11 Top Tourist Attractions in Arles & Easy Day Trips
In the heart of Provence, Arles offers the distinctive character of this proud region along
with a wealth of cultural attractions. This picturesque city is steeped in history dating back to its origins as a Greek settlement. Arles then became one of the most important cities of the Roman colony called "Gaul," founded by Julius Caesar in 46 BC. Arles was described by Suetonius as the "little Rome of Gaul." This classical city displays wonderfully preserved ruins, including the ancient Arena, Roman Theater, the Forum, and the Baths of Constantine.
Arles has a pleasant Provençal ambience found in its leafy public squares and slow-paced lifestyle. The city invites visitors to enjoy leisurely strolls and relax at the shaded terraces of its outdoor cafés. Art lovers will want to follow the Van Gogh Trail to see the scenes of the artist's famous paintings. Other cultural highlights are the popular festivals during the spring and summer, when townspeople dress up in period costumes.
See also: Where to Stay in Arles
1 Amphithéâtre d'Arles
At the top of the tourist attraction list, the Roman Amphitheater is the largest and best preserved ancient monument in Arles. Also known as the of Amphithéâtre d'Arènes, this arena dates back to the first century A.D. With a length of 136 meters and a width of 107 meters, the arena was one of the largest in Gaul and could accommodate 21,000 spectators. The facade has a double row of arcades with 60 archways and four arches used as main entrances. Seating for the spectators was once on 34 rows of tiered steps. The arena was actually built into the bedrock of the site, and in Roman times, the stone seats were covered with wooden planks. During the Middle Ages, towers were added to the arena. Visitors can climb to the top of the tower over the entrance for a wonderful view of the old town of Arles and the nearby ancient theater. The amphitheater is still used today as a venue for bullfights, shows, and other events.
Address: 1 Rond-Point des Arènes, Arles
2 Alyscamps (Elysian Fields)
This extensive Roman burial place is an exceptional testimony to Arles' ancient history. The Gallo-Roman necropolis is found on the southeastern edge of the old town. According to the legend of Saint Trophime, the location was dedicated as a Christian cemetery. In the Middle Ages, the Alyscamps was so revered that the dead were brought here for burial from considerable distances. Dante refers to this necropolis in his "Inferno." Many of the site's original marble sarcophagi were not rediscovered again until the 18th century.
Along the tranquil Allée des Tombeaux (Street of Graves), the only coffins now standing are the plain stone ones from the Middle Ages; the more ornate examples are housed in museums including in the Musée d'Art Chrétien and in the Church of Saint-Trophime. At the end of the Allée, visitors arrive at the 12th-century Church of Saint-Honorat. In the side chapel on the left, lies a beautiful sarcophagus dating from the 4th century AD.
Address: Avenue des Alyscamps, Arles
3 Cloître Saint-Trophime
One of the most intriguing attractions in Arles and a UNESCO-listed site, the Cloisters of Saint-Trophime are renowned for their ornate architecture and sculpted biblical scenes. The cloisters adjoin the Church of Saint-Trophime and are accessible by way of the church's courtyard. Dating back to the 12th century, the cloisters feature pairs of pillars with beautifully intricate capitals. Upon closer observation, the fine sculptures reveal biblical scenes in impressive detail. There are figures of the apostles and saints, and in between are reliefs of stories of Christ and the saints. Constructed from the 1300s to the 1500s, the cloisters reflect various medieval architectural styles, including Romanesque and Gothic elements. In the cloisters' Chapter House, visitors may admire two exceptional Gobelin tapestries and a small lapidarium. Other rooms are used for temporary exhibitions. From the terrace-like roof gallery, visitors may relax and enjoy the pleasant views.
The adjacent Église Saint-Trophime is another wonderful example of Romanesque architecture that shows the influence of Classical art. The Church of Saint-Trophime features a facade depicting scenes of the Last Judgment. The interior features more Gobelin tapestries and a High Gothic choir. This church was also an important stop on the medieval "Way of Saint James" pilgrimage route to Santiago de la Compostela in Spain. Both the cloisters and the church are dedicated to Saint Trophime, a Greek disciple who brought Christianity to Provence.
