Avignon is a beautiful small city with a lot to offer and as such, there is no shortage of things you can do during your stay. The city’s medieval castle, beautiful riverside location and famous cobblestone streets put it on the must-see list for hundreds of thousands of visitors every year.
But there are plenty of places to go beyond the papal city of Avignon itself. The city is the perfect jumping off point to check out the surrounding countryside in the heart of Provence.
From cities like Nimes and Arles with ancient Roman ruins, to officially declared “beautiful villages” like Roussillon, Gordes, and Venasque, there is plenty to see and do in the area. And that is not even including larger cities like Marseille, Aix-en-Provence, or Lyon, which are still within a couple of hours drive, but may require more time to visit.
Now traffic can be an issue in the south of France, especially along the A7 Autoroute du Soleil (meaning “Highway towards the Sun”). As such, I have limited all the day trips to tried and tested destinations that are within a couple of hours’ drive from Avignon, if not less.
The train and bus service is rather sparse in the area, so you will require a car. Or you can choose to book a tour which I have highlighted below, if you don’t wish to drive. And so with that, here are the best day trips from Avignon. Allons-y!
If there is any town that epitomizes provençale charm, it is Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. The commune is an arrondissement of Avignon, about 20 miles (33km) from the old fortress town.
It is known for being one of the largest antique markets in Provence and France. Each Sunday, more than 500 antique and brocante dealers from across France and Europe descend on the pretty village to sell their vintage wares and collectibles.
Even if you don’t want to buy any antiques, the town is full of cafés, provençale souvenir shops, and artists’ galleries, all bursting with life and activity. With plenty to do in the area, there are many reasons to make a stop in this special town.
Officially recognized as one of the plus beaux villages de France (meaning one of the “most beautiful villages in France”), Gordes a tiny gem of a town that attracts quite an exclusive clientele.
The village of Gordes is in a stunning location on a clifftop and offers some expansive views of the valley below. The village itself is tiny and much of it is built on a slope.
With a 5-star hotel in its midst known as the Bastide in Gordes, this is a town that tends to attract the wealthy, looking for a getaway that can last all summer.
3. Fontaine de Vaucluse
The Fontaine de Vaucluse is not actually a fountain. It is a natural spring, and one that is considered the 5th largest in the world. And it is about 22 miles (35 km) from Avignon.
Located in at the foot of the Vaucluse Mountains, between the towns of Saumane-de-Vaucluse and Lagnes, this little corner of the Natural Park of Lubéron is one of the most visited sites in Provence.
The spring itself is situated at the feet of a steep limestone cliff 230 metres high, and has an annual flow of 630 million cubic metres. It is a beautiful area, with a few provençale restaurants dotted all around.
You can take a tour from Avignon that will bring you to Fontaine de Vaucluse and read more about visiting Fontaine de Vaucluse here.
4. Saint Rémy de Provence
St. Rémy de Provence is just 13 miles (21km) from Avignon and is one of the most beautiful towns in all of France. With its pastel-colored buildings and cobbled streets, it’s definitely worth a visit.
It is also famous for being the place where Vincent Van Gogh lived, albeit under rather odd circumstances.
From 1889 to 1890, Van Gogh was a patient at the Saint-Paul Asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, and it is here that he painted some of his most memorable works, including The Starry Night, which actually features St. Remy. In the old town of St. Rémy is the Musée Estrine, dedicated to Vincent van Gogh and his works.
5. Baux de Provence and Carrières des Lumières
The Carrières des Lumières is around 25 miles (40km) from Avignon, near the town of Baux-de-Provence. Ancient quarries that were used to dig out limestone for construction, have been taken over by a digital art studio.
The art exhibition projects the imagery of famous artists like Picasso and Van Gogh on these centuries old walls, of what is classified as a “Site naturel classé” (listed natural site).
And the nearby village of Baux-de-Provence is not so bad either. Les Baux de Provence has been named one of the “plus beaux villages de France“, with an impressively large Château, pedestrianized village, and more.
