The French Rome
It was the year 2011 when I first came to this city on my high school trip to France and Italy, and never returned. A very long time pending for a proper return to this beautiful city. Furthermore on this occasion visiting way much more than what our teachers and tour guide showed us, pretty much just the Arena and the Maison Carree and the walk in between. As of this occasion, I’ve planned a wider tour to include some of the most fascinating Roman remains not only in France but across the former Roman Empire with the Pont du Gard and the amphitheatre and theatre of Arles, among others scattered through both cities of Nimes and Arles, all of which listed by the UNESCO as World Heritage Sites.
A weekend in the city is a great decision when coming to overall timing, but only when including the Pont du Gard and the smaller city of Arles, both very near, otherwise both days for just the city and you will be overestimating. In the other hand, it comes us, who generally push it to the limits. We planned to do in one day what would normally be a program for an entire weekend, and spent the following day in the city of Montpellier. And why is that you might ask? Simple, we grabbed some bargain flights when having our inbound to Nimes and the outbound from Montpellier airport, then why not to take the chance and visit both now that we could?. After all, it worked really well as you can see in the following guides for Arles and Montpellier, with enough time to enjoy every sight.
When visiting the city, apart form its rich Roman history and remains, there is way much more to see than that. A very traditional French city, with beautiful boulevards and elegant Mediterranean style architecture everywhere. While the historic town core is small, entirely surrounded by tree-lines boulevards along what once were the city’s walls; outside this perimeter, in the newer 19th/20th centuries extensions especially west and south you will find some of the grandest residencies and mansions in the whole of Nimes.
I rarely remembered anything from 2011 other than the Roman Arena, and that’s a great fact of returning to cities already been, especially after that many years; furthermore now I can also create this nice travel guide for anyone to use. Nimes medium size and easiness to navigate around makes it straight and simple to the tourist for sightseeing. The best will be a circular route as the one I list below, good enough to spend at least half a day, or a full one if you have the time, but believe me when I tell you that half a day will be all that takes you to completely visit most of the sights.
For more information about Nimes check Wikipedia site. France’s currency is the Euro. Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Nimes
- North of the city This neighbourhood surrounding by the north the former original Roman and once walled town contains the elegant district by the name Nimes Nord, home to the star-shaped castle.
-Fort Vauban Built in the 16th century, the centrepiece in this part of the city.
-Castellum Aquae The place where the waters coming from the springs of the Uzes by aqueduct and over the Pont du Gard arrived and was distributed to fountains, baths and private homes throughout the city. It’s by the western side of the Castle.
-Jardin de la Fontaine Towards the west from the castle area, built over the former Roman therms and where you can find some great preserved remains such as the Temple of Diana, Roman baths and statues, among a nice landscaped gardens with fountains and ponds.
-Tour Magne The remains of this large Roman towers are located at the northernmost point of the Jardin de la Fontaine, on the Mont Cavalier hill.
- Historic Centre The circular/triangular shape defined by Boulevard Gambetta at the north, Boulevard Victor Hugo to the west and Boulevard Amiral Courbet at the east.
-Boulevard Gambetta Created along the torn down city’s walls, it divides the old town with the north district, filled with old and elegant buildings all the way.
-Antonin Square The westernmost corner of the old town. Towards the west is the Quai de la Fontaine boulevard and to the south Boulevard Victor Hugo heading directly to the Arena and L’esplanade passing the Maison Carree.
-Porta Augusta At the easternmost corner of the old town, one of the former Roman city gates, starting point to the road to Rome.
-Saint Baudile Basilica At the front of the Porta Augusta, was built in 1877 in neo-Gothic style. The Boulevard Amiral Courbet starts here towards the south to L’esplanade and Arena.
-Boulevard Victor Hugo Along the westernmost edge of the old town, along the former city’s walls.
-Maison Carree One of the best preserved Roman temples from the 1st century across the former Roman Empire. Nowadays it is home to one of the wings of the Musée des Beaux-Arts.
-La Carree d’Art Opposite the Roman temple is the new construction of the museum of art built by Norman Foster.
-Saint Paul’s Church Built in 1849 on plans of the architect Charles-Auguste Questel.
-Lycee Alphonse Daudet This huge building created at the end of the 19th century is one of the most prestigious schools in Nimes. While all you can see is the main facade along the Boulevard, behind is a network of many buildings with courtyards in between.
-Arena At the south end of Boulevard Victor Hugo. Built around 70 AD it is one of the best preserved across the former Roman Empire, and one of the largest in France.
-Esplanade By the eastern side of the Arena, a large landscaped square opening to the Avenue Feuchères that heads east towards the end by the railway station.
-Church of Sainte-Perpétue-et-Félicité Along the eastern side of the Esplanade, in neo-Gothic style.
-Porte de France In Rue Porte de France, corner with Rue de la Republique just few meters southwest from the Arena, is the second of the only 2 remaining Roman city gates.
-Boulevard Amiral Courbet Linking the Esplanade with Boulevard Gambetta along the entire eastern edge of the old town.
-Avenue du Général Perrier Crossing the old town west to east, from the back of the Maison Carree to Boulevard Amiral Courbet, where along and in the nearby streets are all the sights within the heart of the historic district.
-Place de l’Horloge As it translates, the clock tower square. Two streets ahead from the Maison Carree.
-Place aux Herbes The next small square after l’Horloge from the southeast, opening towards the Cathedral Square.
-Notre Dame Cathedral Although previous constructions date from much earlier, the current structure is mostly from the 17th century, with a neo-classical look and byzantine style interiors.
-Museum of the City By the south side of the Cathedral, depicting the history of the city since prehistoric times.
-Place du Marche Towards the southern end of the historic town, near the Arena, is the market square. Small yet charming with beautiful architecture all around.
- Pont du Gard 20 kilometres northeast of the city, along the main aqueduct that brought water to Nimes. The section crossing over the River Gard is preserved in full. One of such finest remains from the Roman empire.
Nimes Garons Airport is 20 kilometres from the city centre, and easily reachable by frequent public buses costing 5€ per way. This is a small airport currently being expanded with further routes through Europe, however it is still limited in destinations. Other nearby airports are Montpellier at only 55 kilometres to the southwest, and the much larger Marseilles, 100 km northeast. So counting them all, between these 3 airports the overall routes served are quite large and great, including some intercontinental.
If coming overland, there’s no doubt railway would be the best and fastest. France has a large high-speed rail network, so interconnecting in between is easy and reliable, yet not the cheapest. Then comes to the buses, crisscrossing the country. You can get to Nimes by international trains from Spain, Italy or Switzerland.
Once in the city, the historic centre is small and compact, with most of the streets pedestrianised therefore walking is your only and best choice. To any farther area of the city, there is a large network of public buses.
The city boats a good and big selection of any kind, from the top class to the more modest, and countless B&B and airb&b. A good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.
In the most recent trip to Nimes I stayed at the Ibis Styles Gare Centre. The property is really nice, with a terribly friendly and helpful staff on every shift, very caring at all times. The room was larger than Ibis Styles average, very new and very well cared, comfortable and nicely quiet at night so I could have a great sleep. Location is unbeatable to be honest, especially that I needed to take few trains, so this came as my primary choice, arriving literally 5 meters away from the hotel’s front via the airport bus, and just opposite the main train station. Walking distance to anywhere you wish to go in Nimes for sightseeing or going out, plenty of choice of shops and restaurant nearby. Breakfast was quite nice too.
As of May 2017 trip, if you wish to read about Montpellier including the information about the hotel we stayed, click here for the travel guide.