In the heart of Provence lies a sunny yellow city loaded with charm and history around every corner. Strolling the streets of Aix-en-Provence, you feel transported into another world. The sunny yellow architecture is reminiscent of an Italian town and the residents dress as chicly as Parisians. Everywhere you look, there is a lovely detail to admire: a rustic fountain, a sunbathed square, a towering church.
Aix-en-Provence has a rich history; like Nîmes, Narbonne, and Arles, this southern French city was once a part of the Roman empire. Later, it became a medieval center of arts and academics and the university of Aix-Marseille has been thriving since 1409. Aix is probably most well known for being the home and birthplace of Post-Impressionist Artist, Paul Cézanne. Surrounding Aix you’ll find plains of vineyards, lavender fields, and other vegetable crops. Northeast of the city sits la Montagne Sainte-Victoire, a limestone ridge that is heavily featured in Cézanne’s works.
A trip to Provence is hardly complete without a trip to it’s historic capital. After finally visiting Aix after several trips to other cities in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region, I realized I didn’t know what I was missing! If you’re dreaming of visiting the south of France someday, keep reading to discover my guide to the best things to do in Aix-en-Provence. As I visited during a time, when restaurants and museums were closed, I’ve included a few off the beaten path activities to try!
Farmers’ Markets of Aix-en-Provence
The best produce in France is without a doubt in the South. The mediterranean climate is perfect for producing all kinds of fruits and veggies, and not to mention, wines. This is why you have to visit the Farmers’ markets in Aix. You can also find souvenirs like jars of honey, savon de Marseille, and sachets de lavende to stuff in your suitcase and bring home. Another great thing about the markets is that often the vendors will offer you free samples! If they don’t automatically offer, you can always ask “Excusez-moi, c’est possible d’essayer…?” before you decide on which product to purchase.
Here are some of my favorite markets in Aix-en-Provence:
Lined with rows of plane trees, Place Richleme is exactly what you picture a provençal square would look like. The Air Bnb where I stayed overlooked the square and early in the morning, I was able to see the producteurs set up their stalls. From my windows I spotted fish mongers, olive vendors, and vegetable stands galore.
Along the Cours Mirabeau, is a pedestrian street lined with fountains. The market along this path isn’t that of a food market, but one of textiles. Summery dresses, leather bags, straw baskets, and artisan jewelry are just a handful of the goods you’ll discover wandering around this market.
Wandering amongst the stalls in the flower market can’t help but bring a smile to your face. At the Place de l’Hôtel de Ville. Although I didn’t purchase a bouquet myself, the wide variety of flower pots made me dream of having my own garden someday.
As a cultural capital, Aix is filled with monuments and museums. Next time I find myself in Aix, the number one museum on my list to visit is Cézanne’s Atelier to see how the artist lived and painted. Unfortunately, museums were closed when I visited, but I was still able to pass by many beautiful monuments and fountains including:
L’Hôtel de ville
L’Eglise Saint-Jean de Malte
La Place d’Albertas
If there is just one specialty from Aix you try, it should be calissons! These candies are made from almond paste and candied melon and can be found everywhere around the city. Some shops and market stands will even offer free samples, so you can try before deciding where to buy. I ended up getting some as a souvenir from Léonard Parli, a fancy confiserie near the train station.
Day Trips from Aix
Although Aix is lovely, it’s a smaller city so if you’re visiting for more than a day, you’ll want to take advantage of all that Provence has to offer! If you’re thinking about taking a day trip or two while staying in Aix, I would recommend:
Exploring the Lavender Fields in Summer
One of my favorite memories in France was visiting the lavender fields in Sault last summer. If you visit Aix in the summer, you must make time to see the lavender! If you don’t have a car you can easily book a tour your guide will pick you up in the city.
Visiting the Barrage de Bimont and Hiking Montagne Sainte-Victoire
An enchanting turquoise lake and an emblematic mountain in one place? Yes, please! For just around 2€ you can hop on a bus in Aix and head to the provençal countryside to see the Bimont lake and climb the mountain Cézanne painted over and over again.
Taking a Big City Break in Marseille
If you’re itching for a little excitement amongst the slow pace of the south, why not hop on a train to Marseille? This sunny city is one of the coolest I’ve ever been too in France and the views of the sea are simply breathtaking.
Wandering the Calanques in Cassis
Want to see the Mediterranean, but the idea of visiting a big city isn’t your vibe? Head on down to the coastal town of Cassis for some wicked good ice cream and rocky seaside walks. I’m already dreaming of going back when it’s warm enough to swim!
Getting Your History Nerd on in Avignon
When I was planning last year’s trip to Provence I put Avignon on my list to see the historical Palais de Papes and Pont d’Avignon. I wasn’t expecting much, but this city really surprised me! From the medieval sites to the sun-kissed stone streets, Avignon was full of delight.
Things to Know Before You Go
A few words of advice before planning your trip Aix-en-Provence.
Trains and Buses
There are two train stations in Aix, the center station and the TGV station. If you are taking a high speed train, you will probably arrive at the TGV station, which is outside the city. However there are shuttle busses aka navettes available that will take you to the center. If you are taking a regional train (TER) you will likely arrive at the Gare Aix-en-Provence Centre, which is about a 10 minute walk from the heart of the city. The bus station, la gare routière is also close to the center train station. If you plan on taking a bus outside the city, make sure you arrive at the station at least 10 minutes in advance so you can find your bus. The one my friend and I took to go to the Barrage de Bimont left from a separate lot than the main one and we barely made it in time!
Where to Stay
I would recommend staying in central Aix for the ambiance, but if you are planning on taking multiple day trips, it might be better to stay closer to the train station. My friend and I were able to find some affordable Air BnBs around 60€ per night. (30€ each).
Can’t get enough of Aix? Check out my mini-vlog from the trip and see Provence through my lens:
Thank you so much for reading my guide to the best things to do in Aix-en-Provence and stay tuned for my next adventure in the South of France!
À la prochaine,