Welcome to our guide to spending one day in Avignon, one of the most beautiful cities in France, and a fantastic base for exploring Provence and much of the south of France.
One of the great Provence cities, Avignon is best known for its monumental Palais des Papes, the Palace of Popes who reigned there between 1309 and 1377. It’s also renowned for the Pont d’Avignon (Pont St Bénézet), the famous medieval bridge with just four arches remaining.
Our Avignon one day itinerary takes you to both of these sights, and we also point you in the direction of several other attractions in Avignon well worth seeking out. It doesn’t take long to get off the beaten path in Avignon, with some gorgeous back streets and amazing city walls, and we help you along the way with this.
We also offer suggestions for other things to see in Avignon if you have more time there, and a few taster day trips from the city into the gorgeous region of Provence. Enjoy!
Why Visit Avignon
Avignon is one of the best places to visit in Provence, a beautiful medieval city with two of the most famous landmarks in France.
The Palais des Papes – Papal Palace – is one of the outstanding Gothic buildings in Europe, and was headquarters of the papacy from 1309 to 1377.
The Palace is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which also comprises the Cathedral and the famous Pont Saint Bénézet which extends part of the way across the river Rhône.
The rest of the old city also has an austere beauty about it, with some wonderful squares, streets and churches to discover.
Avignon is also a superb base if you plan on making lots of day trips around this part of southern France.
One Day In Avignon Planning Tips
Avignon is a small city with two main sights, and you can comfortably see them both in one day.
One day in Avignon will also give you enough time to see some of the less-known Avignon sights, get a feel for the place and spend an hour or two eating or drinking al fresco in one of the squares around the city.
Avignon is a superb base if you intend to explore Provence. There are enough day trips from Avignon to fill up a fortnight, and when I stayed there I didn’t attempt to see everything at once, exploring it a little at a time.
Avignon In One Day Itinerary
You have the option of exploring the city by yourself or joining a guided walking tour of Avignon, which includes entry to the Palais des Papes and a glass of local Côtes du Rhône wine.
If you don’t opt for a walking tour, start the day by walking through the old city, eventually making your way towards the river. In the morning, the sun shines on the lovely Rue des Teinturiers, a pretty street with a canal on one where the city’s dyers once plied their trade. Continue across Rue des Lices and turn onto Rue du Roi Rene, which has some of the finest townhouses in the city, to Place Saint-Didier and the church of the same name.
St-Didier is a fine 14th century Gothic church, holding the relics of the patron saint of Avignon and bridge building, St Bénézet (more on him in a moment). Also look out for the stunning 15th century altarpiece by Francesco Laurana.
Continue to the northern end of the old city to see the Pont Saint Bénézet, one of the most famous bridges in Europe. The truncated bridge – it’s now only four piers long – was built at a site deemed unsuitable between 1177 and 1185 after local saint Bénézet claimed that Jesus Christ told him to build one there in a vision.
The original bridge was destroyed in 1226 during the Siege of Avignon and replaced by what we see today. The bridge later fell into decay, suffering partial collapse during floods, and now only four arches remain. It inspired the famous song ‘Sur le pont d’Avignon’ – one with this name originated in the 17th century, but the current version dates from the 19th century.
Return via the Rocher des Doms, the beautiful park at the top of the hill overlooking the river and bridge. Then walk down the hill until you reach Avignon Cathedral.
The Cathedral of Notre Dame des Doms d’Avignon was built in the 12th century, long before the neighbouring Palais des Papes. The tower had to be rebuilt after a partial collapse in 1425, and the gilded statue of the Virgin Mary was added in the 19th century.
The interior is unusual, a sort of remodelled Romanesque with a 17th century apse. The wide arches are rare, and the ornate stonework reminds me a little of the interior of Saint-Etienne-du-Mont church in Paris. Otherwise, the most notable monument is the Gothic tomb of Pope John XXII, who died in 1334.
For lunch, you could either head for the busy Place de l’Horloge, which will usually have tables but you pay for the location. Otherwise, on nearby Rue du Vieux Sextier, visit Les Halles indoor market where you can buy food from the stalls and finds a spot at one of the tables to eat it. There’s also a great little place around the corner, Mamma Corsica, where you can sample some of the delicious food of this stunning Mediterranean island.
