Arles is best known as that French town in Provence where the great Van Gogh lived for a time and created hundreds of art pieces.
This town boasts of a long history that dates back to over a thousand years ago when it was an important capital of the Roman Empire.
Now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a visit to Arles is like a trip back in time.
Aside from the stunning Roman structures and majestic old churches, there are plenty of delightful museums that showcase Arles’ fascinating culture.
If you’re looking for a cool alternative to the more touristy sights, a visit to this town is something you must consider. It is just an hour away from Aix-en-Provence and Avignon and an almost 4-hour drive from Marseille.
Here are the top attractions and the best things to do in Arles, France to make the most of your upcoming visit.
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11 Best Things To Do In Arles, France
1. Arles Amphitheatre
The unmissable Amphitheater (Arènes d’Arles) is a must-visit for anyone going to Arles.
Built in 90 AD, the amphitheater was the venue for events such as chariot races and gladiator tournaments.
Back in the Roman times, Arènes d’Arles accommodated over 20,000 people per event. Along with the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century, the amphitheater was repurposed as a fortress that enclosed a small community.
In the 19th century, the Arles amphitheater transitioned back to its former glory. This structure that was inspired by the Colosseum in Rome is now known as a national monument.
This top Arles attraction still hosts bullfights, especially during the Feria d’Arles held every Easter.
2. Alyscamps (Elysian Fields)
Located in the southeastern part of Arles’ old town is the intriguing Alyscamps. It is a Roman necropolis that has been around since the 4th century.
Alyscamps was so extensive and varied that it became so popular during the Middle Ages.
It was even referred to in literary masterpieces such as Dante’s ‘Inferno’.
Easily one of the most interesting places to visit in Arles, Alyscamps is like a huge open-air museum where visitors get to know more of the town’s ancient history.
Some of the best things to look out for while in this ancient necropolis are the original marble sarcophagi, the plain stone coffins from the Middle Ages and the peaceful Allée des Tombeaux (Street of Graves).
Be sure to visit the 12th-century Church of Saint-Honorat, which is found at the end of the Allée.
3. Roman Theater
Another monument from the ancient times is the stunning Roman Theater. This structure dates back to the first century BC, when the Roman empire was ruled by Augustus
Another amazing ancient site, the Roman Theater was built in the first century BC during the rule of Augustus.
Back in the day, the theater could seat 8,000 people.
After the fall of the Roman empire, the venue ceased hosting performances and by the Middle Ages, it was used as a quarry. This quarry provided the materials used to build the town walls.
Today, the well preserved ancient Roman Theater is one of the best things to see in Arles. It is also a popular venue for outdoor performances and various events during summer.
4. Eglise St-Trophime
Set in a picturesque square surrounded by busy streets is another Romanesque structure – the Eglise St-Trophime.
This lovely church is an ideal place to visit in Arles for architecture buffs or for those simply looking for a quiet escape from the hustle.
Step inside and admire the high ceilings, or walk among the statues of saints and biblical figures.
A must-see in Eglise St-Trophime are the beautiful cloisters that add to the solemn and peaceful atmosphere of the church.
5. Musee Reattu
In Rue du Grand Prieuré, one will find a lovely house that was owned by Arles-born painter Jacques Reattu.
It is home to a stunning art collection and hands down one of the best places to see in Arles.
Musee Reattu has an enviable collection that includes sketches by fashion designer La Croix and drawings by the legendary Picasso.
Other must-see collections here are various photographs as well as more paintings by Picasso featuring his mother.
The lovely house where these art treasures were gathered was also the owner of Reattu’s studio.
6. Montmajour Abbey
If coming from Arles to this countryside gem, the drive often takes 15 minutes. Montmajour Abbey is the best place to visit in Arles if looking for a quiet space to breathe and relax after hours or days of exploring.
This Romanesque Pilgrimage Church is situated on a rocky hill, quite imposing and fortress-like. The Abbey of Montmajour was one of the most important pilgrimage stops during the Middle Ages.
Established in the 10th century, the area is comprised of the 12th-century Romanesque crypt and a small church that was constructed in 1369.
This church has cloisters and double pillars that add to the already serene atmosphere.
From the cloisters, visitors can enjoy scenic views of the surrounding countryside.
7. Le Marche d’Arles
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The marketplace is always a great place to visit anywhere in France. Arles is no exception as it has the bustling and colorful Le Marche d’Arles.
Visit and feel like a local, wander through stalls and shops and enjoy a variety of goods on offer.
From culinary specialties to native delicacies, fresh produce to newly baked goodies, even clothes, and accessories.
Be sure to get products that are unique to Arles such as Camargue rice, bull meat, and local wines.
8. Fondation Vincent van Gogh Arles
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As the late great artist spends some time here, a worthwhile activity to do in Arles has to be a visit to Fondation Vincent van Gogh Arles.
The iconic Dutch painter was able to produce hundreds of his latter works in Arles.
The Foundation has only one of his works, but it features artists who considered him as a great influence. These artists include Francis Bacon, David Hockney, and Roy Lichtenstein.
A walkthrough in this fabulous museum is a definite visual treat. Your visit shouldn’t end with the artworks though.
Walk up to the rooftop and enjoy breathtaking views of beautiful Arles.
9. Chateau d’Estoublon
A day trip to the grandiose Chateau d’Estoublon has to be one of the best things to do from Arles on weekends.
This stunning chateau is located in Fontvieille, and it is an easy 25-minute drive from Arles.
Apart from touring the chateau, visitors can also enjoy meals at the on-site restaurant. Their brunch buffet is said to be one of the best so be sure to try it while you’re there.
Chateau d’Estoublon is also known for its wine tasting sessions, where visitors get to sample some of the best in France.
With all these exciting activities that await visitors in Chateau d’Estoublon, the place deserves a spot in any Arles itinerary.
10. Moulin de Daudet
If you want to explore places surrounding Arles, a visit to the impressive Moulin de Daudet in Fontvieille is a must.
It is less than 30 minutes away and a quick journey that leads to one of the prettiest attractions in this part of France.
It was named after a writer who was said to be very fond of this lovely windmill. This area is ideal for relaxing strolls and simply enjoying the idyllic surroundings.
While here, consider climbing to the top of the windmill (yes, it is allowed!) and take in the stunning views of the surrounding areas.
Make sure to take photos from there as well, the shots are guaranteed to be quite spectacular!
11. Camargue Nature Park
Listed as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, the lush Camargue Nature Park in Camargue is another breathtaking attraction.
Easily reached from Arles, this is another fantastic break from exploring ancient buildings and monuments.
It is comprised of huge open spaces, lush greenery, marshlands, and diverse wildlife.
Enjoy a relaxing stroll here and stop every few minutes or so to take in the scenery, or spot a variety of birds roaming free.
You’ll most likely encounter pink flamingos, wild swans, white horses, and even native bulls as you explore. It’s a great experience that deserves to be in your Arles itinerary.
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Hi, I’m Christine – a full-time traveler and career woman. Although I’m from the Philippines, my location independent career took me to over 40 countries for the past 8 years. I also lived in 3 continents – from the Caribbean, South East Asia to Africa. France remains special to me, however. From architecture, history, and arts – France is truly an amazing place.