A famous art collection, amazing shops and good food: within the ramparts of Avignon lies a lot to discover.
Can you smell the lavender? Feel the mistral wind (trust us, if it’s there, you feel it) on your face? We’re in the Provence, that beautiful French region that spans from the mountains to the sea and encompasses so many clichés of what the ‘real France’ looks like.
Avignon might not be the most obvious of travel destinations, but it is a worthy one. The city isn’t big – only 90.000 people live in it – but it is rich in history and culture. Roughly 12.000 of its inhabitants live within the still fully intact medieval ramparts. And it is within these walls that we will spend the next 12hrs, discovering the best of the old and the new. Everything is within walking distance, so we’ll take it easy on the street-by-street navigation this time. Just find your way through the winding streets. And if you ever get lost, just look for the Papal Palace that is visible from most points of the city.
Seven different popes resided in this giant fortress, making Avignon the center of the catholic world (and with that, almost all of Europe) for a brief moment in time. Now the clocks are ticking slower again, making this a great destination to unwind. Much of the charme of the city comes from its compact size. Its people might come off a bit rough at first, but once you crack the surface, they couldn’t be warmer or more welcoming. The opening hours of the shops and restaurants also give off the size of the place: watch out for slow Mondays and extensive lunch breaks!
Once a year, Avignon actually takes back some of its glory. During the annual Festival d’Avignon in July, the art and theater world flocks to the city for one of the world’s largest art festivals. If you visit then, you’ll get hustle and bustle.
Then, there’s the famous Pont d’Avignon, the bridge that many of us know from a nursery rhyme. There’s not much dancing on it nowadays, but it’s still worth to have a look.
A wonderful way to arrive here is by train. Come May 1st, Eurostar has a new direct service to Avignon, taking you from the city center of London right to the heart of Avignon in just under six hours. The Provence route takes you past some of France’s most breathtaking scenery and puts you in the mood for wine, sunshine, and some serious shopping. Tickets start at just 99£ (approximately 145 USD/135 Euro) return, so pack your bags and let’s go.
Let’s spend 12hrs in Avignon!
Avignon is a commune in south-eastern France on the left bank of the Rhône river that is part of the Provence region.
Good to know: Avignon’s historic city center became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995.
The annual Festival d’Avignon is one of the biggest arts festivals in the world.
Seven successive popes resided in Avignon from 1309 to 1377.
Population (metro area): 90.000
Currency: Euro (€)
9am – Les Halles
A visit to a colorful market to start the day off right
Let’s start our day with some pre-breakfast exploring. The Les Halles market of Avignon is a treasure trove for all kinds of products from the Provence area. Vendors sells local vegetables, herbs, and meats, there are olives and oil, and anything lavender-related. It is here that the chefs of Avignon purchase the produce they will use to cook their typical dishes later in the day.
The market is housed in a big, modern building in the city center whose facade is overgrown with plants and moss, making it stand out from the traditional architecture around it. A flea market often takes place on the square in front of it. Take your time to explore the many different stalls inside and outside and use the inspiration to whet your appetite. Next up is breakfast.
Les Halles // Place Pie // Tue-Fri 6am-1.30pm, Sat/Sun 6am-2pm // website
9.30am – Mélido
Café au lait and croissants for breakfast
Right across the Place Pie, opposite of the conservatorium, lies this popular tea salon and bistro. Mélido is a family affair, run by a husband and wife-team who left their corporate jobs to pursue their dreams and open their own cafe.
Walk up to the counter and pick out a croissant or any other breakfast item you’d like, then have your choice of coffee or tea and pay right away. The friendly staff will prepare your food and serve it to you on a tray that you can take to any table you want. In the summer, you can sit outside, and if it’s cold you can pick one of the cozy corners by the big windows. The atmosphere here is busy but relaxed, lots of locals and students from the music university across the street frequent the cafe. Grab a newspaper from the rack (if you can read French) and enjoy an hour of French breakfast rituals.
