The 15 Major Cities of Provence that You Have to Visit
The Provence region is one of France’s most visited areas. Good weather and beautiful landscapes invite you to discover this captivating land.
Provence is known for being the birthplace of many artists whose natural surroundings have inspired.
Provence is the land of Lavender, cheese, and good wine; you can see it and taste it in the innumerable Provençal markets you can find throughout the region.
Likewise, Provence has some of the best-preserved medieval towns in Europe, some of them located on the coast, leaving a beautiful landscape of hanging villages.
Apart from Provence’s historical heritage, it is also a land of glamor and luxury, referencing the capital of the world of perfume.
The gastronomy of Provence is another point to highlight due to its fertile lands, and the heritage of the passage of cultures through this region has left an exquisite legacy to be eaten.
For these and many other things, Provence is a place to visit, for a few days, a few weeks, or even months.
In this article, we want to introduce you to the different departments within Provence, as well as the main cities and tourist attractions of each of them.
Join me, and let’s enjoy this trip together through the 15 main cities of Provence.
The region of Provence Alpes Côte d’Azur, PACA has six departments
Alpes de Haute Provence
This department borders to the north with the Alps, to the east with the Italian region of Piedmont, to the south with Var, and to the northwest with Drome.
Its highest peak is Chambeyron. The Alpes-de-Haute-Provence area is unique in France for its beautiful mountainous landscapes and its villages with historical heritage.
Some of its attractions are the Valensole plateau with its immense Lavender fields and the “Grand Canyon” of France in Verdon.
Maritime Alps: From the Alps of the mountains, we pass to those of the coast.
The Maritime Alps border Piedmont to the north, Liguria (Italy) to the east, the Mediterranean Sea and Monaco to the south, and the Alps of Haute Provence and Var to the West.
The most important city in this department is the well-known City of Nice. We will talk about one of the most visited points in France later.
However, the Maritime Alps have many beautiful places to enjoy, such as the hanging rock towns such as Éze and Menton, as well as the beautiful and acclaimed city of Cannes.
Outside of France, this department is known as the French Riviera on its excellent weather conditions throughout the year. Locals say that the Alpes-Maritimes have sunshine 300 days a year.
Bouches du Rhône
The Bouches-du-Rhône department is bordered to the north by the Vaucluse department, east by the Var department, south by the Mediterranean Sea, and West by the Gard department.
Its name comes from the fact that the Rhône River flows into this area.
The beautiful postcards of this department were framed in Van Gogh’s paintings, such as the wetlands of the Camargue or the impressionist landscape of the Alpilles.
In addition, in this department, the old city of Marseille stands out, as well as the beautiful Natural Park that embraces the Blue Coast, Les Calanques.
Don’t forget to take travel insurance when planning your trips. Hopefully, you don’t need to use it, but it’s best to be prepared for any eventuality or emergency.
In my case, I use Mondo Travel Insurance, with worldwide medical assistance and coverage of €10,000,000. In addition, you have a 5% discount using this link at Hey Mondo Insurance.
The Hautes-Alpes department is bordered to the north by Isère and Savoy, to the east by the Italian region of Piedmont, to the south by Alpes de Haute de Provence, and to the West by Drome.
This department is the highest in France due to its average altitude. In this area is the famous municipality of Saint-Verán, which is the highest inhabited municipality in all of Europe at 2,042 meters high.
The capital of this region is Gap. Therefore, Haute Alpes is an ideal department to relax away from the big cities and the hustle and bustle.
Var is one of the departments that make up the Provence region. It takes its name from the Var river, formerly part of this department.
However, due to the changes that the limitations of the department of the Maritime Alps, this river has been left outside the limits of Var.
The department is bordered to the north by the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, to the northwest by the Alpes-Maritimes, to the northwest by Vaucluse, to the West by Bouches-du-Rhône, and the south by the Mediterranean Sea.
Some of its attractions are its medieval towns with their spas and Romanesque architecture and the luxury and glamor of cities like St. Tropez.
Vaucluse, previously known as a former papal possession, is now one of the departments in the region of La Provence.
In this department is the important city of Avignon and Luberon that gives us a route of very picturesque villages full of impressive views and beautiful landscapes.
