Everyone knows that the south of France is a world-renown travel destination for sun-seekers and lovers of sultry climates, and the charming provincial town of Aix-en-Provence is no exception to that!
Aix-en-Provence – or just Aix for short – is an underrated destination along southern France’s Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region, despite its fame as the birthplace and inspiration of the iconic impressionist artist Paul Cézanne.
But with all the things to do in Aix en Provence, along with its elegant avenues, fountains and quaint ruelles (tiny streets), Aix is becoming a popular tourist’s must-see destination to discover the laid-back and endearing southern French culture.
I myself am a victim of Aix’s charm! Back in 2017, I lived for 6 months in Aix where I studied international humanitarian law at the French university of Paul Cézanne III. I vividly remember sunny, clear skies nearly every day and when outside the uni I couldn’t help but scour Aix-en-Provence in search of the best things to do, places to eat, local hotspots, you name it!
So without further ado…
Here’s my ultimate guide to Aix-en-Provence and my compilation for the best things to do, see, eat, and more!
Best Things to Do in Aix-en-Provence, France
Here’s a handy interactive map of top activities and places to see in Aix-en-Provence. I’ve indicated some of my favorite sights and must-dos, so feel free to click around!
Aix-en-Provence might surprise you with just how much there is to do in and around this charming town, many of which you’ll find right in the heart of Aix’s historic center.
Here is the best of Aix-en-Provence for things to do and see including some of my favorite day trips to nearby towns and attractions.
1. Stroll down the grandiose avenue of Le Cours Mirabeau
Strolling down the elegant Cours Mirabeau is the first thing you should do when arriving in Aix-en-Provence. Even if it’s just to marvel at its tree-lined avenue brimming with activity, making your way here first will help you navigate your way around in Aix for the next coming days.
2. Indulge in the best homemade madeleines in France at Madeleines de Christophe
At the top of your Aix bucket list should be eating the madeleines handmade and baked by Christophe and his wife at Madeleines de Christophe. They are honestly bites of heaven! Their street-front shop is just a small hole-in-the-wall. You can order by the half dozen or dozen and can mix and match the flavors. Try the lemon, praline, and chocolate madeleines!
3. Get lost in Aix’s charming, pedestrian-only streets
At the heart of Aix-en-Provence lies Aix’s charming historic center free from cars and bicycles. It’s quite the maze to navigate, so the best you can do is to just explore and get lost! Take note of your favorite streets you wish to revisit later.
Some of my favorite streets to wander around Aix are Rue des Tanneurs, Rue Gaston de Saporta, Rue de la Vallerie, Rue Tournefort, Rue Gibelin, and Rue Marechal Foch, among others!
4. Visit the Atelier de Paul Cezanne (Cezanne’s Art Studio)
Paul Cezanne’s art studio is now home to a small museum featuring his real-life working tools, furniture, and some of his best artistic creations. You can visit alone with an audio tour or with a guide and tickets range from around 6-10 euros. Learn more or book a Cezanne + wine package here.
5. Dine outside on a trendy restaurant terrace at La Place des Cardeurs
At the heart of Aix’s pedestrian-only center lies a large, charming square called La Place des Cardeurs. It’s here in this cobblestone plaza where you can find some of the best places to eat in Aix-en-Provence.
During summer, the restaurants offer outdoor seating on cute terraces. In winter, many of these restaurants will have outdoor heating or will have covered indoor-outdoor patios.
Fun fact: I actually lived right near this plaza for six months in an equally-charming 1 bedroom apartment!
La Place des Cardeurs
6. Visit the Arts Center inside the Hôtel de Caumont
The Hôtel de Caumont and art center boasts a gorgeous mansion with impressive art exhibitions, gardens, and an on-site cafe, all elegantly on full display at this 18th-century mansion! If you’re eager to discover the exquisite taste of southern French life and art, a tour of the Hotel de Caumont is a must while in Aix. A good alternative would be the Hotel Des Arts, a 4-minute walk from the center.
