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Set into a bend of the Rhône, Avignon is enclosed behind low medieval walls broken up with elaborate gates and towers. After Pope Clement V fled Rome in the 14th century, Avignon became the capital of the Roman Catholic Church for 70 years.

The popes’ residence, the Palais des Papes (Papal Palace), is the city's most remarkable structure but around it winds a handsome array of medieval streets linking leafy public squares lined with small boutiques, cafés and excellent restaurants. With a large number of museums and a renowned arts festival, Avignon has a wide choice of attractions. Our specialists can help you decide where best to go, based on your specific interests.

I can always feel the Avignon’s history when I visit. It’s more than just the Pope’s Palace and the Pont d'Avignon — from the medieval walls to the leafy squares, the city has done a great job of preserving its past.

France specialist Leanne

Things to see and do in Avignon

Palais des Papes

Palais des Papes, AvignonA sprawling fortified Gothic palace, seat of papal power for seven decades, the Palais des Papes is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Avignon's foremost ecclesiastical building. It stands as a testament to the wealth, power and influence of the Catholic Church in medieval times. Its forest of turrets, towers, arches and battlements is protected by a ring of thick walls with four mighty towers. Inside, a warren of rooms is revealed and you can see the pope’s private chambers and the frescoes painted by the Italian artist Matteo Giovannetti. Although most rooms are left bare, the scale of the palace impresses, its rooms coming back to life in a series of cultural events held throughout the year. Between mid August and the end of September, the palace walls are illuminated in a giant display of bright projections that tell the history of the palace, the city and the region.

Place du Palais

Surrounding the papal palace is a vast square that is also the site of the city's 12th-century Romanesque cathedral, which is topped by a gilded statue of the Virgin Mary. Inside the cathedral is the Gothic mausoleum of Pope John XXII. Nearby, the Hôtel des Monnaies, which was once the papal mint, is decorated with intricate carvings of heraldic creatures. Looking down contemplatively over it all, the hilltop gardens of Rocher des Doms provide a viewpoint over the Palais des Papes, the river and beyond to Mont Ventoux and the Alpilles mountains.

Pont d'Avignon

Forever associated with the French nursery rhyme Sur le Pont d'Avignon, the Pont Saint-Bénezet was erected by a medieval pastor who’d, according to local legend, three visitations from the saints urging him to build a bridge across the Rhône. The bridge, with its 20 arches, was completed in 1185 but required frequent rebuilding as the regular flooding of the river caused the central arches to collapse. By the 17th century, the bridge was abandoned. Only four arches remain, as a folly jutting out into the river. The 12th-century Chapel of Saint Nicholas sits on the second arch.

Avignon’s museums

The arts have always played a prominent role in Avignon culture, and the city is patron to a large number of museums and galleries worthy of a visit. The city's fine arts museum, Musée Calvet, features a collection that ranges from Egyptian and Islamic art to French, Spanish and Flemish painting. The former archbishop's palace now hosts the Musée du Petit Palais and its collection of Renaissance art, while modern art is represented at the Collection Lambert, which features conceptual art, photography and sculpture from the 1960s to the present. The Musée Angladon, which started life as a house museum, holds a collection that includes works by Manet, Degas, Van Gogh and Modigliani.

Arts festival

France's largest arts festival takes place in Avignon over three weeks each July. Its varied line-up includes dance, drama and classical music performances, and lectures, workshops and exhibitions, all of which are hosted in historic buildings across the town. The event spills out onto the streets with a fringe festival, featuring experimental performances and street entertainment, which envelops the whole city in a celebratory mood. It's a great time to visit, but performances sell out quickly and hotels can be hard to find, so we recommend booking well in advance.

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Suggested itineraries featuring Avignon

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