You can take a tour to the Carrières-des-Lumières from Avignon and read more about visiting Baux-de-Provence and the Carrières des Lumières here.
6. Grotte Chauvet 2
One of the greatest cultural treasures in the world is located in the heart of department of Ardèche, about 60 miles (95 km) away from Avignon.
Known as Grotte Chauvet (Cave Chauvet), it is a cave network which has some of the earliest known Paleolithic human cave paintings. Dating back about 28,000 – 32,000 years old these are among the oldest in the world.
There are several panels with some of the earliest known figurative drawings, making it one of the most important prehistoric art sites in the world. These spectacular images were created by prehistoric humans, or Homo sapiens, as they roamed the European continent.
The actual cave is too fragile to allow visitors, and so an exact replica was built called Grotte Chauvet 2. Built to educate visitors about the Paleolithic era, there is an entire complex of exhibitions to visit about the lives of these prehistoric humans. You can read more about visiting Grotte Chauvet 2 here.
About 35 miles (55 km) from Avignon, you will come across orange and yellow ochre hills of an old quarry, surrounded by the lush greens of the forest. Nearby sitting atop a hill is Roussillon, the town officially recognized as one of the “plus beaux village de France“.
The town sits atop the hill, and its lower part is lined with all sorts of artisan shops. The main commodity here is pottery and pigments.
There are several organized tours that visit Roussillon and the nearby lavender fields from Avignon and nearby Aix-en-Provence. You can read more about visiting Roussillon here.
The city of Nimes is one of those fascinating towns that manages to combine ancient Roman ruins with 21st century modern architecture.
Located about 28 miles (45km) away from Avignon, Nîmes is known for its unique Roman sites, including the remains of its amphitheatre and temples, which is among the best-preserved in the world.
Along with a Roman Arena, in the heart of the old part of Nimes lies the Maison Carrée dating from the 1st century B.C. It is one of the best-preserved temples to be found anywhere in the former Roman Empire.
And within the small city center are several small boutiques and restaurant terrasses making it a great place to find some of the local specialties, and ideal for a day trip.
The Popes of Avignon may have departed, but the Ducs of Uzès are still around. About 45 minutes from Avignon is the charming little duchy of Uzès, complete with its own castle and ducal family.
At one time the Dukes of Uzès were the highest title in the land, coming in just after the French royal family. The family managed to survive with their heads during the French Revolution, and bought back their castle in the 1800s and restore it to its former glory.
Today, you can visit the castle, which is at once a home, a museum, and a performance hall. (We managed to see the Duke and his family there at a concert during the summer holidays).
But the real attraction is the town. With charming cobblestone streets and large squares packed with cafés and shops, Uzès is a smaller, more intimate version of Aix-en-Provence. The streets are lined with utterly chic art galleries and high-end restaurants known for their gastronomy.
10. Pont du Gard
About 25 km (15 miles) away from Avignon is an ancient Roman aqueduct known as Pont du Gard. Built over a period of 5 years in the 1st century, the aqueduct was built to carry water to over 50 km (31 miles) to what was then the Roman colony of Nimes.
With 3 tiers of arches, it crosses the river Gardon and is the highest of all Roman aqueduct bridges, as well as being one of the best-preserved.
After the Roman empire collapsed, the Pont du Gard remained in use as it also served as a toll bridge for people looking to cross the river. The bridge remained mostly intact, with the Ducs of nearby Uzès being responsible for maintaining the bridge.
Rather than delivering water, the bridge instead became a tourist attraction, with everyone from French Kings to apprentice masons making their way to the bridge to admire its architecture.
In the early 2000s, traffic around the area was rerouted to preserve this UNESCO world heritage site and from pollution and maintain the tranquil nature of the area. Today, it is one of the most popular destinations in France after the Palace of Versailles and Mont Saint Michel.
And don’t forget the famous Châteauneuf du Pape which is one of the most popular French wines sold around the world. The village is about Châteauneuf-du-Pape is about 10 miles (16km) away from Avignon, and there are many tours that will take you to visit the vineyards.
