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8 Best things to see & do in Arles

  • Arles, Provence, France

Last updated: 28 June, 2023
Expert travel writer: Dana Facaros
  • Arles, Provence, France

Aerial view down on the amphitheater surrounded by houses

Bucket List Experience

Arles Amphitheatre

Set on a low hill, this is the biggest and one of the best-preserved Roman amphitheatres in France, where 20,000 would come to watch gladiators fight to the death. Built in the late 1st century AD, it was inspired by Rome’s Coliseum, which had been built a decade earlier – and was later converted into a fortress in the Middle Ages (an era from which three towers still survive). Originally the amphitheatre had a third level of arcades, but even now there are lovely views over the rosy tile rooms of Arles from the top level.

A designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s now used an arena again, it’s used for bullfights during Arles’ Easter and September festivals, as well as the bloodless Courses Camarguaises bullfights, and occasional gladiatorial re-enactments.

Be sure to visit the ancient theatre, too, which is included in the ticket – built in the century before the amphitheatre, it’s not as well-preserved, but still used for performances.

Adult price: £8

Good for age: 13+

  • Arles, Provence, France

man dodging away from a bull in the arena

Bucket List Experience

Courses Camarguaises

Courses Camarguaises are bloodless bullfights, unique to Provence, where razeteurs (young men) dressed in white compete to seize a cockade, tied between the horns of a bull. Their only defense is to vault over the boards whenever the bull charges.

Unlike in bullfighting, the bulls are the stars of the show, not the ‘bullfighters’ i.e. razeteurs, even though some razeteurs achieve some local fame and notoriety. Each bull has his own name and identity – some become local ‘heroes’, with long ‘careers’ and even secure an honoury statue. The Camargue bull breed has long been recognised and valued for their speed, spirit, intelligence and fighting prowess (much more than their work ethic), and are specially bred for the occasion.

There are numerous such ‘Courses’ held through the spring and summer months, many accompanying various Provence festivals, but the ‘big one’, the main event, is the Cocarde d’Or that takes place on the first Monday in July. The tournament is staged in the evocative setting of Les Arènes, Arles’ ancient Roman amphitheatre, and includes a colourful parade of traditional costumes. Not only is the best razeteur crowned, but the bravest bull is chosen as well – a great honour for its manade (ranch).

Because this is a bloodless sport, it’s a great way of getting a taste of the tradition of bullfighting, without the gore. It’s also an opportunity to experience a cultural phenomenon in a magnificent Roman setting.

Adult price: £8

Good for age: 8+

Duration: 1+ hours

When: April-October

Freq: monthly

  • Arles, Provence, France

The Langlois Bridge beside a replica of a Van Gogh painting

Bucket List Experience

Van Gogh Walk in Arles

As prime spots where Van Gogh lived and painted, the towns of Arles and Saint-Remy both regret not hanging on to any of Van Gogh’s original works while he was alive. To make up for it, each has set up a self-guided Van Gogh Walk, pinpointing the scenic spots where the master planted his easel.

When doing the walk in Arles, spare some time to see the Espace Van Gogh in the former hospital on Place du Dr Félix Rey, where he had his ear stitched up and was later locked up. Inside you’ll find exhibits chronicling his stay. The hospital’s courtyard has been remodelled to resemble as closely as possible his famous painting ‘Le Jardin de l’Hôtel de Dieu’. You’ll also pass by the Reattu Fine Arts Museum, which houses many of Van Gogh letters, and the famous Café Terrace on the Place du Forum.

Good for age: 13+

Duration: 1-2 hours

  • Arles, Provence, France

The exterior of the museum, with a path dotted with benches leading to it

Bucket List Experience

Arles Museum of Antiquity

Located alongside Arles’ Roman circus, where chariots once stormed around the track, this museum houses the city’s ever-expanding collection of finds from the region – dating from prehistoric times until the 6th century AD.

Housed in a striking triangular building designed by Henri Ciriani, the exhibits include Roman sculpture, ceramics, mosaics, scale models of Roman Arles, everyday items, and elaborate sarcophagi from the Alyscamps cemetery.

It also contains what some claim is the oldest known bust of Julius Caesar (founder of Roman Arles), which was discovered in the Rhone in 2007. Hortus, next to the museum in the ruins of the ancient circus, is the recreation of a Roman garden and frequently offers activities and ancient Roman games for children.

Adult price: £5

Good for age: 18+

Les Alyscamps

  • Arles, Provence, France

View into a graveyard with old ruin walls around

Experience

An evocative, romantic Roman burial ground – once the most famous cemetery in medieval Europe. It’s the burial site of the legendary St Trophime and the first bishops of Arles, and remains an important stop on the pilgrimage to Compostela.

Good for age: 18+

Vincent Van Gogh Foundation

  • Arles, Provence, France

A low white wall painted with Van Gogh's signature

Experience

Arles is world-famous thanks to Van Gogh, but to the city’s eternal regret no one bought any of his paintings. This foundation, in the newly renovated Hotel Leautaud de Donines, is dedicated to art exhibitions inspired by the artist.

Adult price: £9

Good for age: 18+

  • Arles, Provence, France

A man on horseback shepherds black bulls through a cloud of smoke

Bucket List Experience

The Camargue

Quintessential to the mystique of the Provence region, La Camargue – the enormous Rhone delta just south of Arles – is Western Europe’s largest river delta and home to an important range of flora and wildlife, including nearly 400 species of bird. Almost 140,000 hectares are declared a national park.

Local tour operators in Arles and les Saintes-Maries offer 4WD drive wildlife safaris and zodiac river safaris into remote areas; in winter, sand yachting on the long empty beaches is also possible.

There are a number of cycle paths into the Camargue from the little coastal town of Les Saintes-Maries, where you can also find bikes to rent.

Other visitors come for the wild beaches by the picturesque seaside town of Les Saintes Maries-de-la-Mer, dominated by its famous fortified Romanesque church.

Good for age: 18+

Luma

  • Arles, Provence, France

Luma

Experience

Frank Gehry’s striking crumpled silver tower houses the enormous project of the art-and Arles-loving billionaire heiress Maja Hoffmann, to create a new art gallery and new space for artists. Worth going to admire the architecture, if nothing else.

Good for age: 18+