During the first century BC, the Romans established a city named Nemausus, and it quickly became a jewel of the Roman Empire. Today, that city is named Nîmes, and it’s one of the prettiest towns in all of France. Located in the south of France, Nîmes is a city known for its well-preserved Roman relics as well as its quaint, cobbled French streets. This city combines the old–and by old, I mean ancient–with the new in a beautiful fashion, and I was instantly taken by Nîmes’ history, culture and undeniable charm.
My recent trip to Nîmes came out of the blue. Since I wasn’t originally planning on traveling to Nîmes, I needed to find a place to stay at the very last minute. Fortunately, I know that I can always rely on HotelTonight to find hotels around the world at a moment’s notice. So I pulled up the HotelTonight website and booked a last-minute hotel in Nîmes in just a few short minutes, and just like that I was ready to embark on my adventure in this old Roman city.
Nîmes’ historic old town is vibrant and charming, and this city center features beautiful old buildings, narrow streets and popular restaurants and shops. The cafe-lined squares in the old town provide perfect spots to sit, enjoy a café au lait or a glass of wine and watch the locals go about their daily lives. Some of the most popular and picturesque squares in the quarter are the Place aux Herbes and the Place d’Horloge. I spent most of the afternoon meandering through the old town, popping in and out of charming boutiques and relaxing at small cafes. I also returned to old town the next morning to wander through Les Halles, a large indoor market that offers some of the best, freshest food in the area. This is where the locals shop for their food, so you know you’ll always find high-quality, authentic French fare in this age-old market.
This square feels like the focal point of Nîmes, as it’s large, beautiful and full of excitement and activity. The Esplanade de Charles de Gaulle was constructed in the 16th century, and today it’s a hub of social life for the locals. This lovely square features plenty of greenery and open space, and you’ll find locals strolling along the paths, meeting friends and enjoying picnics in the square at all hours of the day. Since this is one of the locals’ most beloved areas in their city, this is definitely a spot you shouldn’t miss during your time in Nîmes.
Arguably Nîmes’ most iconic landmark, the Arena (or Les Arènes) has stood proudly in the center of Nîmes for 2,000 years. The Nîmes Arena looks like a replica of the Coliseum, but this particular arena is in even better condition than the Coliseum, making it the pride of the city. Today, the Arena is used for bullfighting, concerts and various events, and it’s well worth taking a tour of the impressive building to learn about its history as well as its incredible architecture, which was well before its time.
Most of France’s major cities boast beautiful, manicured gardens, most of which were once property of kings, queens or emperors. Nîmes has a particularly beautiful garden, Les Jardins de la Fontaine, which was built in the 18th century. This sprawling green garden features stunning water fountains, Roman relics and neoclassical architecture. If you want to take a leisurely walk and absorb the vast beauty and historical significance of Nîmes, simply enter Les Jardins de la Fontaine and let the incredible architecture and landscaping sweep you away to a different time.
Nîmes is home to many charming and impressive squares, but one of my very favorite squares was Place d’Assas. This square is much more modern than others you’ll find in Nîmes, as it was designed in 1989 by the contemporary artist Martial Raysse. The Place d’Assas has modern sculptures and interesting artwork, which sets it apart from other squares in the city. If you want to try some of Nîmes’ trendiest restaurants and cafes, this is the place to start, as there are a number of hip dining options surrounding the Place d’Assas.
If you’ve visited major cities in France like Paris and Marseille, you’re sure to find an unexpected charm and beauty to Nîmes. This city may be small, but it’s rich in history and culture, and it’s also free of the tourist crowds you’ll find in larger cities. So if you want a taste of authentic life in southern France and want to immerse yourself in the history of the Roman Empire, you should plan your visit to Nîmes. And if you’re like me and like to plan impromptu trips, you should rely on HotelTonight to help you find a great last-minute hotel in the beautiful city of Nîmes.