A Lovely One Day in Arles Itinerary

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by Brittany Scott-Gunfield

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Planning a one day in Arles itinerary is a great way to see this unique city of art and history in the south of France, equidistant from Montpellier and Marseille. Located above the stunning Camargue regional park, Arles gives cities like Paris and Rome a run for their money in terms of cultural activities and historical significance.

One day here can encompass so much from museums and ancient Roman ruins to interactive exhibits and exceptional food, so it’s important to plan your trip well to make the most of your time.

Walking around the city is an activity in itself, with inspiration on every corner, and the sunshine sparkling through the plane trees, decorating the streets with shadows reminiscent of an impressionist painting.

So it’s no wonder van Gogh was so productive during his year-long stay in Arles, and the city’s magic is sure to rub off on you as you explore.

Arles Promenade
Arles Promenade

Getting To & Around Arles

Not only is Arles a fantastically beautiful city, but it’s also perfectly located with the major cities of Montpellier and Marseille to the West and East respectively.

Marseille has a large airport, so you can easily arrive from abroad and reach Arles by train in just 45 minutes. Montpellier airport is slightly smaller but still accessible from many major European cities; you can reach Arles from Montpellier centre in just 50 minutes directly on the train, or 1 hour 30 minutes via Nimes. You can view schedules here.

Another beautiful small city, Avignon, is located just 20 minutes north of Arles by train and is well worth a day trip if you’re lucky enough to spend a week in the Camargue or a few days in Arles.

Arles train station is within the city, just 10 minutes walking from the historic centre. So, if you’re heading to Arles for a day trip, a brisk walk along the banks of the Rhone from the train station to the centre is a fantastic way to start your day.

You can also take a bus from the station into the city centre if you wish, or drive in from elsewhere, but the main attractions are located very close together so a car isn’t necessary for an Arles day trip.

Walking along the Rhone in Arles
Walking along the Rhone in Arles

1 Day in Arles Itinerary

There is plenty to see and explore in Arles in one day, especially for those with an interest in Roman history and impressionist art.

Walking tours are available to discover the city and its relationship with the renowned Dutch painter, however, it’s equally exciting to explore the city on foot, discovering Roman relics and mediaeval architecture amongst the art galleries and exhibitions.

Place Paul Doumer – Fondation Vincent van Gogh

You can cover most of the city centre within an hour’s walk, so it makes sense to start at the furthest point of the city’s central attractions and spiral inwards over the course of the day to soak in the atmosphere of the old city streets.

However, if you’re pressed for time, you can simply start your day with a walk along the Rhone from the train station towards stop 2.

Arles has many charming squares all over the city, with Place Paul Doumer being one of the most frequented. With a collection of small cafes, restaurants, bakeries and greengrocers, the La Roquette district – the oldest in the city – is popular among the locals and a great place to start your day with a quick coffee and croissant.

Through summer, you can also find a whole range of local cultural events, from photography to music and carnivals taking place in this square and surrounding streets.

From Place Paul Doumer, you can then head north for just 5 minutes to the artistic highlight of the city, the Fondation Vincent van Gogh.

Having lived in the city from February 1888 until May 1889, van Gogh took a great amount of inspiration from the vibrant and colourful centre of Arles as well as the surrounding countryside, having created 300 works of art during this year, including perhaps his most famous Sunflowers and the Yellow House, in August 1888.

Many of van Gogh’s are on display in international museums from Amsterdam to London to Berlin, but there are five van Gogh works visible to visitors of the van Gogh Foundation in Arles as well as a series of modern works inspired by the creativity of the Dutchman.

This museum is definitely one for art fans, but even those looking to get a glimpse into the art and inspiration of van Gogh will delight in the colours and textures used in his works, which will change the way you view the city of Arles as you continue your day.

Streets of La Roquette
Streets of La Roquette

Musée Réattu

Another short walk north along the Rhone River lies the beautiful Fine Arts Museum of Arles, the Musée Réattu, sitting on the riverbank, just opposite the ancient Roman baths, the Thermes de Constantin.

Although van Gogh is possibly the most famous resident of Arles, Jacques Réattu is an equally important figure in the art scene of the city, and the museum dedicated to his work is worth a stop during one day in Arles, especially if you’re keen to discover a unique gallery.

With a focus on the work of 18th-century painter and sculptor Jacques Réattu, the Réattu Museum showcases the broad variety of the neoclassicist and romanticist’s works, including his most famous works “The Triumph of David” and “Portrait of Madame Réattu”.

However, the museum also houses an extensive collection of art and artefacts that provide insights into Arles’ cultural and artistic heritage.

