When people think of going on a vacation to France, they instantly think about Paris; little do they know of the hidden gems of the south of France, such as Montpellier. Located only 12 KM (7 miles) away from the Mediterranean coast, Montpellier is the capital of Hérault Département and the second-largest city in the Occitanie région, southern France.
Montpellier has been the fastest-growing city in France over the past 25 years. Like many other French cities, Montpellier is famous for its style and incredible vistas. With so many fun things to do for the children, Montpellier is the perfect vacation destination for the whole family. Children can enjoy the city’s highly-rated zoo and aquarium and some perfect sandy beaches on the coast just 15 kilometers away.
Montpellier is a blend of old-world picturesque and a youthful, trendy spirit; the city is full of amazing things to do. This is a city characterized by a sense of art de Vivre and an appreciation for fashion. Helping you make the most out of this beautiful city, here are some of the fun things you must do while in Montpellier.
Promenade du Peyrou…. This is Where You Get Great Instagram Photos!
Promenade du Peyrou, AKA Royal Square of Peyrou, is one of the people’s favorite places in the city of Montpellier. Oozing with history, the extensive promenade includes a number of significant artworks, including Montpellier’s own Arc de Triomphe, AKA the Porte du Peyrou, which was built as a monument to the Sun King, King Louis XIV of France. The arch has four pillars, with each of them showing memorable events from Louis XIV’s reign. Close by; there is a statue of Louis XIV on horseback that was created in 1718.
Promenade du Peyrou also contains other works like the eye-catching neoclassic Château d’Eau (water tower). The magnificent architectural piece of art Château d’Eau was completed in 1771, and it aimed to bring water from the Lez River. The place is just perfect and a must-visit for anyone going to Montpellier.
France’s Oldest Botanical Garden
Established by Henry IV in 1593, Jardin des Plantes de Montpellier (Montpellier Botanical Garden) is the oldest botanical garden in France and one of the first botanical gardens developed in whole Europe. The park is home to more than 2,200 plant species that grow in the open air.
The Montpellier Botanical Garden became a model for other gardens throughout France. It also includes a manicured park and an arboretum, and it is one of the Historical Monuments of the city. Visiting the Montpellier Botanical Garden is one of the things you must do while in the city.
Fabre Museum…. A Real Treat for Art-Lovers
Boasting a mixture of classic and contemporary architecture, the famous Fabre Museum in Montpellier is one of the best places to visit in the city. The museum was founded by painter François-Xavier Fabre in 1828, and it contains an extensive fine selection of European Art pieces.
Positioned right in the heart of the city center, just off the Esplanade Charles-de-Gaulle, the museum’s is divided into four main sections: Old Masters (artworks from the 15th to the 19th century), Modern Movements (artworks from the 20th century to the present day), Decorative Arts and Graphic Arts.
The museum features more than 800 works done by French and International artists, like Pieter Breughel the Younger and Jan Breughel the Elder, Rubens, Palma the Younger, Veronese, Domenichino, Ter Borch, Steen, Van Ostade, Poussin, Guercino, Bernini, Guardi, Delacroix, Zurbaran, Géricault, Courbet, Bazille, Manet, Dufy, Delaunay and Nathalia Gontcharova.
l’Oeuf, Place de la Comédie
Place de la Comédie is an arresting square that links the old Montpellier and the newer city districts beyond the ancient walls. Nicknamed as “l’Oeuf” (“The Egg”) because of its elliptical shape, the Place de la Comédie is full of bars, restaurants, and fun activities to do, day and at night!
The square is considered one of Europe’s largest pedestrian spaces with Fontaine des Trois Grâces (Three Graces statue) in the middle. Thanks to its sunny sidewalk cafés, the area is the perfect spot for locals to come and enjoy a stroll in the sun or meet up with their friends.
If you are lucky, you might end up attending a performance by one of the street musicians who come to entertain the crowd in the square. Place de la Comédie also contains the famous Opéra Comédie theater, which holds classical music concerts and opera performances. At night, the Opera House gets lightened up with colorful lighting around it along with other buildings, giving the square a festive spirit.
The Surviving Cathédrale Saint-Pierre
Another well-known monument that you need to add to your bucket list while visiting the city of Montpellier is its cathedral, Cathédrale Saint-Pierre. Unlike many of Montpellier’s churches that were damaged by the French religious wars in the 16th century, the gothic Cathédrale Saint-Pierre managed to survive this chaotic period.
The Cathédrale was initially a monastery chapel until the diocese of Maguelone during the rule of Francis I in the mid-1500s. With its unusual appearance and gothic ambiance, the Cathédrale is a joy for any art-lover. While you are there, make sure to take a good shot of the Cathédrale’s unique imposing portal with its twin pillars that are more than 4.5 meters in diameter.
