Nîmes, the Roman Heart of Southern France
Nîmes, France was so nice we had to visit twice. Actually, the second time we visited Nimes was to attend a traditional Roman and Celtic festival inside the 2,000 year old perfectly preserved Amphitheater, and it was one of the most fun atmospheres (wine by the pitcher? Yes). Nimes is an easy to get to, well preserved historic city located in the Occitanie region of southern France. We recommend reading about why you should stay in one of the nearby hubs and take the easy fast train from your home base in Aix-en Provence or Avignon.
There are many reasons that make Nîmes a worthy destination to add to your journey in the South of France, here we'll dive into why you need to visit along with a quick but details one-day itinerary to make the most of your time.
As mentioned, Nîmes has a rich Roman history, which is reflected in its well-preserved ancient buildings such as the Arena of Nîmes and the Maison Carrée.
It’s also one of the only places in France to you can still watch bullfighting. Nîmes is known for its bullfighting tradition, which dates back to Roman times. The city has a bullring, the Arena of Nîmes, where bullfighting events and concerts are held.
Because of its location, Nimes enjoys a that great Mediterranean climate with mild winters and hot summers, making it a pleasant place to visit throughout the year.
If you’re into grabbing a bottle of rosé and cheeses, Nîmes is home to many beautiful gardens, including the Jardins de la Fontaine, which is one of the oldest public gardens in Europe. Pack your picnic basket and enjoy a leisurely day at one of the many beautiful parks and gardens and soak in the local people watching.
The food and wine here is unique to France since Nîmes is located in the heart of the Languedoc wine region, known for its excellent wines. The city also has a strong culinary tradition with delicious local dishes such as brandade de morue (salt cod puree) and gardianne de taureau (bull stew).
While you can certainly spend more time in Nimes, we recommend knocking out the sights in 1-2 days, depending if you can time one of the summer festivals. Here’s a jam-packed plan for one full day in Nimes, just take an easy fast train from your home base in Aix-en Provence or Avignon.
Start your day with a visit to the Jardins de la Fontaine, a beautiful park and garden that dates back to Roman times. Take a stroll through the park, enjoy the fountains, and take in the views of the city.
Next, head to the Maison Carrée, a well-preserved ancient Roman temple. You can watch a short film about the temple's history, and then explore the temple on your own.
After visiting the temple, grab a quick breakfast or snack at a nearby café. Try a crepe, croissants or pain au chocolat with an espresso and get ready for the main event.
Walk over to the Arena of Nîmes, one of the best-preserved Roman amphitheaters in the world. Take a guided tour of the arena to learn about its history and see some of the behind-the-scenes areas. If you only have a few hours in Nimes, we’ll explain later why this is a must visit destination.
If you're feeling adventurous, consider trying your hand at bullfighting at the Nîmes Bullfighting School. You can take a one-hour class and learn some of the basic techniques.
Head to Les Halles de Nîmes, a lively indoor food market. Browse the stalls and pick up some local cheese, bread, and wine for a picnic lunch.
Take your picnic back to the Jardins de la Fontaine or one of the city's other parks, and enjoy a leisurely lunch in the sunshine.
After lunch, visit the Musée de la Romanité, a new museum that showcases the history and culture of Nîmes and the Roman Empire. The museum has many interactive exhibits and a great collection of artifacts.
Wrap up your day with dinner at one of Nîmes' many excellent and affordable restaurants. Try some local specialties like brandade de morue or gardianne de taureau, and enjoy a glass of Languedoc wine.
Finish off the evening with a walk through the historic city center. The narrow streets and beautiful old buildings are especially charming at night.
If you only have a few hours in Nimes? It’s still absolutely worth a visit solely based on the ampitheater. The Arena of Nîmes is a Roman amphitheater that was built in the first century AD, and is one of the best-preserved Roman arenas in the world. It was originally used for gladiator fights and other spectacles, and could hold up to 24,000 spectators.
Today, the Arena of Nîmes is used for concerts, bullfights, and other events. Visitors can take a guided tour of the arena, which includes access to the underground chambers where the gladiators and animals were kept.
Walking through the arena, you can imagine the excitement and drama that took place there nearly 2,000 years ago. It's a truly incredible experience, and one that you won't want to miss if you're in Nîmes. See for yourself on how we spent our time in Nimes, hopefully you’ll add this amazing city on your next stop in the South of France!