Boats in the port of Cassis in Provence, France

17 Things to Do on a Visit to Provence

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Provence has something for just about everyone. This brilliant corner of southeast France is punctuated with villages full of winding lanes, cliffs that plunge to the sea, and 2000-year-old Roman ruins still begging to be explored. From standing where Van Gogh stood to breathing in the bliss of the local markets, there are so many marvelous things to do in Provence, France, whether you have one day or ten.

Things to do in Provence

Palace of the Popes

Large white stone building, the Palace of the Popes
The Palace of the Popes is nearly 700 years old

The Provence region is home to one of the most visited sites in all of France—the Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes) in Avignon.

In the 14th century, the papacy moved from Rome to Avignon. Seven legitimate popes and, later, two anti-popes ruled the Catholic Church from France and lived in this massive building on the Rhone River. The largest Gothic palace in Europe, the Palace was lavishly decorated with tapestries, tile work, and sculptures.

Little of the original detail remains, so a visit to the Palais des Papes today requires a bit of imagination. Nevertheless, a tour here is a look at a beautiful building and a fascinating period in history.

Roman Theater of Orange

Stage and semi-circular seating at the ancient Theater of Orange
The impressive theater at Orange

The ancient Roman Theater of Orange is a must see in Provence. The 2000-year-old theater is one of the best-preserved Roman theaters in existence, and the original statue of Emperor Augustus still looks out at the crowd from its niche on the stage.

You can climb on the ancient seats and even step foot on the stage. If you’re lucky, you might even be able to catch a performance at one of the festivals or concerts that still happen here every summer.

See our suggestions for a 10-day itinerary in the South of France.

Pont du Gard

Arches of the ancient aqueduct, the Pont du Gard, over the Gardon River
Pont du Gard

The Pont du Gard is one of the most impressive Roman ruins to see up close. It’s hard to imagine the sheer size of this massive aqueduct until you’re standing right beside it.

The three tiers of the Pont du Gard soar 160 feet above the Gardon River. Depending on the water level, it’s not unusual to see people kayaking and wading in the river in the shadow of the 2000-year-old structure.

Roussillon

Yellow and orange ochre deposits in cliffs
Roussillon’s unusual cliffs

Tiny Roussillon has been a protected village since 1943. There is no modern development here – just cafes, winding lanes, and amazing views.

Many of those picturesque views come at the colorful ochre cliffs on the south end of town. These yellow, red, and orange hills are the largest ochre deposit in the world. Walking along the burnt orange path is like stepping into another (very colorful) dimension. Choose the short or the long path (30 or 60 minutes) and stroll to your heart’s content. But don’t wear any light-colored clothes because white and red don’t mix well.

Provence markets

Vegetables for sale at a Provence markets
The produce bounty at a market in Provence

Markets in Provence overflow with seasonal produce, fresh meats, spices, cheeses, and all variety of homewares. They are truly a feast for the senses. Most are temporary, outdoor markets that take place once or twice a week, generally in the main town square. The permanent, indoor markets have fixed hours.

Arles and Aix-en-Provence are definite winners, but there are so many local markets to choose from. Be prepared for all the free samples, and if you think you might want to buy something, ensure you have a bit of cash on hand.

Cook like a local

Artichokes, olives, tomatoes, and French bread
Artichokes Provencal

Food in Provence is homey and flavorful. It’s full of olives, herbs, tomatoes, garlic, and dozens of other delicious ingredients. If your accommodations allow, make a visit to a local market or grocery store and pick up something in season to cook at home.

Avignon

Outdoor cafes under the trees in Place de l'Horloge in Avignon France
Place de l’Horloge in Avignon

Avignon is a unique combination of an historical town (with medieval walls, no less) and a modern city teeming with businesses, cafes, and tons of character.

See the famous Saint Bénezet bridge that dates from the 12th century. Have a leisurely lunch at one of the restaurants on Place de l’Horloge or stroll through the Parc Rocher des Doms, a seven-acre park where locals enjoy the open space and relax under the warmth of the Provencal sun. End your day at one of the wine bars on Rue des Teinturiers, people watching with a glass of local wine in-hand.

Manguin Distillery

Pears in bottles of brandy
Manguin Distillery’s “imprisoned pears”

Head out from Avignon to the Île de la Barthelasse where you’ll find Manguin Distillery. Manguin has been making its famous Poire Williams Eau de Vie, an amazing pear brandy, for over 50 years. Not quite as delicious (but even more interesting) are the bottles you’ll see attached to the trees outside – the pears are actually growing inside the bottles.

On Saturday mornings you can join a tour of the facilities at Manguin and taste a variety of their products. A visit here is one of the more unique things to do in Provence.

Calanques

Beach set at the base of rocky mountains
It’s easy to see why the beach at this calanques is so popular

The coastline between Marseille and Cassis is marked by calanques—white cliffs of limestone that plunge dramatically into the Mediterranean Sea. Some of them have small beaches that can be visited by car or by hiking in.