7. Check out the moss-covered rock fountain (Fontaine Moussue)
The moss-covered rock fountain or Fontaine Moussue is one of the most visited fountains in Aix as it sits along the popular Cours Mirabeau. You’ll probably pass by it without realizing it, it’s not that big and impressive, but it’s worth checking out nonetheless as Aix is famous for its fountains.
8. Shop organic produce & local goods at the outdoor market Le Grand Marche
Le Grand Marche or outdoor market is where all the locals go shopping for local organic produce, bread, cheese, and loads more. I found some of the best-tasting green olives with roasted garlic I’ve ever had at this market in Aix. So good! The outdoor market in Aix-en-Provence was one of my favorite things to do. And if I went back today, you bet I’d go back here in a heartbeat!
You can find it by going just south of the Hotel de Ville plaza or by looking at my Aix-en-Provence map above.
9. Hike up the Sainte Victoire mountain
Aix-en-Provence has breathtaking countryside landscapes, including some great biking and hiking opportunities! Just a short drive or bus ride from Aix is a hiking path up to the Sainte Victoire mountain. If you make it to the top (careful, it gets steep!) you will be rewarded with panoramic views of Aix and beyond. Once you’re at the path, the way to the top is easily navigable. Just follow the signs! You can also tour Mont Sainte Victoire by e-bike!
Atop Mont Sainte Victoire!
10. Marvel at the Cathedrale Saint Sauveur d’Aix en Provence
The Cathedral of Aix-en-Provence or Cathedrale Saint Sauveur is one of the most prominent historic structures in all of Aix. Its Roman-Catholic style features relics from the 15th and 16th centuries and the cathedral itself sits on the ancient Roman forum which dates back to the 1st century! The entrance is free and open to the public.
11. Buy a box of Petits Calissons (a specialty patisserie from Aix)
Calissons are very much iconic of Aix-en-Provence, France which is renowned for being the “capital of Calissons.” But what are calissons, anyway? They are a traditional sweet made by confectioners using ground almonds, a paste of dried melon fruits, topped with a thin layer of icing. If you come to Aix, make sure to try this local specialty! The Calissons du Roy René are some of the best you can find in Aix en Provence.
Les petits Calissons and bags of fresh herbes de Provence
12. Grab a bag of fresh Herbs de Provence
Speaking of Aix-en-Provence specialties, you’re likely to be familiar with the famous herbes de Provence. Did you know that these staple cooking herbs come from the Provence region in France? You can find fresh little baggies of these herbs at the outdoor market in Aix.
13. Discover the baroque-style square at the historic Place d’Albertas
La Place d’Albertas is a hidden little square featuring baroque-style architecture with a central fountain. This early 18th-century square once belonged to one of the most influential families in Aix. The square is lined by four identical mansions with matching windows and cast-irons bars.
La Place d’Albertas
14. Take home an authentic Savon de Marseille
Marseille is another must-see town along the southern French coast, and its influence definitely drips over into Aix-en-Provence a bit. As such, you can find authentic savon de Marseille right here in Aix where, funnily enough, there are lots of organic and natural soap stores. In addition to the famous savon de Marseille is also the ancient Aleppo soap which Paul and I bought frequently.
15. Drink a fresh Panache out on La Place d’Hotel de Ville (City Hall Plaza)
Panaché is a typical French drink (sometimes referred to as a shandy in other countries) that is a go-to summer’s drink in the south of France. If you’re watchful, you’ll see lots of locals drinking panaches out on restaurant terraces as they soak up the sultry Aix weather and sun rays. One of the top squares or plazas to grab a drink and hang out is on the plaza at Hotel de Ville.
Hotel de Ville in Aix-en-Provence, France
16. Go for a walk or run in the scenic Parc Jourdan
The Parc Jourdan sits just outside Aix’s historic center on the outskirts of town. The park is a great place to go for a bit of nature in the city. It features a small lake, a nice walking or running trail, and lots of grassy lawn space to enjoy a picnic! Try to go during the week when it’s less crowded, though, as the park tends to attract lots of families on the weekends.
17. Snap a picture of La Fontaine de la Rotonde
La Fontaine de la Rotonde is the giant round-about where the driving routes of Aix meet the historic, pedestrian-only center. The fountain itself is quite impressive, adorned with a curated flower bed, and a towering statue in the middle.
