avignon. They have their unique Provencal charm, and around each corner is a small bistro serving delicious dishes. In the evening, local musicians create spontaneous mini bands and play joyful music. The Old Town is surrounded by a 4.3 km wall with 39 defensive towers that formerly guarded the city.
Where to sleep in Avignon
Accommodation in Avignon is quite extensive because it is a very touristic city. Here you can find hotels of any class. If you are looking for something cheap for a short stay, I recommend the Ibis Budget Center hotel, which stands right next to the city walls and the Old Town. From here you can reach the Papal Palace on foot within a maximum of 15 minutes. The rooms are small but clean and quiet, and have bathrooms.
Other accommodation in Avignon can be found here.
How to get there
If you are spending your holidays on the French Riviera, you can reach Avignon by car using the motorway, or get there on the TGV train. It is a three hour train ride from Nice (only from Marseilles does it use its maximum speed), and the journey is very pleasant.
Traveling by car, you can get to one of the free parking lots, and then reach the center on foot, or by using the free shuttle bus. Some examples of free parking lots are: Parking des Italiens (Avenue des Italiens) and Parking Relais – Île Piot (parking on an island in the Rhone). Remember not to leave any items in view in the car! Thieves will break your window glass as soon as they see something inside!