I recently visited the southwest of France on a week-long trip stopping in Toulouse, Beziers and Montpellier. Montpellier was an interesting city in between history and modernity. Its old town with its medieval streets, shaded restaurant terraces makes Montpellier the ultimate southern city. However, while exploring you will notice sprouts of modernity such as the redesigned marvel of architecture that is the Antigone district along with the trams designed by Christian Lacroix. Like many southern cities, Montpellier has it all: sun all year round, the scent of the sea, scenic landscapes and great architecture. The city is friendly and youthful. It should definitely be in any Francophile’s bucket list.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Montpellier:
- 1 Place de la Comédie
- 2 Wander in the Old town
- 3 Arc de Triomphe & Promenade du Peyrou
- 4 Jardin des Plantes
- 5 Visit the Antigone District
- 6 Take a ride to the …beach
- 7 For street art lovers
- 8 Enjoy some shopping
- 9 Where to stay in Montpellier
- 10 Preparing your trip
- 11 Getting to Montpellier
Place de la Comédie
Every city has a place where people like to meet up. In Montpellier, it’s Place de la Comédie. The square is easily accessible from the main train station, Montpellier Saint Roch and the city’s transport link; the tram station is located right on the square. Being so central, it is the perfect place to start your discovery of the city. Actually, the Montpellier Tourism Centre is located between Place de la Comédie and Esplanade Charles de Gaulle. The square is surrounded by imposing buildings including the Opera house, terraced cafes, shops and a cinema. The imposing fountain of the Three Graces in the middle gives the place a ancient feel.
We arrived on the night of the World Cup final. After the French team won, the place which was seemingly empty filled within minutes with people chanting “On est les champions!” I have to say that the atmosphere was crazy but magical.
Address: Place de la Comédie, Montpellier, France
Wander in the Old town
I love exploring cities with history. If the city has an old town centre, you will likely find me wandering around exploring the area. The streets of Écusson have a “je ne sais quoi” that makes them unique and remarkable. You can spend hours strolling the picturesque cobbled streets. Some of the most iconic streets are Rue de l’Ancien Courier and Rue des Trésoriers de la Bourse. When you need a break from exploring, take a seat in one of the terraces by Place Saint Roch and relax by admiring the Saint Roch church. It’s the most charming place in Montpellier and one of the reasons I rank Montpellier as on the of the most beautiful cities in the South of France!
Arc de Triomphe & Promenade du Peyrou
Paris is not the only French city with the Arc de Triomphe. Porte de Peyron is a smaller version of the Parisian arc but it was in fact modelled on the Port de Saint-Denis gate. The gate is located at the end of Rue Foch and opens up to the Promenade du Peyrou. The promenade is a garden lined with trees. at the end of the rectangular shaped garden sits the 18th century Chateau d’Eau, a water tower with a cute pond. Behind the tower is the Saint-Clement Aqueduct which was modelled on the Pont du Gard.
The Promenade is really a beautiful garden with views all over the city. It’s a nice place where you can go and appreciate the sight, take a moment to relax, cool down from the braizing sun.
Address: Promenade du Peyrou, Place Royale du Peyrou, Montpellier
Jardin des Plantes
Following from the Promenade du Peyrou, you can head to the Jardin des Plantes, the city’s botanical garden.
The Jardin des Plantes is France’s oldest botanical garden located in the centre of Montpellier. Created in 1593, this historic garden was a medicinal garden and is now classified as a Historical Monument and Protected Site. It’s a tranquil garden filled with an impressive amount of greenery. You can see over 2500 plants. It’s worth a visit to admire the greenhouse filled with succulent plants (although it was closed when we visited) and the lotus pond.
We met a very helpful gardener who took the time to give us a tour of his section and explained the different plants. There are several places where you can sit on a bench to admire the plants or read a book. We enjoyed our visit to this calm garden, so would highly recommend it.
