It’s worth getting the Nîmes romaine combined ticket, valid for one month and sold online and at the ticket counter of each site. It covers the three main ancient sites that are all close together: Maison Carrée, les Arènes de Nîmes, and Tour Magne. The fee is 18.50€ for adults, 14€ for children aged 7 to 17, and free for children 6 and under. More information is available from Culturespaces (www.arenes-nimes.com; tel. 04-66-21-82-56).
The pride of Nîmes is the Maison Carrée, pl. de la Maison Carrée (www.arenes-nimes.com; tel. 04-66-21-82-56). Founded around A.D. 3 by the Emperor Augustus, it’s the only completely preserved ancient Roman temple in Europe. It may be small but it’s perfectly proportioned: 26m (85 ft.) long by 15m (49 ft.) wide and 15m (49 ft.) high. It inspired the builders of La Madeleine in Paris, and Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Capitol building. It makes a perfect start to a Nîmes visit with a film showing the founding of the city from its Celtic roots through the fortunes of a fictional family from 55 B.C. to A.D. 90. Admission is 6€ for adults or 5€ for students and children (free for ages 7 and under). Open March and October daily 10am to 1pm and 2 to 6pm; April, May, and September daily 10am to 6:30pm; June daily 10am to 7pm; July and August daily 10am to 8pm; and November through February daily 10am to 1pm and 2 to 4:30pm.
Across the square stands its modern-day twin, the Carré d’Art, whose understated design by Norman Foster was inspired by (but doesn’t overpower) the ancient monument. Inside, the Musée d’Art Contemporain (www.carreartmusee.com; tel. 04-66-76-35-70), has a permanent collection of art from 1960 to the present day as well as temporary exhibitions that take in both past masters like Picasso and the work of contemporaries like photographer Wolfgang Tillmans. Renovation at the beginning of 2018 gave it more exhibition space. It’s open Tuesday through Sunday 10am to 6pm. The permanent collection is free; changing exhibitions cost 6€ for adults and are free for anyone aged 25 and under and for everybody on the first Sunday of each month.
Scholars call it Amphithéâtre Romain de Nîmes; locals refer to it as Les Arènes. No matter what you call it, the monument at place des Arènes (www.arenes-nimes.com; tel. 04-66-21-82-56), is spectacular. It’s a better-preserved twin of the one at Arles, and far more complete than Rome’s Colosseum. Two stories high—each floor has 60 arches—it was built by master Roman engineers who fitted the huge stones together without mortar. It once held over 20,000 spectators who entered through arched entrances (vomitaria; coming from the Latin for “to spew”) ringing the building to see gladiatorial combat and chariot races. Today it’s used for everything from ballet recitals to bullfights, and the Roman games, when it is closed for visits; check the website before you visit. Admission is 10€ for adults and 8€ for students and children from 7 to 17 years, free for children 6 years old and under. Open March and October daily 9am to 6pm; April, May, and September daily 9am to 6:30pm; June 9am to 7pm; July and August daily 9am to 8pm; and November through February daily 9:30am to 5pm.
One of the most beautiful gardens in France, the Jardin de la Fontaine, at the end of quai de la Fontaine, was laid out in the 18th century around a centerpiece of ruins of a Roman shrine. It was France’s first public park and is a godsend on a baking hot summer’s day with its shady paths and fountains. The garden is open from April to September daily 9:30am to 6:30pm, and from October to March daily 9:30am to 1pm and 2 to 6pm. Within the formal garden is the ruined Le Temple de Diane and the remains of some Roman baths. Make your way through the wooded paths to Mont Cavalier, a low, rocky hill topped by the sturdy bulk of the Tour Magne (tel. 04-66-21-82-56), the city’s oldest Roman monument. You can climb it for 3.50€ for adults and 3€ for students and children 7 to 17, free for children 6 and under. It’s open March and October daily 9:30am to 1pm and 2 to 6pm; April and May daily 9:30am to 6pm; June 9am to 7pm; July and August 9am to 8pm; September 9:30am to 1pm and 2 to 6:30pm; and November through February 9:30am to 1pm and 2 to 4:30pm.
