Best Things to Do in Avignon and Arles (3 Day Itinerary)

If you think Provence is just lavender fields, you’re wrong! There are so many fantastic things to do in Avignon and Arles! You can:

Marvel at the splendid papal palace in Avignon and enjoy Avignon’s vibrant theater scene.

Take a deep dive into history and explore the extensive Roman ruins in Arles, the ‘little Rome of Gaul’.  (And see the incredible Pont du Gard!)

Immerse yourself in the picturesque hilltop cities in the Luberon Valley. 

I have all of the best things to do in Avignon and Arles (and more!) right here for you — all of my favorites from our France trips.

Lace up your shoes and let’s go!

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Red ochre cliffs surrounding Roussillon, France


My top pick is this full-day Provence highlights tour. We loved being able to see the Pont du Gard and the charming hilltop villages of the Luberon without having to rent a car!

Best things to do in Avignon France

Avignon makes an excellent home base for your long weekend.  It’s an easy trip via high-speed train (TGV, Train à Grande Vitesse).  You can travel to Avignon in about two and a half hours from Paris, and it’s only an hour from Lyon

Wondering what to do in Avignon France? Let’s dive right in!

1. Palais des Papes

Avignon is probably most famous for being the seat of the papacy in the 14th century, when the popes fled Rome due to unstable political conditions.    (Most people don’t know this interesting fact about France!)

The Palais des Papes is one of the largest medieval gothic buildings in the world and is an Avignon must see!  It is honored as a UNESCO World Heritage site for its architecture and its historical importance as the seat of the papacy.

Pont d'Avignon and the Palais des Papes
Pont d’Avignon and the Palais des Papes, some of the best things to see in Avignon

Avignon was home to a series of popes (all French) from 1309-1377.   The official papal residence returned to Rome in 1378.  However, there continued to be a second pope located in Avignon (known as an ‘antipope’). 

See the highlights of historic Avignon and enjoy skip-the-line access to the Palais des Papes on this sightseeing tour of Avignon!

North of the Palais des Papes you’ll find the Jardin des Doms.  This is a lovely public garden, and its hilltop location provides excellent scenic views of the Pont D’Avignon and the Rhône River.  There is a little café here and you’ll find many locals enjoying a picnic under the shade trees.

In addition to the Palais des Papes, Avignon is home to many churches and cathedrals. 

Adjacent to the palace, you’ll find the Avignon Cathedral.  This cathedral is crowned by a golden statue of the Virgin Mary, and is the final resting place of the Avignon popes. 

Marvel at the intricate carved walnut doors of the Basilique Saint-Pierre.  Or visit the Église Saint-Agricol, which dates from the 7th century and features a baroque altar and beautiful stained-glass windows.

2. Pont D’Avignon

Pont Saint-Bénézet is more commonly known as Pont D’Avignon

This 12th century medieval bridge at one time crossed the Rhône.  The complete bridge had 22 arches and reached from Avignon on its southern end to Tour Philippe-le-Bel on the northern end. 

Unfortunately, the yearly flooding of the Rhône took its toll on the Pont D’Avignon.  Today, only four arches remain, along with the gatehouse at the Avignon side. 

You can also find a tiny chapel to St. Nicholas on the bridge’s second pier.  The remaining portion of the bridge is part of Avignon’s UNESCO World Heritage site.

The Pont D’Avignon was also made famous by the French dance song and nursery rhyme ‘Sur le Pont D’Avignon’.   Today you can walk out upon the remnants of the Pont D’Avignon for a small fee. 

Just a few minutes’ walk east from the Pont D’Avignon there is a little ferry that operates that will take you to the island in the middle of the Rhône. 

The free ferry runs every 15 minutes daily from mid-February until the end of December (hours vary).   From the ferry stop, there is a lovely grassy, tree-lined walkway along the Rhône.  This is a great place to relax in the shade, or to enjoy a picnic.

View of the Pont D'Avignon across the Rhône River
Wondering what to see in Avignon France? How about this amazing view of the Pont D’Avignon across the Rhône River.

