Not sure whether to pick Avignon or Aix-en-Provence as your base location for visiting beautiful Provence? You’re certainly not alone! Hopefully, this article will help you sort them out.
While the two cities of Avignon and Aix are both situated in the Provence region, they are quite different. Avignon is known for its fortified old town, its stunning Palais des Papes, and its pleasant Rhone River location. Aix is less centrally located for visiting the popular towns of Provence, but it has warmer Provencal charm and lively university life. Avignon has better transportation and more cultural events, but Aix is alive all year.
Still not sure which to stay in for a few days? Keep reading!
Avignon or Aix-en-Provence: what travelers say
- Avignon and Aix-en-Provence are both beautiful towns with a rich history and many sights. Avignon feels like a bigger city and is very touristy (some say too much) namely because of the Popes’ Palace (Palais des Papes) and the bridge, two major attractions there.
- Aix is more picturesque and feel quieter and more intimate than Avignon. It has pretty little streets and the lively Cours Mirabeau square. It’s a university town so it has a young and vibrant feel to it. It’s a modern city with many restaurants and fashion chain stores.
- Travelers who choose Avignon over Aix mention its cultural sights such as the fortified walls and medieval history, and its grandiose theatre festival. Avignon’s location on the Rhone is also a big plus.
- Avignon is closer to the heart of the Provence region, while Aix is more distant (further East) from the popular charming villages of Western Provence.
- Some travelers choose Avignon for their stay because of the Palais des Papes, the bridge, and the Rhone river, while others prefer Aix for the city’s charm and great attention to detail and beauty (including at night), its restaurants, and the liveliness of its people.
- Avignon has more significant traffic than Aix. Driving in Avignon is difficult and visitors easily get lost in the sprawling city outside the fortified walls. With a car, travelers generally recommend staying outside the city and visiting as a day trip.
- Avignon is well-connected by local buses and day tours to key Provence sights such as the Luberon area, Vaison-la-Romaine (antique and medieval town), Saint-Remy, the Pont-du-Gard bridge, etc. Avignon is more convenient than Aix for day trips using public transportation.
- Some travelers feel Avignon is a better base than Aix for first-time visitors of the Provence region, being closer to many beautiful villages. Day trips are also available from Aix but not as many as from Avignon or Arles – some travelers prefer the latter.
- The Luberon area begins east of Avignon and visiting villages such as Gordes, Ménerbes, Oppède-le-Vieux, and Rousillon is most convenient from Avignon. It’s also an easy drive from there to Nimes and the Pont-du-Gard.
Avignon or Aix-en-Provence: access & transportation
Avignon is a transportation hub for Western Provence with more connections to the rest of the region than Aix. Some travelers stay in Avignon for a week and happily take public transport to visit the area.
Avignon has good transport to popular places like Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, le Pont du Gard, l’Isle-sur-la-Sorgues, Arles, and the Lubéron villages, so it’s an ideal base for travelers without a car.
If you’re driving, on the other hand, staying in either Avignon or Aix-en-Provence will be inconvenient as both cities are relatively large, congested, with difficult and expensive parking. In Avignon, drivers can use the Palais des Papes monitored parking lot near the river on the ring road outside the city center. In Aix, parking will also likely require going to paid parking lots.
For driving visitors, travelers often suggest staying in a smaller town such as Saint-Remy-de-Provence or L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgues where driving and parking is much easier.
Both Avignon and Aix have TGV (high-speed train) stations located away from the city center. Avignon’s TGV station is about 3 miles out of town but is connected to the town center station located right outside the old town (short shuttle train ride between the two).
Avignon’s TGV station has good connections including Lyon which only takes 55 minutes. From Avignon’s town center station, on the other hand, you can catch trains to Nimes, Arles, and other surrounding towns. There are also buses to the Pont-du-Gard or Uzès.
From either Aix or Avignon, depending on your destination, you might choose to get a TER (regional) train to Marseille then get on a long-distance TGV.
Avignon or Aix-en-Provence: vibe & people
Avignon is surrounded by medieval fortification and also has a strong Roman history. Aix also has a medieval old town with a beautiful cathedral.
Aix-en-Provence feels more Provençal than Avignon. It is very walkable with a friendly, welcoming, and artistic atmosphere. The buildings have warmer colors compared to Avignon – which has more gray walls and buildings that can feel colder.
There are also a lot more trees in Aix, e.g. around Cour Mirabeau and other squares, as well as pretty views of the countryside. Aix is also much more lively than Avignon in the winter.
Visitors sometimes also describe Aix-en-Provence as a bigger city with a relatively sophisticated, Parisian-style atmosphere, albeit with smaller, cafes, bakeries, markets, and shops – Aix has many chain stores.
Avignon is also beautiful in its own way and worth a visit as well. It’s also more central for visiting the Luberon villages, Fontaine de Vaucluse, Arles, Orange, Nimes. Aix is a bit more remote from these sights but is a good base location for visiting Marseille.
Outside of the old town walls, however, Avignon is a large urban sprawl. Some travelers are reluctant to stay in cities like Avignon or Aix and prefer to choose a smaller town to enjoy the beautiful countryside and scenery of the Provence region.
Some travelers find Arles to be more interesting and Provençal than both Avignon and Aix-en-Provence, as well as quite central for visiting the Pont-du-Gard, Les Baux, etc.