Planet Ocean World
Brace yourself for a one-of-kind ocean-themed adventure in the Planet Ocean World of Montpellier. Situated at Montpellier’s Port Marianne, the Planet Ocean World gives its visitors the chance to explore over 400 diverse species such as coral reefs, penguins, sharks, stingrays, clownfish, frogs, geckos, and iguanas; to name a few.
Providing you with an extraordinary experience, the Planet Ocean is a magical and mysterious place that is more of a theme park rather than your typical aquarium. Fun for the whole family, the Place provides some games for children to enjoy their time as well; they can participate in contests and immersive activities like a touch pool and a storm simulator.
Hôtel de Varennes
Travel back in time and see the interior of a medieval hôtel particulier (mansion) in Hôtel de Varennes. Set in a small square in L’Ecusson, the Hôtel de Varennes was renovated in the 18th century, but luckily it still has its original grand halls and Gothic structure.
The mansion includes two museums inside as well: the Musée Fougau, which is a private museum that features a collection of famous art and traditions related to the daily life of people living in the Montpellier in the past. The other museum is Musée du Vieux Montpellier, which displays the history of Montpellier.
Exploring Hôtel de Varennes is a marvelous experience on its own, and we highly recommend going for a visit; you won’t regret it.
Let’s Go to the Zoo!
Being in Montpellier and not visiting the Montpellier Zoo would be a waste forsooth. The city’s zoo has been operating since 1964 and is located on the banks of Lez River. The zoo has over 140 species and 750 animals like cheetahs, white rhinos, Syrian brown bears, and giraffes.
Being such a big attraction of the city, you would be shocked to find out that the zoo is actually free! Moreover, the zoo organizes many activities and guided tours as per their website, such as family guided tours where you and your family can learn more about how the park works, its projects, day-to-day animal management. These visits are made on time slots predefined by the zoo, and they are on individual registration within the limit of 5 people per family.
There is also an animal meeting point where you get the chance to discuss with a professional the daily life of the healer profession. You also get to learn about animal care and learn more about the zoo residents.
Another activity that we recommend at the zoo is the theme raiding program, which allows you to discover the curiosities of life through surprise activities. Whether you have 5 minutes or half an hour, you can stay at the booth as long as you want.
Besides the animals, the zoo also has a greenhouse that was built in 2007, and there’s plenty of plant life there for you and your family to explore.
Château de Flaugergues
As the name suggests it to be, the Château de Flaugergues is beaming with class! In ancient times, the city of Montpellier was one the most well-known cities in France in terms of medicine. Given Montpellier’s importance at that time, many aristocratic families decided to have their vacation house or secondary house in the city for a relaxing getaway. These secondary houses used to be called “folie,” and the spectacular Château de Flaugergues was one of those “Folies.”
Many people argue that Château de Flaugergues is actually the most authentic and original folie in the town. Next to its mind-blowing gardens, the house also includes a display of antique furniture and a fine selection of Flemish tapestries. Taking a stroll in the house’s gardens is undoubtedly something you should consider!
Next Stop: Pic Saint-Loup, S’il Vous Plait!
Aside from the area’s well-known outstanding wine, Pic Saint-Loup is a treat that is hard to beat! Pic Saint-Loup is a striking mountain located 20 kilometers north of Montpellier. With some wonderous beaches to its south, Pic Saint-Loup provides a harmonious landscape of cliffs, sunflower fields, and vineyards, the trademark of the South of France.
The mountain’s peak is 658-metre, and it can be seen from the majority of the Hérault department. The mountain is the perfect destination for hikers and climbers. You can reach the mountain Pic Saint-Loup through several bus lines from Montpellier. Reaching the top of the Pic Saint-Loup is one the best things to do while visiting Montpellier.
Antigone…Embracing the Contrast!
While Montpellier pride itself on being a city full of breathtaking old-world buildings, there are also some modern masterpieces like the Antigone neighborhood in Montpellier that burst with grand neo-classical structures. The neighborhood is quite surprising for many visitors for its posh and trendy ambiance. On the top of the neighborhood’s features is the Hotel De Region, which you just can’t miss! The hotel is made of glass, and it is a brilliant piece of work that you need to see.
Explore the City Walking
You can never honestly know a city without wandering around in its street, especially Montpellier streets. With historic pieces of art all around you, walking in the old town in Montpellier is like no other. With so many delightful sun-kissed squares in the city, whether you decide to take your walk-in old town or recent contemporary part of the city, you certainly won’t regret it.