Address: 1 Boulevard Henri IV, Montpellier
Visit the Antigone District
For a change of architecture head to Antigone. We discovered this area by chance. We were actually on our way to the banks of the river Lez. The entire neighbourhood has been designed by the Catalan architect Ricardo Bofill in a post-modern style. When you arrive at Antigone you feel like you are in a massive Greek metropolis, since the district was inspired by ancient Greece. Even its name and some of the building names have been taken from Greek mythology. Plazas, esplanades, offices, the Olympic swimming pool restaurants and shops: all are made to impress. If you continue following the Lez, you will reach the modern Town Hall designed by Jean Nouvel.
Take a ride to the …beach
Getting around Montpellier is super easy. With so many pedestrians and cyclable roads, it is great to just rent a bike and explore the city. With four tram lines, here’s another way to explore the city centre and further for a cheap price. The day tickets only cost €4.50. You can even take the tram to the beach. Herault offers some of the best beaches. Getting your feet in the sand couldn’t be easier: just take tram 3 to the last stops “Perols”. From there you can cycle to the beach on a rental bike or take a leisure stroll.
For street art lovers
Although a historic city, Montpellier is also a city with a very young population due to its universities. So while wandering the town, especially the historical part, you will find lots of street arts from the graffiti canal in Verdanson district, to the murals, half-bikes and cars popping out from building facades, explore how the city embraces this form of art. If you want to learn more about street art, why not join one of the Tourism Centre’s walking tours?
Enjoy some shopping
Whether you are a shopping fanatic or not, it’s also a good idea to explore some of the shops in a new city. The streets of Ecusson in the old town have a variety of independent shops and big names too. In Ecusson, you can find interesting bookstores, shops selling regional items like La Maison Roux‘s macarons and some sweets from La Cure Gourmande.
We stumbled upon a very nice boutique, in between an art gallery and a boutique. La NEF is a beautiful art boutique located in the restored Chapel of the Visitation in the heart of the historic centre. The boutique sells a wide range of unique pieces created by French craftsmen and artisans. The items they were exhibiting were in the theme of the “Zoo”. Jewellery designers, ceramists, sculptors worked together to showcase exceptional items. I love how they managed to mix the heritage of the location with the art they are selling. It’s definitely worth a visit.
La NEF, Atelier d’artisans d’art, 41 rue de l’Université, Montpellier Polygone, 1 Rue des Pertuisanes, Montpellier
Where to stay in Montpellier
We stayed in the Crowne Plaza Corum, an IHG Hotels. The hotel is ideally located close to Place de la Comedie, Esplanade Charles de Gaulle, the Corum conference centre and tram station. The hotel is very modern with a strong Asian influence. Chinese and Japanese dolls, vases and other artefacts decorate the lobby and the entire hotel. Our deluxe room was nicely decorated with the Asian theme too. The bed was comfortable and despite our room being close to the lift, we did not hear the ins-and-outs of the other guests. Maybe it was due to the aromatherapy pillow spray! Breakfast was amazing with a selection of cold and hot buffet food. With a swimming pool, this hotel was a perfect choice for our stay in Montpellier. Plus, with the professional and nice staff tending to all our needs, I will surely come back.
Address: Crown Plaza Corum, 190 Rue D’argencourt, Montpellier
Preparing your trip
To help you prepare your trip and find even more handy tips on where to stay, the available attractions, guided tours and the transport links within Montpellier and across Occitanie, visit Montpellier Tourist Information Centre either online or onsite.
Address: 10 Place de la Comedie, Montpellier
Getting to Montpellier
There are many options to get to Montpellier: you can fly directly into Montpellier from many European cities, or fly to Paris and take a train. If you are flying from any other European cities, Air France is your best bet. From London, EasyJet flies to Montpellier from Luton and Gatwick. Or you can go all the way by train with Eurostar; in Paris, you have to transfer from the Gare du Nord to Gare de Lyon to Montpellier St-Roch station. A shuttle bus runs every hour to Place de l’Europe, taking only 15 minutes for a one-way fare of only €1.50, or €2.40 if you want a connecting tram ride. A taxi will cost about €30 to the historic centre.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this article about Montpellier! Have you ever been to Montpellier? Or the southern part of French? What is your favourite thing to do in this part of France?
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