If you’ve followed my travels for any period of time, then you know I am absolutely, head over heels in love with the country of France. I love the language (and am currently learning it), the food, the culture, and its history. The French people are as varied in culture across their country as any other nation and there is so much to take in. The country has incredible natural wonders and boasts 41 UNESCO World Heritage sites. It also has so many wonderful villages and small towns which are actually my favorite thing to explore. When I visit France, I typically visit for a period of 10 days and up to 2 weeks while basing myself in either Paris or Grenoble. It’s easy enough to book a train ticket or rent a car to visit other French towns from these two places. I typically make a concerted effort to leave my base and explore other towns (as long as the train system isn’t on strike) and that’s what led me to discover Arles, France…a city I think you’ll love.
How did I discover Arles, France?
During one of my trips to France, I stayed in Grenoble because Alfred works nearby in a town called Pont-de-Claix and worked at the hotel with some exploration on the side. One day, I simply google searched “best places to visit near Grenoble, France” and Arles turned up as one of my search results. After seeing a few photos of the city and learning some things about the places, I decide I definitely needed to visit this town. Therefore, I planned to go the very next day which happened to be a weekend and meant that Alfred could go with me… even better!
Combine your trip to Arles with visiting Avignon! Check out my guide to Avignon here!
Where is Arles?
Arles is located is located in the south of France in the Bouches-du-Rhône department of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region. It boasts excellent Mediterranean weather as it is not very far from the sea. You can arrive to Arles from multiple cities via train or simply rent a car and drive there yourself. There are also bus options if you wish to travel that way. Below are travel times via train from certain French cities to Arles. If you want to discover Arles, it is a very accessible day trip.
Paris to Arles: Approximately 4-5 hours depending on train route.
Lyon to Arles: Approximately 2.5-3 hours depending on train route.
Grenoble to Arles: Approximately 2-4 hours depending on train route.
Toulouse to Arles: Approximately 4-5 hours depending on train route.
Nice to Arles: Approximately 3-4.5 hours depending on train route.
Geneva to Arles: Approximately 5-7 hours depending on train route.
Best Time to Discover Arles, France
Given Arles proximity to the ocean and it’s location in the south of France, the city experiences rather warm and mild temperatures throughout the year. The Mediterranean climate of the area is just the ticket for most people traveling for leisure. With that being said, it is possible to discover Arles anytime between April to November and have a pleasant experience. However, the absolute best time to visit is between June and September when the city plays host to many themed fiestas, folk celebrations, open-air music events, and other festivals. The weather is perfect and their is also so much going on during this time period.
However, there is one factor that may interrupt an otherwise lovely trip to Arles. While Arles is considered one of the sunniest cities in France, it does experience intense rainfall. In this case, we are not simply talking about a light rainstorm but instead monsoon-like downpours. These happen throughout the year but seem to occur most often in the months of October to January and also in April. Take this into consideration. I’ve laid out the various seasons in for the city below.
Spring: From March to May is the spring season in Arles which means you will get temperatures leaning towards winter half the time and temperatures leaning towards summer half the time. It can be wet with rain increasing in April. Temperatures can range between chilly to warm increasing the closer you get to summer. Tourist numbers are relatively low so this may be a good time to visit if you wish to avoid crowds. Just be ready for slightly unpredictable weather and temperatures.
Summer: From June to August is the summer season in Arles. It is the busiest time of the year in terms of tourism as this is the time when the city hosts most of its large events (mentioned above). Temperatures can be quite hot during the summer with temperatures getting to as high as 90°F during the day and 60°F at night. This is also the time when students are on their holiday from school so tourists numbers are at their highest. You will pay the highest price for everything if you visit during the summer.
Fall: From September to November is the fall season in Arles. Tourist crowds dwindle down during this time of the year so you may have an easier time touring around. Much like spring, temperatures can range between warm and chilly decreasing the closer you get to winter. However, early autumn is the perfect time of the year to explore Arles. Crowds are sparse and the weather is still warm and dry.
Winter: From December to February is winter in Arles. While the weather is chilly and windy, it may still be a good time to visit the city because temperatures average around 50°F. There are virtually no crowds at all during the winter which means you will have the run of things. However, it is important to note that many businesses and attractions close down for the winter. Your choices may be limited. You’ll also pay the lowest prices during winter.
What is Arles Famous For?
If you’re like me then you might not have ever even heard of a town called Arles but it’s pretty famous for a number of historic reasons. You might be asking yourself, “why should I discover Arles?” Firstly, it is home to a a number of ancient Roman monuments which are designated UNESCO World Heritage sites. These include buildings dating back to the 1st Century such as Les Arènes, a famous bullring. Additionally, Arles is famous for it’s Romanesque architecture which is characterized by semi-circle arches for windows, doors, and arcades. The most famous example of this in Arles is the Saint-Trophime Primatial Catholic Church… but more on that later. Perhaps what Arles is most famous for is being the home of famed post-impressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh who lived in the city for part of his life. In fact, he painted a large portion of his 2100 works during his time in Arles.
