Often dubbed the “Rome of France”, Nimes is home to the most extensive Roman remains in Europe. The Romans first colonised Nimes in 50BC, and turned it into an attractive retirement town for its veteran soldiers, who were given plots of land here as a reward for 15 years’ service. Emperor Augustus took a shine to the place and built sturdy walls, bridges, an aqueduct, temple and gymnasium for the townspeople.

Sitting on the border between the Provence and Languedoc regions, Nimes today bears the hallmarks of that colonisation, not only in the surviving buildings but also in its distinctive Mediterranean culture. Residents are crazy about tapas, sangria and bullfighting; the latter takes place inside the ancient amphitheatre the Romans built for gladiatorial clashes. This mix makes for a pleasant stay – explore the architecture and history of the place by day, and enjoy the late-night, laid-back atmosphere by night.


First stop has to be the Roman amphitheatre, one of the most intact and impressive in the world. Built in the second century BC, the colossal structure has since been used as a fortress and an enormous slum - 2000 makeshift dwellings were crammed in here until they were cleared in the 1800s. Today it makes for an imposing sight, an interesting visit and an atmospheric event venue. It has hosted amongst other things a Davis cup tie, various rock concerts from Pink Floyd to Red Hot Chilli Peppers, ice skating and bullfighting (sadly not at the same time!)

Most of Nimes’ other attractions are gathered in an area called l’ecusson (“the shield”) which is bordered by the boulevards Gambetta, Victor Hugo and Amiral Courbet. A wander around this pretty central area is a must. Check out the shops and cafés tucked away behind Romanesque arches, the quaint little squares and the beautifully restored 17th- and 18th-century mansions.

Within l’ecusson is one of the most graceful Roman monuments in France: the Maison Carree temple. This rectangular, pillared building impressed Napolean so much he used it as the model for his Parisian church of Madeleine. The temple has had various incarnations since it was built in the 4th century BC, having been used as a church, museum, town hall and even a stable over the years. Today it houses a collection of Greek and Roman sculptures.

Opposite the Maison Carree is a daring, contemporary building designed by British architect Norman Foster (who also designed London’s “gherkin” and the German Reichstag, amongst others.) The Caree d’Art is a state-of-the art multimedia library of books, periodicals, CDs, DVDs and newspapers, all housed in a glass and steel rectangle which echoes the shape and lines of the Maison Carree. Climb to the rooftop café for lovely views over the Roman temple and beyond.

If the amphitheatre and temple have given you a taste for Roman architecture and art, head to the Musee des Beaux Arts. Roman mosaic floors and marble pillars sit alongside paintings from the 15th to 19th centuries, although the undoubted highlight is the enormous Gallo-Roman mosaic depicting the “Marriage of Admetus.”

Nimes is also home to France’s first ever public garden, the Jardin de la Fontaine. Created in 1750, the fountains, statues and balustraded terraces have worn very well. Wander down to the green, shady Canal de la Fontaine, where you will find steps to guide you up the steep wooded hillside. Don’t relax when you reach the Tour Magne tower at the steps’ end – if you climb the 32 metres to the top your efforts will be rewarded with breathtaking views across the rural landscape. On a clear day you can see the Pyrenees.


Central Nimes is packed full of pretty tourist and gift shops; the pedestrian rue de l'Aspic and rue de la Madeleine are good places to start. If you have a sweet tooth or need an energy-boost whilst shopping, pop into a pastry shop and ask for the regional almond-based cookies croquants villaret and caladons. Another local speciality are santons - wood or clay figurines sculpted into characters from Provençal country life. The Boutique Provençale near the Maison Carrée has an excellent selection.

If clothes are more your thing, why not buy a pair of jeans from the birthplace of denim? Nimes’ local cotton of white warp and blue weft – which became known as ‘denim’ (from de Nimes meaning “of Nimes”) – became a modern staple after Levi Strauss used it to make trousers for Californian gold-diggers. Nimes is also famous for its locally-made shawls, once the must-have item throughout Europe. You can take your pick in shops along the rue National.

Nightlife and Eating Out

True to its Hispanic nature, Nîmes has plenty of tapas bars and a penchant for late-night dining. Lively brasseries and pizzerias line the boulevards de la Liberation and Admiral-Courbet. Make sure to try the firm sweet green olives which are grown locally. If you’d like to try a genuine Nimes dish, order Brandade de Nimes. Made famous by the chef Durand in the 19th century, the dish is made with desalted salt cod that is mixed as an emulsion with olive oil and a little milk. Preferably served hot, it is also eaten prepared in puffs.

There are very few nightclubs in Nimes, with most people opting to spend the night in bars and cafes, some of which (like the Café Carree by the temple) stay open until 3am or later. A smoky, atmospheric jazz club, Bar le Diagonale is on rue Emile-Jamias.

Three times a year Nimes really parties, when the bullfighting ferias roll into town. The bullfighting tournaments and amateur competitions take place against a backdrop of street parties and serious sangria drinking. Many ordinary residents set up alcohol and snack stalls in their gardens or on street corners to facilitate the merriment. The most famous and most wild of the ferias takes place over the Whitsun weekend – book ahead if you want to be there, as one million people have the same idea each year.

Big events, from rock concerts to symphony or chamber orchestra concerts, take place in the amphitheatre, and if you get the chance, it would be a shame to miss the experience. Ask at the tourist office to find out what’s on during your stay.

Tourist Information

  • Office de Tourisme de Nimes, 6 rue Auguste - 30020 NIMES Cedex 1
  • Phone: +33 (0)4 66 58 35 00
  • Fax: +33 (0)4 66 58 38 01
  • Website:


Ryanair is the only UK airline to fly to Nimes-Arles-Camargue airport, and flies from London Stansted, Luton, Nottingham and Liverpool. The airport is 20km south-east of Nimes, and a shuttle-bus ferries people to and from the town-centre.

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