Vaucluse is bordered to the north by Drome, to the east by Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, to the southeast by Var, to the south by Bouches-du-Rhône, to the West by Gard, and the northwest by Ardéche.
Capitals of the departments
- Vaucluse: Avignon
- Bouches du Rhône: Marseille
- Var: Toulon
- Alps of Haute Provence: Digne-les-Bains
- Hautes Alpes: Gap
- Maritime Alps: Nice
Main cities of the Region of Provence
To speak of Provence is to talk about beautiful villages, art, and gastronomy. However, Provence is also a history, infrastructure, and metropolis.
That is why we want you to know the most important cities of Provence, as well as its main tourist attractions and things to do in them.
Marseille, with 859,543 inhabitants plus 1,605,000 in the urban area, is the second-most populous city in France after the Parisian capital.
On the Mediterranean coast, Marseille is one of the most important cities in Europe due to its economic power thanks to its commercial port, which is one of the most powerful on the continent.
We must add the historical value that makes it a unique region on the Mediterranean coast.
The city of Marseille was born in the year 600 BC, discovered by sailors from Foca.
Today the city preserves a tremendous historical heritage full of archaeological sites, medieval forts, and even monuments that commemorate the events that occurred in the city during the Second World War.
Even though many media and tourist agencies have created the hoax that Marseille is an ugly and dangerous city.
Marseille is still standing as a good revolutionary city and shows us a journey of ancient and modern history.
A city full of culture and attractions leaves its visitors speechless, not only because of its town and its secrets but also because of its beautiful surroundings.
Places to visit in Marseille / Things to see in Marseille
The Old Port of Marseille is full of exciting sites worth discovering.
In addition to enjoying the atmosphere that can be breathed at any time of the day, we recommend taking a walk to soak up the history of this port and visit Saint-Victor Abbey, which dates back to the 5th century.
It is also worth visiting the Pharo Palace, built by Napoleon in the 19th century, and the Santa María Lighthouse or the Roman Docks Museum.
Notre Dame de la Garde
If you wonder where the best views of Marseille are, here is your answer.
From the top of the hill, you can enjoy beautiful views of the Mediterranean and the majestic Notre Dame de la Garde basilica.
A Byzantine-style temple with a monumental golden sculpture of the Virgin Mary will make you look at it and re-look at it without getting tired of its delicate architecture.
Le Panier neighborhood
Football fans will surely have already heard of this neighborhood. Le Panier is the neighborhood that carries the Olympique de Marseille flag.
This humble and old neighborhood has become a place of cultural and artistic interest.
The arrival of migrants and a wave of creative youth has transformed this neighborhood into an open-air museum full of graffiti, craft workshops, and other exciting tourist proposals that invite visitors to stroll its streets.
Calanques National Park
How not to name the jewel of Marseille. A little away from the city center in the south of Marseille is the Parc National des Calanques.
A wonderful landscape of coves and trails that leaves any visitor in awe. Ideal for spending a day of adventure hiking and enjoying a good swim in the Côte d’Azur.
The Nice region is a tourist engine for France, marked by its geographical location, gastronomy, and hanging villages; it stands out as one of the best destinations in the entire Côte d’Azur.
Throughout the ages, the city has belonged to Italy and France, making Nice a lovely place to visit, mainly for its gastronomy and cultural and architectural mix.
As for tourism, its large hotel infrastructure allows it to welcome millions of tourists each year, but it is not satisfied that it is a city that invests in tourism, which is why it has two conference centers dedicated to the business of this sector.
On the other hand, Nice is also cultural and has multiple museums, an opera, a national conservatory, and multiple concert halls.
Places to visit in Nice / Things to see in Nice
Promenade des Anglais
This promenade is known all over the world. It is the symbol of Nice. Always full of flowers and impeccable, embracing the Bay des Anges.
In 1820 a wealthy Englishman paid for the construction of the new promenade, which is why today it is known as the promenade of the English.
There are only a few fragments left of what was once the castle wall, but it is worth going up to enjoy its views.
The park is open from 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. in winter and 8:00 p.m. in summer.
Roman Ruins – The Archaeological Museum of Nice-Cimiez.
We must remember that Nice is a prehistoric city, which is why it has a fascinating archaeological museum.