Address: Place de la République, Arles
4 Roman Theater
Another amazing ancient site, the Roman Theater was built in the first century BC during the rule of Augustus. The theater could accommodate a crowd of 8,000 people in 33 rows of seats. The back of the stage was decorated with columns and statues. Most of the relics excavated on the site can be seen in the Musée Lapidaire d'Art Païen. However, the most precious archaeological discovery, the "Venus of Arles," a representation of the goddess Diana, is now in the Louvre Museum in Paris. During the early Middle Ages, the theater was used as a quarry, and the town wall was built with the material it provided. Today, the theater serves as a pleasant venue for outdoor performances and events during the summer.
Address: Rue de la Calade/Rue du Cloître, Arles
5 Musée Départemental de l'Arles Antique
A top tourist attraction in Arles, the Departmental Museum of Ancient Arles will be appreciated by anyone interested in ancient history and archaeology. The museum displays the cultural heritage of Arles' past. The wealth of art and everyday objects reflects Arles' status as one of ancient Rome's most important colonial outposts. Exhibits feature classical mosaics, statues, and other objects offering insight into daily life during Roman times. The museum occupies a striking contemporary building on the remains of the ancient Roman circus.
Address: Avenue Jean Monnet (presqu'île du Cirque Romain), Arles
6 Fondation Vincent van Gogh Arles
Fondation Vincent van Gogh Arles pays homage to the famous painter by exploring the impact of his work on later styles - especially contemporary art. Currently, the museum only includes one of Van Gogh's paintings in its collection, but you can admire special exhibits by other artists who were influenced by van Gogh, such as David Hockney, Francis Bacon, and Roy Lichtenstein. After admiring all the exhibits, be sure to venture up to the rooftop terrace for beautiful views of the city.
Address: 35 ter Rue du Dr Fanton, Arles
7 Van Gogh Trail
Tourists can retrace the steps of Vincent van Gogh by following the trail of painting sites to see the scenes where the artist created some of his most well-known works. One of the sites is the Pont de Langlois drawbridge, which once stood at the end of the Avenue du Plan-du-Bourg and was made famous by van Gogh, but no longer exists. The drawbridge on the rue G. Monge, often referred to as the Pont de Langlois, located two kilometers away from the original bridge, is a later copy. Other sites on the Van Gogh Trail include the Van Gogh Café with its lively outdoor terrace on the Place du Forum that provided the scene for the Café Terrace at Night painting, the hospital at Place du Docteur Félix-Rey and the location of the celebrated Starry Nights painting.
8 Thermes de Constantin
Since Arles was a well-established ancient town, the Romans created an extensive bathing complex. The Thermes de Constantin (Baths of Constantine) date back to the 4th century AD. and are situated near the banks of the Le Grand Rhône River. The once-grand complex of buildings resembled a palace. However, the only remains include the Caldarium (warm bath) and parts of the Hypocaust (underfloor heating) and the Tepidarium (warm air room).
Address: Rue du Grand-Prieuré, Arles
9 Musée Réattu
A small and inviting museum, the Musée Réattu is housed in a beautiful Renaissance building that was once the Grand Priory of the Knights of Malta. This museum exhibits paintings by Réattu and artwork by Provençal artists of the 18th and 19th centuries. There is also an excellent collection of contemporary art, including pieces by Pablo Picasso, making a stop at this museum particularly interesting. Many of the Picasso pieces on display feature happy scenes and figures with loving or amused smiles, evidence of the humanity and sense of humor of the artist.
Address: 10 Rue du Grand Prieuré, Arles
10 Place de la République
At the center of historic Arles, the Place de la République in Arles has an ancient Egyptian obelisk that is 15 meters high. The obelisk was found in the amphitheater and placed here in 1676. On the north side of the square stands the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall), an elegant building constructed in 1673-75. Its bell tower dates from 1553 and came from the building that previously stood on the site.
