Provence is one of the most beautiful regions in France and should definitely be on your bucket list of holiday destinations, but working out where to go in Provence can be tricky, as it’s full of quaint villages, striking, colourful landscapes and beautiful cities such as Avignon or Aix-en-Provence.
But which should you visit? Does Aix-en-Provence or Avignon offer more as a city break or day trip? They’re similar cities in many ways, but each has its own unique attractions; which appeals to you more is up to you.
In general, Avignon is a great choice for those looking for a deeply historic city with a distinct local cuisine. On the other hand, Aix-on-Provence is perfect for art lovers or those looking to get active during their stay.
Avignon may be a small city, but it’s bursting with character. Over 1 or 2 days in Avignon, you can immerse yourself in Provencal culture and cuisine, not forgetting the local red wines, as well as experience a great deal of history first-hand from the Pope’s Palace to the city walls.
Avignon is easily reachable by plane, with Avignon-Provence Airport just a 20-minute drive from the city centre, or an hour by bus line 62, and receives flights from all over Europe.
You can also reach Avignon train station, which is a short walk from the centre, by TGV from other French cities in the region (such as Marseille or Arles), or you can travel by bus or ridesharing app if you prefer. You can view train schedules here.
You don’t need to rent a car to be able to get around Avignon, however, if you’re planning to visit some of the neighbouring villages yourself, you might find renting a car (browse Rentalcars.com to compare prices) suits you better than joining a tour group, although if you’re alone, the latter can be a great way to get to know other people.
Similarly, you won’t need public transportation to travel around the city of Avignon as it’s relatively small and most of its attractions are located within the city’s ramparts, so it’s prettier and easier to see Avignon on foot.
However, there are buses and trams if you want to see the outskirts of Avignon, or the Petit Train that takes visitors on a short tour of the city centre with an audio guide, or a longer tour across the river and to Barthelasse Island.
When comparing Avignon vs Aix-en-Provence in terms of cost, the cities are very similar, with plenty of affordable accommodation options available. However, Avignon has fewer expensive options, with very few hotel rooms costing more than €200 per night.
What’s more, since Avignon is a small city, you’ll likely stay a short walk from the centre so won’t have to fork out for public transport, although it is very affordable for a single bus ticket, and ten-journey passes are available.
The boat providing access to Barthelasse Island is free for everyone, and the Petit Train costs €9.50 to €18 for adults, depending which circuit you take.
If you’re travelling to the nearby Pont du Gard aqueduct or the wine-making village of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, you can book a guided tour, take a local city bus or drive a hire car (be careful drinking too much if you use the latter option!).
Activities within Avignon are also reasonably priced, with the Pope’s Palace costing €12 to enter, with an extra €5 for the Palace Gardens, and the Pont d’Avignon costing €5 to enter. Or, you can buy a ticket for all three online, at the door or at the tourist information centre for just €17.
If you have more than one day in Avignon, you can also visit the Jardin de Doms, ramparts and Musée Calvet for free, or take a 4-5-hour vineyard tour from Avignon to Châteauneuf-du-Pape for a reasonable price.
Both cities provide great and varied eateries, from expensive fine dining to cheap but good-quality brasseries.
Mid-range restaurants that provide great food in a cosy atmosphere for a good price in Avignon, such as Cafe Saint-Jean offer lunchtime set menus from €14 to €25 for one to three courses, or main dishes such as steak, salads and scallops for €20-25.
Or try restaurant Au Jardin des Carmes, serving fresh local produce, rich with flavour, with affordable and reasonable prices per dish.
Famous as a former papal enclave, a visit to Avignon has to include a trip to the Pope’s Palace as well as Avignon’s other popular attractions, the Pont d’Avignon and the medieval city walls. You can take a walking tour to learn more about the history of the city and if you’ve got more time, you shouldn’t miss out on a trip to the Pont du Gard or Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
Avignon is most famous for being one of the only papal seats outside of the Vatican, thanks to Pope Clement moving to the city in 1309, and the election of both Pope Urban VI and Pope Clement VII in 1378 causing the papal schism, leaving two Popes, one in Rome and one in Avignon until the schism ended in 1429.
This led to the construction of the Papal Palace in Avignon in 1316, next to the 12th-century cathedral, the Notre Dame de Doms which now holds the tombs of several Avignon Popes.
Despite not housing a Pope for the last 600 years, the Palace remained significant as a governmental residence before being turned into barracks during the French Revolution; it’s now open to the public to discover its history and marvel at the incredible frescoes and gardens.
Although it does have some Roman history on display, when choosing whether to visit Aix-en-Provence or Avignon, the Pope’s Palace is a huge factor making Avignon a strong contender.
Avignon’s ramparts, or city walls, extend for 4.3 km around the historic city centre, making for a fantastic route to simply wander around the city, or you can book a guided tour to learn about the history of the walls.