The museum exhibits collections ranging from the Metal Age (11,000 BC) to the High Middle Ages (Sculptures, jewelry, glassware, ceramics)
Open from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Closed on Tuesday. Price €4, reduced €2.5. Free the first and third Sunday of each month.
The famous Flower Market in Plaza Cours Saleya, in the old part of the city. This market is a very traditional market in Nice and very picturesque, full of life and many, many colorful flowers.
Overshadowed by its neighbor Nice, Toulon is not very popular with tourists. Toulon is the capital of the Var department.
Its economic activity is concentrated on tourism and trade. Toulon is a pleasant city of more than 170,000 inhabitants, bordering the beautiful Mediterranean.
To visit Toulon is to enjoy the mountains and the beach, in addition to its omnipresent sun.
It has beautiful hidden coves that you can reach through beautiful trails, and it should be noted that the city’s atmosphere is terrific since it breathes a lot of tranquility, unlike other more crowded cities.
Tour Royale: It was built in the 16th century to defend the port. Today the building has become a venue for summer events such as music festivals.
Toulon Opera: It is the second-largest opera house in France.
It is a building of neoclassical architecture with a capacity for 1,329 spectators. Its exceptional acoustics attract opera lovers every year.
Bandol: It is a French population located in the district of Toulon. It has beautiful sandy beaches surrounding the bay, such as Lido Beach or Renécros Beach.
The beautiful coves surrounding the entire bay are accessible by boat, a highly recommended activity if you want to enjoy its authentic beauty.
Mont Faron is a 584-meter-high summit, accessible by cable car, which you can take from the city of Toulon.
At the top, you can find a small zoo specializing in felines and a monument in memory of the Allied landing in Provence.
North of Marseille in the Bouches-du-Rhône department is the beautiful city of Aix en Provence founded in 123 BC by the Roman Gaius Marius Sextheus.
A city of approximately 143,000 inhabitants is presented as an ideal place to explore due to the wide tourist offer it presents.
You can find a diversity of natural attractions such as limestone mountains or wine fields to cultural attractions such as the Aix Cathedral or the Granet Museum, where there is a room dedicated to the painter Cézanne, a native of Aix en Provence.
Things to do in Aix-Provence / Places to visit in Aix-en-Provence
The entrance price is € 6.5, and they also allow you to buy an audio guide for only three extra euros.
Hours are from 9:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. in summer and winter, from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., and from 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.
This workshop was the artist’s last one, and it was almost like a home for Cézanne in his last 4 years of life.
In this region, visiting the Provencal markets where local products are sold is very common.
It is always advisable to find out what kind of things we can find in these types of markets and get an idea of what sort of gastronomy we can enjoy in the place or what raw materials are the most used by the locals.
We can buy rich local wines, cheeses, or sweets in these markets.
Avignon is the capital of the Vaucluse department, just 80m km from Marseille.
The city was formerly an independent pontiff city with a tremendous historical heritage, which is why it is registered among the cities with the most remarkable heritage by UNESCO.
Avignon was founded by Phoenicians who arrived from Marseilles in the middle of the s. VI a. C around the hill that still dominates the city: the Rocher des Doms. The most relevant chapters of its history are marked by religion.
In the 4th century, the Diocese of Avignon was established, an institution that would achieve enormous prominence in the period of the Papacy of Avignon (1309 – 1377), during which seven popes resided there to avoid the insecurity of Rome.
This period led to the famous Western Schism (1378 – 1417), a time in which two popes who were not very much in agreement with the classical hierarchy of the church claimed the supreme pontificate from the city of Avignon.
Here is a list of essentials you cannot miss in Avignon.
Papal Palace: Built in 1335, it is the most important Gothic building in the West.
Your visit offers more than twenty places where events of great resonance have taken places, such as the private apartments of the Pope and the incredible decorations of the Italian artist Matteo Giovannetti.
It also offers regular cultural entertainment throughout the year. It is one of the most visited monuments in France.
Avignon Cathedral: Built in the 12th century and rebuilt in 1425. Inside are the tombs of some Avignon Popes.
It is the most important temple in the city, where important ecclesiastical celebrations take place.
Papal Bridge: Also known as the Pont St-Bénézet. It is a famous medieval bridge that is currently in ruins.
It has been part of the World Heritage since 1995, like the Palace of the Popes and the Cathedral. In one of the few remaining arches of the bridge, there is a small Roman chapel, the chapel of San Nicolás.
