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10 Top-Rated Attractions & Places to Visit in Nîmes

Written by Lisa Alexander
Nov 17, 2020

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 an appealing old-world atmosphere, with many pleasant tree-lined streets and fountain-adorned public squares. Adding to the charm, outdoor cafés fill the city's cobblestone pedestrian areas.

Nîmes has a lively ambience and is known for its festivals. During the summer, outstanding cultural performances and concerts are held at the magnificent ancient Roman Amphitheater, and Thursday evening market events are animated with jazz, blues, and flamenco music.

For ideas about things to do and places to visit, see our list of the top attractions in Nîmes.

See also: Where to Stay in Nîmes

1. Arènes: The Ancient Roman Amphitheater

Arènes: The Ancient Roman Amphitheater

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 is one of the best preserved of all the existing Roman amphitheaters.

The Nîmes Amphitheater was designed to provide seating for 24,000 spectators, while 124 exits allowed the entire audience to file out of the theater in a few minutes. Detailed embellishments decorate the facade, which features 60 graceful arches adorned with Doric columns.

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 April or early May (unless scheduled otherwise), the Arènes becomes the scene of Les Grands Jeux Romains, the reenactment of Roman-era public games. The event includes chariot racing, gladiatorial combats, and a procession of Roman soldiers, presented with historical accuracy and authentically styled battle dress.

During June and July, the Amphitheater hosts the Festival de Nîmes, a renowned music festival that has been held here since 1997. Concerts represent a variety of genres, from pop music to heavy metal. Past festivals have presented famous musicians, including Neil Young, David Bowie, Santana, Björk, Metallica, and Depeche Mode.

Address: Boulevard des Arènes, Nîmes

2. Maison Carrée

Maison Carrée

Maison Carrée

This marvelous building is one of the rare, fully preserved classical Roman temples remaining in the world, along with the Pantheon in Rome. Built between 20 and 12 BC during the reign of Emperor Augustus, the Maison Carrée 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. With its immense dimensions of 26 meters long by 15 meters high, the Maison Carrée is among the best places to visit for a glimpse of the grandeur in ancient Roman architecture.

The most impressive aspect of the monument is the facade, featuring tall Corinthian columns decorated with acanthus and a staircase of 15 steps leading up to the porticoed pronaos (entrance to the temple).

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 renovation work from 2006 to 2008. After three years of restorations by sculptors and stone masons, the Maison Carrée has been returned to its former glory.

The interior of the temple is now also used to display a multimedia presentation about the history of Nîmes.

Address: Place de la Maison Carrée, Nîmes

3. Jardins de la Fontaine

Jardins de la Fontaine (Gardens of the Source)

Jardins de la Fontaine

This tranquil green space, located on the site of an ancient spring is a wonderful place for leisurely strolls. The park provides a welcome change of scenery on a jaunt through the city. Plus tourists will appreciate that it's not far out of the way from other attractions. The Maison Carrée is just a 10-minute walk from the Jardins de la Fontaine.

Decorated with monumental vases and Baroque-style statues, the Jardins de la Fontaine (Gardens of the Source) 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 ruins of the Roman-era Temple de Diane. This enigmatic temple was possibly the sanctuary of a sacred spring or part of a bath complex — its exact function is not known.

Behind the Jardins de la Fontaine is Mont Cavalier, a verdant area of subtropical plants and shady footpaths. On the summit stands the 36-meter-tall Tour Magne with 140 steps to the top. Listed as a Historic Monument, the Tour Magne dates to 15 BC and was once part of the city's ancient ramparts. The tower represents part of the defensive wall that surrounded the town during the Roman era.

Address: Quai de la Fontaine, Nîmes

4. Musée de la Romanité

Musée Archéologique (Museum of Archaeology)

Musée de la Romanité | Tyler Bell / photo modified

Opened in 2018, the Musée de la Romanité gives a dazzling new lease on life to the former Museum of Archaeology (previously located at the historic Jesuits' College on the Boulevard Amiral-Courbet).

The impetus for creating the Musée de la Romanité was the discovery in 2006 and 2007 of several new archaeological discoveries at the Allées Jaurès in Nîmes: a domus (Roman house), and two exceptional mosaics (Achilles and Pentheus). Archaeological experts have said that these findings compare to those at Pompeii.

The Musée de la Romanité (Museum of Roman History) brings together the original archaeology collection and the more recent archaeological findings. The beautifully restored collections are displayed in an ultra-modern building resembling a "folded glass toga," fittingly located along the site of the old Roman ramparts and facing the 2,000-year-old Arènes.

Revealing the city's indelible Roman heritage, the collection of around 5,000 artifacts is one of the largest and most in-depth in France. The collection ranges from prehistoric Iron Age pieces to Gallo-Roman objects such as ceramics, bronze tableware, lamps, toilet items, and dress accessories. The Roman coins are among the museum's highlights, while exquisitely detailed mosaics allow visitors to imagine scenes of everyday life two millennia ago.

