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The small city of Avignon is one of the most historic in the south of France, and home to some of the best preserved Roman and medieval architecture and ruins in Europe. Avignon has a heritage that stretches back thousands of years. It’s been the home of Celts, Romans and most profoundly, the Popes when Avignon was the papal capital of Catholicism in the 14th century.
This rich tapestry of history has given Avignon a cultural heritage like few places in France, and it’s a city that’s brimming with fascinating sights waiting to be explored. Outside the medieval walls of Avignon though, there’s even more to be seen, as the city’s heritage stretches far out into the surrounding countryside.
There are villages that date back to the Roman era, impressive medieval attractions, and glorious natural scenery. The larger cities of Lyon and Marseilles are just short train rides, while romantics will want to visit the wineries and lavender farms that the region is so famous for.
It’s a great city to be based in, and to inspire your trip to southern France, here are our top day trips from Avignon, personally picked by our travel writing experts!
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It’s just a forty-minute train ride between Avignon and Marseille on the fast TGV service that runs regularly between the two cities. Marseille is France’s second largest city, and while it might at first glance seem like a sprawling metropolis that’s crowded with people, it’s also a city that’s teeming with culture and history.
It makes for a great day trip – because, for one, you can escape the large city whenever you want to return to Avignon! – but also because this is the centre of life in the south of France, and you can’t visit the Provence Region without calling into Marseille!
Marseille is a historic port city, with a legacy that dates back to the 6th century BC when seafaring Greeks settled here. Start by visiting the harbour, where you can walk through the ramshackle streets and take in not just the many heritage listed buildings but experience first hand the unique, modern multicultural makeup of a city that has attracted immigrants from across the world. Get here early enough, and you’ll even have the chance to see the local fish markets at their busiest, as the fishermen bring their catches in to be sold in the morning.
After exploring the harbour, it’s time to delve deeper into Marseille. Visit the unique Byzantine inspired Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde, stroll through the intriguing corridors of the Musee d’Histoire de Marseilles and take a boat over to the infamous Chateau d’If, a former fortress and prison that inspired many of the scenes in the classic novel, the Count of Monte Cristo.
Lyon is the third largest city in France, and from Avignon, it’s just over one hour away on the fast train. You’ll be heading directly north, as the TGV whisks you at speed through the beautiful countryside, and into the French interior!
Given its size, Lyon is charmingly easy to explore, and it makes for a great day trip away from Avignon on the train. The city is stuffed with museums and points of historic interest, as much of the centre is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its incredible heritage.
In Lyon, you can find Roman amphitheatres close to modern skyscrapers, making this a beautiful blend of the old and new. The streets of the city are pleasantly colourful, and you can visit the Vieux Lyon district to get a flavour of the Renaissance era architecture that still stands proudly in the heart of Lyon. You can even venture underground to explore the distinctive medieval tunnels and passageways that still connect different sides of the city beneath the river.
Culture vultures will want to save plenty of time to walk through the beautiful galleries of the Musee des Beaux-Arts de Lyon, one of the best art museums in France, that’s only really comparable to the world-famous Louvre in the capital.
Once you’re finished sightseeing, then be sure to enjoy dinner in the city before catching the train back to Avignon! Lyon is renowned for its culinary expertise, and you can find some of the country’s best food being served up in the city!
Nimes makes for a fantastic day trip from Avignon because the city is just a half hour’s journey away by train. Nimes is bigger than Avignon, but it’s still pleasantly small and wonderful for exploring!
Nimes is best known for its Roman remains, as the city was founded as a Roman colony over two thousand years ago and was an important provincial capital for centuries. Roman emperors were born here, amphitheatres were built and the most famous of the region’s aqueducts, the Pont du Gard – a magnificent, arched bridge – was constructed outside the city.
Visiting Nimes then is a day trip that’s all about the history and the historic sites. Gaze in awe at the Pont du Gard, before marvelling at the Arena of Nimes. This is possibly the most impressive Colosseum outside of Rome, and it can certainly rival the ruins in the Italian capital too, while if you’re lucky you might even be able to catch a music concert inside the ancient arena!
The Maison Carree is an incredible example of Roman religious architecture, as this well-preserved temple dates back to the turn of the 1st century AD, and really forms the most iconic image of Nimes imaginable!
