Who doesn't know it, the song about Avignon's most famous bridge:
Sur le pont d'Avignon
L'on y danse, l'on y danse
Sur le pont d'Avignon
L'on y danse tout en rond
The song is supposedly inspired by a café underneath one of the bridgeheads where dancing was very popular. Originally, the text said that they danced underneath (sous) the bridge and not on (sur) it. In any case, the bridge that is officially called Pont Saint-Bénezet, is no longer in use as such, as it was a rather weak bridge and following countless destructions it was decided not to rebuild it in the seventeenth century. So it's a ruin, with only four of the original 22 arches left.
Avignon is located in the south of France, on the left bank of the Rhône where the river joins the Durance. The city's old center is relatively small, walled and very pleasant. Some people spend days in the historic center at one of the many outdoor cafés to enjoy its unique atmosphere. The city walls date from the fourteenth century and are in excellent condition. Especially the restored Porte de la République is really pretty.
One of the city's main attractions dates from the fourteenth century: The Palais des Papes. At the time, Avignon was the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church as the popes had fled from the corrupt city of Rome. Unfortunately, none of the paintings, sculptures, tapestries or silverware were preserved. Still, the huge complex provides an accurate picture of the church's power and wealth.
You can see art at the Petit Palais on the same square, which holds a fine collection of medieval paintings and sculptures.
The popes preferred not living in Avignon though, which at the time was extremely dirty. No, they built their houses in Villeneuve-lès-Avignon, on the other side of the Rhône (and so the famous bridge was built for the popes). In Villeneuve you can find for example the Chartreuse du Val de Bénédiction, which used to be France's largest Carthusian monastery and the Fort Saint-André Bastion.
Next to the Palais des Papes you'll find the two centuries older Cathédrale Notre-Dame des Doms, with a large gilded statue of the Virgin Mary.
Avignon also has a lot of museums. In the Hôtel de Caumont, which dates from the eighteenth century, you would expect to find ancient art, but the building actually houses modern art, the Collection Lambert. For works by French, Italian and Flemish masters you have to go to the Musée Clavet that also houses an extensive collection of statues, porcelain and antique furniture.
In and around Avignon
The city is famous for its annual theater festival, which is held in July. This is when Avignon comes apart at the seams with street artists and musicians, and of course the numerous visitors. The best performances are held at the Palais des Papes. Tickets are not cheap, but you do witness the absolute state-of-the-art of French and European theater makers, in a special environment. At the same time there is a smaller festival in Villeneuve, where mainly circus artists and comedians perform in the open air.
In September it is time to celebrate the grape harvest, again with a festival. The square near the Palais des Papes is filled with stands where you can taste the regional wines (Côte du Rhône). But of course you don't have to wait for that month. Take your rental car to visit the vineyards in the area surrounding the city. The famous Châteauneuf-du-Pape is located just north of Avignon.
You can also explore the Rhône by renting a kayak or a canoe. There are companies both inside and outside the city that offer this service.
In the vicinity of Avignon there are many remnants from Roman times. For example in Orange (one of the best preserved amphitheaters), the Roman aqueduct Le Pont du Gard (about thirty kilometers west of Avignon) and Nîmes (where there is a Roman amphitheater in addition to a Greek temple).
Avignon has a wide range of accommodations, although real budget tourists are better off finding accommodation outside the city, for example on one of the campsites or at the youth hostel in Villeneuve. The Hôtel de la Mirande near the Palais des Papes is very special. Rooms are very expensive, but you do feel a little bit like a pope ...
Part of Avignon's center is pedestrianized. Where this is not the case, it will be difficult to find a parking space for your rental car. The old center is small enough to discover by foot. Use your rental car for trips through the city's beautiful surroundings.
Avignon Airport is located ten kilometers southeast of the city. You can easily reach the airport by rental car: From the city center take the Route National 7 (Route de Marseille). The exit to the airport is clearly signposted.