My dad always said, “It’s not what you know but who you know.” And when it comes to travel, it’s no different. In September 2020, I moved to Marseille, France, to teach English and have enjoyed exploring France’s gems from Bordeaux to Nice. But France has a geographically rich and diverse country with thousands of corners to explore. And thanks to my teaching program, I know several other assistants in France whom I can visit. My university friend Nandi is teaching in Nîmes, and although this town wasn’t at the top of my bucket list, I’m always down to explore a new place, especially with a friend. In this post, I’m sharing things to do in Nîmes as well as our day trip to Aigues-Mortes in La Camargue.
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About Nîmes, France
With a current population of about 150,000, the town of Nîmes, France, used to be a part of the Roman Empire under the rule of Emperor Augustus. The history of Nîmes dates back to the sixth century B.C. When you think of France, most people think of architecture as seen in the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and Haussmannien style buildings with wrought-iron gates in front of tall windows. (At least I do.) And you’ll see some of that in Nîmes, but what’s so crazy is that you’re walking by a boulangerie for a croissant and then 10 minutes later you bump into a Roman ruin. It feels incongruous, but the wild part is that this part of France used to belong to the Roman Empire.
Things to Do in Nîmes
If you’re looking for a cute yet casual French restaurant, add L’Impérial Café to your list of things to do in Nîmes. I ordered their raclette burger with perfectly seasoned, crispy steak fries. The restaurant is located on a cute square and will hit the spot in between all your Roman ruins stops.
If you’ve been following this blog for any amount of time, you know I have the biggest sweet tooth, especially when it comes to ice cream. So when I was looking for things to do in Nîmes, naturally ice cream was near the top of the list. Nandi and I saw Amorino, an ice cream chain, nearby, but we also spotted La Dolcezza, a local spot, not far away. And I’m so glad we switched it up with a local spot because La Dolcezza was entirely delightful.
Jardins de la Fontaine
Looking for the best picnicking spot in Nîmes? Look no further than Jardins de la Fontaine. This massive park is sure to charm you with its thoughtful architecture. Although the park dates back to the mid 1700s, it’s nestled by several Roman ruins including the Temple de Diane et the Tour Magne. Nandi, Bastien and I enjoyed a casual stroll through the park.
Temple de Diane
One of the reasons I love France so much is because of it’s rich history and patrimoine. And Nîmes is rich with these historical allusions all throughout the town, the Temple de Diane being one. Little is known for sure about the Temple de Diane, but we do have some guesses. Per History Hit, it may have been constructed during Augustus’ rule or in the 100s A.D. And it might’ve been a library, not a temple. You can make a stop here when you visit the Jardins de la Fontaine and make a guess for yourself. Nandi, Bastien and I enjoyed walking around these ruins and imagining what life was like thousands of years ago.
Ah yes, another big pile of important rocks to see. La Tour Magne dates back to 16 B.C. and was built under Emperor Augustus. The tower had military purposes, thanks to its elevated position, but later served as a telegraph relay station in the 1800s. You can walk through the Jardins de la Fontaine and up the hill to reach Tour Magne. It’s a beautiful walk to get there, and it’s worth the steps.
Les Arènes de Nîmes
No, it’s not the Colosseum, but it sure does look like it. Fun fact: the Colosseum was built a couple decades before the Arènes de Nîmes, which were built around 100 A.D. and could welcome around 24,000 attendees. Nandi and I didn’t have the time to go in but walked the perimeter. You can’t take a trip to Nîmes without stopping by the Arènes de Nîmes; it’s pretty difficult to miss.
Before I visited Nîmes, I did some research about the town, and I was shook to see that it was known for its Maison Carrée, something that came straight out of the Antiquities between 20 and 12 B.C. It truly looks like something you’d find in Italy, not southern France, but it was inspired by the Apollon and Mars Ultor temples in Rome, according to Avignon & Provence.
Things to do in Aigues-Mortes
How to get to Aigues-Mortes from Nîmes
Although Nîmes has several cool sites to offer, it’s pretty small, and you’re so close to La Camargue wetlands that you might as well take a day trip to nearby Aigues-Mortes. It’s very simple to get from Nîmes to Aigues-Mortes. Simply take the TER train, and the journey takes around 45 minutes. And once you hop off the train at Aigues-Mortes, you’re not far from the main attractions. There’s no need to have a car, and most is accessible by foot. Here are several things to do in Aigues-Mortes.
Castle ramparts and Tower of Constance
Like I said, I like old things. I like to imagine about the life people lived long ago, and therefore, I enjoyed poking around the city ramparts. Nandi and I walked the perimeter of the fortress’ wall, which is over a mile long. And the monument has information, videos, photos and maps all along the route.
As part of the ramparts, the Tower of Constance once served as a prison for French Huguenots, or Protestants, after the Edict of Nantes was revoked in 1685. But before, Aigues-Mortes became a place of oppression for the Protestants, it was deemed as a safe haven for Protestants under the Edict of Beaulieu in 1576.
As a person of faith myself, this was a special place to visit in remembrance of my spiritual fathers and mothers in France who paved the way for freedom of worship. I’m so grateful that I have the right and freedom to pursue my faith and spirituality without fear of imprisonment.
Enjoy the pink salt marshes
Pink water? Sign me up! I’m a pink girl through and through, so when I saw that the salt marshes were pink, I was sold. My favorite view was from the city’s ramparts. What makes the salt marshes pink? We had the same question. It’s because of the pink algae in the marshes.
Église Notre Dame des Sablons d’Aigues-Mortes
I’ve been into, like, 8,673 churches in Europe — or something like that. But although Église Notre Dame des Sablons d’Aigues-Mortes is small and similar to most others, I was struck by its unique stained glass windows. It’s worth it to take a peek into this small church just steps away from Place Saint Louis.
Take a boat tour
Another great way to spend your stay in Aigues-Mortes is to take a boat tour. Although Nandi and I weren’t able to do a boat tour, there are several to choose from if you’d like to explore by water.
Place Saint Louis
It’s honestly funny that I’m from Saint Louis, Missouri because this saint is everywhere in France, yet the average Saint Louisan can’t speak a lick of French. Saint Louis was a big deal in Aigues-Mortes because it was he who ordered the creation of the ramparts in 1266. And there’s a square named after him. Place Saint Louis is a quaint square where you can find restaurants with the regional specialty of taureau, or bull.
Two days is plenty of time to explore both of these spots. Travel back in time as you visit Nîmes and Aigues-Mortes with their Roman ruins and ramparts. Did I miss one of your favorite things to do in Nîmes or Aigues-Mortes? Tell me in the comments.