Open from Tuesday to Sunday, tickets are €8 each, with cheaper tickets for concessions, although a combined ticket with the Vincent van Gogh Foundation costs €12.

The Musée Réattu is also part of the “Advantage Pass” which allows access to 6 monuments and 4 museums over a period of 6 months for just €19, including the Arènes d’Arles, the Roman Theatre, Saint Trophime Cloister, Cryptoporticus, Alyscamps, Baths of Constantine, Réattu Museum, Museum of Ancient Arles, Museon Arlaten, and the Camargue Museum.

So if you’re planning on more than 2 visits to these historic sites and art galleries over one day, the Advantage Pass is well worth buying.

Arènes d’Arles

The centre of Arles, both geographically and in terms of the incredible history on display is the Arènes d’Arles, or Ancient Roman Amphitheatre.

Built in 90 CE to seat 21,000 spectators across its many galleries, the amphitheatre is a testament to the inspiring architecture of Ancient Rome which you can find dotted all over the city centre as, remarkably, Arles has the largest number of Roman remains outside of Rome, 8 of which are UNESCO World Heritage sites

Exploring the inside of the amphitheatre is one of the best things to do in Arles, imagining the epic scenes of gladiator fights that would have taken place almost 2,000 years ago, and marvelling at the stunning construction of the passages, galleries and staircases.

Make sure to check out the schedule for the Arènes d’Arles before visiting, especially during summer, as there are many cultural events taking place from Easter until October, so it may close for events, or you may prefer to buy a ticket for a sporting event.

Arènes d’Arles
Arènes d’Arles

Roman Theatre of Arles

Barely a 5-minute walk from the Roman Amphitheatre is the Ancient Roman Theatre of Arles. Although half the size of the amphitheatre, (“amphi-” meaning both or around in Greek) the Roman Theatre is equally as impressive.

Built in the first century BCE, the Ancient Roman Theatre is not as well preserved today, but thanks to excavations in the 19th century and numerous restoration works since, the building is awe-inspiring whether you’re there simply wander around and feel the history, or to witness a modern show in the incredible historic setting during summer.

The Ancient Roman Theatre also has demonstrations of Olympic sports and Roman entertainment on display during most visits, but make sure there are no other events scheduled as this may cause the area to temporarily close or require a different ticket.

Roman Theatre of Arles
Roman Theatre of Arles

Avenue des Alyscamps

While late morning is the ideal time to explore the Roman theatres, when it comes to the often blistering heat of the mid-day/ early afternoon in the South of France, there’s no better respite from the sun than the tree-lined, mysterious pathway of the Avenue des Alyscamps.

Another World Heritage site, this former Roman cemetery and Christian necropolis has a stunning, sarcophagi-lined route to the Eglise Saint-Honorat à Arles, built in the 1100s.

Amble along the pathway under the shade of the London Plane trees as if you were entering the $66 million dollar-van Gogh painting to take in the eerie quiet and the peaceful sounds of birds chirping.

You can enter the chapel at the end of the route which often has exhibitions as well as information about the long history of the cemetery, however, the walk is just as pleasant as art, history and nature coexist harmoniously.

The entry fee is just a few euros and is included in the Advantage Pass, however, if you’re visiting Arles on a budget and the idea of a graveyard stroll doesn’t appeal to you, you can take a very enjoyable afternoon walk along the Rhone River instead.

Avenue des Alyscamps
Avenue des Alyscamps

L’Espace van Gogh

Since van Gogh is now synonymous with Arles, as you explore the city, you should take the opportunity to see the sights through the painter’s eyes, and there’s no better place to do this than L’Espace van Gogh.

The former Hôtel Dieu (an old-fashioned hospice) that housed van Gogh after he cut off his ear in December 1888 has been transformed into an arts centre dedicated to the amazing painter.

With exhibition spaces, a small library, some souvenir shops and a cafe, this little space, which is free to enter, is well worth a visit while in Arles, not only to browse the exhibitions, but to step into the past where a tumultuous era of van Gogh’s life took place.

After leaving the hospital, van Gogh painted two paintings from his stay there, most famously “Le Jardin de l’Hôtel de Dieu” in June 1889, as well as a painting of the ward, and later a portrait of his physician Félix Rey, each painting demonstrating his unique style incorporating the bright colour and use of light he enjoyed while staying in Arles.

Currently, the courtyard of the hospice is expertly kept to closely resemble the flower arrangement in van Gogh’s painting so visitors can take in the view in the same way as the artist.

Saint-Trophime Cathedral and Cloister

Walking into the stunning Place de la République, complete with the Hôtel de Ville on one side and a 4th-century Roman obelisk in the centre, you’ll approach the stunning historic Cathedral of Saint-Trophime.