3. Place de l’Horloge

The Place de l’Horloge, or Clock Square, is the heart of historic Avignon. This central, tree-lined square runs along the Rue de la Republique.

The Place de l’Horloge is flanked by many of Avignon’s most beautiful buildings, and you’ll also find plenty restaurants and cafés here. Many of the restaurants directly on the square are touristy, so venture a little of the beaten path for a more authentic dining experience.

On the plaza’s west side stands the grand Hotel de Ville d’Avignon, Avignon’s City Hall. The clock tower for which the plaza is named pokes out from behind the Hotel de Ville.

To the north of the Hotel de Ville you’ll find the gorgeous Opéra Grand Avignon, built on the former site of a Benedictine abbey. This opera house hosted its first performance in October 1825 — so it’s been in business for nearly two centuries!

A carrousel in the middle of the square adds a bit of whimsy.

The Place de l’Horloge is certainly one of the best places to see in Avignon!

4. Remparts d’Avignon

The Remparts d’Avignon, or Walls of Avignon, are the city’s historic defensive stone walls.  These protective walls originated in the 14th century when the papacy was centered in Avignon. 

The walls stretch 4.3km around the city of Avignon and now contain various entrances for pedestrians and vehicles.

Take a walk along the ramparts and view the towers interspersed at regular intervals along the crenellated city walls.  It is also free to go up on the ramparts and enjoy some phenomenal views of the city and the river.

The city of Avignon has of course expanded over the centuries, and now only around 10 percent of Avignon’s populace lives in the area encircled by the ramparts.

5. Les Halles d’Avignon

No visit to a French town is complete without a visit to its local market.  Within the historic walled portion of Avignon, you’ll find Les Halles d’Avignon

This indoor market is open daily from 6am to 2pm (closed Mondays).  Here you’ll find fresh local produce, breads, spices, fish, and prepared foods. It’s always a good idea to carry some money in France to spend on small purchases at the market!

One unique feature of Les Halles d’Avignon is its ‘green wall’.  Spanning a surface area of over 300 square meters, the north façade of the market is a botanical work of art.  Lush plants decorate this vertical surface thanks to special irrigation techniques.  

6. Avignon’s Theater Scene

There are an astounding number of theaters in Avignon.  Dozens of performing arts venues dot Avignon’s cityscape – you’ll find a theater around every corner. 

Although you can enjoy live entertainment throughout the year, the biggest performing arts celebration is the Festival D’Avignon. (It’s definitely one of the best Avignon things to do!)

The Festival D’Avignon occurs in month of July and runs the gamut from theater to dance to mime.   Performances are held in the Honour Courtyard of the Palais des Papes as well as in dozens of other locations inside and outside of the medieval city walls.   

This is definitely one of the best things to do Avignon has to offer! Plus, it’s so much fun to participate in French holidays and festivals!

7. Fort Saint-André

On the north side of the Rhône, just a kilometer north of Tour Philippe-le-Bel, you’ll find Fort Saint-André.  This magnificent 14th century fortress sits atop Mount Anadon, and from here you will enjoy fabulous panoramic views of Avignon and the surrounding countryside.

Fort Saint-André was built to defend France against Provence, which had been the first Roman province outside of Italy.  At the time of the construction of Fort Saint-André, it was a semi-independent state governed by the Counts of Provence.

Fort Saint-André is open to the public daily (closed Sundays), for a small entry fee.  Explore the fort’s twin towers and the chapel of Notre Dame de Belvezet. Download the app in advance to access information about the fort’s history and architecture.

8. Avignon Town Square

Even if you are not in need of information or maps, be sure to visit the tourist information office within the historic walled city.  You’ll find it in an impressive stone building adjoining a medieval church complete with steeple, rainspouts, and buttresses. 

Right next to the tourist information office, you’ll find Square Agricol Perdiguier, Avignon’s town square

There are gardens, waters features, and even some freestanding medieval arches here to check out, or just relax and enjoy the gardens from a perch on one of the benches.  Our hotel was just down the block from the square, so every morning we enjoyed our breakfast pastries here!

