Nîmes, France

Palais de Justice, Nimes, France

Palais de Justice, Nimes. Photo by Wolfgang Staudt.

Why visit Nîmes?

Nîmes is a sizeable, pleasant city of old houses and interesting ancient and modern artefacts in a compact space, but is rather too dominated by cars to be relaxing.
The smart TGV (fast train) station provides an easy way to get there. However, the city is only 42 miles from Avignon so makes an easy day trip by car, even if parking is a nightmare.
Hint – park in any underground park in Nîmes’ tourist triangle (aka L’Ecusson, The Shield).

Nimes, maison carree, France

The Roman Temple known as Maison Carrée, near the Carré d’Art modern art museum. Photo by La tete ailleurs.

Built 2, 000 years ago by Marcus Agrippa (who also possibly constructed the amazing Pont du Gard nearby and the Pantheon in Rome) and in use ever since, the Maison Carrée has wowed tourists through the ages, including Thomas Jefferson who modeled the Virginia state capitol building after it.

Starting life as a temple, it morphed into a Christian church in the 4th century it now houses exhibitions; the surrounds were under redevelopment when the bugcrew were there (see photo at bottom) and found the structure grimy and disappointing. The city is undergoing an ambitious renovation process.

Norman Foster’s Carré d’Art modern art museum, on the other hand, is a great success, a temple of glass, light and art.

Nîmes sights

Les Arenes, Roman amphitheatre, Nimes, France

Les Arenes, a well-preserved Roman amphitheatre, smaller than Arles but in better shape.

Les Arenes is Nîmes’ biggest attraction, a vast stone testament to the Roman’s love of theatre, whether it was gladiator fights, chariot races or criminals being fed to wild animals. Arenes means sands, useful for soaking up blood and the stadium once seated 20, 000 baying spectators.

Like Nîmes’ neighbour Arles, after the Romans left the amphitheatre became first a fortress and then a fortified apartment block, only being restored to more-or-less its original state in the 19th century.

These days Les Arenes is used for concerts and colourful bullfights (feria), though not bullfights to the death; these are Course Camarguaise tournaments where raseteurs try to grab rosettes and similar fancies off the charging bull’s horns.
Arena exits, by the way, were called vomitoria, presumably because they vomited out the masses.

The Castellum, Roman water distribution, Nimes, France

The Castellum is a Roman-constructed water distribution system.

Water coming to the town via the awesome Pont du Gard aqueduct arrived through the square hole at the back of the Castellum and was then separated into lead channels, sending the precious fluid to fountains, monuments and domestic consumption taps around the city.

Nimes' canal, France

One of Nîmes’ traditional shady canals.

Some of Nîmes’ other attractions include the 18th century Jardins de la Fontaine(photo below), a tranquil space built around the spring that triggered the first habitation in the area and liberally scattered with marble statues and vases; The Temple of Diane, about which little is known except it was built by the Romans; the octagonal Magne Tower with great views over the city; Porte Auguste and Porte de France old town gates.

Not far out of town is the astonishing Pont du Gard aqueduct.

Jardins de la Fontaine, Nimes, France

Jardins de la Fontaine. Photo by Chatsam.

Apart from the superb new contemporary art museum, Carré d’Art, Nîmes has other fine offerings: Musée d’Archéologie is loaded with wonderful Roman relics – statues, mosaics, glass, daily items; Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle offers Iron Age standing stones and implements; Musée des Beaux-Arts, an eclectic collection of paintings and mosaics in a lovely environment; and finally, a Bullfighting Museum.

The city’s tourist triangle is walkable and still being improved but there’s a La Citadine bus that runs a loop from the station including main sights.

Cathedrale de Notre Dame et St Castor in Nimes, France

Cathedrale de Notre Dame et St Castor in Nimes. Photo by Chatsam.

Getting to Nîmes

– The TGV from Paris (2 hrs 50m) or Lyon (1hr 20m), or just regular train from Avignon.
– Airport at Nîmes-Arles-Camargue.
– Buses from Avignon, Arles and Uzes.
– By car, easily from Arles (via A54), Avignon (N100), Lyon/Orange (A9) Uzes (D979) Pont du Gard (D981).