If it’s still open, pay a brief visit to the Basilique St Pierre, one of the finest churches in Avignon, which a beautiful 14th century Gothic façade and wonderfully carved wooden doors.
Afternoon – Palais des Papes – The Papal Palace
The Palais des Papes is one of the most extraordinary buildings of the Gothic Age, and dominates the northern part of the old city of Avignon.
We suggest seeing it in the afternoon (as I did) to get a bit of respite from the heat outside.
You cannot visit Avignon and not see it. Avignon became the seat of the Papacy after a dispute between France’s King Philippe IV and Rome. The French cleric Raymond Bertrand du Got was elected Pope in 1305, taking the name Clement V, but refusing to travel to Rome to assume the Papacy there. Instead, he moved it to Avignon on 1309, beginning work on a suitable residence immediately.
The Palace was completed in 1352, and remained the Papal headquarters until 1377, when Pope Gregory XI returned to Rome. Two ‘antipopes’ subsequently based themselves in Avignon, and this ‘Western Schism’ was finally resolved in 1417.
The Palais des Papes is an astonishing edifice. It’s a very sturdy fortified building of military austerity, but as the tour reveals, there is some astounding artwork within. The frescoes in the Saint-Jean and Saint-Martial chapels are the work of Sienese painter Matteo Giovanetti, and those in the private study of Pope Clement VI may have partly been his work – if not, he may well have directed some of it.
Evening – Dinner in Place Crillon
As the temperature begins to fall, it’s time to take a walk across the river to see panorama of city and Pont Saint Bénézet. It’s an absolute Avignon must see, as the view of the medieval skyline of the city and the bridge is magnificent.
It’s wonderful to watch the late light on the bridge and city, then sit with a drink and savour the view before the lights are turned on and the whole spectacle is floodlit.
Place Crillon, just inside the city walls and a short walk from the river, is one of the most picturesque squares in Avignon. It’s just inside one of the city gates, the Porte de l’Oulle, and away from the crowds around the Place de l’Horloge.
There are a couple of restaurants and bars with tables outside, beautiful old buildings, cooling shade from the trees and (every time I went past) a street musician providing the perfect Provencal soundtrack to the scene. My favourite place in the city, and you can stay right on it, in the 5-star Hotel d’Europe.
Avignon One Day Itinerary Summary
Morning – 8.00 – 12.00
Guided Walk In Avignon Old Town
Walk through old city including rue des Teinturiers, Rue du Roi Rene, St Didier Church and St Pierre Church
Visit the Pont Saint Bénézet and Avignon Cathedral
Les Halles Market and Lunch
Afternoon – 1330 to 1800 or later
Visit the Palais des Papes (Popes’ Palace) and explore more of Old Town
Cross river to Ile de Piot and viewpoints along the river of the Pont Saint Bénézet, Cathedral and Papal Palace
Evening – 1900 onwards
Dinner at Place Crillon, than at your leisure.
More Than 1 Day In Avignon – Other Things To Do In Avignon
The main Avignon attraction that I left off the one -day itinerary is the Musee Calvet, the city’s main museum. Its extensive collection, the bequest of local physician Esprit Calvet.
He amassed a massive collection, ranging from historical artefacts including Egyptian sarcophagi, to French, Italian and northern European art from the 16th century onwards.
The collection is housed in two buildings, with the stone sculptures in a lapidarium.
While staying in Avignon I would also suggest heading over the river to Villeneuve-lès-Avignon, to visit the impressive Fort St- André. The gatehouse is especially imposing, and the stout walls hide a wonderful surprise – the gorgeous gardens of the Abbaye de St- André. A large part of them dates from the 15th and 16th centuries, and they command awesome views over the hills to the north and Mont Ventoux.
I also recommend the short rain ride south to the fortified medieval towns of Beaucaire and Tarascon, which face each other across the river Rhône.
Day Trips From Avignon
You can see many of the best places to visit in Provence – and indeed the eastern part of Languedoc & Roussillon – from Avignon, even if you’re just using public transport. Our feature on the best day trips from Avignon shows you 14 of these places, so I’ll just run through a few here.