Fontaine de la Rotonde
18. Dine on a fresh pot of Moules-Frites
Dining on a dish of fresh moules-frites is quite typical of local life in Aix-en-Provence. Since Aix is so close to the sea, the seafood is generally of superb quality here. If you don’t know moules-frites, it’s originally a Belgian dish of a saucy pot of steamed mussels with a plate of fries. However, France is probably one of the top consumers of moules-frites and the French really love it.
19. Ride on the Aix trolley around the historic center
One thing to do in Aix that will give your sore feet a rest is to ride the Aix tourist trolley. The train will take you around the winding streets of the historic center so you can discover some of the best attractions and historic sights of the city. It’s a great way to learn more about Aix-en-Provence.
Aix has such cute colors and windows all around the historic center
20. Get a scrumptious lemon-sugar crêpe from the underground tunnel
If you want to try authentic French crêpes, I have just the place for you! The location might surprise you, however. Find the underground pedestrian tunnel near the round-about and Apple store. It’s down there, in a small alleyway, that you’ll find some of the biggest and delicious (and cheap) French crepes. A lemon-sugar crepe is a French classic, especially if you aren’t a Nutella eater.
21. Visit the lavender fields in Valensole
The lavender fields of France have become especially popular among young travelers and users of Instagram. If you have extra time to spare in Aix-en-Provence, then consider a day trip to the lavender fields at Valensole. Valensole lies about an hour’s drive away from Aix. So you’ll likely need a car or rent one to make the day trip. Alternatively, to get there you could consider carpooling via the BlaBlaCar app which is widely used throughout France.
Valensole lavender fields
While you’re exploring Provence, make sure to take a trip to the Gorges du Verdon and kayak on the Gatorade-blue water!
22. Watch a movie at the local theatre
Aix-en-Provence is a small enough city where you can find a good local theatre featuring local films but also a big enough city to watch new international movies without dubbing. Watching a movie is one of the best things to do in Aix-en-Provence on a rainy day (although it doesn’t rain here often).
23. Go on a scavenger hunt to find all the ~250 fountains in Aix
Did you know that there were around 250 fountains scattered around the city? Some fountains are public, but there are ones that are private and you are unlikely to find or have access to. Nonetheless, Aix-en-Provence is renowned as the City of a Thousand Fountains – and for good reason!
24. Don’t miss the Fountain of Four Dolphins!
Speaking of Aix’s fountains, an interesting fountain to see at the center part of a small round-about sits the Fountain of Four Dolphins (Quatre Dauphins).
25. Stop by the historic art museum at Musée Granet
If you enjoy arts such as painting, archeology, and sculptures, then you must visit the Musée Granet in Aix-en-Provence. It is definitely worth a visit to see all the diverse paintings and artwork on display. There are guided tours in several languages including English, German, French, and Spanish.
26. Visit the nearby Bimont Dam
A fun thing to do around Aix-en-Provence is to visit the Bimont Dam. The dam is a popular tourist attraction with the turquoise-blue lake and nearby scenic footpaths and trails. You could combine this trip with a visit to the Lac du Bimont and enjoy the sunny weather beyond Aix’s historic streets.
27. Go wine tasting in the provincial countryside
A wine tour in Aix-en-Provence will have you exploring the countryside around the scenic Mont Sainte Victor and surrounding landscapes which is what sparked Paul Cezanne’s inspiration. Aix en Provence is no doubt one of the region’s most charming towns to base yourself from for an authentic French wine experience.
28. Tour the Camp des Milles (Historic Internment Camp)
Aix-en-Provence is home to the French internment and deportation camp from 1939-1942, Le Camp des Milles. It sits outside Aix’s center in what was once a tile factory nearby a smaller village called Les Milles. It was the cruel Vichy government, under the Nazi rule, that created this camp in order to detain and deport immigrant Jews to German concentration camps.
I once attended a play and several workshops here for my master’s studies, it is quite a mysterious and grim place to visit, but important for Aix-en-Provence’s history and education nonetheless. You can learn more about it here.