The 8-metre high wall was constructed by order of Pope Innocent VI before the papal schism, in order to protect the area from mercenaries who wanted to destroy the papacy.
The walls have stood strong for several hundred years despite many attacks against the city of Avignon, and after some reparation work, now have 15 vehicle entrances and 11 pedestrian entrances, so you can easily amble into the outskirts of the city or head towards the riverside.
The Pont d’Avignon, although actually called Pont Saint-Bénézet, is one of the most famous sites in Avignon, partially due to a French song and dance about the bridge from the 15th century.
Though no more than four arches and the gatehouse in Avignon, the chapel on the second pier and Philippe-le-Bel Tower in Villeneuve-lès-Avignon remain, Pont Saint-Bénézet formerly comprised 22 arches when it was originally built in 1234 before being destroyed by floods over many years.
After visiting the bridge, you can also cross over the Rhône River via the modern bridges or free boat to visit the Philippe-le-Bel Tower, the end of the Pont d’Avignon, which you can go up or €4.50 and learn more about the bridge’s history, the King after which the tower is named and the major flood of 1669.
If you’re spending time around Provence or in Avignon and want to take a day trip just outside of the city, there are two fantastic options. A short drive or bus ride to the West of Avignon takes you to the Pont du Gard, a 2,000-year-old, 3-tiered Roman aqueduct crossing the river Gardon. You can buy skip-the-line tickets here.
At 275 metres long, the mighty aqueduct is quite the sight to behold and has a museum, cafe and souvenir shops so it’s well worth a day trip from Avignon. You can organise a guided tour that also visits some other nearby villages.
If you’re still deciding between Avignon or Aix-en-Provence, perhaps an afternoon wine tasting in one of France’s most renowned wine-producing areas, Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the Rhone Valley, would sway you.
A very short drive or bus journey north from Avignon takes you to the small village with over 7,700 acres of vineyards and wineries, with hundreds of opportunities for tours and tastings as well as the ruins of a mediaeval castle that gives the village its name. Some tour options include this half-day tour or this afternoon tour.
Few white wines are made in the region, but you can find a variety of the region’s produce in Vinadea, the official AOC wine shop on 12 Avenue Louis Pasteur.
Where to Stay in Avignon
Hotel Boquier – Mid-range visitors to Avignon will love this cosy hotel in the centre of the city. They have a range of great rooms on offer, parking available, and there is also a wonderful breakfast for guests in the morning. Click here to check availability
Hotel De Cambis – This luxury hotel is perfect for those looking for a splurge while visiting this Provencal city. Well-located for exploring Avignon, they have a range of wonderful rooms to choose from, a great breakfast in the morning and plenty of amenities to ensure you have a great stay in Provence. Click here to check availability
Chapelle du Miracle – If you’d like to have your own flat in Avignon, then these apartments are a good option. There are a number of flats to choose from, all fully furnished with everything you may need and they’re located in an excellent location for exploring the city. Click here to check availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Avignon hotels!
Sandwiched between Luberon national park and the Sainte-Baume national park, lies the small, Mediterranean city of Aix-en-Provence.
Formerly the capital of Provence under the Romans (and an essential stop on any itinerary through the region), Aix-en-Provence has an almost two millennia-long history which you can observe as you explore the city’s museums and art galleries, and wander the streets, now vibrant due to the student population and fashion scene.
Marseille Provence Airport is a 25-minute drive or 30 minutes on the bus to Aix-en-Provence city, making it an easy city to arrive in from other countries, however, arriving from other cities in France can be more complicated as the main train station is 15 km south of the city and the central station is poorly connected.
What’s more, few trains are direct from other cities and make you change in Marseille, however, with bus companies such as Flixbus, you can arrive relatively close to the city centre directly from cities such as Lyon.
Inside Aix-en-Provence, you can use the bus network, but since it’s a small city, it’s best to walk around and take in the sights, or maybe rent a bike if you want to speed things up.
Aix-en-Provence is relatively cheap when compared to other cities on the Côte d’Azur for example, however, when comparing Aix-en-Provence vs Avignon, the distinction is less clear.
Truthfully, there are numerous options of hotels available in Aix-en-Provence for all budgets so accommodation shouldn’t be a problem unless you’re looking to stay in Avignon or Aix-en-Provence in Summer, at the height of the tourist season.
Although you’ll mostly be walking around the city, a bus ticket in Aix-en-Provence is slightly cheaper than Avignon. Or, you can buy a city pass which includes access to public transport and some museums and galleries.
A day in Aix-en-Provence can mostly be spent walking from one beautiful square to another past the gorgeous markets, but you can of course enjoy the work of Cézanne in Musée Granet for €11. To access Cézanne’s workshop with the city pass, you have to book in advance at the tourist information centre.
Like Avignon, Aix-en-Provence has a range of eateries, with many mid-range restaurants to enjoy a taste of Provence, such as Le Bistrot, 5 Rue Campra, serving the lunchtime plat du jour for an affordable price or a steak, salmon, octopus or lamb dish affordably, as well.
