Nimes has concrete reasons to be known as the Rome of France: an incredible Roman amphitheater dating back to 27 BC and a 2,000-year-old temple – the Maison Carrée – are proof of it. Nîmes is a city of 160,000 inhabitants and is located in the region of Occitania, in the south of France.
Its palm-lined streets make up a very beautiful old town, with small squares and boulevards, where tradition invites you to take a stroll and have an aperitif (l’apéro, in French).
In addition to the incredible Roman legacy, Nimes is known for an event called La Feria, which takes place in the Amphitheater, where bullfights are held and an unusual Spanish atmosphere (giant paellas are served in the street) invades the city.
Other attractions to see in Nimes are: the Romanesque Museum, the Fontaine Gardens, the Temple of Diana, the Market Square and the beautiful Romanesque Cathedral.
Amphitheater of Nimes
The Amphitheater of Nimes, also known as the Arena of Nimes, was built in 27 BC and is the great attraction of the city. To understand the importance of this monument, it must be taken into account that Nimes was a strategic point on the so-called Via Domitia, which communicated Hispania with Italy.
Between 120 BC and 462 AD, Nimes – the ancient Nemausus – was an important Roman settlement in Gaul. Today, the amphitheater, which is considered the best preserved of its kind in the world, serves as a stage for bullfights held twice a year during La Feria.
In the past, this enormous two-level enclosure, measuring 133 meters long, 21 meters high and 101 meters wide, had a capacity for 24,000 spectators. Fierce gladiator battles and executions took place here. In a subway level, under the arena, animals and fighters waited their turn to fight.
Since 1989, the amphitheater has had a movable roof, a heating system and a capacity for 16,000 people. In addition to being one of the most important bullfighting arenas in France (bullfights have been held there since 1863), the Arena of Nîmes is also used for rock and electronic music concerts.
In addition, this location hosts every year the Great Roman Games, an event in which hundreds of people dress up to recreate life during the Roman Empire in this part of France, more than 2,000 years ago.
Another historic site to see in Nîmes is the Maison Carrée, an ancient Roman temple built by Emperor Augustus in 16 B.C. Its six frontal columns in the portico -on a staircase- and eight lateral columns give the building an imposing appearance. Like the amphitheater, it is also considered the only ancient temple that has been preserved in its entirety.
The decoration of the Maison Carrée (square house) is Corinthian. Its excellent state of preservation is due to the fact that it has undergone several restorations throughout its history, the last one between 2006 and 2011. Those who enter the building will be able to watch a 22-minute 3D film that tells the history of the temple.
To visit the Amphitheater, the Maison Carrée and the Magna Tower, it is recommended to buy a combined pass, called Pass Nimes, which costs 13 euros. For 17 euros you can include the Museum of Romanesque Art in these attractions (in this case you must purchase the Romain Pass).
La Fontaine Gardens and Magna Tower
The Fontaine Gardens are majestic gardens built in 1745, crowned by the Magna Tower, which was erected in 15 BC and is one of the most beautiful green sites to see in Nimes. This 30-meter high tower with 140 steps was one of the highest points of the ancient Roman wall of 7 kilometers that once protected Nemausus (Nimes).
To climb to the tower’s lookout point, from where you get beautiful views of the garden and the city, you must pay 3.5 euros. In the same park are the ruins of the Temple of Diana, built in the first century during the reign of Emperor Octavian Augustus. It is believed that this building functioned as a library during the Roman domination.
Museum of Romanity
In contrast to the amphitheater, a futuristic building was built in 2018 (just opposite the Arena of Nîmes) that houses the Museum of Romanity. This archaeological museum brings together nearly 25,000 pieces that connect the times of the Roman Empire with modernity. It is worth paying attention to the undulating facade of the building, designed by the architect Elizabeth de Portzamparc, and going up to the museum’s terrace, which offers fantastic views of Nîmes.
The old town has beautiful narrow streets, with buildings of the eighteenth and nineteenth century, which are organized around the square dominated by the Cathedral of Nimes. Another very nice place to see in Nîmes is the Clock Square, with the great Clock Tower in the foreground, on an esplanade ideal for a drink or a snack on the sunny terraces.
We recommend a stroll along Rue de la Madelaine, one of the commercial arteries of Nîmes, and a visit to the Market Square, with its beautiful white fountain in which the sculpture of a crocodile is striking. For those who did not know, the crocodile is one of the symbols of Nimes and represents the victory of the Roman Empire over the armies of Cleopatra and her beloved Mark Antony.
Les Halles Market
Les Halles Market is a covered market with more than 100 stalls selling regional products from Nîmes, with an incredible variety of cheeses and baked goods. Other markets worth visiting are: the farmers’ market, called Marché Jean Jaurès, the Marché aux Fleurs (Flower Market) and the antiques market (Brocante Jean Jaurès).
A fact to keep in mind is that every Thursday in July and August, from 18 to 22, food markets occupy the squares of Nimes, with special offers and live music concerts. Visitors to these markets can’t miss the famous Nîmes cod brandade (a local classic), pâtés, cheeses and, of course, the best (and cheapest!) oysters in the country.
Another religious building to see in Nîmes is the Cathedral of Our Lady and Saint Castor, dating from the 11th century and built over a Roman temple. Although it is not big and pompous like other French cathedrals, this church manages to charm by the simplicity of its Romanesque facade, which coexists with other architectural styles inside. Its main attraction is the brilliant Romanesque frieze, one of the most successful of the churches in the south of France, with scenes from the Old Testament.
Museum of Fine Arts
The Museum of Romanesque Art is not the only one to visit in Nîmes. A tour of the Nîmes Museum of Fine Arts, which houses more than 3,500 works by European artists from the 16th century to the end of the 19th century, is highly recommended. The entrance fee is 5 euros.
Other very interesting museums are the Museum of Bullfighting Cultures, which tells the history of bullfighting in this region of France, and the Museum of Old Nîmes, which exhibits beautiful furniture and reviews the textile history of the city (it is said that jeans were invented here).
Bridge of the Gard
The Pont du Gard is one of the must-see wonders of Nîmes. It is an ancient Roman aqueduct built during the 1st century A.D., located 20 kilometers from the city center. This incredible work of engineering transported fresh water from a spring in Uzès to the colony of Nemausus (Nimes).
Located on the Gardon River, the aqueduct has three levels, is more than 50 meters high and almost 280 meters long. The tour of the complex (including parking) costs 9.5 euros. It is worth noting that the aqueduct was connected to a water castle, located in the center of Nimes, known as Castellum Aquae (it is another work worth visiting), which distributed drinking water to different parts of the city.
Wall of Nimes
The ancient Roman wall of Nimes was built between 16 and 15 BC, with an estimated length of 7 kilometers, a height of almost 10 meters and walls with a thickness of two meters. Only two accesses remain standing of the 14 gates that the wall had, which accompanied the passage of the Via Domitia, the road that connected the Iberian Peninsula with Italy. These two entrances are the French Gate and the magnificent Augustus Gate, whose construction dates back to the 1st century AD.
Church of Saint-Baudile
The Church of Saint-Baudile is the largest religious temple to see in Nîmes. It is located next to the Augustus Gate and was built during the 19th century in a neo-Gothic style. With capacity for more than 3,000 worshippers, it is recognizable from the outside by its two 70-meter front towers. Another religious temple of Nimes (hardly discovered by tourism) is that of Santa Perpetua, whose first stone was laid on the site in 1852 by Napoleon himself.