Perpignan’s terracotta roofs, rich culture and 320 annual days of sunshine make it feel more Spanish than French, and in a way, it is. For centuries, Perpignan was an important commercial city in Catalonia – an autonomous region spanning parts of what are now France and Spain. Catalonia had its own rulers, language and customs, and Perpignan remains soaked in Catalan culture to this day, despite having become part of France in 1659.

Salvador Dali once proclaimed Perpignan train station to be the centre of the universe. This chemically-induced judgement may be a little far off, but Perpignan is at least a great regional centre from which to peep into Spain (just 30km away,) explore the nearby Pyrenees, and day-trip to the Vermeille Coast.


There are a couple of impressive monuments in Perpignan. The Palais des Rois de Majorque, built in 1276 to house the kings of Majorca, sits atop a small hill surrounded by ramparts. Lions used to be kept in the dried-up moat as an added disincentive to invaders. Visitors today are made much more welcome, and can (for a small fee) wander the courtyard and gothic buildings.

The other must-see monument is The Castillet. Part fortress part gate-tower, this imposing red-brick structure is all that remains of the walls that used to surround the city (the rest were removed in the early 20th century to make space for development.) Inside is an excellent museum (Casa Pairal) devoted to all things Catalan, from costumes and crafts to an entire 17th century Catalan kitchen. Climb to the roof of The Castillet to find a pleasant terrace with great views across Perpignan.

Back on ground level, the heart of the old town is the Place de la Loge, home to fine old stone buildings and lively street life. Make sure to pass through on Sunday morning, when locals young and old gather here to dance the sardane together, folk dance of the Catalans.

Nature-enthusiasts won’t want to miss the Jardin Exotique de la Digue D'orry. 13,000 square metres of carefully tended gardens line the bank of the River Tet, displaying over 280 species from across the world. For those less engrossed by the horticulture, the pools, orange trees and lawns make it a great spot for a picnic or snooze.

The rue Sant Vicens holds a little-known treasure – a house and garden that formed a refuge a meeting place for artists and potters. Dali, Picasso, Conrad Paris, Jacques Poussine, Charles Trenet and Roger Vadim all came here seeking inspiration. Today, visitors can explore the garden as well as an art gallery, a room of antiques and an 'art of wine' storeroom. Local merchants also meet here to sell Catalan pottery, carpets and furniture.

As well as these permanent fixtures, Perpignan plays host to an array of festivals, the most notable being September’s world-class Photojournalism Exhibition. To find out what’s happening during your stay, pick up a copy of L’Agenda from the tourist office.


Perpignan is a regional trading centre, making it a shopper’s paradise. A pleasant Saturday morning can be spent browsing for bargains at the bric-a-brac market on the leafy Allees des Platanes, or if high fashion has more appeal, one-off boutiques pepper the rue des Anges. Classy French department store the Galeries Lafayette flaunts four floors of the latest styles.

The peckish should head to the rue Paratilla, lined with shops offering regional gastronomic delicacies (wines, collioure anchovies and round, white rousquilles biscuits make perfect gifts). If you’re looking to spend a little more on a loved-one back home, Perpignan’s jewellers make and sell beautiful rings, necklaces and brooches containing garnets mined from the nearby Pyrenees.

Visitors lucky enough to be in Perpignan at the time of its medieval market (usually a weekend in September) will find themselves whisked back to the Middle Ages, when this thriving city was home to the kings of Majorca. Food-sellers don medieval costumes as they recreate the sounds, smells and products of the era (many of them meaty) whilst blacksmiths, tanners, basket-weavers and potters all demonstrate their skills. Street performers and touring theatre companies entertain the shoppers with juggling, fire-eating and plays.

Nightlife and Eating Out

If you’re keen to try traditional Catalan fare (calamari, salted smoked ham, fish soup, crema catalana) head for the areas around the station and theatre, where restaurants range from the inexpensive to the elegant and pricey. Catalan food not your thing? As you’d expect from a modern city, there is food to suit any taste, from Indian or Italian to straightforward French.

Perpignan’s Spanish soul really emerges when the sun sets. People sit drinking at the bars around the place de la Loge and snack on tapas before heading off to dance. Perpignan stays up late - the clubs don’t even open until 11. Le Milord is the city’s biggest and most popular nightclub, though there are more intimate places to be found.

For two special days in midsummer, though, you’d be crazy to hide away in a nightclub. The Festa Major is an explosion of fire, colour and pyrotechnics, although its roots are old and pagan. A flame, kept alight all year round in The Castillet, is carried to the top of the sacred Canigou Mountain, where it is divided and carried through the night by fell-runners, who use their torches to light bonfires in Catalan villages on both sides of the border. The following night, Perpignan celebrates the return of the flame with a mixture of old customs and new: music, fireworks, lasers and sardane dancing all play a part in the festivities.

Tourist Information

Perpignan Tourist OfficePalais des Congrès - Place Armand Lanoux - BP 40215 66002 Perpignan CedexTel: 0468663030Fax:


Perpignan has its own small airport, 3 miles outside the city. You can fly there with Aeris, Air France, Flybe or Ryanair. A regular bus runs from the airport to the central train station.

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