Day Trip: The Pont du Gard and Hilltop Towns of the Luberon Valley

For the most part, we like to explore an area on our own.  But on this trip, we didn’t have a car, and we really wanted to see the Pont du Gard.  So, we decided to book a tour from Avignon.

We were able to find a perfect day tour of the Pont du Gard and the picturesque hilltop towns of the Luberon Valley.  We were very happy to be able to visit these towns without having to drive the narrow twisty roads ourselves.

There are many great half-day or full-day tours from Avignon to choose from, depending on which attractions and towns you’re most interested in:

1. Pont du Gard

The Pont du Gard is a spectacular feat of Roman engineering which remains impressively well-preserved even after 2000 years.  A trip to the Pont du Gard is definitely one of the best day trips from Avignon — I highly recommend!

The Pont du Gard is an aqueduct bridge with three levels which allows the 50km aqueduct to cross the Gardon River.  

It was built to carry water to the Roman province of Nemausus (the city we know as Nîmes).  It is honored as a UNESCO World Heritage site for its engineering technique as well as its beautiful aesthetics.

Pont du Gard aqueduct bridge
Magnificent aqueduct bridge of the Pont du Gard spanning the Gardon River, one of the best things to do near Avignon

There is a fee to enter the site of the Pont du Gard, which is open year-round.  You can explore the site on your own, or take a guided tour for an additional fee.  

There is also a museum where you can learn about the techniques involved in the construction of the Pont du Gard and gain insights about life in Roman times.

Be sure to take the time to walk across the Pont du Gard for an up-close look at the bridge, and to enjoy the view from the other side of the gorge.  Don’t worry – it is a very wide walkway, and you walk across the first (lowest) tier of the bridge.

Side view of the Pont du Gard
Side view of the Pont du Gard and its walkway

For a unique view of the Pont du Gard, rent a kayak from one of the local kayaking companies.  Floating along the Gardon River, you’ll enjoy impressive views of the Pont du Gard from all angles (including underneath).

Enjoy more fantastic views of the Pont du Gard in this brief video from World Heritage Journeys:

The Pont du Gard is a marvel of Roman engineering and a must-see attraction in Provence

2. Les Baux-de-Provence

Les Baux-de-Provence is located in the Alpilles mountain range, atop a rocky outcrop. 

This pedestrian-only village has been officially named ‘one of the most beautiful villages in France’.  So, it’s definitely worth taking a trip to Les Baux-de-Provence!

From its lookout points you will enjoy excellent views of the countryside, from Arles to the Camargue.

View from the hilltop town of Les Baux-de-Provence
View from the hilltop town of Les Baux-de-Provence

One of its top attractions is Château des Baux-de-Provence, a medieval castle fortress.  If you’re planning a visit to the Château, you can download their app in advance.  Be sure to see the reconstructions of medieval siege engines and the trebuchet.

3. Roussillon

Roussillon and Gordes are located in the hills sandwiched between the Petit Luberon mountain range to the south and the Vaucluse mountain range to the north. 

From Roussillon, you can also see the most prominent geologic landmark in the area—Mount Ventoux, the “Giant of Provence” of Tour de France fame—about 20 miles to the north. 

As you approach Rousillon, you’ll notice the landscape changing and featuring striking red cliffs.

Red ochre cliffs surrounding Roussillon, France
Red ochre cliffs surrounding Roussillon, France

You can immediately identify Rousillon’s ochre-colored buildings (made with materials from the vast local ochre quarry). 

To get an up-close look at the mineral, you can explore the Le Sentier des Ocres, two paths through an old ochre quarry.  Or, you can tour the underground quarry tunnels at the Mines de Bruoux.

Red ochre-colored houses of Roussillon
Red ochre-colored houses of Roussillon

4. Gordes

Gordes is another gorgeous hilltop village of the Luberon Valley. The buildings seem to be carved directly out of the rocky face of the mountain as they spiral upwards.    

The castle dominates the village from the hilltop and is home to a museum featuring the works of Flemish artist Pol Mara.  Just a stone’s throw away, you’ll find the Eglise Saint-Firmin, which is also rather fortress-like in appearance.   

