Of all the villages and seaside cities in the South of France, Perpignan is usually isn’t at the top of tourists’ bucket lists. In fact, this city doesn’t have the most glamorous reputation; poverty and unemployment have had a severe impact on the local perpignanais. Despite economic tension, this underrated destination is not lacking in spirit or culture. Keep reading to find out why you should add “Perpi” to your South of France trip and what I would recommend on a day trip to this sunny city.
Why visit Perpigan?
1. Mix of Cultures
Perpignan is one of the most Southern cities in France, close to the French-Spanish border. It’s actually a part of French Catalonia! People here speak mostly French, but there are quite a few speakers of Catalan, the same language spoken in Barcelona. This language is a charming mixture of French and Spanish, so if you speak both of those romance languages, you’re bound to understand some Catalan. Many of the street signs are bilingual, so you can learn some new vocabulary just by walking around. I also love the mix of cuisines; here you can enjoy French specialties like wine, cheese, pastries and more as well as Catalan tapas and seafood. I also can’t forget to mention the warm hospitality of the residents here; people here seem to be kinder to strangers than in the bustling Parisian capital or maybe it’s just the musical Southern accent!
First of all, who wouldn’t want to travel to the South of France? The weather here is almost always sunny and each little town has so much charm. Perpignan is unique because it is strategically located between the Mediterranean sea and the Pyrenees mountains. From the city center you can take the bus, rent, a car, and/or cycle to the beaches less than 15 kilometers away. Eager to escape on a hike after visiting the city? You can take a bus for 1€ and be transported into the heart of the Pyrénées catalanes. Want to visit Spain? Perpignan is close to the border, so it would be easy to visit Perpignan on the way to Spain.
The Perpignan area was once occupied by ancient Romans, much like the rest of Southern France. It became a town in the Middle ages and was the capital of the Rousillon region. In the 1200’s, it became the capital of the Kingdom of Majorca when the King of Aragon took over the area. Perpignan eventually became part of France again after being captured in the Thirty Years War. You can learn even more about the history of this multicultural city by visiting some of the historical sites that still exist today! Keep reading to find out my suggestions on what to do, eat, and see in Perpinyà.
A local’s guide:
Once you arrive in Perpignan, you might feel hungry. If stopping in a boulangerie for breakfast, I would recommend the bakery le Levain d’Hélios. Pick up some croissants or a baguette to share, then you’ll be ready for your adventure! If you are looking for a sit down place to have your p’tit déj, Coffee Mood serves brunch!
Make your way towards the historical center of town and visit the city’s most iconic monument, the Castillet. This little castle was once an ancient fortification, but now it’s the Museu Català de les Arts i Tradicions Populars. For just 2€ you can learn about the city’s history, explore the fort, and have a panoramic view of the city!
Place de la Loge
After the Castillet, it’s worth heading over to the tourist office in the Place de la Loge, which is only a minute away. Here you can pick up a map and ask the local guides any questions you have about the city. If you want to do something fun, but touristy, you can hop on the petit train de Perpignan, which will take you on a guided tour of the city. Next to the office de tourisme, in the same building, is the Hôtel de Ville, which is free to visit. You might be wondering why you would want to visit the Mayor’s office. The interior is quite ornate and you can see a salle des mariages, the room where locals must go for the civil marriage ceremony.
Cathedral and Campo Santo
There are quite a few churches in Perpignan, but if you can only visit one, go to the Cathedral Saint Jean Baptiste. Inside the Cathedral, there is a rotating art exhibit. When I visited, there were a series of photos of former president, Jaques Chirac. Next to the cathedral is the Campo Santo, a cloister cemetery with gothic style galleries.
The Musée d’Art Hyacinthe Rigaud is named after the local painter. In this fine art museum you can find baroque style art as well as collections that represent Perpignan’s history from the 15th to 20th centuries. For something different, check out the Natural History Museum and see some taxidermy as well as a mummy!
Where to Eat Lunch
After walking around all morning you’re probably ready for lunch, but where to eat? If the weather is nice (it usually is here in the South!) I would recommend having burger sur terrace at Torcatis en Ville Burgers Maison – they even have a veggie burger! I would also recommend checking out Les Halles Vauban, which is an indoor food market. This place is perfect if you and your travel companions can’t decide on what to eat. In les Halles there is a wide variety of food stands from traditional French cuisine, to tapas, and more! The back patio is perfect for dining or even just grabbing a drink.
If you’re anything like me, you might find that going on a long walk after eating helps with digestion. Some of my favorite strolls in Perpignan include walking along the Basse, a tributary of the river Têt. On the Pont de Guerre, you can have a lovely view of the Canigou mountain. If you want a more shady and secluded walk, head down les Allées Maillol to the Square Bir Hakeim. My favorite part of this park is the cactus garden where you can find all kinds of cacti, succulents, and flowers.
Palais des Rois de Majorque
Along with the Castillet, the Palace of the Kings of Majorca is one of Perpignan’s most iconic monuments. This gothic palace was completed in 1309 and is made of various stones including red marble. This palais is a must for learning about the city’s history and for having the best view of the city. You can even see the Pyrenees mountains from up there!
Boutique Shopping and Souvenirs
You can’t leave Perpignan without bringing home a little Catalan treasure! The best boutiques can be found in the city center on streets like rue de l’ange, rue de la cloche d’or, and rue Mailly. Pick up some Catalan spices, turrón, rousquilles, donkey milk soap (sounds weird, but it’s actually good) and more at the Épicerie Detal Sala. Or pick up a pair of handmade espadrille shoes which originated in Catalonia!
Enjoy the rest of the late afternoon like the French with an afternoon café or drink. Head to la Place de la République and sit at the terrace of any café and enjoy the view. Unlike Paris, Southern French cities are more likely to have big open squares. Even in the winter you can find folks out in the square people watching, taking their kids to the carousel, and having an after work drink.
Where to Make a Dinner Reservation
If you want to try Catalan food head over to Casa Sansa. I’ve personally never eaten here because they don’t have any vegetarian dishes, but all my friends that have eaten here loved it! If you’re looking for a nice, but low-key restaurant try Native. There is something different on the menu every night and all the food is local! This is also the place to go if you love wine. When ordering your server will ask you what kind of wine you like and then will bring you a glass of a handpicked natural organic wine!
If you aren’t completely exhausted by the end of the day head to the bars to meet some locals or go to a concert! You can find most of the bars around Avenue Général Leclerc. Popular spots include O’Flaherty’s, Les Brunettes, and Babines. If you want to see a show you can go to the Théâtre de l’Archipel for plays and concerts, El Mediator for concerts and DJs, or L’Ubu Jazz for intimate performances by local and guest musicians.
Depending on when you visit, there are cultural events happening all year round. Here are a few for each season worth checking out:
Summer: Visa Pour L’Image – International Photojournalism Festival
Fall: Trobades Médiévales – Medieval Festival
Winter: Marché de Noël – Christmas Market
Spring: Procession de la Sanch -Good Friday Catalonian Tradition
Thank you so much for reading! Let me know in the comments what place in Perpignan you would like to visit most!
À la prochaine,
P.S. Want to see more of Perpignan? Check out my vlogs!
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