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Visit Avignon, the City of Popes
Avignon, in the region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur Southern France, is one of the most beautiful cities in France to visit and an excellent base to explore the Luberon and other parts of Provence. 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 journey from Paris to Avignon takes less than 3 hours by direct train!
We spent 3 days in Avignon as a part of a road trip in Provence. We used the city as a base camp to explore the lavender fields and some hilltop villages, which allowed us to try more restaurants at night and visit the city also when the day crowds are gone. During our stay, of course, we made sure to spend at least 1 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!
If you have only one day in Avignon, what to do? Here’s the ultimate 1 day in Avignon itinerary with some fun things to do in Avignon.
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Fun Things to Do in Avignon in 1 Day Map
1 Day in Avignon
START EARLY IN THE MORNING FROM THE PONT D’AVIGNON
1. 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 not much car traffic.
Built in the 12 century the Pont d’Avignon – or Pont Saint Bénézet – is the oldest construction built on the Rhône River between Lyon and the Mediterranean Sea. It originally spanned the Rhône river between Avignon and Villeneuve-Les-Avignon on the opposite bank, was some 900 meters long and four meters, and consisted of 22 arches.
During its existence, the bridge was badly damaged and reconstructed several times until the 17th century when it is definitively abandoned. Today, it is possible to visit the two chapels on the bridge 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.
AROUND THE OLD CITY
2. Stroll around the Old City
This 1 day in Avignon itinerary takes now inside the medieval city. Take a stroll around the old city, surrounded by impressive fortifications. The Ramparts of Avignon are listed UNESCO World Heritage and they were built between 1355 and 1370 to protect the city from the assaults by bands of mercenaries.
Starting from 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 Avignon Old Town 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
- Place du Palais, with the beautiful Hotel des Monnaies and 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 was an impossible love (she was married) but Petrarca never forgot her and he dedicated to her the famous collection of poems Il Canzoniere. 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!
3. Visit the Musée du Petit Palais (if you have time)
If you started this 1 day in 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 and it can be the perfect introduction to the visit of the Palace of the Popes. This is the palace where the Popes stayed during the construction works of the big Palace and it became later the palace of the Archbishop of Avignon.
Right now you are in the Place du Palais des Papes, in front of one of the most magnificent Gothic constructions ever built. For lunch, we recommend Le Moutardier du Pape, with its perfect location just in front of the Palace.
Le Moutardier du Pape (15 place du Palais des Papes) is one of the best restaurants in the city, which proposes 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.
THE PALACE OF THE POPES
4. 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 since then the world’s most important Gothic palace. High place in medieval history, once the center of intrigues and passions, 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 the 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 awesome.
We are going to visit the Palace of the Popes after lunch when it’s too hot outside. Before entering the Palace, stop a few minutes to admire the main façade, now illuminated by the sun which makes 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 which guides you through the different rooms and halls. The tablet 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 2 hours to visit the Palace.
SOME FRESH AIR ON THE TOP OF ROCHER DES DOMS
5 & 6. Cathédrale Notre-Dame-des-Doms and Parc Palais des Papes
After the visit to the Palace let’s go to the Parc du Palais des Papes (#6), 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 entrance of the park, there is the Cathedral Notre-Dame des-Doms (#5), which is the oldest religious building in the city, dating back to the 12th century. You cannot miss it with the shinning statue of the Virgin Mary, who in the 19th century decided to climb up to 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 sacred vessels and his unfortunate crane. The head-ball was recovered by a doctor when it was dumped in a hospital.
7. Apéro Time and Dinner
After the sightseeing, let’s head to rue des Teinturiers which in the evening becomes a lively street with street bars and terraces perfect for an alfresco apéro 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.
If you did not visit rue des Teinturiers during the day, now it’s your chance to see 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 4 picturesque water-wheels mills suspended from the embankment next to the water and some interesting buildings (look at the description panels).
A beautiful place where we recommend to have dinner on this street is the Restaurant des Teinturiers (5 rue des Teinturiers), inside or on the terrace, for contemporary French homemade cuisine with local products. The menu changes according to the seasons and the market but it is always delicious!
If you don’t want to walk that far, there’s also the restaurant L’Épicerie set in 10 place Saint-Pierre, behind the Palace (picture above). This pretty square out of time is the perfect setting for tasting their generous cuisine from the south.
Some Options for 2 Days in Avignon, Day 2
Avignon is a small city and we have easily squeezed the main sights 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 can, 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 good options for 2 days in Avignon, Day 2:
Take a shuttle boat to explore Ile de la Barthelasse, the biggest river island in France. It 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. Explore the countryside of Provence and visit picturesque villages perched on cliff tops in the middle of stunning landscapes. Stop to admire the Provence lavender fields that are in bloom during the summer months and the magnificent Abbey of Sénanque.
Visit the prestigious wine-making village of Châteauneuf-du-Pape with some wine tastings.
Lavender tour in the Luberon Valley and Sault, when it is the right season (June to August, depending on the area).