As you can see from this alone, there is plenty of reason to visit Arles!
Things to See and Do In Arles
Van Gogh’s Footsteps
As stated above Arles is most famous for being the home of Vincent Van Gogh for 14 months starting on February 20, 1888. The artist decided to spend time in Arles hoping to find brighter, warmer, more favorable conditions for honing his skills. He rented the famed yellow house where he hoped to start an artist collective and painted 200 paintings during his time in Arles including Sunflowers. You can see the place where the yellow house once stood (it was demolished after severe damage caused by a bombing raid during World War II). Additionally, about ten more spots are marked which you can walk around and see including Place du Forum, which inspired his Café in the Evening; Trinquetaille Bridge where he painted the Staircase of the Trinquetaille Bridge, and the Rhone River embankment where he painted his Starry Night over the Rhone painting.
To further expand your Van Gogh experience, you may choose to make your way to Saint-Remy-de-Provence (35 minute drive) which is the town he called home for one year. After slicing part of his ear off, he voluntarily checked himself into the Saint-Paul Asylum located just outside the city and created 150 more paintings during that time, including Almond Blossoms and his most famous painting of all time, Starry Night. This is the perfect reason to discover Arles and all it’s history!
Location: All over the city.
Download the walking tour map here!
Church of St. Trophim
The Church of St. Trophim is a true medieval treasure celebrated for its Romanesque sculpture and architecture which was all carved between the 12th century and the 15th century. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, the sculptures on the church’s portal are considered the finest examples of Romanesque sculpture in the world. This church is also the starting point of the Via Tolosana to Santiago de Compostela which makes it even more special.
Location: 6 Place de la République, 13200 Arles, France
If you want to see one of the best Roman arenas in the world then you must discover Arles. In fact, the Arènes d’Arles is considered the best preserved Roman arena or amphitheater in all of Europe. Built a few decades after the famous Colosseum in Rome, the Arles Arena was ahead of its game as it implemented crowd control measures such as stairs at regular intervals. It has stood for nearly 2000 years hosting all sorts of spectacles including gladiators, chariot races, and bullfights. It even served as a citadel holding over 200 homes at one point during Medieval times.
Location: 1 Rond-Point des Arènes, 13200 Arles, France
A cryptoporticus is a subterranean gallery with vaulted ceilings that support structures aboveground. Arles’ cryptoporticus dates to the 1st century and was built as the foundation for the city’s forum, which no longer exists. The city’s underground support was built by Greeks and once likely housed public slaves. It is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site and offers a nice respite from the intense heat during warmer months.
Location: 5 Rue Balze, 13200 Arles, France
Cloister of St. Trophime
The Cloister of St. Trophime is part of the church but deserves its own mention as it is one of the pride’s of the city. The columns in this adjacent cloister are excellently preserved examples of Romanesque architecture and one of the few places in the world where you can see this type of work in its original location. The cloister was built at the same time as the church and was used for the church’s canons who were completely removed from life outside the church. Each pillar tells a different religious story including that of Moses, Jesus, and even some saints such St. Steven.
Location: 6 Place de la République, 13200 Arles, France
This is the main art museum for the city of Arles named after Jacques Réattu who was born there. When he died in 1833, he bequeathed a large collection of his paintings and drawings to the museum which are now displayed across twelve rooms. Additionally, you’ll find three rooms dedicated to Pablo Picasso, who donated many drawings to the museum in the 1970s. And, perhaps my favorite, you can find fashion sketched by designer Christian Lacroix…also native to Arles.
Location: 10 Rue du Grand Prieuré, 13200 Arles, France
Place de la République
You will inevitable end up at Place de la République when visiting Arles since it is the center of the small city. On this square you will find a few shops, the Town Hall, Church of St. Trophime, and Church of Sainte-Anne. During warmer months, the square comes alive with people passing time under the towering Roman obelisk at its center which originally stood in the spina of ancient Arelate’s circus (Arles was once known as Arelate). The obelisk was found in the 1300s and placed in the center of this square in the 17th century.
Camargue Nature Park
While I did not actually visit this nature park, I definitely will the next time I return. Located a short 17 minute drive from Arles, the Camargue Nature Park is a protected area boasting marshlands, lagoons, rice paddies, and salt pans between the Gard and Rhône rivers. It’s easy enough to book a safari into this natural wonder to see all of this along with wildlife including the semi-feral Camargue horse breed and flamingos. In fact, this is one of the only habitats in Europe for flamingos.
Location: Mas du pont de Rousty, RD 570, 13200 Arles, France
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