10 Top-Rated Things to Do in Nimes
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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. In fact, Nîmes is known as "La Rome Française" ("The French Rome").
The historic center has an appealing old-world atmosphere, with many pleasant tree-lined streets, historic attractions, and fountain-adorned public squares. This is where you'll find the majority of things to do. 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 in July and August are animated with jazz, blues, and flamenco music.
For ideas how to spend your time here, see our list of things to do in Nîmes.
See also: Where to Stay in Nîmes
1. Les Arènes de Nîmes: Ancient Roman Amphitheater
A testimony to the remarkable ancient Roman heritage of Nîmes, the Arènes (Amphitheater) dates back to the 1st century CE. 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 façade, 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.
Another performance inspired by the city's ancient history, the Nîmes Cité des Dieux presents a collection of stories from Greek mythology, Celtic civilization, and legends of Egyptian deities. Held in mid-August, the show combines theater, acrobatics, video, and special effects.
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. Les 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 sightseeing 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, you 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 BCE 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.
Tourists may visit the Tour Magne for an admission fee; passes are available for admission to the Tour Magne along with Les Arènes de Nîmes and the Musée de la Romanité.
France's Ministère de la Culture (Ministry of Culture) designated the Jardins de la Fontaine as a Jardin Remarquable (Remarkable Garden) thanks to its beauty and cultural value.
Spread out on 15 hectares in the heart of the city, the relaxing environment of the Jardins de la Fontaine appeals to both locals and tourists. The Jardins de la Fontaine are open year-round, free of charge.
Address: Quai de la Fontaine, Nîmes
3. Maison Carrée
This marvelous building is the only fully preserved ancient Roman temple remaining in the world.
Built in the 1st century BCE 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 façade, 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 2010. After more than four years of restorations by sculptors and stone masons, the Maison Carrée has been returned to its former glory.
The interior of the temple displays a multimedia presentation about the history of Nîmes.
Address: Place de la Maison Carrée, 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, which was previously located at the historic Jesuits' College on the Boulevard Amiral-Courbet.
The impetus for creating the Musée de la Romanité was the 2006 and 2007 unearthing 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. These 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 you to imagine scenes of everyday life two millennia ago.
The museum also has excellent assortments of classical Greek ceramics, as well as sculptures dating from antiquity through the medieval period. Innovative interactive multimedia presentations educate visitors about Roman civilization and make the museum's exhibits more meaningful.
The museum's archaeological garden gives another insight into the town's multi-layered 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 and a bookstore/gift shop. The museum is also home to two restaurants.
The Café du Musée is a casual eatery (entrance at 16 boulevard des Arènes) that is open daily for breakfast, lunch, snacks, and evening meals and has sunny patio seating. There is also a Michelin-rated brasserie restaurant, La Table du 2 (entrance is located at 2 bis Rue de la République) that is open daily for lunch and dinner, with views of the Arènes de Nîmes from its outdoor terrace.
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.
The museum offers guided tours on Saturdays and Sundays at 3pm and throughout the year hosts conferences on themes related to ancient civilizations and antiquities.
Address: 16 Boulevard des Arènes, Nîmes
Official site: https://museedelaromanite.fr
5. Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nîmes
This renowned fine arts museum occupies a Neoclassical building constructed in 1907. Two statues by Henri Bouchard stand at 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 (including Peter Paul Rubens, François Boucher, and Paul Delaroche). 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 and holidays) from 10am until 6pm.
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 Feria de Pentecôte (Festival of Pentecost) in June, during which 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 held during the last week of April or in early 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 Cloître (Music at the Cloister) event presents classical music concerts at the elegant 18th-century Cloître 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 as well as locally made gourmet specialties and regional food products, 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
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, artwork depicting bullfights, and temporary exhibits with themes related to bullfighting culture. 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. La 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 1st century BCE, 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 Carré d'Art-Musée d'Art Contemporain is a sleek modern structure designed by architect Norman Foster.
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.
As a prestigious cultural center, the Carré d'Art-Musée d'Art Contemporain in Nîmes has a partnership with the renowned Centre Pompidou, which is one of the top museums in Paris. Similar to the Pompidou Center in Paris, the Carré d'Art serves as both a museum and a cultural center.
Throughout the year, temporary art and photography exhibitions as well as art workshops are held at the museum. You'll also find a bookshop and a multimedia library with content related to topics of contemporary art.
The Carré d'Art-Musée d'Art Contemporain is open Tuesday through Sunday (closed on Mondays and holidays) from 10am until 6pm.
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), which is listed as a Historic Monument, the museum illustrates Nîmes' history from the Middle Ages until the early 20th century.
Everyday objects, ceramics, paintings, graphic art, crafts, and furnishings help to illustrate the local culture and traditions. The museum has a particularly interesting textile collection, which reveals Nîmes' heritage as a center for textile manufacturing in the 18th century. Nîmes shawls were once the rage all over Europe.
You may 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 (closed on Mondays and holidays) from 10am until 6pm.
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.
- 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). This four-star hotel's guest rooms are decorated in sumptuous traditional fashion, while the Empire-inspired salons feature comfortable sofas and fireplaces. Amenities include a full-service spa (skincare treatments and massages are available) with a sauna and hammam, and an outdoor swimming pool.
- 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. Guests also enjoy the gourmet meal options.
- 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 two-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, you 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.