Nîmes, just two hours away by direct train, is a wonderful day trip from Carcassonne. You’ll enjoy its 2000-year-old Roman monuments, (among the best-preserved in the world) all within about a 20-minute walk from each other and from the train station. And it’s an elegant town, with medieval lanes, polished stone sidewalks, and classy shops and restaurants.
Jeff and I went in October, the perfect time to avoid summer’s sweltering heat and tourist crush.
The first main site you’ll reach (the Roman Arena) is just a 10-minute walk from the train station along beautiful Avenue Feucheres, a pedestrian street lined with trees and a fountain, and paved with beautiful stone.
You’ll arrive at a little park, Esplanade-Charles-de-Gaulle and The Fountain Pradier, (1852)…
…from the fountain, look toward your left and you’ll see Nîmes Roman Arena (take a look at the people walking along the top!)
Nîmes’ 2000-year-old Roman Arena (Ampithéâtre, or Arènes de Nîmes) (which looks like a mini-but-better-preserved version of the Colosseum in Rome) is a testament to the fact that Nîmes was one of Rome’s most important colonies. The 10 euro ticket includes an excellent audio guide (or for 5 euros extra you can rent a tablet tour – same narration as audio guide, and with images that show what the arena and the pageantry looked like in Roman times.)
From the top of the Arena you’ll have nice views across Nîmes, and into the Arena, and you can walk all the way around the top of the Arena.
Be sure to visit the Gladiators’ Gallery – it’s full of information about 13 different types of Gladiators. Who knew there were so many? We learned a lot more about Gladiators here than any of the other Roman sites we’ve visited (Rome or Pompeii), and it’s not as gory as you might think.
Next, after leaving the Arena, it’s just a 5-minute walk up Blvd Victor Hugo to the Maison Carrée, a Roman temple with an amazingly preserved exterior (the Tourist Information Office says it’s the only ancient world temple that’s preserved in its entirety.)
Maison Carrée dates back to 4 A.D., and has been so well preserved because it’s been used for a variety of purposes – including stables! – since the fall of Rome. I’m in the left-hand photo to give you a sense of scale. The photo on the right gives you a sunshine view.
Today, you can go inside and see a dramatized 25-minute film about the creation of Roman Nîmes. Rick Steves calls the film cheesey and skippable, but I’m glad we saw it, to learn more about the history, and to see the depictions of what Nîmes looked like in its Roman heyday.
To walk to the pretty Fountain Garden, leave Maison Carrée and walk straight ahead to Square Antonin (1863) and its sculpture of emperor Antonius Pius…
This takes you to Fountain Garden (Jardin de la Fontaine.)
What impressed me the most about this beautiful garden is that it was one of the first public parks in Europe created for the people, not for royalty. In about 1735, the city began building a canal to route water for its textile industry to power the mills that made denim (Serge de Nîmes. A little more on this later.) Wisely, the city turned the canal project into a canal+park project.
The Temple of Diana, in the Fountain Garden, was built in the first century. Historians believe it was a Roman library, and call it one of the best examples of Roman stonework.
Jeff feeding the fish in the Fountain Garden.
After the Fountain Garden we ambled through Nîmes’ twisty medieval lanes and squares, to see Place de l’Horologe and its Clock Tower….
…The Cathedral and its bell tower built in the 1300s…
And visit the Museum of Old Nîmes, a palace dating to the 17th century, to see how the Bishops used to live, and see their Denim exhibit. Denim originated here in Nîmes, probably in the 1700s – it’s a fabric called Serge de Nîmes (DeNimes = Denim.)
Our train back to Carcassonne left at 7:30, so we had a simple 5:30 dinner in the Café du Musée de la Romanité, instead of waiting for restaurants to open at 7:00.
We enjoyed our day so much, and we look forward to going back!
- The Tourist Information Office has moved since Rick’s 2018 France guidebook was published: New address: 6 Boulevard des Arenes, a 1-minute walk from the arena.
- Same phone number: +33 (0) 4 66 58 38 00
Across from the Arena is the new (opened in June 2018) Roman World Museum (Musée de la Romanité) which exhibits Nîmes archaeological treasures. We didn’t visit it this time, but we definitely will next time.
To see the film: 6 euros, or, when you buy your Arena ticket, instead of paying 10 euros just for the Arena, you can pay 13 euros to also see the film and climb to the top of the Magne Tour (Tower.)
Train ride from Carcassonne – 2 hours direct.
Our cost, about 33 euros each one-way for first-class seats.
- June 14, 2019
- June 9, 2019
- March 21, 2019