Afterwards, walk through the winding streets of Avignon’s city center towards the Papal Palace.
Restaurant Françoise Famille Mélido // 6 Rue de Général Leclerc // Mon-Sat 8am-7pm // website
10.45am – Palais Des Papes
Avignon’s most famous landmark up close
Hello // Salut
Thank you // Merci
Yes // Oui
No // Non
Do & Dont’s
Do: Take a photo of yourself in front of the Papal palace and tell your friends you visited the Game of Thrones set. It’s not true, but they will believe you.
Don’t: Don’t get fooled by the sunshine. The mistral wind can get very strong and cold.
There’s no way you can miss this architectural marvel. The Papal Palace towers over much of Avignons old town and looks like a real-life version of a Game of Thrones set. You can enter the building and take a tour of the palace, but the 20 rooms that are accessible to the public are empty (most of the furniture got lost during the French Revolution). There are some intricate frescoes to see inside, so if that’s your thing, purchase a ticket and walk right in.
But in this guide, we’ll focus on the garden instead. Find the stairs that lead up behind the main building of the palace and make your way up the hill. It’s a steep climb, but you’ll be rewarded for it!
We calculated in lots of time in this guide for these gardens , because they are really worth exploring and there’s a lot to discover. Designed on a massive hill above the city, you immediately see why this would be a good place for a palace. You can see for miles and still feel perfectly safe up here. Different observation decks give you the chance to discover the hilly surroundings of the Provence. There are statues scattered around the park, lots of secret passageways and even cave with a hidden waterfall. From up here is also the perfect place to see the famous bridge of Avignon, it’s a bit to your left when you look down.
The Pont Saint-Bénézet lies in ruins now, leading only halfway over the river Rhône. It once connected Avignon (and a watchtower of the Papal Palace) to the Île de la Barthelasse, an island that was a popular destination for the city folks to unwind. The famous bridge used to be the largest of its kind in Europe, spanning 900 meters.
If you want to access it, you’ll have to buy a ticket at the entrance of the palace.
Palais des Papes // Place du Palais // palace opening hours: Mon-Sat 9am-5pm // website
12.30pm – Subito
A quick Italian lunch
After so many sights and lots of walking, it’s already time for lunch. For that, find your way to Rue Saint-Etienne behind the Place du Palais, close to the Papal Palace.
Subito is a tiny restaurant with only very few tables and stools, and it’s always packed during lunch time. But turnaround times here are quick, so don’t worry if all the seats should be taken. Owner Jean-Philippe serves homemade Italian dishes, the menu changes every day. This is a no frills place that is loved by the locals for its fresh food, good coffee and low prices. Have your pick from the glass case, we recommend any of the fresh pasta dishes or one of the quiches.
Afterwards, walk down Rue Joseph Vernet and turn right at the Rue du Portail Boquier, then into Rue Violette.
Subito // 24 Rue Saint-Etienne // Mon-Sat 8am-6pm
1.45pm – Collection Lambert En Avignon
A modern art collection that would fit in any capital
The historic center of Avignon that is enclosed by the city walls is small. Everything is in walking distance, so you won’t need to worry about public transport.
What to order:
Food: Navarin en avignonnaise, a lamb stew with oranges, olives and mixed vegetable.
Drinks: Absinth! The Pernod company’s founder was born and raised in Avignon.
A striped shirt from Petit Bateau.
A cool pair of sneakers from TheNextDoor.
(Disclaimer: If you follow this guide before May 2015, you’ll sadly have to skip this part. The museum is under construction.)
Since the 1960s, Yvon Lambert is the wild child of Paris art collectors with a hugely successful gallery space in the French capital. During Avignon’s run as the European Capital of Culture in 2000, he decided to showcase his private collection in the Hôtel de Caumont, an old townhouse dating back to the 18th century. A new donation of artworks was the reason for a giant renovation and recent expansion of the place.
