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Visit Avignon, the City of Popes
Avignon is one of the most beautiful cities in France to visit and an excellent base to explore the Luberon and other parts of Provence. Locate in the region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, Avignon is a must-stop of any Provence road trip, and some of the best road trips in France make sure to go through Avignon.
Avignon can also be an excellent weekend getaway from Paris by train; the train ride from Paris to Avignon takes less than 3 hours!
We spent three days in Avignon as a part of this Lavender Route road trip. We used the city as a base camp to explore the closest lavender fields and hilltop villages. During our stay, of course, we made sure to spend at least one day in Avignon.
Do you know the French expression ‘Heureux comme un Pape en Avignon’ (happy like a Pope in Avignon)? Well, even if you are not a Pope, it’s not difficult to have fun in Avignon!
What to do in Avignon for a day? Here’s the ultimate Avignon itinerary, with some fun things to do in Avignon in one day.
HOW MANY DAYS IN AVIGNON? One day in Avignon is enough to visit the city’s main sights. However, Avignon is an excellent basecamp to explore other places in the Luberon, with accommodation options to suit all budgets.
Avignon Itinerary: Where to Stay?
Are you wondering where to stay in Avignon? For your Avignon itinerary, we recommend staying central, close to the main sights.
Hotel Central has a great location downtown and 300m from the train station. The hotel comes with comfortable rooms (on the small side but well equipped), a pleasant and shady garden, and an on-site bar.
Hotel Cloitre Saint Louis Avignon. Are you looking for a special treat? This hotel is located in a beautiful 16th-century construction with original arches and vaulted ceilings. It is surrounded by a beautiful garden and an outdoor swimming pool.
Avignon Grand Hotel is located just outside the walls, between the walled city and the train station. Rooms are large and bright, with a seating area, and there’s a swimming pool and a shady garden which are essential when it’s too hot in the summer.
What to Do in Avignon in One Day – A Detailed Avignon Itinerary
For this Avignon itinerary, we recommend arriving in Avignon the night before, so you have one full day to visit Avignon.
Sunrise at Pont d’Avignon
The Pont d’Avignon is one of the top places to visit in Avignon, and it is the first stop of this 1 day in Avignon itinerary.
If you can make it, try to visit the Pont d’Avignon at sunrise. The light is perfect, the Rhône River is like a mirror, and there is little car traffic.
Built in the 12th century, the Pont d’Avignon – or Pont Saint Bénézet, its real name – is the oldest construction built on the Rhône River between Lyon and the Mediterranean Sea. It originally spanned the river between Avignon and Villeneuve-Les-Avignon on the opposite bank, was some 900 meters long and four meters wide, and consisted of 22 arches.
During its existence, the bridge was severely damaged and reconstructed several times until the 17th century, when it was definitively abandoned. Today, it is possible to visit the two chapels on the bridge (you can buy your tickets to the bridge here) and learn the story of its construction, the legend of its founder, Saint Bénézet, and the origin of the world-famous song ‘Sur le Pont d’Avignon.‘
DID YOU KNOW? The famous song ‘Sur le Pont d’Avignon’ (On the Bridge of Avignon) was originally composed (though with a different melody) by the 16th-century musician Pierre Certon. The original title was ‘Sous le Pont d’Avignon’ (Under the Bridge of Avignon), because in medieval times, there were popular cafés with dancing and other activities on Barthelasse Island, under the arches of the original bridge. And that’s what we did! We danced and sang the song under the bridge.
Stroll around the Old City
This 1 day in Avignon itinerary explores now inside the medieval city. Take a stroll around the Old City, surrounded by impressive fortifications. The Ramparts of Avignon are listed as UNESCO World Heritage, and they were built between 1355-1370 to protect the city from the assaults of mercenaries.
After visiting the bridge, enter the walled city through the Porte du Rocher and wander around the narrow medieval streets at your own pace. Some places to visit in the Old City that you don’t want to miss are:
- Place de l’Horloge, the heart of the city with the City Hall and the Opera-Theater built in the 19th century
- In Place du Palais, the beautiful Hotel des Monnaies with its beautiful Baroque façade also listed UNESCO World Heritage
- Quartier de la Balance, which still has some houses of the 15th century. It is a lively neighborhood with shops of regional products and souvenirs
- Rue Petite Fusterie, with beautiful private mansions built in the 17th and 18th centuries
- Rue des Teinturiers, with its 19th-century water mills for the tanneries, bookshops, and little restaurants
- Les Halles, hosting a covered provençal market
PETRARCA & LAURA IN AVIGNON. If you are a fan of the Florentine poet Petrarca (Petrarch), you may know that it was in Avignon where he met and fell in love with the beautiful Laura. This love was impossible (she was married), but Petrarca never forgot her, and he dedicated the famous collection of poems Il Canzoniere to her. The places to visit in Avignon that still remind us of Petrarca and Laura are:
- Rue des Teinturiers, Chapelle des Cordeliers (14th century), where Laura is supposed to rest eternally.
- The 14-th century Chapelle Sainte Claire (rue du Roi René with rue Givrolas) is here where Petrarca met Laura for the first time, it was love at first sight!
Visit the Musée du Petit Palais (if you have time)
If you started this Avignon itinerary at sunrise, you may have time to visit the Petit Palais Museum before lunch.