The name translates to “Pope’s new castle”, and it is named for the castle that was built in the area by the Avignon Popes as their summer residence. The actual village and vineyards of Châteauneuf du Pape are about 25 minutes away by car (such distances took longer to cover back then!)
Only the facade of the castle remains these days, but the village itself is quite charming and surrounded by vineyards.
There are several tours (with wine tastings) leaving from Avignon, which I highly recommend, especially to avoid drinking and driving.
12. Lavender fields
You cannot visit this part of France and miss out on the famed lavender fields in Provence. Those sweet-smelling purple flowers are certainly a sight to behold.
Now, I should note that if you want to see lavender fields, you have to visit Provence in the summer. The best time to visit Provence, when the lavender is at its peak, is between mid-June to mid-July. There is no point visiting in October because there will be no lavender growing.
If you do happen to be in Avignon during the correct period, you can visit a nearby lavender farm and learn about its cultivation and uses from a local producer. There are several tours, some which leave in the mornings or in the afternoons that you can see here.
I recommend the morning tours, especially if you are visiting in the summer because it gets very hot under the sun in this part of the world.
Arles is a small town that sits on the river Rhône, about 24 miles (39 km) away from Avignon. It is most famous for being the home of Vincent Van Gogh from 1888-89, during which he produced over 300 paintings and drawings.
But even before Van Gogh, the town had a long history. It was founded during the Roman Empire, becoming an important city as demonstrated by the arena and other ruins that still like the city.
It is also next to the Camargue national park, with its unique wetlands and horse-riding culture that attract visitors from far and wide. You can read more about taking a tour from Avignon to Arles and the Camargue here.
Montpellier is about 60 miles (97km) away from Avignon and is a lively city with plenty of charm. It has a vibrant restaurant scene, with a variety of shops and world-class museums, serving as a great base for visits to the nearby wine regions of the Languedoc and Roussillon.
In addition, beach lovers will want to take advantage of coastal Montpellier’s proximity to the Mediterranean shoreline during the summer season. You can read more about visiting Montpellier here.
About 77 miles (125 km) away from Avignon is the small seaside town of Sète. Sète is often called La Venise languedocienne or the “Venice of Languedoc”, because of it has many smaller canals in the heart of the city, along with the Canal du Midi.
The town has a population of around 45,000 and is part of the Montpellier-Sète urban area. A large fishing town, it has a rich heritage of maritime history as well as gastronomy.
One of the first things you notice in Sète is its Royal Canal, the main artery of the city. With lovely pastel buildings lining the canal, dating from the 19th century, you will quickly fall in love with this part of the south of France. You can read more about Sète here.
16. Canal du Midi
The Canal du Midi is a man-made river constructed from in 1681, located in the Languedoc-Roussillon region in France. It starts in Sète which is 77 miles (125 km) away from Avignon and goes all the way past Carcassonne, up to the town of Toulouse.
This amazing canal ranks as one of the greatest feats of engineering of all time.It is also exceptionally beautiful, with houseboats along its tree-lined quais and working locks that still adjust water levels.
With ancient buildings made of stone, the lovely little town of Venasque feels like it belongs to another era.
Perched on a rocky edge of a cliff, it is about 24 miles (38 km) from Avignon. It has been officially recognized as one of the “plus beaux villages de France” (one of the most beautiful villages in France), welcoming thousands of visitors every year.
When the sun is shining, this little village is a stunning place to visit, with its medieval stone buildings and historic church.
Located about 17 miles (27 km) from Avignon, Carpentras is not a city that sees a lot of foreign tourists.
However, with the town center surrounded by fortified walls dating back to the Middle ages, its narrow streets that open up into large squares certainly have plenty to look at and admire.
But with a couple of small museums, shopping streets and plenty of restaurants and wine, it makes for a lovely day trip from Avignon.
It is also the location of the oldest synagogue in France, as well a relic from the time of Jesus Christ, showing the historical importance of this city. You can read more about visiting Carpentras here.
If you enjoyed that post, you may want to read more about traveling around Provence and the French Riviera. A bientôt!