Welcome to Montpellier, France!
Situated on France’s southern coast between the resorts of Nice and Cannes, This often-overlooked destination is easy to access via the Paris to Montpellier train and boasts a rich history and strong cultural identity. An important university town, this is the perfect destination to really get to know Mediterranean France.
While the glitz-and-glam of the French Riviera has somewhat bypassed humble Montpellier, the worldwide local will find a city brimming with charm and self-confidence. By exploring beyond the traditional tourist route, you will sample and embrace the true provincial lifestyle!
Where to Begin
Stepping out of Montpellier Airport, you may feel overwhelmed by options. At the heart of the city, the beautiful Place de la Comédie makes a great starting point. Join the locals for a Croissant and a cup of coffee in one of the charming cafés that line the square, and simply enjoy watching the world go by. The pace of life here is tangibly slower than other large cities. The Cathedral of Saint Pierre is one of the city’s best-known sites, along with the impressive Place Royale du Peyrou, a magnificent arch set in beautifully landscaped gardens just outside of the old town. Architecture enthusiasts will be in awe of the 18th-century, double-levelled Saint-Clément Aqueduct, directly behind the gardens.
Worldwide Local Tip: Montpellier’s wonderful Parc Zoologique is home to a marvelous collection of plants and animals from around the world, and makes a great escape from the town center. Best of all, entrance is completely free!
The streets of the old town are typically narrow and often congested, making walking the preferred and most efficient mode of transportation when the Montpellier weather permits. With such a rich array of historic buildings, charming boutiques, and enticing restaurants, this is also the best way to get to understand Montpellier on a street level. Cycling is another popular option, with an extensive network of dedicated cycle paths, and the excellent VéloMagg bicycle rental service available across the city. If you find yourself needing to travel further abroad from your Montpellier hotel, the excellent tram network is both fast and cheap and covers most of the areas that visitors would want to access.
Worldwide Local Tip: VéloMagg is a short-term bicycle rental system available across Montpellier, and is an excellent option for visitors wanting to get around independently. Simply register in one of the manned offices, near the central train station, to enjoy bike rental for just a few euros per day.
Visit Antigone for Diversity and Stunning Architecture
For a total contrast to the grand streets of the old city center, take some time out to explore the diverse and fascinating district of Antigone, just east of the city. The brainchild of Spanish architecture is Ricardo Bofill. The district is home to an intriguing array of neo-classical buildings, on a vast scale. From the Place de la Comédie, it takes around 20 minutes to walk right through the district as far as the river, giving you a chance to experience this whole other side of Montpellier.
Worldwide Local Tip: On a sunny day, the beautifully landscaped Charles de Gaulle Esplanade makes a beautiful escape. A popular picnic and hangout spot for locals, the park used to have a dubious reputation after dark, although this has improved significantly in recent years.
Eat Like a Local
Despite its relatively small size, Montpellier is a highly cosmopolitan city, a fact that is reflected in the diverse range of cuisines available in the town. For visitors seeking the classic French experience, the area immediately surrounding the Place de la Comédie is filled with a vast selection of cafes and bistros. Take your time to check out menus, as prices can vary wildly. A good rule of thumb is that the busiest restaurants are likely to offer the best value; so it can be worth merely following the crowd. Keep your eye out for the set, prix fixe (fixed price) menus, for added value. Being in the heart of French wine country, there is no shortage of excellent wines available, almost all of which are produced locally. If you are unfamiliar with French wine, most waiters will be pleased to offer a recommendation, just ask.
Worldwide Local Tip: Despite its name, Beer o’Clock on Rue en Gondeau is one of Montpellier’s more hip hangouts, serving up an extensive selection of beers and wines, along with some tasty snacks. Sip on a pint and chat with a local about the popular Montpellier FC.
Enjoy Your Stay!
What Montpellier may lack in glitz-and-glam, it makes up for in character. For a true worldwide local, this oasis of culture in the heart of the French Riviera is a dream destination that, much like the excellent food and wine, will leave a lasting impression.