It’s fun to wander through the narrow, cobbled lanes of Gordes – you’ll find little restaurants and quaint shops around every corner.  Be sure to watch where you’re going, as there are a lot of stairs to contend with.

Self portrait with the hilltop village of Gordes
Self portrait with the hilltop village of Gordes

Best things to do in Arles France

You can easily take a day trip from Avignon to Arles – just hop on the train and you’ll be there in twenty minutes.   

Arles was once a provincial capital of Rome and today is known as the ‘Little Rome of Gaul’.  The Roman monuments of Arles are honored as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Its Roman history is a huge part of Arles’ appeal but is not the only thing that draws visitors.  Many famous artists (including Picasso and Gaugin) painted in Arles, inspired by the quality of light.  Vincent van Gogh created some of his most well-known works while living in Arles.

Wondering what to do in Arles France? I’ve got all of the top Arles attractions right here!

For in-depth insights into the history and culture of Arles, take this private tour of Arles, completely customizable for your interests!

1. Arènes d’Arles

We love all things pertaining to ancient history, so we were like kids in a candy store exploring Arles.  The Arènes d’Arles (Arles Amphitheatre) dominates the historic heart of Arles, so that was our first stop.   

(I will say that the Arena in Nimes is much more impressive than the one in Arles.)

If you’re like me and want to see as much as you can within your day trip, you’ll want to purchase one of the Arles monuments passes

There are multiple different options available depending upon which mix of museums and Roman monuments most interest you.  (Note that the monuments passes do not include entry to the Fondation van Gogh.)

The Arles Amphitheatre is a smaller version of its incredible cousin, the Roman Colosseum.  The two-tiered Arles Amphitheatre has 120 arches and could hold 20,000 spectators.  In ancient times it showcased spectacles of gladiator fights and chariot races

Interior of Arènes d'Arles
Interior of Arènes d’Arles, once used for gladiator competitions — one of the top Arles things to do

The Amphitheatre is still used today for community events such as concerts and bullfighting.  Of course, now there are a few more safety features that have been added. 

Explore the galleries and bleachers of the amphitheater and marvel at the Roman engineering which has survived (with some help) to modern times. 

One thing that boggles my mind:  Can you imagine what it would be like to see this view every day as you head off to work, or to the market?

View of the arches of the Arles Amphitheatre
View of the arches of the Arles Amphitheatre

2. Théâtre Antique d’Arles

The Théâtre Antique d’Arles, or Roman Theater of Arles, sits just to the southwest of the Arles Amphitheatre.  This theater was constructed during the reign of Caesar Augustus and dates back to the 1st century.

In its prime, this performing arts theater featured an elaborate stage and could seat 8,000 spectators.  Unfortunately, over the ages the stone has been ‘repurposed’ to build the city wall and other structures, so the theater is only a shadow of its former self.   

Théâtre Antique d'Arles
Théâtre Antique d’Arles, the Roman performing arts theater

3. Roman baths and necropolis

Near the banks of the Rhône, you’ll find the Thermes de Constantin.  These Roman baths were built during the reign on Constantin in the 4th century.   

Baths were a key part of life in Roman times.  Unfortunately, these baths have fallen into disrepair.  You can tour the site, but you just get a very vague impression of what they would have been like in their prime.

If you don’t mind venturing underground, you can explore the Cryptoportiques du Forum

The Cryptoportiques are the subterranean support system for the forum, which was the town square for the Romans.  These vast arched tunnels form a U-shape – the north and south galleries are 90 meters long, and the connecting west gallery is 60 meters long.

About a 10-minute walk southeast from the arena and outside the original city walls, you’ll find the Alyscamps.  This is a Roman necropolis (cemetery), once one of the most famous of the ancient world.  

Walk down the path amongst the ancient sarcophagi.  At the far end sits a 12th century church, the Eglise Saint-Honorat.

4. Musée de l’Arles et de la Provence Antiques

The Musée de l’Arles et de la Provence Antiques is the most popular museum in Arles.  It sits just a bit west of the historic center of Arles.

