Aix-en-Provence is known as the city of 1,000 fountains, and was founded in the 2nd century BC by the Romans because of its hot springs. It has grown and developed a lot since, and it’s hard now to recognize the Roman remains spread throughout the city (but they’re there, I promise!). Now, Aix-en-Provence is a quintessential Provencal town located about a half-hour north of Marseille, giving it great access to beaches, mountains, and everything else that the region has to offer. The city gives visitors the option of exploring history, art, architecture, or all of the above! I studied abroad in Aix-en-Provence, and absolutely fell in love with the town. The relaxed pace of life, market culture, and 300 days of sun per year help to create a unique and unforgettable atmosphere.
Where to stay in Aix-en-Provence:
There is a wide range of hotel options in Aix-en-Provence, but unfortunately no hostel options. The prices of hotels vary based on the time of year, as Provence definitely has a tourist season. For a great hotel option in the middle of the city center, I recommend Hotel de France. It’s comfortable, perfectly situated in the city, and has a touch of Provencal elegance.
If hotels aren’t your thing or are out of budget, Airbnb is a great option in Aix. (New to Airbnb? Click here to redeem a discount on your first stay!) There are a ton of studios available for under $50 USD per night, and they can usually accommodate at least two people. When booking an Airbnb, the most important thing to look for is location; an apartment in Centre Ville will serve you well. I’ve outlined the area you should aim for in the map below to give you an idea. Anything in this part of town will give you easy access to everything there is to see and do in Aix!
Where to eat in Aix-en-Provence:
Food is one of the best parts about Aix-en-Provence, and let’s be real, France in general! There are so many great spots to try all over the city, it’s hard to narrow it down to just a few. Because of its proximity to Italy and its heritage as a quasi-Mediterranean city, much of the best cuisine in Aix is Italian cuisine with a French flair, so many of my favorites are Italian restaurants. There are, of course, other options throughout the city, and truthfully, it’s rare that you’ll find a subpar meal anywhere.
Côté Cour– This is a restaurant located on the Cours Mirabeau, but tucked away in an inner courtyard. It’s one of the fanciest restaurants in Aix, but it’s also one of the best culinary experiences I’ve ever had. The chef was featured on France’s Top Chef in 2011, so you can say that you’ve eaten at the restaurant of a French celebrity chef!
La Grange– A restaurant located near the Cours Mirabeau, they serve some of the best pizza in the city!
La Pizza– This is a restaurant right next to Place d’Albertas, one of the most beautiful squares in the city (in my opinion!). Their pasta is some of the best in the city!
Les Deux Garcons– This is more a recommendation for an aperitif, but sitting outside at Les Deux Garcons is one of the most quintessentially Aixois things that you can do! It’s one of the oldest cafés in the city, and was a local hangout for Paul Cezanne and Emile Zola while they both lived in Aix-en-Provence. The menu is a little pricier than other cafés, but given the location and atmosphere, it’s a good spot to treat yourself to a Kir Royal or Verre de Rosé.
Tomate & Basilic– For an inexpensive take-away option with excellent food, this is the place to be. They have a good selection of panini sandwiches and pasta that you can eat at the few tables outside the shop, or at any bench or fountain nearby.
What to do in Aix-en-Provence:
There are so many great things to do in and around Aix-en-Provence! The tourism office has begun selling a City Pass, which I recommend if you’re interested in visiting most of the sites that the city and surrounding area has to offer. The City Pass has 3 options (24, 48, and 72 hour), so you can choose what’s best for you given your length of stay. If museums aren’t your thing, you can skip and pay for each item you visit individually, of course, but if you plan to do it all, this will be more cost-effective for you!
*Note: If you’re a student with a valid student ID card, you may spend less without the City Pass as you’ll have access to student rates at most sites & museums. Check to see the prices of the things you’re planning to see and do before committing to the pass!
Visit the markets– Provence, in general, is known for its incredible markets, and the ones in Aix are some of the biggest and most vibrant in the region. There is a produce market almost every day at Place Richelme, and a large market 3 times per week on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. At the large market, you’ll find produce of all varieties, as well as local wine, olive oil, spices, vinegar, lavender, and all sorts of products that are absolutely worth sampling! Besides these two regular markets, you’ll find flower markets, antique book markets, craft markets, and Christmas markets throughout the year depending on the season! Wandering through these markets is one of the best things that you can do, and they’re absolutely free (so long as you can stop yourself from buying everything you walk past, which is tough).
Take a walking tour– The tourism office partners with different guides in the city to offer tours focusing on different parts of Aix-en-Provence. They are €9 each, or are included in the City Pass, and I believe that they’re worth every penny! I’ve taken the Hidden Heritage of Aix tour with the company Le visible est invisible (The Visible is Invisible), run by a tour guide with incredible knowledge about the city. He runs a few other tours as well, in Aix and in surrounding cities, and I can’t recommend them enough.
Follow in Cezanne’s Footsteps– Paul Cezanne grew up and lived in Aix-en-Provence for 70% of his life. The inspiration that the city gave him is evident in many of his works, and the city of Aix is incredibly proud of the heritage and his connection to the city. The main Cezanne attraction in Aix is the Atelier de Cezanne, or Cezanne’s Studio, which is an interesting look into the place where he worked for four years towards the end of his life. Nearby, you’ll find Le terrain des Peintres (The Land of Painters) where Cezanne often painted views of the famous Mt. St. Victoire. It’s located about 15 minutes north of the studio, and is well worth the walk; the views are absolutely incredible.
Visit the Musée Granet– The Musée Granet is a fine art museum that exists largely because of donations from past nobility of Aix-en-Provence. The museum features works by Picasso, Cezanne, and others. Entrance to the museum is relatively inexpensive at €5.50 per adult, or free for students (also included in the City Pass).
Go wine tasting in Provence– There are a few wineries just outside of Aix-en-Provence or in nearby towns, but one of my favorites to visit is Chateau La Coste. It’s around a 30-minute drive from Aix, and it’s absolutely beautiful. You can visit their tasting room, or go for an afternoon and include lunch and a guided tour of the wine-making facilities (daily at 1 pm in English). I recommend at least the tour and the tasting, as it gives you a ton of information about how wine is made in France, and for the Provence appellation in particular!
Learn about history at Site-Mémorial du Camp des Milles– The Camp des Milles is a historical site of an internment and deportation camp used during World War II by the Vichy government. Most don’t think of the south of France as a place to learn about this part of history, but that’s what makes this site incredibly unique and interested. An unguided visit is included in the City Pass, but it’s also possible to buy tickets on site. Conveniently, the site is accessible by public transportation and their website provides details of the easiest way to get there.
Have a picnic at the Pavillon de Vendôme– The Pavillon de Vendôme is a chateau that was built for a duke’s lover in the 17th century. Since, it’s had a variety of uses, but it’s currently an art exhibition space. My favorite part of the Pavillon is the garden outside of it! There are big trees that provide nice shade which are ideal for a picnic lunch. It’s a very peaceful place that’s tucked away amongst the winding streets of the old town, and is definitely worth a visit at the very least for a view of the gardens.
Aix-en-Provence is one of my absolute favorite places in the entire world, and I love returning as often as possible. There are always new things to see and explore within this small Provencal town! There are also a ton of great towns and cities nearby that are worth a visit, and Aix is the perfect starting point for day trips all over the region to places like Arles, Marseille, Avignon, Montpellier, Cassis, and more!