Why It’s Worth Spending One Day in Perpignan, France

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by Brittany Scott-Gunfield

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Located just thirty kilometres from the Spanish border, Perpignan is a city that is very much worth visiting as it’s filled with a fascinating history and distinct Catalan influence as the former continental capital of the kingdom of Majorca.

Nestled in the heart of the plain of Roussillon, at the foot of the Pyrenees and a stone’s throw away from the Mediterranean Sea and the rugged Corbières massif, there are a lot of activities to add to your Perpignan itinerary.

Whether strolling along the banks of the Basse, immersing oneself in the vibrant local culture, or wandering through the labyrinth of picturesque streets, there is so much to see and do when spending some time in Perpignan that you’re sure not to regret a choice to visit.

Getting To & Around Perpignan

Perpignan is easily accessible by air, with the Aéroport Sud de France Perpignan just a 40-minute journey away on public transport or a 15-minute drive from the city centre.

Travellers can also reach Perpignan from the much busier Josep Tarradellas Barcelona-El Prat Airport, albeit requiring a longer journey on arrival, with an approximately 2.5-hour drive, a 5-hour bus ride or a 2-hour train journey. You can view train and bus schedules here or browse car rental options here.

Given its proximity to other delightful locations including Collioure, Narbonne and its surrounding regional parks and beaches, Perpignan serves as an ideal day trip destination for those already in the area for a longer holiday through Catalonia, the Pyrenees or elsewhere in Southern France.

Visitors can easily rent a car to explore the scenic routes and coastal attractions, making Perpignan a convenient addition to a holiday itinerary.

Perpignan has quite an efficient public transport system, making it convenient for visitors to explore the city without a car. A bus network covers most areas within the city and its outskirts, while Perpignan has a tram system throughout the city centre.

Over one day, public transport can be a convenient option if you want to make the most of your short time in the city, but part of the charm of many French cities is exploring on foot to take in the wonderful historic architecture and come across different beautiful locations you may miss while on the bus.

Lovely View of Perpignan
Lovely View of Perpignan

1-Day Perpignan Itinerary

Perpignan is a stunning historic city, unlike most others in France due to the visible Catalonian influence on the architecture, colours, and of course, the gastronomy.

Our itinerary will take you all over the city, from north to south amongst the colourful city streets. If you prefer to get your bearings with a guide, then you can join a walking tour with a guide.

Palais des Congrès

The first stop is the Palais des Congrès in the north of the city. This curious building hosts several exhibition and conference halls as well as a cinema, making it a popular local attraction for the arts. You can start your day by perusing the current exhibitions, before exploring the beautiful gardens surrounding the building.

Within the park, you can find several beautiful monuments and statues including in the stunning Bir-Hakeim Square as well as beautiful shrubs and trees lining each walkway.

It’s then easy to access the nearby attractions, restaurants, and historic centre from the gardens, making it a convenient starting point for exploring the city.

Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Perpignan
Basilique-Cathédrale de Saint-Jean-Baptiste

Saint-Jean District

The Saint-Jean District is one of the most popular in the city to wander around due to the blend of modern and historic buildings, making it a peaceful urban environment, still bursting with character.

Among the charming city streets is the incredible Basilique-Cathédrale de Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Perpignan, developed to replace the smaller Romanesque church of Saint-Jean which can also be visited nearby.

With construction starting in 1324 and not finishing until the 16th century, the cathedral is largely built in the Gothic style with the facade being added in the 17th century and a bell tower in the 18th.

Inside the cathedral you’ll discover an amazing collection of paintings and relics, as well as the beautiful pink marble floor, making it well worth a stop as you discover the Saint-Jean district.

Nearby is also the Castillet, part of the old wall surrounding Perpignan, designed by famed French architect and engineer who worked under Louis XIV, Vauban, and since destroyed, leaving just the main gate.

Having been used as a prison for centuries, Le Castillet now houses the Casa Pairal Museum of Local History and Ethnography and provides excellent views over the city.

Le Castillet
Le Castillet

Place de la Loge

A short walk of around 100 metres down the small shopping street of Ruse Louis Blanc or the restaurant-filled alley of Rue des Fabriqués Couvertes, you’ll find the charming Place de la Loge, in the real heart of the old town of Perpignan.

At the centre of Place de la Loge stands the iconic La Loge de Mer, a historic building dating back to the 14th century. Originally serving as a maritime court, this architectural masterpiece now houses the Tourist Office, where you can pick up some information or resources to help you explore the city or discover its surroundings if you’re lucky enough to have more than one day in Perpignan.

The building’s distinctive facade, adorned with ornate sculptures and intricate detailing, offers a wonderful example of Gothic architecture and brilliantly showcases Perpignan’s long history.

But Place de la Loge isn’t just a must-see spot for its beauty, the square is a gathering point for locals and visitors alike, bustling with activity giving it a lively ambience, thanks to the bustling cafes, restaurants, and shops lining its cobblestone streets.

Whether enjoying a traditional meal of Catalan cuisine under a canopy, browsing local boutiques for unique souvenirs, or simply soaking in the sights and sounds of the city, the square invites visitors to immerse themselves in Perpignan’s vibrant culture and heritage.

At certain times of year and national holidays, Place de la Loge also comes alive for various events, hosting art exhibitions, markets, musical performances and parades, so make sure to stop by on your trip through Perpignan for a memorable experience.

Streets of Perpignan
Streets of Perpignan

Place de la République

Although not as grand as its namesakes in other French cities such as Paris, Lyon or Rennes, Perpignan’s central square Place de la République, also known locally as Plaza de la República, is a historic area, with a dynamic atmosphere as the city’s main hub of activity.

