The City of Popes from 1309 to 1376, Avignon in the department of Vaucluse is a town steeped in history. Its historic centre is listed by UNESCO and its old town has kept some impressive reminders of its past! Protected by ramparts, it includes the emblem of the city: the Palace of the Popes (Palais des Papes). Open to visitors, this superb Gothic monument dates back to the 14th century and consists of the old palace of Benedict XII, built between 1334 and 1342, and the new palace of Clement VI, built between 1342 and 1352. The Palace's vast square is also surrounded by other prestigious buildings like the Small Palace (Petit Palais), which is in fact the former residence of the archbishops. Built between the 14th and 18th centuries, this elegant building of almost 3,000 m² now houses a museum that exhibits Italian paintings from the 13th to 16th centuries, such as Botticelli's Madonna and Child, as well as Romanesque and Gothic sculptures. You can also admire the former Mint (Hôtel des Monnaies), with its beautiful 17th-century Baroque façade featuring eagles and dragons. Then visit Avignon Cathedral (Notre-Dame-des-Doms), built in the 12th century and remodelled in the 15th and 17th centuries. An example of the Provençal Romanesque style, it contains a magnificent Romanesque cupola, a white marble bishop's seat, and the Gothic tombs of Popes John XXII and Benedict XII. Outside, look up to see the huge, gilded statue of the Virgin Mary at the top of the bell tower.
Then wander through the medieval streets to admire the period houses, Renaissance mansions and old town squares. You are sure to find your way to Rue des Teinturiers, a picturesque pedestrian street paved with pebbles. The busy Rue de la République connects the ramparts to the plane tree-shaded Place de l'Horloge, the lively heart of the town with its many cafés and restaurants. Here you can see the Neo-Classical façade of the 19th-century town hall and its clock tower, a former 14th-century belfry with a jacquemart clock.
It's worth taking some time to admire the many buildings you will come across on your walk. These include the Basilica of St. Peter, with Renaissance door leaves on its façade, 17th-century woodwork in the choir and a 15th-century pulpit making it well worth a visit. Also be sure not to miss the night-time illuminations that transform the building into a sublime spectacle during the Hélios festival in summer. The Gothic Collegiate Church of St. Didier has a beautiful 15th-century carved altarpiece depicting Christ Carrying the Cross. On Place des Carmes, the last vestige of an old convent is the Augustins bell tower, with a wrought iron campanile on top. In the church, the painted wooden statues date from the 16th century.
Don't forget to take a walk to the top of the Doms Rock, where the town's origins lie. The lovely garden there is ideal for a rest in the shade and offers superb views of the Alpilles, the Rhône and the unmissable Pont d'Avignon bridge. Made famous by the well-known folk song and also known as the Pont Saint-Bénézet, this medieval bridge used to connect the town with Villeneuve-lès-Avignon, 900 metres away. Although part of it was destroyed by the Rhône's repeated floods, it still has four arches and two superimposed chapels left. An exhibition space called "Le pont retrouvé" and touch screen tablets will help you discover a side of this iconic monument that you've never seen before!
Art-lovers have a number of museums to choose from: the Calvet Museum, which exhibits collections of fine and decorative arts and ethnography; the Lapidary Museum, which focuses on archaeology; the Louis Vouland Museum, with its prestigious collection of furniture and objects from the 17th and 18th centuries, and works by Provençal artists from the 19th and 20th centuries; and the Angladon Museum, which houses a remarkable collection of modern art.