10 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Nîmes
Blessed by the warm southern sun and an ancient cultural heritage, Nîmes seems undaunted by the passage of time. Roman monuments are scattered throughout the city, and some are the best preserved in France. The historic center has atmospheric Old World charm. Similar to Aix-en-Provence, there are many tree-lined streets and fountain-adorned public squares with tables that spill out into the cobblestone pedestrian areas from bustling outdoor cafés.
Nîmes is nestled in the foothills of the Languedoc region between Avignon and Montpellier, near the border with Spain. Because of its proximity, Nîmes shares a cultural heritage with Provence and has been influenced by Spanish traditions. Festivals are a way of life here. In May, the Festival de Nîmes brings popular music concerts to the ancient Arena. In summer, the city comes alive with more outdoor performances in the Amphitheater and gardens, and Thursday evening market events are accompanied by jazz, blues, and flamenco music.
1 Arènes: The Ancient Roman Amphitheater
A testimony to the remarkable ancient Roman heritage of Nîmes, the Arènes (Amphitheater) dates back to the 1st century AD. At the center of town, this impressive 133-meter by 101-meter outdoor theater was the most important monument in Roman times. With seating for 21,000 spectators, the Nîmes Amphitheater is not the largest but it is one of the best preserved of all the existing Roman amphitheaters. The 60 graceful arches of the exterior are embellished in the lower part with pilasters and in the upper part with decorative Doric half-columns. Brackets for the wooden masts of the awning can be seen on the top. The Amphitheater was perfectly designed to handle the crowds; there are 124 exits that allowed the entire audience to exit within a few minutes.
The Amphitheater was transformed into a fortress in the 5th century and then a Knight's castle during the Middle Ages. However, recently the monument has been restored to its original purpose. The Amphitheater is now used as a venue for cultural events and festivals. In May, the Arènes becomes the scene of Les Grands Jeux Romains, 2,000-year-old circus games reenacted with historical accuracy and authentically-styled Roman costumes. During the summer, the Festival de Nîmes presents a series of world-class concerts and other cultural events at the Amphitheater.
2 Maison Carrée
This marvelous building is one of the best preserved ancient monuments in France, and the only fully preserved classical Roman temple remaining in the world. Built between 20 and 12 BC, the Maison Carrée was an important temple in the Forum (the economic and administrative heart of the Roman town). The temple was dedicated to Caius and Lucius Caesar, the adopted son and grandson of the Emperor Augustus. Inspired by the temples of Apollo and Mars Ultor in Rome, the Maison Carrée features harmonious classical proportions. Standing on a podium with impressive dimensions of 26 meters long by 17 meters high, the temple's grandeur leaves tourists awestruck.
The facade of tall Corinthian columns are finely decorated with acanthus, and there are 15 steps leading up to the porticoed "pronaos" (entrance to the temple). The interior now serves as a museum. During the Middle Ages, the temple was used as a convent before becoming State property during the French Revolution. The monument was restored in the 18th century and more recently underwent extensive renovation work from 2006 to 2008. After more than four years of restoration work by sculptors and stone masons, the Maison Carrée has been returned to its former glory.
Address: Place de la Maison Carrée, Nîmes
3 Jardins de la Fontaine (Gardens of the Source)
These beautiful and peaceful gardens lie on the site of an ancient spring that lies west of the Maison Carrée. Decorated with monumental vases and Baroque-style statues, the gardens were part of a project to embellish Nîmes in the 18th century. The richly ornamented gardens were laid out around the former fortified ramparts. The gardens extend over several different levels. By exploring the water basins and waterways, visitors will eventually stumble across the romantic ruins of the ancient Temple de Diane. This enigmatic temple was possibly the sanctuary of a sacred spring or part of an ancient bath complex-its exact function is not known. Behind the Jardins de la Fontaine is Mont Cavalier, a lush area of subtropical plants and shady footpaths. On the summit stands the 30-meter-tall Tour Magne, a Roman monument dating from 15 BC. The tower represents the largest part of the defensive wall that surrounded the town during the Roman era.
Address: Quai de la Fontaine, Nîmes
4 Musée Archéologique (Museum of Archaeology)
The perfect complement to visiting Nîmes' archaeological attractions, this museum gives visitors a fascinating insight into the town's ancient past. Housed in a historic 17th-century building (the former Jesuits' College), this exceptional archaeological museum has one of the largest and most in-depth collections in France. The collection of prehistoric artifacts focuses on Iron Age pieces, while the classical antiquities collection includes Gallo-Roman objects such as ceramics, bronze tableware, lamps, toilet items, and dress accessories. The Roman coins are among the museum's highlights. Other Roman-era archaeological finds, like mosaics and inscriptions, allow visitors to imagine scenes of ancient life. The museum also has an excellent collection of classical Greek ceramics as well as an assortment of sculptures from antiquity to the medieval period.
