10 Top-Rated Attractions & Places to Visit 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 an appealing old-world atmosphere, with many 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 classical-era Amphitheater, and Thursday evening market events are animated with jazz, blues, and flamenco music. For more ideas, see our list of the top attractions in Nîmes.
See also: Where to Stay in Nîmes
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 24,000 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. 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 April, 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 Amphitheater hosts the Festival de Nîmes, a series of world-class music concerts, dance, theater performances, and street arts.
Address: Boulevard des Arènes, Nîmes
2. 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 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. 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 facade of tall Corinthian columns is finely 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
This tranquil green space, located on the site of an ancient spring near the Maison Carrée, is a wonderful place for leisurely strolls. 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
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.
Address: 16 Boulevard des Arènes, Nîmes
Official site: https://museedelaromanite.fr
5. 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.
Address: Rue de la Cité Foulc, Nîmes
6. Festivals and Events
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 six days of religious ceremonies, concerts, street food, Spanish flamenco dancing, and bullfighting shows. Another event with a Spanish influence is the Flamenco Festival in January, which includes flamenco performances and dance classes. In April, Les Grands Jeux Romains recreates ancient Roman circus games at the Arènes. In June and July, the Musique au Cloitre (Music at the Cloister) event presents classical music concerts at the Cloitre des Jésuites.
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 performances held to the Arènes, including music concerts, theater, and dance performances. The traveling Chicago Blues Festival makes an annual appearance in Nîmes in November and December.
7. Musée des Cultures Taurines
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
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 - Musée d'Art Contemporain
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: 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 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 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 "Blue Room" dedicated to Nîmes' most famous cloth.
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: A luxurious oasis in the city center of Nîmes, the Jardins Secrets is a five-star property with a beautifully landscaped Mediterranean garden, including a swimming pool and outdoor seating. Although the property has a country feel, it's in the heart of the urban landscape and is only about a 10-minute walk to the Musée de la Romanité and the Arènes. The hotel's charming guest rooms are decorated in a 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 Nîmes' most celebrated ancient monument, 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.
For a truly pampering experience at a resort-like property, choose the Bien Loin d'Ici Spa B&B. This luxurious bed-and-breakfast is just outside of the city center (a five-kilometer drive). Found in a peaceful rural setting, the property is a romantic destination with plush contemporary-style rooms, private terraces and jacuzzis, gorgeous gardens, and a 20-meter-long swimming pool. The accommodations include a homemade breakfast prepared with fresh organic ingredients.
Mid-Range Hotels: A short drive from Nîmes city center, Le Pre Galoffre offers an authentic Provençal experience in a quiet rural setting. This three-star bed & breakfast hotel occupies a renovated 17th-century farmhouse with guest rooms decorated in French country style. 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 Appart'City Confort Nîmes Arenes 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.
With its impressive historic architecture, the Hotel Marquis de la Baume immerses guests in the old-world charm of Nîmes. The four-star hotel occupies a lovely 17th-century townhouse near the Maison Carré and the Jardin de la Fontaine. Guest rooms are outfitted with contemporary-style decor, but many have antique painted ceilings. As a Best Western property, the hotel provides concierge services and a front desk that is open 24 hours.
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, within walking distance to the Musée des Beaux-Arts, as well as other monuments. This modern two-star hotel provides basic guest rooms, and lodging includes a breakfast buffet.
In the historic center of Nîmes, the two-star Hotel des Tuileries offers simple but stylish rooms at an affordable price, including a buffet breakfast. The hotel is a short walk away from the Maison Carrée and the Arènes.
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Historic Towns in the Languedoc and Provence Regions: Nîmes is nestled in the foothills of the Languedoc, a region steeped in history. Famous sites include Carcassonne (a two-hour drive), a perfectly preserved medieval fortified town, and Montpellier (a one-hour drive), a cultured 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 from Nîmes) is also worth a detour to see its glorious Gothic cathedral and the 13th-century Palace of the Kings of Mallorca. In the nearby Provence region, must-see sites include Avignon and Arles. Only 30 minutes away by train (or a 40-minute drive), the UNESCO-listed sites of Avignon draw many tourists. Just a 30-minute drive away (or a one-hour train ride), Arles is famous for its Roman Amphitheater, which dates to the 1st-century AD and its sites painted by Vincent van Gogh. Arles also boasts a UNESCO-listed 12th-century cloister. A quintessential Provençal town, Aix-en-Provence (a 90-minute drive) has a sultry climate and an appealing ambience with its shady boulevards, flowing fountains, and bustling outdoor cafés.
Catalonia's Colorful and Cultured Cities: The Languedoc region borders Catalonia in Spain, which explains why Nîmes has been influenced by Spanish customs, such as bullfighting and traditional festivals. The rich cultural heritage of Catalonia is particularly evident in Girona (about a three-hour drive from Nîmes and one of the top day trips from Barcelona). This amazing, historic city is distinguished by its colorful waterfront houses, Roman-era ramparts, and a medieval quarter that reveals a rich melange of Moorish culture and Jewish heritage. Catalonia's capital, the sun-drenched seaside city of Barcelona (about a four-hour drive from Nîmes) captivates visitors with its atmospheric medieval squares, tree-lined avenues, whimsical parks, and beautiful beaches. Barcelona has wonderful tourist attractions, including art museums, avant-garde architecture, and gourmet cuisine.
Provençal Countryside and Hilltop Villages: Because of its proximity, Nîmes shares a cultural heritage with Provence, especially its abundance of ancient Roman sites (the area of the present-day Languedoc and Provence regions corresponds with what was a Roman colony from around the 5th-century BC until the 1st-century AD). In the rural Haut-Vaucluse area of Provence, the UNESCO-listed Roman ruins in Orange (a 45-minute drive) are especially fascinating. For those who'd like to discover the rural areas of Provence, the UNESCO-listed Camargue nature preserve (a 40-minute drive) is a wild and rugged region, where bulls run wild and flamingoes flourish. Many travelers will also enjoy taking a driving tour through the scenic Provençal countryside, stopping at picturesque medieval hilltop towns such as Les Baux-de-Provence (a one-hour drive), which dramatically crowns a rocky limestone crag high above an idyllic valley in the Alpilles natural regional park. Another quaint hilltop village is Gordes (a 90-minute drive away) in the unspoiled Luberon countryside.