Clock Square: It is the historic center of the city. It is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful squares in Avignon.
It owes its name to the great clock established in the fourteenth century. We highlight buildings in this square, such as the Town Hall or the Opera House.
Give yourself the gift of sitting down to enjoy the views while having a coffee or sitting in a restaurant.
The town of Antibes is in the Alpes-Maritimes department. Right between Cannes and Nice is located this small coastal city.
The international jet-set globally recognizes Antibes as a destination of luxury, relaxation, and glamour.
Of its Greek origin, hardly anything remains, and today the tourist attractions are reduced to the old town, the coastal path, and its beaches.
The enormous villas with their extensive gardens that are typical of this area and occupy the entire Cape of Antibes are surprising.
Today Antibes is a tourist attraction for the wealthiest pockets and has more than 1,000 accommodations; the majority are for an upper-class public.
However, there are possibilities to find some accommodation at reasonable prices for a few days.
Antibes offers a type of tourism of sun beach and pleasure, but not everything is in its port full of yachts and its beaches. Antibes has other quite curious tourist attractions.
In this coastal city, there is a Museum of the Spanish painter Picasso where you can enjoy a dozen works made by the artist during his stay in the town of Antibes.
The Sentier du Littoral, which begins at Gaurope beach, is a coastal path that runs through the entire Cap d’Antibes peninsula between pine trees, rocks, and small coves.
Beaches and Coves
Plage de la Garoupe is one of the most beautiful, as well as one of the most visited. In addition to the beaches seen in Antibes, on the other side of the peninsula is the long beach of Juan-les-Pins, which offers a fantastic view of the gulf.
We cannot forget the small stone coves of the Cap d’Antibes peninsula.
The city of Cannes, located in the Alpes-Maritime department until 1850 Cannes had been a fishing town with its Provençal traditions.
With the arrival of the railway and the opening of the port, the city grew and modernized rapidly, doubling its population in just a decade.
At the end of the 19th century, Lord Henry Brougham of England moved to the city, and this provoked the arrival of a wave of aristocrats who ordered their second homes to be built in the Cannes fishery.
Later the arrival of these upper-class people would cause the appearance of celebrities and business people to become what Cannes is today. A city sustained mainly by luxury tourism.
A walk along Boulevard de la Croisette is enough to get an idea of what to expect from Cannes as a tourist destination. This Boulevard is in the center of Cannes and is a promenade lined with shops, cafes, and restaurants.
A walk to watch people and be enthralled with the area is more than recommended if you are going to visit Cannes.
It is so important to the French that it is listed as a cultural heritage. At the western end of the promenade, you can find the Old Port, while on the opposite side, you will find the Port of Palm Beach.
La Seyne Sur Mer
La Seyne Sur Mer is the second-most populous city in the Var department.
During the 17th and 19th centuries, the economy of La Seyne was supported by its shipyards. However, shipbuilding was closed in 1986, which would cause significant changes that would lead us to the current city we visit today.
A city dedicated to tourism.
Some points of interest in this city are the Villa Tamaris, Plage de Sablettes, and Fort Balaguer, a 17th-century fort.
Located in the Var department just over half an hour from La Seyne Sur Mer is the city of Hyères.
The typical tree of the area is the palm tree since, curiously, the complete and original name of the city is Hyères Les Palmiers.
Unlike other cities we have talked about, this city is a little quieter in terms of tourism today.
In the 19th century, the story was different as Hyères was one of the first tourist destinations in Europe due to its natural spas and water cures.
The different therapies and thermal baths attracted thousands of British and Russians and architects who contributed to the city’s urban planning.
Nowadays, tourists are attracted by the medieval beauty of the city that merges with the sea and its beautiful beaches.
A contrast worth enjoying from the highest point of the castle of Hyères from where you can see the best views of the city and from where you can see the precious Golden Islands.
The Golden Islands is the nickname given to the Hyéres Islands. It comprises three main islands: Porquellores, Port-Cros, and Levante, as well as several other islets and rocks.
Together they form a spectacular environment, surrounded by cliffs, lush forests, and beaches with turquoise waters.
Without a doubt, the most remarkable thing about this island is its incredible seabed, so don’t forget your snorkeling equipment.