 This museum focuses on regional antiquities and features a large collection of sarcophagi as well as other treasures excavated from Arles’ historic sites. 

View the Roman barge that was excavated from the river and restored – along with a video that documents and explains the complicated process of doing so.  It’s worth taking the time to watch (added benefit: you can get off your feet for a few minutes).

We really enjoyed the giant mosaics housed in this museum.  Be sure to climb to the viewing gallery to be able to get a birds-eye view of the mosaics and appreciate their beauty and intricacy more fully!

5. Cathédrale Saint-Trophime

The Cathédrale Saint-Trophime has pride of place on Arles’ town square, Place de la République. 

This Romanesque cathedral has a beautiful façade with elaborately carved sculptures. Inside you’ll find soaring ceilings, vividly colored stained-glass windows, and massive paintings and tapestries.

The Cloître Saint-Trophime sits adjacent to the cathedral, and provided housing to the clergy.  The cloister is a quiet and serene place, with beautiful architecture. 

Stroll through the airy, sunlit galleries and view the carved support columns.  Enjoy viewing the works of art and tapestries gracing the walls of the cloister.

6. Van Gogh Walk

Arles’ other significant claim to fame is Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh, who lived and painted in Arles in 1888-1889.  He created many masterpieces inspired by this lovely city, including ‘Starry Night Over the Rhône’.

If you’re an aficionado of van Gogh, be sure to take the ‘van Gogh Walk’.  This will guide you to about ten locations in Arles where van Gogh created his well-known artworks.  In some cases, you’ll be able to enjoy the same views that provided inspiration to van Gogh over a century ago.

You can also visit the museum, Fondation Vincent van Gogh.  As a disclaimer, this museum doesn’t display much of van Gogh’s art (only one piece) but honors his influences on other artists.

Avignon and Arles Travel Tips and FAQ

Avignon or Arles as a Base

Stay in Avignon as your home base, and just take a day trip to Arles. It’s only twenty minutes away by train, with many trains running throughout the day.

The cities of Avignon and Arles are both on smaller side, although Avignon’s population is about twice that of Arles. This means that there are definitely more options for dining and evening entertainment in Avignon (especially given all of Avignon’s theaters).

Avignon is a transportation hub and has a lot more options for public transit, which is handy if you’re visiting without a car.

Avignon has both a train station serviced by TGV (France’s high speed train system), as well as a station for regional trains. It’s also home to the Avignon-Caumont Airport (an international airport, but only in that it does have flights to England).

On our visit, we spent a couple nights each in Avignon and Arles. Although there were a lot of great Roman ruins to explore during the day in Arles, we often found ourselves at loose ends in the evenings, unable to find something really appealing to do.

Traveling by Train in Provence

France has a great rail network, so I like do do the majority of my travels in France by train. (It really cuts down on my stress levels.)

You can travel to Avignon in about two and a half hours from Paris via France’s high speed trains (TGV, or Train à Grande Vitesse). And Avignon is only about an hour by train from Lyon

Just sit back, relax, and watch the beautiful French countryside roll by outside your window!

Pro Tip: You will need seat reservations for the TGV, so it’s best to buy your tickets in advance so that a full train doesn’t ruin your travel plans. Purchase your train tickets here!

Final Thoughts:

Now you definitely know what to do in Arles and Avignon! Whether you choose to visit Arles or Avignon (or both!) you’ll be sure to have a great time exploring these top Provence attractions.

You might also enjoy these posts about my favorite places in France:

Pin this for later! Don’t miss out on all these great ideas for visiting Avignon, Arles, and the Pont du Gard!

best things to do in Avignon, Arles, and the Pont du Gard

Lisa Garrett

Lisa Garrett is the founder of Waves and Cobblestones. She has taken 18 cruises ranging from a multi-generational Caribbean cruise to solo Alaska cruises to fabulous Mediterranean cruises.

She lived in Ireland for 4 months and has taken over a half-dozen multi-city vacations in Europe (primarily relying on train and public transit). Lisa helps people plan amazing vacations to Europe and popular cruise destinations.

Learn more about Lisa!

Me, traveling in Venice by gondola

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