11 Place du Forum
A tour through the Place du Forum allows visitors to get a feel for life during the Roman era. With a little imagination, tourists can recreate scenes of the bustling market and meeting place at the center of town. The best-preserved part of the Place du Forum is the "Cryptoporticus." Built in 40 BC, this horseshoe-shaped loggia is a partly subterranean arcade of the ancient Roman Forum. Entrance is accessible from the Musée d'Art Chrétien.
Where to Stay in Arles for Sightseeing
The historic center of Arles is compact and easily walkable, and most of the tourist attractions lie within an easy stroll of each other. For sightseeing, this is the best place to stay. Many of the hotels here offer parking nearby, some for a fee. Here are some highly-rated hotels in this convenient and central location:
- Luxury Hotels: A five-minute walk from the amphitheater, the pet-friendly Hotel Jules Cesar Arles MGallery Collection blends old and new in a former 17th-century convent with chic decor designed by Christian Lacroix. Other amenities include an outdoor pool, a spa with a sauna and hot tub, and a gourmet restaurant. A few blocks away, the Grand Hotel Nord-Pinus features uniquely decorated rooms with period details, while the pricier Hotel Particulier offers plush rooms dressed in crisp-white classical decor, a four-minute stroll from Fondation Vincent van Gogh.
- Mid-Range Hotels: On a quiet street, a stone's throw from the amphitheater, the pet-friendly Hotel De L'Amphitheatre exudes old-world charm, with its antique beds, rich color schemes, and leafy courtyard. Some rooms have rooftop views. Right nearby, overlooking the amphitheater, Hotel Spa Le Calendal references Provençal style with its warm color schemes. Guests can use the Roman-style spa and relax in the garden courtyard. A three-minute walk from the amphitheater, the pet-friendly, contemporary Hotel du Cloitre is known for its welcoming staff, whimsical style, and delightful rooftop terrace. Baths in some rooms have free-standing tubs.
- Budget Hotels: Near the Rhône and opposite the Musée Réattu the quaint, family-run Hotel Du Musee serves breakfast (for a reasonable fee) in its private courtyard garden. Steps from the amphitheater, in an evocative manor house built between the 12th and 15th centuries, the charming Logis Hotel de la Muette sits in the heart of the historic center. Ensuite bathrooms come with rainfall shower heads. The pet-friendly Ibis Budget Arles Palais des Congres, with a pool and free parking, is a short taxi ride from the historic center, and its rooms are fresh and modern.
Day Trips from Arles
Tourists flock to Avignon to visit the UNESCO-listed Palais de Papes, a remarkable fortress-like palace that was built in the 14th century. Between 1309 to 1377, seven Popes lived in the Palais de Papes, an enduring testimony to the opulent religious ceremonies and lavish quarters of the papacy.
Avignon's other must-see attractions include the Pont d'Avignon (Saint Bénézet Bridge) and the Musée du Petit Palais, which has an excellent collection of medieval and Renaissance paintings by the great masters of Italy, including Botticelli, Carpaccio, and Bellini. Arriving at Avignon from Arles (43 kilometers away) takes about 50 minutes by car and less than 20 minutes by train.
Across the river from Avignon (four kilometers away) is Villeneuve-lez-Avignon, with a splendid Carthusian Monastery. Also worth a detour, the medieval village of Châteauneuf-du-Pape is perched on a hilltop about 20 kilometers away from Avignon. Slightly farther north (10 kilometers from Châteauneuf-du-Pape) is Orange, a Provençal town renowned for its ancient Roman ruins.
Nîmes is a charming historic town nestled in the foothills of the Languedoc region. A pleasant place to visit, Nîmes has a lovely historic center with shady, tree-lined streets and squares that feature gushing fountains, typical of Southern France. Outdoor cafés in the pedestrian areas add to the appealing ambience. The town's top attraction is the Arènes, the best-preserved of all existing ancient Roman amphitheaters. This remarkable amphitheater is now used as a venue for world-class musical concerts and other cultural events.