Lambert’s collection is an amazing showcase of modern art, spanning from paintings and land art to photography and video installation. It’s the kind of exhibition you would never expect to find in a town as small as Avignon, yet it fits perfectly into the laid-back vibe of the city.
For some of the artists presented here, Avignon is the only place in France to admire their work. Among them Cy Twombly, Robert Ryman, Andres Serrano, Sol LeWitt and Nan Goldin, of whom you can see more than 70 photographs. The museum also houses works by Donald Judd, Daniel Buren, Dennis Oppenheim, Julian Schnabel, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Douglas Gordon and many others.
Collection Lambert en Avignon // 5 Rue Violette // Tue-Sun 11am-6pm, July-August Mon-Sun 11am-6pm // website
4pm – L’Ami Voyage En Compagnie
A quick coffee break in an old book shop
Looking at art can be quite exhausting, so let’s take a quick coffee break before we start our shopping spree. L’Ami Voyage en Compagnie is a curious place, a charming cafe on the ground floor and an old book shop on the first floor. Order a strong espresso (or whatever else picks you up) and lean back, maybe have a chat with the charming owner who is usually around. If old books are something you enjoy, don’t forget to have a peek upstairs.
L’Ami Voyage en Compagnie // 5 Rue Prévôt // opening hours vary, closed in the evenings except for July and August
4.15pm – Shopping
Checking out the city’s best boutiques
For a town the size of Avignon, it is remarkable how many great shops you will find here. Ignore Rue de la République, Avignon’s high street with the usual fast fashion chain stores, and focus on Rue Joseph Vernet, Rue de la Petite Fusterie and the streets around them instead. Here, you’ll find the who is who of French brands that we love. Be on the lookout for Sessún, Petit Bateau, Sandro, Comptoir des Cotonniers, American Vintage and Repetto, especially if you are a lady. The upcoming stops on our shopping tour cater more to the guys.
4.30pm – Goods & Shoes
Boots and bags for the modern gentleman
On Rue de la Petite Fusterie you’ll find Goods & Shoes, a small shop that sells exactly what its name promises: great mens’ shoes and some other goods. Everything here owes its design to classical Americana, the boots are by heritage brands such as Red Wind or Mark McNairy and the bags sold come from Filson. There are designs from Barbour and Stetson on the shelves, and the old barber shop chairs evoke a feeling of nostalgia.
4.40pm – Galerie 567
A great selection of vintage furniture
Just a few houses down the street lies the Galerie 567, a curious shop that is part art gallery, part vintage furniture shop with a great selection. When the Parisians flock to Avignon in summer for the festival, lots of them come here to stock up on otherwise hard to get items for their homes.
The focus here is on furniture and objects from the 20th century. The items we found were in pristine condition and beautiful, so have a look around. Sometimes the owners are out even during opening hours and leave a message at the door. If that’s the case, don’t be shy and dial the phone number they provide on the piece of paper. They’ll come by and open the doors for you immediately!
Galerie 567 // 17 Rue de la Petite Fusterie // Mon-Sat 10am-12pm & 2.30pm-7.30pm & by appointment // website
5pm – The Next Door
Men’s fashion at its very best
The amazing thing about traveling to foreign places is the discovery of things you weren’t expecting. Maybe we didn’t give Avignon enough credit before we came here, but the next two locations on our itinerary really blew our minds. Here, in this small medieval town in the middle of the Provence are two of the very best menswear shops the 12hrs team has ever encountered. They are both run by the same team of passionate creatives that love what they do and love the city they’re in. Two things that translate into their work.
The Next Door is the older of the two shops with a background in street wear and skate clothing. Located in a former British delicatessen shop, the owners kept the apothecary style interior and stocked it with the best brands out there.
Here you’ll find a big selection of sneakers, lots of jeans, and classic yet relaxed brands like A.P.C., Norse Projects, Howlin’ by Morrison and Bleu de Paname.