29. Explore the 13th-century Gothic church of Saint Jean-de-Malte
The first of its kind in all of France, the Gothic-Roman-Catholic church of St. John’s (L’Église St-Jean de Malte) is a late 13th-century fortified church built on the ramparts of the city. It is open to the public for visitations, making it one of the best free things to do in Aix-en-Provence!
30. Take a day trip to swim in Les Calenques de Marseille
And finally, if you’ve exhausted all there is to do in Aix and are seeking some fun in the sun, take a short drive to the Calenques de Marseille. Les calenques are little turquoise inlets along where rocky land meets the Medittarean sea, forming small little beaches and pools with clear water ideal for swimming and soaking up southern France’s hot sun rays.
One of the many beautiful calenques de Marseille
Where to Stay in Aix?
The best places to stay in Aix are going to be somewhere in the heart of the city center. That way, you can easily get around on foot without having to take transportation, unless you go on a day trip or hiking out to Mont Sainte Victoire.
Aix-en-Provence is generally an expensive city. It’s tasteful and quite upscale, but there are a few budget-friendly options if you want to avoid luxury hotels.
Featured hotel in Aix en Provence: Maison d’Aix is an exceptionally-rated charming and down-to-earth hotel featuring a spa, breakfast, and terrace with garden views. And the best part is that it’s a quick 3-minute walk to the central hub of activity in Aix – Le Cours Mirabeau avenue.
Best Restaurants & What to Eat in Aix
I highlight several locations to eat on my Aix map at the beginning of this article, but I want to reiterate it here and drop some names!
Best spots to find restaurants to eat in Aix en Provence:
- La Place des Cardeurs
- L’Hotel de Ville
- Place des Augustins
- Around the Rue des Tanneurs and Rue d’Italie
Favorite restaurants and places to eat:
- Tapas Cafe
- Le Poivre d’Ane
- Le bouche à Oreille
- Les Vielles Canailles
- La Cocina Negra
- El Bolero
- among others!
Shopping in Aix-en-Provence
You can find shopping practically anywhere in Aix-en-Provence but the most popular places to shop can be found down Cours Mirabeau, beside the Avenue des Belges, and in the heart of the city around the Hotel de Ville. Rue Fabrot and Rue Espariat have higher-end shops as well, and even though I didn’t buy anything it was nice to stroll around the shops here.
How to Get Around Aix-en-Provence
Once you’re in the historic center, there’s no need to find public transport to get around Aix. You can basically walk to the top sights and attractions in Aix en Provence and reaching most places within 20 minutes on foot.
Aix Train Station: A convenient way to get around Aix and the nearby villages is via train travel. The Gare SNCF is 15-minutes outside of Aix and connects you to major cities in France like Lyon or Paris. But if you want to travel around the region, for example to Marseille, you should take the train within Aix’s city center near the Cours Mirabeau.
Aix-en-Provence Buses: The bus center is a short walk from downtown and takes you to most smaller villages around Aix, with a service that will take you to Mont Sainte Victoire as well.
Aix by bike: If not on foot, I try to ride a bike wherever I go. But Aix isn’t really made for bicycles. With all the winding streets and cobblestone alleyways in the heart of Aix, traveling by bike is only good for the city outskirts.
Aix-en-Provence Weather: When to Visit?
Aix-en-Provence has an attractive climate year-round as it is so near to the Mediterranean sea. It can get cold in the winter months, but by February/March you can easily sit outside with a light jacket and enjoy a beer on a restaurant terrace.
While winter is more or less mild, the summers in southern France are notorious for getting very hot (above 85 Fahrenheit or 30 degrees Celcius). July and August are the hottest months – hence why many people make the day trip to les calenques de Marseille to cool off in the sea.
Aix-en-Provence has so much to offer in the way of cultural activities and things to do both indoor and outdoor!
Aix is sometimes dubbed as the little Paris because of how expensive it can be, especially if you live there but this cultural “bourgeoisie” feeling can be felt even if you’re traveling in Aix en Provence for just a few days.
So what do you think? Are you adding Aix-en-Provence, France to your bucket list? I hope you are able to use this Aix en Provence travel guide to help plan your trip!
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