Direct trains from Avignon take just over an hour to reach Montpellier, a beautiful French city that is found along the southern coast. Although Montpellier lacks the Roman history and relics of many of the southern region’s other major cities, there’s still a rich heritage dating back well over a thousand years.
Montpellier has long been an important university city, with one of the continent’s first medical colleges having been established here – and it’s still in use today – in the 13th century. You’ll quickly realise that Montpellier is full of students, and in term time, the streets are always packed out and full of vibrancy!
The city is home to some beautiful Meditteranean coastline too, and you can lounge at beaches and explore the serene Thau Lagoon, or head inland to visit the local wineries, where grapes are perfectly suited to grow in the warm climate!
Take the train further south from Montpellier and within an hour you’ll be in Beziers, one of the oldest and most archaeologically rich cities in the country!
From Avignon, the fastest trains will have you here, in the heart of the Occitane Region, within two hours, and it’s well worth the ride to explore this small, heritage-filled city. Beziers was founded almost two thousand five hundred years ago, and it became an important Roman colony a few hundred years later.
Today, the most distinctive structure in the city is the 13th century, medieval cathedral, which dominates the skyline as it’s built atop a tall, dramatic cliff face. You can visit the Renaissance-era Canal du Midi, which is a beautiful part of the city to explore by boat or by walking along the banks. You can visit museums, head into the countryside for some wine tasting and enjoy a pleasant day out by train from Avignon!
Avignon is located in Provence, a historic and cultural region of southern France that for a few months each year, is famed for its lavender fields. One of the most romantic day trips you can make from Avignon is to tour through the beautifully colourful fields when the flowers are in bloom!
Between June and August, when not only is the weather at it’s best in the south of France, with sunshine every day of summer, the lavender fields are at their most vibrant. You can find glorious shades of purple and pink throughout the nearby countryside, and touring through the fields makes for an excellent adventure!
The most spectacular place to visit is the Luberon, a breathtaking valley that’s filled with quaint French villages, rolling countryside and field after field of lavender. You can even call in at the famous Lavender Museum, to see just how much this flower has shaped the character of local identity through Provence over the years.
Heading to Avignon? Save some money with our local guide to Avignon’s best hotels!
One of the most romantic day trips for couples from Avignon is a tour through the beautiful wine regions in the surrounding countryside. The Cotes du Rhone wine region is one of the most famed wine growing regions in the world, and you can explore many of these gorgeous wineries, with their classic French look and feel, and sample their best products first hand.
One of the most highly regarded wineries though is that of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and this makes for an excellent day trip for couples!
Chateauneuf-du-Pape is a historic village that’s found close to Avignon, and it’s the site of several different vineyards that produce some of the best wine in France. The village itself is spectacularly romantic, with a medieval castle built on a high hilltop that’s surrounded by ramshackle streets and seemingly endless countryside. They’ve been making wine here for centuries, ever since the 14th-century popes set up base in Avignon and demanded it!
One of the most romantically rustic places to visit on a day trip from Avignon is the small town of Orange, which is found just a short journey to the north of the city.
Orange, like many of the region’s towns and cities, was founded by the Romans when they conquered southern France, and here you can find many marvellous relics from the era, including exceptionally well-preserved amphitheatres and temples.
It’s a small place too, making the sights and attractions easy to cover on foot or with a guided tour, while the peace and quiet will be a nice change if you’ve been day tripping to the larger, more chaotic cities nearby before this.
The highlights of Orange are the Roman amphitheatre and the Triumphal Arch, the latter of which will remind you instantly of the Arc de Triomphe in the French capital – except for the fact that the one here is much, much older!
After exploring the Roman legacy of Orange, the best thing to do here is not much at all. Simply sit back at a local cafe or restaurant, try some truly delectable Provencal food and drink and make the most of the rustic atmosphere before heading back to Avignon at the end of the day.
Further Reading – Have a look at the most AWESOME things to do in Avignon!
Just an hour’s drive or a half hour train journey south from Avignon is the romantically picturesque city of Arles. This is yet another city founded by the Romans centuries ago, but as well as being home to some great ruins from this era, as well as many more dramatic sights from the medieval period too, Arles is best known for being a huge source of inspiration for the famous painter, Vincent van Gogh.
The Dutch artist lived here for a time at the end of the 19th century, and culture vultures will love spending the day tracing his footsteps through the city. The artist was so taken by Arles and its beauty that he completed hundreds of pieces of work in a short space of time, many of them directly portraying the city’s sights and features.