Address: 13 Boulevard Amiral Courbet, Nîmes
5 Musée des Beaux-Arts (Museum of Fine Arts)
This renowned fine arts museum occupies a Neoclassical building constructed in 1907. Two magnificent statues by Henri Bouchard welcome visitors through the front doors. Nîmes' museum of fine art is the second-largest collection of its kind in the Languedoc region. The museum boasts a collection of 3,600 works by French, Flemish, Dutch, German, Italian, and Spanish painters. The collection's focus is on 16th-century to 17th-century paintings by Italian masters and fine 19th-century French paintings. The ground floor atrium features a large ancient Roman mosaic depicting The Wedding of Admetus, which is a highlight of the museum. This stunning piece was discovered in the 19th century at the site of a marketplace. Take time to admire the mosaic's artistic design and charming details.
Address: Rue Cité Foulc, Nîmes
6 Festivals and Events
The Féria de Pentecôte (Festival of Pentecost) is the first big annual event of the year in Nîmes and one of the biggest festivals in France. The six-day festival includes marching bands, Spanish flamenco dancing, and religious ceremonies. Also in May, Les Grands Jeux Romains recreates ancient Roman circus games at the Arènes. In June, the Festival La Nuit des Jardins presents dance, musical concerts, and other cultural performances at the garden's outdoor theater. In July, there is an outdoor film festival at the Gardens, La Nuit des Jardins, catering to a French-speaking audience. Every Thursday evening in July and August, a special event called Les Jeudis de Nîmes takes place. The town comes alive with outdoor markets featuring crafts and antique shops, while the crowds are entertained by jazz, blues, or flamenco music. The annual Festival de Nîmes is a series of performances held throughout July at the ancient Roman amphitheater, including music concerts, theater, and dance performances. The traveling Chicago Blues Festival makes an annual appearance in Nîmes in November.
7 Musée du Vieux Nîmes (Museum of Old Nîmes)
This museum is found at the Place aux Herbes, a charming public space with many outdoor café tables spilling out into the square. Housed in a 17th-century building (the former Bishop's Palace), the museum illustrates Nîmes' history from the Middle Ages until the 19th century. Everyday objects, arts, crafts, and furnishings help to illustrate the local culture and traditions. The museum has a particularly interesting textile collection, since Nîmes was an important manufacturer of textiles in the 18th century. Nîmes shawls were once the rage all over Europe. Visitors will also be surprised to learn that denim was invented in Nîmes. There is a "Blue Room" dedicated to Nîmes' most famous cloth.
Address: Place aux Herbes, Nîmes
8 Musée des Cultures Tauru (Museum of Bullfighting)
Opened in May 2002, this museum celebrates the tradition of bullfighting that is part of Nîmes' heritage. The museum lies a few steps away from the ancient Roman amphitheater, where bullfighting has been staged for the Feria de Nîmes since the mid 20th century. This is the only museum in France dedicated to the subject of bullfighting. The collection includes bullfighting costumes, art work depicting bullfights, and information related to bullfighting. Visitors learn about the customs of bullfighting that originated in Spain and were brought to the nearby Camargue region south of Arles.
Address: 6 Rue Alexandre Ducros, Nîmes
9 Porte d'Auguste
Named for Emperor Augustus who built the original town walls, the Porte d'Auguste stands near the northern end of the Boulevard Amiral Courbet. This town gate dates from around the 16th or 15th century BC and was the starting point of the road to Rome. In the 14th century, the Porte d'Auguste was incorporated into the walls of a medieval fortress and was not uncovered again until 1752 when the fortress was damaged. The gate's side wings were destroyed during the French Revolution. Now, there is a bronze statue of Augustus (a modern copy) placed near the gate.
Address: 25 Boulevard Amiral Courbet, Nîmes
10 Carré d'Art - Musée d'Art Contemporain (Museum of Contemporary Art)
To the west of the Maison Carrée stands a building in striking contrast to Nîmes' ancient architecture. The Musée d'Art Contemporain is a sleek modern building designed by architect Norman Foster. The museum's permanent collection includes around 400 works of contemporary art-created since the 1960s. The collections are organized by geography, such as sections for French art and Mediterranean art. Renowned temporary exhibitions are held here every year.
Address: 16 Place de la Maison Carrée, Nîmes