The Petit Palais, located at one end of the Palace of the Popes Square, is one of the leading European museums of medieval art and also UNESCO World Heritage. This wonderful museum can be the perfect introduction to the visit to the Palace of the Popes. This is the Palace where the Popes stayed during the construction works of the enormous Palace, and it later became the Palace of the Archbishop of Avignon.
Visit the Palace of the Popes
In 1309, under the influence of the French King Philippe Le Bel, the Popes moved to Avignon. Finished in 1352, the Palace of the Popes is the world’s most important Gothic Palace. A high place in medieval history, once the center of intrigues and passions, the Palace of the Popes holds a triple record:
- It is the biggest Gothic palace in Europe (15,000 m2)
- It is the only palace built for a Pope outside Rome
- It is the fastest construction of its time (finished in less than 20 years!)
The Palace of the Popes, one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites in France, is one of the most famous landmarks in France and an Avignon must-see. Even if you have seen the Palace many times in pictures, nothing prepares you for the wow moment once you are on site. It’s just incredible.
We recommend visiting the Palace of the Popes after lunch when it’s too hot outside (book your skip-the-line tickets here). Before entering the Palace, stop for a few minutes to admire the main façade, now illuminated by the sun, making it more impressive. Be sure to buy skip-the-line tickets in advance; waiting in line under the sun is no fun!
With the ticket comes an interactive audio-guide tablet that guides you through the different rooms and halls. The device shows you some of the rooms with the original decorations, and once you have understood how it works (it takes some time…), it is fun. Allow two hours to visit the Palace.
Climb to the Top of the Rocher des Doms
After visiting the Palace, walk to the Parc du Palais des Papes, on the top of Rocher des Doms, for some fresh air and great views. The Rocher des Doms is the highest point of the city, on which the Palace was built.
At the park entrance, there is the Cathedral Notre-Dame des-Doms, which is the oldest religious building in the city, dating back to the 12th century. You cannot miss it with the shining statue of the Virgin Mary on the top of the bell tower.
Some of the Popes of Avignon chose the cathedral for their eternal rest. Well, that was until the French Revolution when, for example, some people decided to play football with the crane of Pope John XXII (and other stories…). His funerary chapel contains the diocesan treasure made up of numerous liturgical ornaments and his unfortunate crane. The head-ball was recovered by a doctor when it was dumped in a hospital.
Rue des Teinturiers
After the sightseeing, head to rue des Teinturiers. In the evening, it becomes a lively street with street bars and terraces perfect for a French apéritif with friends or a casual dinner.
This oh-so-pretty street traces the Vaucluse Canal, and it was the center of Avignon’s silk spinning and dyeing industry from the 1300s up to the 1800s.
Rue des Teinturiers is one of the oldest streets of Avignon, shaded by tall old plane trees and with beautiful stone houses on the other side of the canal linked to the cobbled street by little bridges. There are still four picturesque water-wheels mills suspended from the embankment next to the water and some interesting buildings (look at the description panels).
Choose one of the lively restaurants on this street (or check our restaurant recommendations at the end of this post) to end your day in Avignon with a good French meal.
Spend 2 Days in Avignon (if you can …)
Avignon is a small city, and we have easily squeezed the top things to do in Avignon in one busy day. But why rush? You are in Provence, where people like to take their time to enjoy the small pleasures of life.
If you have the time, take it easy and spend 2 days in Avignon to enjoy the city at a more relaxed pace and some other sights around. Here’s the list of some beautiful options for an extra day in Avignon.
>> Take a shuttle boat to explore Ile de la Barthelasse, the biggest river island in France. This place is great for a stroll, a bike ride, or simply admire the Pont d’Avignon for another, original point of view.
>> Visit Villeneuve-Lez-Avignon, on the other side of the River Rhône, and its important historical heritage. In the 14th century, Villeneuve became home to Popes, cardinals, and other religious men who built impressive fortified palaces, convents, and beautiful churches.
>> Visit the hilltop villages of Luberon on a day tour. Explore the countryside and the small towns of Provence perched on cliff tops in the middle of stunning landscapes. Stop to admire the Provence lavender fields in bloom during the summer months and the magnificent Abbey of Sénanque.
>> Visit the prestigious wine-making village of Châteauneuf-du-Pape on a half-day tour with some wine tastings.
>> Take this Lavender tour to the Luberon Valley and Sault when it is the right season (June to August, depending on the area).
Practical Information for your Avignon Visit
How to Travel to Avignon
BY TRAIN: The most eco-friendly way to travel from Paris to Avignon is by TGV train. Trains leave Paris from Gare de Lyon train station, and the ride to Avignon TGV train station takes less than 3 hours.
BY CAR: If you decide to explore France by car, check out this road trip from Paris to Nice which goes through Avignon. You can also use the car to explore other sites in the Luberon on day trips from Avignon.
One Day in Avignon: Where to Eat
LE MOUTARDIER DU PAPE: with its perfect location just in front of the Palace (15 Place du Palais des Papes), Le Moutardier du Pape is one of the best restaurants in the city, and it offers interesting dishes prepared with fresh, local produce. Inside, a fresco evokes the career of this mustard maker of the Pope. When the weather is good, its terrace on the square is quite magical.
RESTAURANT DES TEINTURIERS: located on 5 rue des Teinturiers, enjoy contemporary French homemade cuisine with local products inside or on the terrace. The menu changes according to the seasons and what’s in the market but it is always delicious!
L’ÉPICERIE: the pretty, out-of-time Saint-Pierre Square is the perfect setting for tasting their generous cuisine from the south.