The Pont du Gard is one of the most impressive Roman monuments in Europe, an ancient aqueduct over the river Gardon near the town of Uzès. It’s a stunning sight, reachable by bus from Avignon or on a day tour covering both the Pont du Gard and Nimes, which has two amazing Roman monuments of its own.
Avignon is very close to the Côtes du Rhône wine region, and you can either explore by car or take a wine tour which includes a visit to a vineyard in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, home to one of the most famous French vintages.
Avignon is also very close to some of the most beautiful villages in Europe, especially to the east in the Luberon. The ochre village of Roussillon is our favourite, with its distinct rich, bright colours, and nearby Gordes is a classic hilltop village with a Castle and steep, winding cobbled lanes and alleyways. You really need a car to get to this part of the country, otherwise you can visit these two villages and more on a Provence day tour from Avignon.
The lavender fields of Provence are among the most beautiful landscapes in Europe, and visitors flock to the region to see them from late June to early August every year. The most iconic lavender location in Provence is the 12th century Abbaye de Sénanque, but we also recommend the countryside around Sault, Apt, Banon and Valensole. Again, you need a car to explore these, or you can take lavender fields tours from Avignon which take you to several the best places in the region.
Where Is Avignon
Avignon is the capital of the Vaucluse département of the Provence region of south-east France. Avignon is at the juncture of three départements, where Vaucluse, Gard and Bouches-du-Rhône meet.
It stands on the river Rhône, in the far west of Vaucluse and, indeed, the Provence region. The département of Gard, and the region of Languedoc-Roussillon (also known as Occitanie) begins the other side of the Rhône from Avignon.
We have included a map showing Avignon’s location in relation to several other French cities. Below we list the distances and average length of train journeys to Avignon from these cities:
Paris to Avignon – 360 miles / 579 km – average 3 hours 40 minutes
Lyon to Avignon – 126 miles / 202 km – average 2 hours 6 minutes
Marseille to Avignon – 53 miles / 85 km – average 44 minutes
Nice to Avignon – 125 miles / 201 km – average 4 hours 14 minutes
Carcassonne to Avignon – 133 miles / 215 km – average 3 hours (with 1 change)
How To Get To Avignon
Avignon is within reach of all major French cities via the TGV network and the regional SNCF trains. The TGV and city station (Gare Avignon Centre) are over a mile apart, and connected by trains and shuttle bus.
Long distance buses including Flixbus call at the gare routière(Avignon PEM bus station) which is next door to Avignon Gare Centre railway station.
If you’re flying to the south of France and visiting Avignon, the nearest airports are Avignon, Nimes and Marseille.
How To Get Around Avignon
I’ve visited Avignon twice and walked everywhere. However there are free shuttle buses (baladines) that run around the centre ville, which are very convenient if it’s hot, which it usually is in summer.
If you arrive in Avignon by TGV, there are shuttle buses to Avignon Gare Centre, or you can travel by train between the two stations.
Best Time To Visit Avignon
Spring or autumn are the best times to visit Avignon, when the temperature is cooler than the summer, when it is often intensely hot (often over 35C).
Avignon is at its busiest in July when the Festival d’Avignon is held – it usually lasts around three weeks – and accommodation is harder to find, and more expensive during this period.
Useful To Know
The lavender season coincides with the Festival d’Avignon. The famous Provence lavender fields are in bloom for around five weeks, usually beginning in late June or the first week of July. When I visited to see the lavender I opted to stay outside Avignon, which worked well.
How Many Days In Avignon Ideally
Two days is plenty of time to see Avignon. It’s a small, compact city, and easily walkable. When I stayed there I used it as a base to explore the surrounding region, staying ten days in total.
So: 2 days in Avignon is more than enough to see the city, but I suggest staying there or close by if you plan to see more of Provence.
One Day In Avignon – Final Thoughts
I’ve spent a lot of time in and around Avignon, and still want more. It’s not a big city, and in one day in Avignon you can cover the essential Avignon sightseeing and scratch some way below the surface.
It’s a fantastic base for exploring Provence and Languedoc-Roussillon, so use that as an excuse for a longer stay in Avignon, digging a little deeper every day.
David Angel is a Welsh, photographer, writer and historian who has been travelling and photographing Europe for over 30 years. His work is regularly featured in worldwide media including the BBC, Condé Nast Traveller, the Guardian, the Times and the Sunday Times.
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