Lined with restaurants, cafes and shops, and hosting a market selling fresh produce as well as a carousel, and facing the theatre of Perpignan of 1812 on one side, the Place de la République has changed a great deal in its few hundred years as the centre of Perpignan, although proudly displaying its long history.

From the vibrant colours of the market stalls to the sounds of street musicians and performers, Place de la République offers a sensory feast that captures the essence of Perpignan’s cultural vitality.

Musée d’art Hyacinthe Rigaud

The Musée d’art Hyacinthe Rigaud in Perpignan is a compelling destination for art enthusiasts and well worth a stopover for a spot of culture when spending a day exploring the city.

Named after the renowned 17th-century portrait painter Hyacinthe Rigaud, this gallery, split over two private mansions, houses a diverse collection of artworks spanning various periods and styles, from Gothic and Baroque classics to Modern and Contemporary pieces.

Its main attraction for visitors is its extensive collection of Catalan art, providing an insight into the region’s rich artistic heritage and cultural identity. To get to know the creative heart of Perpignan, you have to spend an hour or two discovering the incredible array of artwork to come out of the area in the Hyacinthe Rigaud Museum.

The inspiration for the museum, Hyacinthe Rigaud, is also celebrated through a selection of his iconic portraits, providing a glimpse into the artist’s skill and legacy.

Walking along the Basse River
Walking along the Basse River

Les Halles Vauban

After a short walk along the beautifully kept banks of the Basse River, you’ll reach the culinary highlight of Perpignan, Les Halles Vauban.

Newly opened in 2017, the closed market offers something for everyone from 8 am to 8 pm, Tuesday to Sunday, so whether you have a brief bite for breakfast, a lengthy lunch or a delightful dinner, you have to include a stop for something to eat at Les Halles Vauban.

Les Halles Vauban hosts over 20 eateries, with a variety of flavours and styles available, as well as market stalls for fresh produce, local wine from nearby vineyards and of course, patisseries, boulangeries and fromageries.

While in the southwest of France, you should definitely try some of the regional specialties, which are heavily influenced by French and Spanish cuisine.

With duck, chicken and pork often served in tomato-based casseroles, and escargots being served with alioli (garlic mayonnaise) in a tapas style, it’s hard not to see the gastronomic influences, and delight in the combination of two of the world’s best cuisines.

Happily, you can also find a great deal of fresh seafood and shellfish in Perpignan’s restaurants and market stalls, as well as fantastic charcuterie, featuring wonderful smoked hams.

Those with a sweet tooth can also enjoy the region’s typical candied chestnuts, particularly in autumn and winter.

Palais des Rois de Majorque

The final stop, but perhaps the most important on a day trip to Perpignan, is the magnificent Palais des Rois de Majorque. Built in the 13th century, the Palace of the Kings of Majorca sits on a mound towards the south of central Perpignan and offers fantastic views over the city as well as a chance to explore an important part of the area’s history.

This imposing fortress, built in the 13th century by King Jacques II of Majorca, began in the Romanesque style and was finished in a Gothic architectural style, before being reinforced for Louis XI and Charles V, and later updated by master engineer Vauban for King Louis XIV with ramparts surrounding the citadel.

Its impressive mediaeval architecture, characterised by sturdy stone walls and majestic towers, evokes a sense of awe and wonder, transporting visitors back in time to an era of royal splendour and power, when Perpignan was an economic, political and cultural hub of the region.

Inside the palace, visitors can explore a series of well-preserved chambers, courtyards, and gardens, each offering a glimpse into the daily life and opulence of the Majorcan royalty. Highlights include the elegant chapel, the royal apartments, and the picturesque gardens adorned with aromatic plants and vibrant flowers.

On some occasions, particularly in summer, the palace now hosts concerts and exhibitions, so you should look at the palace’s cultural calendar before planning your day in Perpignan to make the most of your time there.

Otherwise, a visit to the palace promises a wonderful afternoon of history, art and culture, as well as breathtaking views of the city.

Palais des Rois de Majorque
Palais des Rois de Majorque

Have More Time?

If you’ve got a couple of days to spend, you should take the time to have a leisurely stroll along the banks of the Tet River, as well as dedicate another couple of hours to the artistic side of Perpignan by heading to the stunning Hôtel Pams.

Another private mansion-turned-gallery, the Hôtel Pams is sumptuously decorated in an Art Nouveau style that showcases the height of bourgeois expensive taste of the era. With its incredible winding stairs and ornate courtyard, photography fans will have a field day exploring this brilliant museum.

However, if you’re spending a week in the area, aside from visiting the nearby city of Narbonne, and perhaps taking a trip into the Pyrenees to the small country of Andorra, you should take the time to explore the nearby countryside.

The Étang de Saint-Nazaire nature reserve is a short drive towards the stunning beaches of Canet-en-Roussillon – another excellent stop for a leisurely day in the sunshine – and one for the nature lovers.

A serene lake with greenery on all sides, local flora and fauna thrive in this area, and visitors can delight in rambling around the lake, picnicking by its side, and taking in the awe-inspiring backdrop of the Pyrenees.

Hiking in the Spanish Pyrenees
Hiking in the Spanish Pyrenees

Where to Stay in Perpignan

Hotel Aragon – A comfortable mid-range option, this is a lovely place to stay in the centre of Perpignan. They have several comfortable rooms to choose from along with room service and a good breakfast each morning.

Villa Duflot – This hotel is an excellent option for those after a higher-end stay in Perpignan. Not only are there plenty of lovely rooms on offer, there is also a great swimming pool and a spa on-site to enjoy.

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

An often understated city, Perpignan has plenty to offer visitors, from art to history – but thanks to the blend of cultures, it’s a must-visit destination for foodies!

Are you wondering if Perpignan is worth visiting? Have any questions? 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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