Seeing the calanques from the water is one of the most popular activities from either Marseille or Cassis. You can rent sea kayaks or take a cruise to visit some of the larger ones. Bike excursions and hikes are also available through the Tourist Office in Cassis.

Cassis

Rowboats tied up by seaside restaurants
Boats at the Cassis seaside

Cassis has it all – stunning natural features, adorable seaside restaurants, a twisty mountain drive, and a bit of history thrown in for good measure. In an area full of great towns, this is one of the best towns in Provence, especially if you’re a lover of the ocean.

Walk the seaport area and wander the back lanes to find a place to try the city’s namesake Cassis liqueur. Relax at one of the cafes with some fresh seafood while you marvel at the colors of all the boats in the marina. After lunch, drive (or take a taxi) on La Route des Cretes, a breathtaking mountain drive that takes you high above the town for one of the most picturesque things to do in Provence.

Van Gogh sites

Replicas of Van Gogh's painting of flowers set among flowers
One of Van Gogh’s paintings when he was a patient in Saint-Remy

In the late 1880s, Vincent Van Gogh spent about 2.5 years in the South of France—particularly in Arles and Saint-Remy-de-Provence. He was prolific, showcasing the sunny weather and quality of life in the area.

Most of Van Gogh’s works can no longer be found in Provence—they are distributed among major museums around the world, including the museum named after him in Amsterdam. Instead, you’ll see copies of his paintings, often located in the exact spot where he painted them over 130 years ago. Occasionally, you can even still see the scenery that inspired the works.

In Arles, there several spots around the city where you can get an appreciation of Van Gogh’s works—this list will help you find them. In Saint-Remy, most of Van Gogh’s paintings were done at Saint-Paul de Mausole, the psychiatric hospital where he was treated for a year. His room is preserved as it was during his stay, and you can explore the grounds and the works he painted there, including Starry Night.

Drive the Cotes du Rhone

The vineyards and mountains of the Cotes du Rhone
The vineyards and mountains of the Cotes du Rhone

A day driving France’s Cotes du Rhone wine road will take you through the South of France to charming villages, past vineyards, and over beautiful mountain passes. Along the way, you can taste the wine that the region is famous for – affordable, easy-drinking blends (mostly reds) known as Cotes du Rhone.

Don’t forget to stop and take in the views as the road runs through the mountains, hanging high above the valleys before dipping back down. It’s even better if you bring a picnic to enjoy at a scenic spot along the way.

Glanum

Three columns of a ruined Roman temple at Glanum
Temple columns in the Forum

The archaeological site of Glanum in Saint-Remy-de-Provence is another of the remarkable ruins in France. Originally settled by the Celts and then influenced by the Greeks, many of the notable ruins in Glanum are from the Romans who took over the area in the 1st century BC.

A self-guided walk of the site is an easy visit thanks to handy information provided beside the different ruins. Some of the most notable structures include a triumphal arch that dates from about 10 BC, a family mausoleum, and restored temple columns from the Roman Forum of Glanum.

Senanque Abbey

Stone building at the edge of a field of lavender in Provence
Lavender growing by Senanque Abbey

Near the village of Gordes, Senanque Abbey is one of the most picturesque places in Provence. In the summer, the field by this 12th-century abbey is full of fragrant purple lavender. Stop for photos or take a tour of the interior.

Aix-en-Provence

Peach and yellow buildings along a street in Aix-en-Provence France
One of the gorgeous streets in Aix-en-Provence

Aix-en-Provence is one of the top places to visit in Provence. The city is famous for its markets, fountains, and twisting pedestrian lanes. A visit here is about being and soaking in the good life rather than doing anything specific. Wander. Get lost. Pull up a table at one of the trendy tables on Cours Mirabeau, or opt for one at a local place on a quieter square. Either way, enjoy.

Nimes

Sculpture at the base of a staircase in a lush park
Beautiful landscaping of the Les Jardins de la Fontaine

Nimes is fun place for a day trip or half-day visit in Provence. The Arena of Nimes, which dates from 70AD, is one of the best-preserved Roman amphitheaters in the world, and you can walk around its ancient arcades. Nearby, the Maison Carree is a full-scale temple right in the middle of the city.  

Beyond the historical sites, the local market and its food counters make for a fun stop. Wrap up your trip with a stroll around the gorgeous Les Jardins de la Fontaine, a 17th-century public park with gardens and ponds.

Alyscamps

Large stone sarcophagus topped with a cross
Sarcophagus at Alyscamps

A short walk from the center of Arles is Alyscamps, a Roman necropolis that has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In ancient times, the dead were buried in tombs and mausoleums along roads outside the city walls (as along the Appian Way in Rome), so this area was the main burial place in Arles for over a millennium.

Now an open-air museum lined with sarcophagi and several chapels, the site is an interesting look back at thousands of years of history.