Heading to Paris, France is often the highlight of most people’s bucket list and it’s no wonder. Paris is home to a thriving and lively culture, beautiful architecture, and has plenty to do. But I always try to encourage people to go to other cities in France. As you know, I spend plenty of time in the country and I’ve traveled to many of its smaller cities and villages. France has so much more to offer than just Paris so it’s important to venture outside of its major metropolis. One of my favorite cities is located in the South of France and in this article you’ll find some of the best things to do in Nîmes, France.
I discovered Nîmes during one of our many visits to the city of Grenoble, France. Grenoble is a cute little city located in the French Alps that has quickly become a home away from home for Alfred and myself. There is plenty to explore in and around the city but when you visit as much as we do, you tend to venture a little. So I keep a list of French cities that is ever-growing I plan to visit and Nîmes happened to be one of them. So I hopped on a train to make the journey to this surprising town.
Where is Nîmes, France?
Located in the South of France in the Occitanie region, Nîmes benefits from a warm and sunny climate throughout the year. The city sits approximately 25 miles inland between the Mediterranean Sea and the Cévennes Mountains. This also provides an ideal base for discovering Cevennes National Park to the North or wetlands of the Camargue to the south.
Getting to Nîmes
It’s quite easy to get to Nîmes through a variety of different transportation modes.
Train: The easiest way to get to Nîmes, France is to take a train as the city has a large train station. Once you arrive, you simply walk out the station and you are greeted by a beautiful pedestrian walkway that leads to the city’s historic center and monuments. Nîmes is on the main Paris – Lyon – Barcelona route, and also on the Mediterranean coastal route between Italy and Spain.
Nîmes can be reached by direct TGV high-speed train from Paris, Lille, Strasbourg and Lyon.There are also a plethora of other train routes that will take you to the city from a number of other cities, though they may not be direct routes.
Car: You can drive to Nîmes easily. Simply hire a car and get to driving. The city is served by the A9 / E15 motorway and the A54 / E80 route from Marseille.
Fly: The city is home to a small airport but only served by a few flights each day. You may also fly into the larger Marseille-Provence Airport which is located 50 miles away and then drive or take a train to the city.
Best Time To Visit Nîmes
Generally speaking, you can visit Nîmes anytime as temperatures are pleasant throughout the year. In the winter, temperatures can sometimes get pretty cold but there is little chance of rain.
Summer: The temperatures are warmest during the summer months which span from June to August. This is an excellent time to visit as the weather is ideal. June and July is also when the Festival de Nîmes takes place. You can attend a variety of concerts throughout this festival.
Winter: Since Nîmes is located in the South of France, there is sunlight even in winter. However, you may encounter colder temperatures. The city is still worth a visit in the winter.
History of Nîmes, France
Nîmes has a long history dating as far back as Neolithic times. Not much is left from those ancient times but the city is more famous for its Roman past. The city was first known as Nemausus and was an important city along the Via Domitia, the first road built in Gaul (now known as France) connecting Italy to Spain. Nîmes was considered an important city due to its location and originally housed veterans of the Roman Legions who had served Julius Caesar in his Nile campaigns. After 15 years of service, these veterans were given plots of land to cultivate on the plain of Nîmes. It was during the Roman Period when the city accomplished much of its grandeur which still remains to this day.
What To See in Nîmes, France
Luckily, you can still experience the ancient cultural heritage of Nîmes because even after hundreds of years have passed since the fall of Rome, its many Roman architectural wonders are preserved. Some are so astoundingly intact, you might be convinced you’ve stepped back in time. Here are the Roman treasures you must experience when visiting Nîmes.
The Arena of Nîmes is perhaps the most iconic monument of the city and it’s also one of the best preserved Roman amphitheaters in all of Europe. It’s construction was completed around 70 AD and it was used for gladiator fights and such. After the Roman era, it became a fortified settlement during the Middle Ages and eventually hosted bull fights in 1863. Standing at 133 meters long, 101 meters wide and 21 meters high, with an oval arena encircled by two tiers of arches and columns, the amphitheater looks pretty good for nearly 2000 years of history. It’s still used to this day for concerts having hosted such famous musical artists as Depeche Mode, Metallica, and Rammstein. This is one Roman site of Nîmes you don’t want to miss.