The Cathedral Saint-Trophime stands as a captivating testament to the region’s rich history, architectural prowess, and religious significance.

Originally located near ancient ramparts before being relocated close to the old Roman forum in the 5th century, several additions were made over the centuries, but predominantly in the 12th century which showcases the magnificent craftsmanship, blending Romanesque and Gothic architecture.

Free to visit, you should definitely stop by the Cathedral when passing through the square, as well as check out the beauty of the Cloître St-Trophime.

This cloister, around the corner from the cathedral, was also built in the 12th century and became a World Heritage site due to its intricately sculpted columns showing stories of the Old and New Testaments in the Provençal architectural style.

You can also visit the roof terrace for amazing views around, including the town hall and obelisk.

Cloître St-Trophime
Cloître St-Trophime

Place du Forum

To finish your day the way you started, head to the stunning Place du Forum, a lively square, popular among locals and visitors alike. With restaurants and bars aplenty, this area is always bustling and the perfect place to stop for a meal or drink to finish off your day commes les Arlésiens.

As Arles has a wonderful natural landscape around, thanks to the Camargue and the Mediterranean Sea on its doorstep, the gastronomic scene of the area has benefited immensely from the variety of produce.

Try the rich local beef stew, Agriade, or the light clam dish, Tellines à la Persillade before tucking into the sweet and tangy Arles apricot tart.

Plus, as per many areas of Arles, one of the cafes in the square was the subject of a van Gogh painting.

Have More Time?

Arles is full of things to see and do, so if you don’t want to have a whistle-stop tour in one day, why not spend 2 days in Arles and take your time? Or spend a few days in the city and take the opportunity to get more involved in activities, like an art workshop in LUMA Arles.

An 11-hectare creative space in the former wasteland of an old railway in the east of the city, LUMA Arles is unmissable as you wander around the city due to the huge and quirky silver building in its centre, The Tower by Frank Gehry.

Surrounding the buildings is a 4-hectare park and gardens, designed to juxtapose with the industrial landscape, indicating the many disciplines, arts and sciences that are present on the campus, the Parc des Ateliers.

You can discover several sculptures and installations as you wander around the grounds, or join one of the many exhibitions, talks and workshops held throughout the year. There are also guided tours of the site in French and English for useful information as you discover the site.

Over 2 days, you can also make the most of the peaceful Rhône River, spending an afternoon strolling along its banks, picnicking in the delightful Hortus gardens, discovering the ruins of the Roman circus and perusing the ancient artefacts located in the Arles History Museum. You can also stroll along the Boulevard des Lices and maybe take in the market that takes place here.

If you have longer in the area, you can even take a day trip to Avignon, just a short train journey away. Home of the Popes, Avignon has many historic buildings to explore, including the former papal residence the Palais des Papes, the iconic Pont Saint-Bénézet (Pont d’Avignon) and the Tour Philippe le Bel across the river.

Place de l’Horloge is a lively square in the centre, perfect for a bite to eat and sample the local red wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape or Côtes du Rhône, while Musée du Petit Palais has a remarkable collection of mediaeval and Renaissance art, perfect for a couple of hours on a warm afternoon.

Pont d'Avignon
Pont d’Avignon

Where to Stay in Arles

Hôtel de l’Amphithéâtre – Situated close to the Arles Arena, this 3-star hotel is an excellent option. There are plenty of comfortable rooms along with an inviting terrace to enjoy.

Maison Volver – Those after an upmarket stay in this Provencal city will love this chic hotel. Offering plenty of modern rooms, there is also on-site parking, a restaurant, room service and lots of other amenities.

Appartement du Théâtre Antique – Offering both one- and two-bedroom apartments in the heart of Arles, this is a great base for those after a self-catering choice during their trip to Provence. There is also parking and there is a great, central location.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Arles hotels!

From the natural landscape of the Camargue bustling with fauna and flora to the south and the incredible history spanning centuries across the cities of Montpellier and Marseille, the south-central coast of France makes for a wonderfully diverse holiday, with Arles at its heart.

From Ancient Roman architecture to the distinctive bold and colourful paintings of van Gogh, Arles has plenty to uncover for every visitor.

Are you planning to visit Arles? Have any questions about this itinerary? Let us know in the comments!

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Brittany Scott-Gunfield

Brittany is a writer for The World Was Here First. Originally from Colchester, England, she is slowly but surely travelling the world as a digital nomad. She loves to hike around different landscapes and has a deep love for travelling around France (and elsewhere in Europe).

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