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
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
(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
Hello // Salut
Thank you // Merci
Yes // Oui
No // Non
Maybe // Peut-être
DO & DONT'S
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.
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.