Avignon or Aix-en-Provence: sights & culture
Avignon has great history and a beautiful fortified old town. The Palais des Papes (Popes’ Palace) is magnificent, a major European medieval Gothic landmark. It was the center of Western Christianity in the 14th century. Next to the Palace is the Musée du Petit Palais which has a collection of Renaissance and medieval art.
Close to the Palace is the Roman Catholic Notre-Dame-des-Doms Cathedral, a 12th-century Romanesque landmark. Above the Palace on a hill is the Rocher des Doms public park, which offers great views over the Rhone river and countryside and a few cafes fo relax in.
The renowned medieval (12th-century) Saint-Bénézet wooden bridge, aka “Pont d’Avignon” spans across the Rhone River between the city and Villeneuve-lès-Avignon. The latter is a medieval town with a well-preserved 14th-century convent and fortifications.
The city is beautifully lit at night. Visitors also like the Marchés (markets) and Roman ruins in the surrounding towns of Avignon.
Within a few miles of Avignon are the popular towns of Les Baux-de-Provence and Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, and the stunning Roman-era Pont-du-Gard bridge – considered one of the best Roman sights outside of Italy.
In Les Baux-de-Provence is a unique multimedia exhibition center called “Carrières de Lumières” where art images (e.g. Van Gogh and Cezanne workds) are projected onto rock surfaces.
Le Cours Mirabeau is Aix’s most popular and lively and elegant square and boulevard, lined with many cafes – including one frequented by famous French painters and writers, large trees, elegant houses, and imposing fountains. The avenue separates the old town from the “new” quarter.
The old quarter has the Saint-Sauveur Cathedral with its Roman columns, 12th-century cloister, and Renaissance dome. It also has posh properties such as the Hotel Caumont off the Cours Mirabeau, a beautifully restored residence with impressive gardens and a café. The “new town” (Quartier Mazarin) has many 16th to 18th-century grand mansions (“hotels particuliers”).
Musée Granet has Impressionist paintings by Cézanne and other artists. Aix also has a plethora of elegant shops, such as the historic Souleiado fashion brand, and lively weekend markets which visitors enjoy.
Avignon or Aix-en-Provence: dining
Both Avignon and Aix-en-Provence typically offer rustic Provençal dishes. Avignon is known for its Côtes-du-Rhone wines and its olive oil. For sweets, “papaline” sweets (chocolate and oregano liqueur) is a specialty, while Aix has the famous almond-based “calisson” sweets.
In Avignon, travelers often recommend the higher-end restaurant Christian Etienne, as well as La Mirande. Other well-rated restaurants include Les Teinturiers, O’Petitapetit, La Fourchette, and Les 5 Sens.
In Aix, travelers often recommend L’Alcove for Provençal food), Chez Mitch also for Provençal albeit higher-end, Toinou for shellfish), La Brocherie for wood fire meat and seafood, and Le Riad for great good Moroccan food. Other often-vetted places include Vintrepide and Le Comté d’Aix.
Places around the Cours Mirabeau and the Forum des Caradeurs tend to be more touristy and expensive, although the Bastide des Cours and Bistrot des Philosophes are recommended. The Cintra near the main fountain is also a good spot. Many other great restaurants can be found in the small streets of the Old Town.
Avignon or Aix-en-Provence: lodging
In Avignon, some travelers choose to stay staying near the old town, right outside the city walls.
Hotel le Cloitre Saint-Louis, set in an old Cloister, is recommended for being very quiet and close to the train station, within walking distance of the old center and the Palais des Papes.
La Bastide Boulbon is located 20 minutes South of Avignon, with easy driving and parking, pleasant staff, and proximity to the Pont-du-Gard and Arles.
Some travelers suggest staying in Saint-Rémy instead of Avignon if you’re driving. The town is closer to the heart of Provence. Mas des Figues and Mas de Cornud are two recommended guest houses there.
In Aix, travelers often recommend Hotel Saint-Christophe which has a great location right at the start of Cours Mirabeau and a nice art-deco style (see it here on Booking). The Renaissance Hotel Aix (Marriott) is also praised, located in a tranquil area away from the vibrant nightlife.
Avignon or Aix-en-Provence: day trips
As mentioned, from Avignon, you can take great day trips to Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, l’Isle de la Sorgue, and pretty hilltop villages of the Lubéron such as Gordes, Roussillon, and Gordes. Gordes has a great renaissance-style chateau and Roussillon has unparalleled charm with its ochre tones. The villages are surrounded with gorgeous countryside.
Arles has many Roman cultural sites and was home to many great Impressionist artists. Vaison-la-Romaine has a centuries-old weekly market and a fabulous hilltop medieval town.
From Avignon center, you can easily take a short train ride to the Vaucluse and to the town of Carpentras to attend the Friday market. Also near Avignon is the Chateauneuf-du-Pape wine country.
In Nimes, you can visit Maison Carre, Les Arenes, and Carre d’Art, a modern art museum opposite Les Arènes, and Notre-Dame and Saint-Castor churches ( great Roman sculpture).
(1) Featured: “Aix-en-Provence Town Centre” (CC BY 2.0) by Miguel Virkkunen Carvalho
(2) “Avignon” (CC BY 2.0) by hsivonen
(3) “Avignon” (CC BY 2.0) by jodastephen
(4) “2016 Aix en Provence France (2)” (CC BY 2.0) by Alehins
(5) “Pavillon Vendôme” (CC BY 2.0) by Pernmith
(6) “Pub Brigand – Aix-en-Provence” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by lublud
(7) “Avignon” (CC BY 2.0) by hsivonen
(8) “Avignon” (CC BY 2.0) by jodastephen