The museum also has excellent assortments of classical Greek ceramics, as well as sculptures from antiquity to the medieval period. Innovative multimedia presentations educate visitors about Roman civilization and make the museum's exhibits more meaningful.

The museum's archeology garden gives another insight into the town's multilayered ancient heritage. Landscaped with lush Mediterranean plants, the garden features three levels, which each represents a different period of history: pre-Roman, classical Roman, and post-Roman eras.

Well-designed for tourists, the museum has a rooftop terrace with sensational panoramic views; a bookshop; a café with an outdoor patio; and a brasserie restaurant, which boasts a Michelin-starred chef.

The Musée de la Romanité is open year-round everyday (except Tuesdays) from 10am until 6pm (or until 7pm during high season). The museum is closed on December 25th and January 1st.

Address: 16 Boulevard des Arènes, Nîmes

Official site: https://museedelaromanite.fr

5. Musée des Beaux-Arts

Musée des Beaux-Arts

Musée des Beaux-Arts

This renowned fine arts museum occupies a Neoclassical building constructed in 1907. Two statues by Henri Bouchard welcome visitors through the front doors.

The museum displays the second-largest collection of its kind in the Languedoc region, with an assortment 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 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. The mosaic's artistic design reveals many charming details.

The museum is open every day (except Mondays) from 10am until 6pm.

Address: Rue de la Cité Foulc, Nîmes

6. Festivals and Events

Flamenco dancer

Flamenco dancer

Attending a traditional festival or cultural event is among the most interesting things to do while on vacation in Nîmes. Throughout the year, the town hosts lively festivals, such as the Féria de Pentecôte (Festival of Pentecost) when the town enjoys several days of events, including bullfights, parades, concerts, street food, and equestrian shows.

Another event with a Spanish influence is the Flamenco Festival in January, which includes a variety of flamenco dance, classic flamenco song, and flamenco guitar performances.

Usually in April or May, Les Grands Jeux Romains recreates ancient Roman circus games at the Arènes. This incredible three-day event reenacts the ancient Roman public games (gladiator combats, chariot races, etc.) as they were experienced in Nîmes 2,000 years ago.

On two evenings in August, the Musique au Cloitre (Music at the Cloister) event presents classical music concerts at the elegant 18th-century Cloitre des Jésuites, an exceptional venue for musical performances.

Every Thursday evening in July and August, a special event called Les Jeudis de Nîmes takes place. The town is filled with outdoor markets featuring crafts and antique shops, while the crowds are entertained by jazz, blues, or flamenco music.

In June and July, the annual Festival de Nîmes brings a series of music concerts to the Arènes, performed by famous pop musicians and rock stars.

The traveling Chicago Blues Festival makes an annual appearance in Nîmes at the end of November.

7. Musée des Cultures Taurines

Bullfighting costume

Bullfighting costume | Dennis Jarvis | photo modified

This museum celebrates the tradition of bullfighting that is part of Nîmes' heritage. The museum is a few steps away from the ancient Roman Amphitheater, where bullfighting has been staged for the Feria de Nîmes since the mid-20th century.

On display are bullfighting costumes, art work depicting bullfights, and temporary exhibits with themes related to bullfighting culture. 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

8. Porte d'Auguste

Augustus Gate

Augustus Gate

Named for Emperor Augustus who originally fortified the town, the Porte d'Auguste is the ancient entrance gate that provided access through the Roman ramparts. The Porte d'Auguste (Augustus Gate) was on the Via Domitia (the old Roman road that led to Rome) and now stands at the corner of the Boulevard Gambetta and the Boulevard Amiral Courbet.

The gate is believed to date to the 15th century BC, according to an inscription, and was later incorporated into the walls of a medieval fortress. It was not uncovered again until 1752 when the fortress was damaged. A modern copy of a statue of Augustus is found near the gate.

Address: 25 Boulevard Amiral Courbet, Nîmes

9. Carré d'Art Jean Bousquet

Carré d'Art - Musée d'Art Contemporain (Museum of Contemporary Art)

Carré d'Art Jean Bousquet | Wolfgang Staudt / photo modified

In striking contrast to Nîmes' ancient architecture, the Carré d'Art Jean Bousquet is a sleek modern structure designed by architect Norman Foster. The building houses the Musée d'Art Contemporain (Museum of Contemporary Art).

The museum's permanent collection includes around 600 works of contemporary art — created since the 1960s until the present day. The collections are organized thematically, such as sections for French art and Mediterranean art.

Renowned temporary exhibitions are held here every year. Visitors will also find a bookshop and a documentation center related to topics of contemporary art.

As a prestigious cultural center, the Musée d'Art Contemporain in Nîmes has a partnership with the renowned Centre Pompidou, which is one of the top museums in Paris.

Address: 16 Place de la Maison Carrée, Nîmes

10. Musée du Vieux Nîmes

The Musée du Vieux Nîmes (Museum of Old Nîmes) is found at the Place aux Herbes, a pleasant public space with many outdoor café tables spilling out into the square. Housed in the 17th-century Palais Episcopal (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 had many manufacturers 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 "Salle du Denim" dedicated to Nîmes' most famous cloth.