Aix-en-Provence is full of life, from the bustling squares to the crowded market stalls, so you can get lost in the streets of the old town or in the mind and art of Paul Cézanne.
The old town of Aix-en-Provence is a delightful area to stroll through with endless winding streets taking you past colourful houses and ornate buildings, including the town hall with its pale baroque façade, clock tower and courtyard.
This 14th-century wonder provides the perfect backdrop for the daily flower market that takes place each morning, bringing splashes of bright colour and sensational aromas into the city.
Explore the streets and enjoy the fountains and squares emerging around corners alone or with a tour guide as you take in Aix-en-Provence’s old town.
As the Champs Elysées symbolises Paris, the Cours Mirabeau is iconic to Aix-en-Provence. This long avenue skirts the old town from the extravagant Fontaine de la Rotonde – a large 19th-century fountain with ornate sculptures – past many classic French squares to the Fontaine Du Roi René.
In summer you’ll be grateful for the shade from the plane trees looming overhead, as you admire the beautiful architecture of surrounding streets and stop for a coffee or croque monsieur in one of the many cafes or restaurants along the avenue.
On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, a large market takes place in the city, with old books, records, furniture and nick-nacks along the Cours Mirabeau, and every local food and handicraft you can imagine on offer along the neighbouring roads. You can also take a food tour here.
Perusing the markets of the city is a perfect activity for a Saturday morning, so if you’re considering a weekend trip, Aix-en-Provence may be the city for you.
If you like art, you’re in the right place, as both Musée Granet and Atelier Cézanne showcase some amazing works. Musée Granet is a 17th-century former priory with a large collection of Renaissance and Baroque art as well as many 21st-century pieces, and of course, a Cézanne collection.
The post-impressionist artist was born and lived a great part of his life in Aix-en-Provence, so his perfectly preserved workshop, Atelier Cézanne, is a great attraction in the city once you’ve seen many of his works in the museum that show Aix-en-Provence and its surroundings in all their beauty.
If you have extra time to spend in Aix-en-Provence, you can’t miss out on a trip to Montagne Sainte-Victoire – the centrepiece of more than 30 Cézanne paintings.
You can rent a car in the city and drive for 30 mins on the D17 to one of the many car parks around the mountain or take a bus, and simply enjoy a picnic full of the fresh ingredients you’ve picked up at the market and enjoy the spectacular views surrounded by the fragrant smell of wild rosemary.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can enjoy a hike up to the peak of the limestone mountain and back in around 4 hours, with views from the top stretching as far as the Alps on a clear day.
Where to Stay in Aix-en-Provence
Hôtel Le Mozart – This 3-star hotel is a great option for mid-range travellers in Aix-en-Provence. They have a range of great rooms to choose from, a hearty breakfast available each morning and a perfect location for exploring this lively town. Click here to check availability
Hôtel Cézanne – If you’re looking for a luxury stay in Aix, then this boutique hotel is the perfect choice. They have a range of plush rooms on offer, a terrace and bar on site and numerous great amenities for guests to enjoy. Click here to check availability
Aparthotel Adagio – This aparthotel is a great choice for travellers who’d like their own flat while in Aix. There are a number of fully-furnished apartments to choose from in a central location that have everything you may need to enjoy your trip. Click here to check availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Aix-en-Provence hotels!
Avignon or Aix-en-Provence: Which is Better to Visit
Deciding whether to stay in Avignon or Aix-en-Provence is difficult as they’re very similar cities with a strong Provencal culture, however, you can choose according to your personal preferences.
Although Aix-en-Provence has a significant Roman history, Avignon displays centuries of history as soon as you pass through the city walls and continue through to its main attractions of the Pope’s Palace and Pont d’Avignon.
However, Aix-en-Provence has a more artistic side than Avignon due to the presence of Paul Cézanne, so it’s perhaps a more appealing destination to art fans. In terms of cost, museums and attractions have largely the same price in both cities.
Considering both are located in Provence, both Avignon and Aix-en-Provence have incredible food and drink to try, however, Avignon has a distinct local cuisine thanks to the diversity of fresh produce in the region such as asparagus, garlic and olive oil, as well as a village producing one of the world’s best red wines right on its doorstep.
For active people, Aix-en-Provence offers more regarding nightlife than Avignon as it has several universities and a large number of students in the area, as well as access to a number of beautiful national parks to hike in or enjoy the scenery over a delicious pastry.
It can become incredibly hot in both cities in summer, however, so if you’re looking for a summer break, make sure you can withstand the heat or you’re prepared to duck into museums to keep cool.
Whether you choose to stay in Avignon or Aix-en-Provence, you’ll have a fantastic trip in the Provencal sunshine surrounded by beauty, history, charm and the floral notes of lavender in the air.
Are you planning a trip to the South of France? Have any questions about either of these cities? Let us know in the comments!