Temple of Diana
The Temple of Diana is a temple nestled among the greenery of Jardins de la Fontaine and is not actually dedicated to Diana, the goddess of wild animals and the hunt. It is just popular referred to as such but in actuality was a temple built during the 1st century around a Nymphaeum and dedicated to Augustus. It was destroyed in 1577 during the Wars of Religion and its exact function is unknown. You can simply walk into the temple and explore free of charge.
La Tour Magne
This 18 meter tall tower is one of the last remnants of the Roman fortifications built during the Augustian era. It stands at the highest point of the city and with sweeping views of the city and surrounding countryside. The tower served as a strategic lookout for the city for hundreds of years.
In ancient times, the city of Nîmes was surrounded by a fortified wall to protect from invaders. Entering and exiting the city occurred through a series of gates. Today you can still see two of these gates remarkably intact. The Via Domitia passed through the Porte Auguste and continued on to Cadiz, Spain. If you look closely, you can see markers where two towers stood to protect the gate in ancient times. In the southern part of the city you can the Porte de France.
La Maison Carrée
Maison Carrée is one of the best preserved Roman temples in the world. Built around 16 BC and made of limestone, this temple is a fine example of Vitruvian architecture. Over the years, it has served as a town hall, a church, and a museum. But originally it was built to honor Emperor Augustus’ two adopted sons. Today it is home to a film about the Roman city of Nîmes and the temple’s role in that settlement. The real draw of this temple is its outside facade so don’t even worry about going inside.
Pont du Gard
Located approximately 13 miles (22 kilometers) northeast of the city, Pont du Gard is a Roman architectural marvel spanning the Gardon River which was built to bring water to the ancient city of Nemausus. The three-tiered structure is the highest standing Roman aqueduct in the world at 160 feet tall (48.8 meters), 902 feet long (275 meters), and has a difference in gradient of just 2.5 centimeters. This is a testament to Roman precision. The remaining segment use to be part of a more than 50 kilometer (31 miles) aqueduct. This segment is well-preserved due to the fact it was used as a toll bridge well after the fall of the Roman Empire. It is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site along with many of the Roman ruins of Nîmes.
Other Things To See In Nîmes
While the major draw to Nîmes, France is its ancient Roman historical monuments, the city is quite charming and has plenty to see and experience. Here are a few of the city’s other attractions you should check out!
Located just across the road from Maison Carrée, this Norman Foster architectural creation of steel, glass, and concrete houses galleries of contemporary art in a beautiful juxtaposition to the traditional and ancient beauty of the city. It also houses the city’s library. The building is 9 stories but half of these are located underground so as not to upstage the Roman temple.
Esplanade Charles de Gaulle
If you take a train to Nîmes, you will exit the train station and walk up a grand tree-lined alley called Avenue Feuchères that ends at the main square in the city called Esplanade Charles du Gaulle. The square dates back to the 16th century and was originally used as a space for artillery practice. You’ll notice the square is trimmed with Hackberry Trees and decorated with the large Fontaine Pradier. The fountain was built in 1851 and its central figure represents Nîmes while the statues surrounding it are supposed to represent the regions four rivers, the spring in Nîmes, the Gardon, the Eure (via the Pont du Gard), and the Rhône.
Le Musée des Beaux-Arts
This art museum houses a remarkable collection of more than 3,600 works of fine art by French, Flemish, Dutch, German, Italian, and Spanish painters. Most works date to the 16th, 17th, and 19th centuries. However the museums pièce de résistance is the large ancient Roman mosaic depicting The Wedding of Admetus located in the ground floor atrium. The piece was discovered in Nîmes and is quite large dating to the 2nd century and having been discovered in the 19th century.
Eglise Saint Baudile
Standing at about 230 feet tall (70 meters), Eglise Saint Baudile is Nîmes largest church and is capable of accommodating up to 3,000 worshippers. Topped with two towers, the imposing church was built between 1867-1877. The church sits at Place Gabriel Péri which is also the location of Porte Auguste. You can check out the church and then one of the ancient gates of Nîmes in one go.
Jardins de la Fontaine
If you’re looking for the best place for a leisurely stroll then you’ll want to check out the tranquil, green space known as Jardins de la Fontaine. This grand 18th century park was built around natural springs where ancient Nemausus was founded. You’ll find neoclassical water features, Baroque statues, and larger than life vases scattered throughout the park. Jardins de la Fontaine is also the site of a few of the previously mentioned Roman marvels including La Tour Magne and the Temple of Diana. Exploring one of Europe’s first public parks is must!
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