The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday and closed on Mondays.

Address: Place aux Herbes, Nîmes

Where to Stay in Nîmes for Sightseeing

To truly soak up the sights and the southern French lifestyle of Nîmes, travelers should spend a few nights here. The town has a wide choice of accommodations, from luxury hotels in historic buildings and resort-like settings to more affordable options. We recommend these highly rated hotels and guesthouses in Nîmes.

  • Luxury Hotels: Set in beautifully landscaped Mediterranean gardens, the Jardins Secrets is a haven of tranquility in the heart of Nîmes' urban landscape (about a 10-minute walk to the Musée de la Romanité and the Arènes). The four-star hotel's guest rooms are decorated in sumptuous traditional fashion, while the Empire-inspired salons feature comfortable sofas and fireplaces.

    In the Nîmes city center, the Villa Meridia is a great choice for those seeking upscale accommodations near the top tourist attractions. The hotel is just steps away from the Maison Carré, and is close to the Arènes as well as the Jardins de la Fontaine. This small boutique hotel has a swimming pool, and the accommodations include breakfast.

    Bien Loin d'Ici treats guests to a pampering resort-like experience, in a peaceful countryside setting several kilometers from Nîmes' center. The property is a romantic destination, with gorgeous gardens, a spa, and outdoor swimming pool. Plush contemporary-style guesthouses feature private terraces and Jacuzzis. The accommodations include a homemade breakfast prepared with fresh organic ingredients.
  • Mid-Range Hotels: A short drive from the Nîmes city center, the Hôtel Pré Galoffre provides three-star bed and breakfast accommodations in a renovated 17th-century farmhouse. The property has a delightful garden shaded by olive trees and filled with fragrant jasmine and lavender flowers. Guests will enjoy the serenity and beauty of the outdoor space, as well as the inviting pool area with lounge chairs for sunbathing.

    Across from the Arènes and near the train station, the four-star Appart'City Confort Nîmes Arènes combines the convenience of a central location with the amenities of an apartment-style hotel. The rooms feature fully equipped kitchenettes and free Wi-Fi. To make guests feel more at home, the property has laundry facilities, a restaurant, gym, sauna, and parking.

    The Hôtel Marquis de la Baume immerses guests in the old-world charm of Nîmes. This four-star hotel occupies a 17th-century townhouse near the Maison Carré. Guest rooms are decorated in contemporary style, but the building reveals historic details. As a Best Western property, the hotel provides concierge services and a 24-hour front desk.
  • Budget Hotels: For travelers who want to stay in the center of Nîmes, the Zenitude Hôtel-Résidences Nîmes Centre is a perfect choice because it's within easy walking distance of the Musée des Beaux-Arts, the Arènes, and other top tourist sights. This three-star apartment-style hotel has laundry facilities and rooms with kitchenettes.

    The Ibis Budget Nîmes Centre Gare is located in the center of Nîmes, near the Centre Gare (TGV train station) and within walking distance of the Musée des Beaux-Arts. This modern three-star hotel provides basic guest rooms. A breakfast buffet is also available.

    On a quiet street in the center of Nîmes, the two-star Hôtel des Tuileries offers spacious and stylish rooms at an affordable price. Services include an evening meal delivery option and a daily breakfast buffet with fresh fruit, cheese, and croissants supplied by an artisanal bakery. The hotel is a short walk away from the Maison Carrée and the Arènes.

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Historic Towns in the Languedoc Region: Nîmes is nestled in the foothills of the Languedoc, a region steeped in history. Top destinations include Carcassonne (a two-hour drive), a perfectly preserved medieval fortified town, and Montpellier (a one-hour drive), a lively city with elegant public squares and excellent art museums. The sun-drenched city of Perpignan (a two-hour drive or 2.5-hour train ride) is also worth a detour.

Highlights of Provence: In the Provence region, only 30 minutes away by train (a 40-minute drive), Avignon is home to the UNESCO-listed Palais des Papes. Just a 30-minute drive away (a one-hour train ride), Arles is famous for its Roman Amphitheater and sites painted by Vincent van Gogh. A sultry climate, flowing fountains, and bustling outdoor cafés characterize the quintessential Provençal town of Aix-en-Provence (a 90-minute drive).

Cultured and Colorful Catalonia: Bordering the Languedoc region, Catalonia in Spain has a rich cultural heritage. Catalonia's capital, the seaside city of Barcelona (a four-hour drive from Nîmes) features an atmospheric Gothic Quarter, sandy beaches, avant-garde architecture, and gourmet cuisine. One of the top day trips from Barcelona (a three-hour drive from Nîmes) is Girona, a walled city with Roman-era ramparts and a well-preserved medieval Jewish quarter.

Charming Provençal Countryside: In the rural Haut-Vaucluse area of Provence, visitors can explore quaint hilltop villages and historic towns such as Orange (a 45-minute drive), with its UNESCO-listed Roman ruins. Other picturesque perched villages dotting the idyllic landscape are Gordes and Roussillon (both about a 90-minute drive from Nîmes) in the unspoiled Luberon countryside.

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