You can visit the Roman amphitheatre, the ruins of extravagant aqueducts and glorious medieval churches. The most famous sight is the Langlois Bridge, which Vincent van Gogh painted on numerous occasions, and you can see it in all its magnificent glory when you visit Arles!
Vincent van Gogh also painted many scenes from local life here too, as well as the iconic landmarks, with many of his works depicting scenes from cafes and restaurants. While you are in Arles, take the time to enjoy the cafe culture too, which is unchanged in over a hundred years!
Grab a seat on the pavement, and sit back and relax with a coffee, and some pastries while you watch the world pass by around you.
Check this out – If you are headed to Avignon check out our guide to Avignon’s best areas to stay!
One of the best places to take all the family, including the kids, when you are visiting Avignon, is the Luberon Valley. This scenic part of Provence is absolutely beautiful, and the many small villages are a must visit!
The kids will love exploring the quaint streets of Roussillon in particular, but it will be the surrounding scenery which will really capture their imagination. Roussillon is famous for ochre, which gives the rocks a red hue and makes the landscapes here rather unusual in comparison to the rest of the region.
The red rocks of Roussillon are dramatically beautiful and you can lead your children on gentle walks by the ochre cliffs and through the countryside. It’s a great day out from Avignon, and everyone’s guaranteed to enjoy the village!
Camargue is one of southern France’s most unique natural attractions, a beautiful area of wetlands that is completely teeming with wildlife!
It’s a great place to explore with the kids, and it’s a great opportunity to take them into the great outdoors to experience a wonderful part of local nature, and hopefully, to see some birds and animals too!
Camargue is found where the mighty River Rhone enters the Mediterranean Sea, and it’s a place of incredible natural biodiversity. As you drive through the wetlands you’ll see the region’s famous wild horses splashing through rivers as they gallop past you, while you’ll more than likely be able to spot pink flamingos basking in the sunlight!
There are few other places like it in the south of France, and you’ll love watching your kids having a fantastic day out from Avignon as they get face to face with wild animals and are dazzled by the scenery.
If you head down to the coastal town of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, there will also be the opportunity to take the river deltas themselves, as you can tour along the waterways in classic, antique looking steamers, which is fun for everyone!
When you’re in the south of France, you’re never too far from the Mediterranean coastline and one of the best days out from Avignon to enjoy with kids is a day out at the beach!
There are lots of beaches just a short journey away from the city to the south, and you can easily spend the whole day relaxing on the sands while the kids splash around in the sea!
A great option to travel to is La Grande-Motte, which is just an hour away by car from Avignon. For decades, this has been a premier seaside resort town overlooking the warm waters of the Mediterranean, and you’ll find some great beaches and plenty of facilities and amenities around to make things easier. The town itself is full of seafront restaurants and cafes, while the harbour is packed with yachts. Things can get busy here in summer, but it’s busy for a reason, and that’s because the beaches are great!
As well as the beach, you can find plenty more things to do here too, and you can visit the water park, explore the town and admire the distinctive pyramid-like buildings found along the shorefront that La Grande-Motte is so famous for.
Avignon is a beautiful city in itself to visit, resplendent with Roman ruins and medieval architecture, and overflowing with culture and history!
Once you’ve explored the streets and seen all the best sights in the city though, it’s easy to get out and about to explore the rest of Provence and further afield into neighbouring regions too. Some of France’s biggest and most iconic cities are easily reachable on the fast and efficient TGV trains from Avignon, with Marseille and Lyon each just an hour away, if not less.
If the big cities aren’t for you though, then you can find even more Roman history and ruins at Nimes or medieval and Renaissance relics at Montpellier. The countryside is just as accessible, and couples and families alike will love exploring the Luberon Valley and the wine regions, with their spectacular landscapes and quintessentially French villages. The beach is never too far either, while there are lots of natural areas that are resplendent with wildlife and beauty!
When it comes to day trips from Avignon, you really are spoilt for choice!
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Gin lover. Coffee addict. Nicola has traveled the world for 7 years and is a staff writer for Hotel Jules. Born in London, Nicola first got the taste of travel studying abroad in Barcelona. Since then she's been hooked - traveling the world non-stop. Passionate about green travel and vegan lifestyle, Nicola spends more of her free time staring at maps wondering where she will head to next!