For the most relaxing and enjoyable experience, take a guided tour of Nîmes. The Private Day Trip to Nîmes is a customizable tour of Nîmes that includes a visit to the Pont du Gard aqueduct, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Camargue Nature Park
A wild and rugged region of Provence, the Camargue Nature Park (16 kilometers from Arles) is classified by UNESCO as a Biosphere Reserve. This unique landscape is characterized by its vast open spaces, diverse vegetation, and marshlands that are inhabited by an incredible variety of more than 350 bird species. Most famous are the pink flamingos. The sight of these rare birds makes the visit worthwhile for any bird lover. Herds of native bulls also roam freely in the Camargue; these are the same bulls used in traditional bullfighting.
Awarded the title of one of the "Most Beautiful Villages" in France, this ancient hilltop town feels a world away but is just a 30-minute drive from Arles. One of the most enjoyable things to do in Les Baux-de-Provence is wander the quaint, old streets and soak up the medieval ambience. In its idyllic setting, the perched village boasts a majestic fortified castle, magnificent Renaissance palaces, and sweeping views of the Provence countryside. Les Baux-de-Provence has a stately Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall) and an interesting church dedicated to Saint Vincent, the 4th-century martyr. The Church of Saint-Vincent combines Romanesque, Gothic, and Cistercian styles. Entering the church offers a surprising impression of space that inspires spirituality. During the holiday season, the church has a tradition of celebrating Christmas with midnight vespers. Les Baux-de-Provence is also renowned for its Museum of Santons that displays an extensive collection of Christmas nativity figures.
An easy way to visit is by taking a Private Day Trip, which includes a customizable private tour of Les Baux-de-Provence as well as the nearby town of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.
Montmajour Abbey, a Romanesque Pilgrimage Church
In the countryside, about a 15-minute drive from Arles, this monumental abbey is the perfect spot to meditate and contemplate the spiritual heritage of the Benedictine monks. Perched on a rocky hill like a fortress, the Abbey of Montmajour was founded in the 10th century and was an important place of pilgrimage throughout the Middle Ages. The abbey has an immense Romanesque crypt dating back to the 12th century and an austere single-aisled church. Built in 1369, the abbey's cloisters exemplify serene Romanesque design with rows of double pillars. The cloisters also afford a superb view of the surrounding countryside from the rooftop.
Address: Route de Fontvieille, Arles
Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Arles
- Tour of Van Gogh Sites in Arles from Avignon: Art enthusiasts can sign up for the Private Tour: In the Footsteps of Van Gogh from Avignon. On this four-hour excursion, you'll learn fascinating facts about van Gogh's life from an expert guide and visit his former home, as well as landmarks in Arles that inspired some of his most famous paintings. The tour also includes a visit to ancient Roman sites, such as Arles Amphitheater.
- Camargue Tour from Avignon: If you're based in Avignon (one hour from Arles), the Small Group Tour to Arles and the Camargue is a fabulous option - especially for nature lovers. This full-day guided tour in an air-conditioned minivan includes birdwatching at the Camargue nature preserve, a one-hour train ride across the salt marshes of Aigues-Mortes, and a tour of historic sites in Arles.
Other Beautiful Provençal Towns near Arles
At the center of Provence, Arles is a great place to begin exploring the region. Several interesting historic towns are within easy travel distance: the medieval city of Avignon, renowned for the UNESCO-listed Palais de Papes, is one hour by train; the ancient Roman ruins of Orange are 30 minutes by train; and Nîmes is one hour by train. To truly experience the rural charm of the Provençal countryside, tourists will want to visit the picturesque perched villages of the Haut-Vaucluse area of Provence. For instance, one of the "Most Beautiful Villages of France," Gordes, is about a one-hour drive from Arles. Another lovely hilltop town, Vaison-la-Romaine is a 90-minute drive from Arles, a worthwhile destination for visiting the 1st-century archaeological sites or for attending summertime music and dance festivals. For a less touristy taste of Provençal life, the urban metropolis of Marseilles (less than one hour from Arles by train) offers vibrant cosmopolitan culture and gorgeous seaside scenery.