The Next Door // 5 Rue Folco de Baroncelli // Mon 2pm-7.15pm, Tue-Sat 10am-12.15pm & 2pm-7.15pm // website
5.15pm – Acte 2
Cutting edge fashion in a beautifully restored old theater
Walk up the short street and around the corner to discover Acte 2, the second act of this menswear saga. Housed in a lovingly restored old theater overlooking Place Crillon, this store focusses on the higher fashion spheres of menswear.
On the racks you’ll find Acne and A Kind Of Guise, Comme des Garçons Play and S.N.S. Herning, Visvim and Y-3. The selection can easily compete with any fashion store in a big city, yet the atmosphere is calm and strangely suitable for Avignon. There are some homeware items and furniture from Galerie 567 on display, skincare from Aesop and candles by Byredo. Lots of wood furniture and plants make the shop seem organic. If this sounds like a raving review, it is! Poke around, and if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask the staff. Avignon isn’t Paris, so the cold and somewhat arrogant attitude that some salespeople in the capital seem to cultivate is completely amiss here.
Acte 2 // 9 Place Crillon // Mon 2pm-7.15pm, Tue-Sat 10am-12.15pm & 2pm-7.15pm // website
5.45pm – Sterling Barber Agreement
A classic barber shop in the heart of Avignon
If you’re feeling for some more manly pampering, head over to the Sterling Barber Agreement now and treat yourself to an old school shave or hair cut. This is a truly classic, American-style barber shop where the barbers where white shirts with suspenders and sport perfectly groomed mustaches.
There’s of course a barber pole and leather seats, and among the great products used here is the line by American Crew.
Sterling Barber Agreement // 11 Rue des Trois Faucons // Mon, Tue & Fri 10am-7pm, Thu 12pm-9pm, Sat 10am-6pm // website
6pm – CQFD
Concept store shopping the Avignon way
The last stop on our shopping list is just a short walk away. CQFD is a cute concept store that sells accessories for the home, darling toys and a small selection of very French clothes such as striped shirts and charming underwear. Most of the furnishings here can be bought, too.
Their postcards and prints make for great and tasteful souvenirs that won’t break the bank.
CQFD // 16 Place de la Principale // Mon 1.30pm-7pm, Tue-Sat 10am-7pm // website
6.30pm – La Mirande
A luxury hotel that transports you back to aristocratic times
Time for a break. For that, let’s head back to the hotel. Avignon is a somewhat classic city, and in our books, that calls for a classic hotel. La Mirande is just that. A stay in this five star hotel might be a bit of a splurge, but every penny spent here is worth it.
The wonderfully old-school, plush interior is quintessentially French, with flower prints in all colors of the rainbow on the wallpapers, the sofas, the curtains, and the chairs. There’s a wonderful garden in the back that is perfect to kick your feet up, secluded salons to hide away in, and, of course, luxurious guest rooms that make you feel like French Royalty (pre-revolution, of course). To add to that aristocratic feeling are incredibly comfortable beds, products by organic skincare brand Dr. Hauschka, curtains that match the wallpapers, and staff that caters to you with a smile. From your window, you look at the majestic Papal Palace.
Sit back and relax for a while before heading out one more time for dinner.
La Mirande // 4 Place de L’Amirande // website
8pm – Le Barrio
A charming restaurant that serves great food
Just like the other restaurants we visited today, Le Barrio is a favorite with the locals. Once you’re there, it’s easy to see why. The mismatched furniture gives off a charming, laid-back vibe, the raw walls contribute to that feeling as well. It’s absolutely unpretentious to eat here, yet the food is amazing.
What’s on the menu changes daily, depending on what’s in season. Some staples are the burger and the catch of the day, as well as some tapas-style small dishes that are best shared.
Order some amazing local wine, let the friendly waiting staff suggest to you what’s good today and say cheese. You just spent 12hrs in Avignon!
Le Barrio // 13 Rue de Infirmières // Facebook
The sound of Avignon in 12 songs.