Nîmes has a good variety of museums, augmented by the opening in June 2018 of the Musée de la Romanité (Museum of Roman Culture), 16 bd. des Arènes, (www.museeromanite.com; tel. 06-19-61-56-58). Using the latest technology in its displays, this is one of the big openings of 2018 in France. The futuristic building opposite Les Arènes is clad in a translucent glass facade that sinuously covers the museum. A remarkable and wide collection of art and artifacts fills the galleries while interactive displays lead you through ancient Rome. The Musée des Beaux-Arts, rue Cité Foulc (www.nimes.fr; tel. 04-66-28-18-32), contains French paintings and sculptures from the 17th to the 20th centuries, as well as Flemish, Dutch, and Italian works from the 16th to the 18th centuries. Some unexpected masterpieces here include Rubens’ Portrait of a Monk and the masterpiece of G. B. Moroni, La Calomnie d’Apelle. With the opening of the Museum of Roman Culture in this ancient city, the first thing to see should be the huge Gallo-Roman mosaic showing the mythical marriage of Admetus. The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday 10am to 6pm. Admission is free for the permanent collection. Exhibitions are from 3€ for adults and free for those under 25. Free admission the first Sunday of the month.
If time allows, visit the Musée du Vieux-Nîmes, pl. aux Herbes (tel. 04-66-76-73-70), to the north of Les Arènes and housed in an Episcopal palace from the 1700s. Its rich collection covers antiques, antique porcelain, and workday objects from the 18th and 19th centuries. It also covers the all-important textile industry here from the silk shawls that were the must-have item of the 18th century to the story of denim. Admission is free for the permanent collection and 5€ for exhibitions; open Tuesday to Sunday 10am to 6pm.
About 45m (148 ft.) east you come to the Musée d’Histoire Naturelle (tel. 04-66-76-73-45) at 13 bis bd. l’Amiral-Courbet with a strange and quirky collection of masks, spears, and taxidermy animals. Items from the archaeology museum formerly here are now on display in the new Museum of Roman Culture. Admission is free; hours are Tuesday to Sunday 10am to 6pm. From here, you can walk north along one of the city’s busiest thoroughfares, boulevard de l’Amiral-Courbet, to the Porte d’Auguste (Porte d’Arles)—the remains of a gate built by the Romans during the reign of Augustus.
Outside the city, 27km (16 miles) northeast, the great Pont du Gard spans the Gardon River. The great bridge with its huge stones, fitted together without mortar, stands as one of France’s most vivid reminders of ancient glory. The top tier of the three tiers of arches in graceful symmetrical patterns carried water to the growing city of Nîmes. Probably constructed in the 1st century, this masterpiece of engineering stands 50m (164 ft.) high and measures 360m (1,181 ft.) at its longest point. If you can, tour the upper tier and the water canal giving panoramic views over the countryside.
The Site du Pont du Gard visitors’ complex gives the best introduction to the monument. The interactive museum, Le Musée (www.pontdugard.fr; tel. 04-66-37-50-99), shows ancient building techniques and the complex construction of the Pont du Gard, how it worked during the Middle Ages, and its status through the centuries as a symbol of the architectural savvy of ancient Rome. Working models, films, and interactive displays are centered around different themes, with the all-precious water taking center stage. A film takes you through the history. You can wander through the Mémoires de Garrigue garden of nature trails and take the children to the interactive Ludo center. The large site also has a restaurant, cafe, and gift shop. It’s open May and June daily 9am to 9pm, July and August 9am to 11:30pm, September 9am to 8pm, April and October 9am to 6pm, January to March and November to December 9am to 5pm. A Discovery Pass of the main sites is 8.50€ for adults, 6€ for children ages 6 to 16 and is worth it if you plan to spend a half or full day here. Guided tours are extra.
To get here, take the highway D6086 from Nîmes to a point 3km (1.75 miles) from the village of Remoulins, then follow signs to the site.
During July and August, artificial beaches and small shelters are installed on the right bank of the Gardon near the bridge for “Rendez-vous à la Rivière,” with lifeguards overseeing river swimming.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.