Make sure to take a walk around the remarkable Place de la Comédie, and we also recommend adding other squares to your walking list like Place Saint Roch, to check its fabulous fountain in its center, and Place Jean Jaurès, a gorgeous yard littered with some good cafes.
Experience Montpellier at Night!
With almost a quarter of Montpellier’s residents being students, a vibrant nightlife in the city is guaranteed. On practically every corner in Montpellier, from about 11 pm onwards, you will find the streets filled with people in cafes or dancing till dawn in bars.
If you are one of the dancing-type of people, we recommend you check out bars like Fitzpatrick’s Irish Pub; if you are looking for a great Guinness, then you must go to the Fitzpatrick’s Irish Pub, they also serve good wine options and coffee for those who are not in the mood for beer.
The Shakespeare, located in the center of Montpellier, this bar has some friendly staff that will provide you with great beer and bottled ales to relax after doing some sightseeing in the city. There is also Los Parigos, which is a tapas bar located in the charming old town, with their attractive decor that would make you feel like you are in a chic wine cellar; Los Parigos serves some good drinks and delicious food too.
Another bar option to consider is La Chistera bar. Owned by the loved local François Trinh-Duc, LA Chistera offers an extensive selection of International and French beers. As cute as you can imagine, given its name, Rebuffy Pub is a fantastic option to consider while looking for an excellent alcoholic drink or even a refreshing tea or energizing cup of coffee during the day.
It is Shopping Time!
No vacation is complete without checking out the city’s markets and getting some souvenirs to remember your trip by. Montpellier has no shortage of markets; like most French cities, markets are an essential part of life in Montpellier. Montpellier’s markets are famous across the southern region, thanks to their specialty.
Here are some markets that you should visit while in the city; Halles Jacques Coeur, this is an indoor market with glass that allows lots of natural light to come in, Marché Plan Cabanes, this is a great place to get your essentials while in the city, Marché aux Fleurs, a sight for sore eyes, this flower market is full of rows and rows of beautiful flowers and plants.
There is also Marché Paysan d’Antigone market, which has been held for over 17 years now every Sunday. Another market to check is Marché des Beaux-Arts; this is one of the markets where you can have the complete Français shopping experience; after doing your shopping on the stalls of the market, head to one of the many cafés around the market and have a cup of that delicious French coffee.
If you are looking for something different, then we recommend you check the Comédie des Bouquinistes market. The market is held every last Saturday of each month, and it allows you to buy used books and magazines…. What’s a better souvenir than this!
Go for a Swim in the Mediterranean Sea
With the city being located only 7 miles from the Mediterranean coast, it would be a shame to miss the chance to swim in the Mediterranean Sea while there. Positioned only 20 minutes away from the city, the Hérault coast has a plethora of incredible beaches to take your pick.
However, among that plethora of beaches, the Espiguette beach still stands out from the rest. With rolling white dunes, wild grasses, clear blue waters, the beach is simply the crown jewel of the coastline. The astonishing beach is grand and long, and you will absolutely fall in love with it. To reach Espiguette beach, you can take the Tram line and get off at Étang de l’Or and then take the Herault bus to the beach.
Dine and Wine Like a Montpelliérain
Known for its elegance and sophistication, the French cuisine has earned its stripes as being one of the best cuisines in the entire world. Living up to the expectation, Montpellier has its fair share of mouth-watering food and drinks.
Being so close to the Mediterranean Sea, Montpellier is full of fine-dining restaurants that serve mussels, crab, oysters and fish stews. But that’s not all, the city is also famous for its delicious Argentinian empanadas, cheesy pizzas and yummy cupcakes. We recommend you check Le Passé Composé, the place is famous for its authentic and tasty dishes like Rouget mariné aux agrumes, Médaillon de boeuf, and Mousse au chocolat noir, and then you should consider Cave de Berlou, Clairette Moelleuse, or Domaine De L’Hortus……. Délicieuse!
The city is also known for being the world’s largest wine region as the Languedoc-Roussillon produces more bottles than several whole countries. The region’s Pic Saint-Loup famous red wine is highly regarded worldwide for its superbness. However, in case you are looking for something to go with seafood, you should try the Picpoul-de-Pinet; it is a tasty sufficiently crisp white.
As for the dessert, make sure to go home with the charming package of a box of Grisettes, honey, and liquorice candies.
Whether you are coming alone or with your family or friends, Montpellier has a lot of activities to enjoy and numerous experiences and adventures to go through while there. If you haven’t had Montpellier on your bucket list already, you most certainly should. Montpellier is a city of style, grace, and profound ancient history that will leave you in awe!