It’s got the sunshine, the beach and a cool art museum. No wonder France’s youngest city (by age of the population – the city itself was founded sometime in the 900s) is growing fast as a hub for visitors in search of the Mediterranean lifestyle. Now this city firmly has its moment in the sun, this is our pick of the best things to do in Montpellier.
Why you should visit Montpellier
Montpellier has become a hub for students and language exchanges. There are plenty of great things to do in Montpellier. You can wander the backstreets of the Old Town, hit the beach, or simply soak up the laid vibe. Don't miss the chance to sip a glass of local Languedoc wine at a pavement café. Think of all the attractions of the better-known Cote d’Azur without the overpriced restaurants and fake pretensions.
With its contemporary art museum, high-season flights from Heathrow and Bristol and places to try local food, it’s a great place to visit. With all its youthful charm, Montpellier is a beautiful place to visit.
1. The art scene is booming
The opening of the Montpellier Contemporary (MOCO) is the latest development in a city embracing art. There was always a flirtation with street art and a regular summer arts festival but MOCO has really put the city on the map as a hub for all things conceptual. The temporary collections find a new home in the 17th-century Hotel Montcalm, providing a striking counterpoint to the classical building.
South of the Corum is the Musée Fabre, the city’s most trumpeted museum and one of the largest in the Languedoc. Its huge collection features seventeenth- to nineteenth-century European paintings. You'll find here works by Delacroix, Zurbaran, Raphael, Jan van Steen and Veronese, as well as ceramics and contemporary art.
2. You can step back in time
Strolling the cobblestone backstreets of the Old Town is one of the best things to do in Montpellier for history and souvenir hunting. Take a walking tour through the city’s heritage, starting from the Tourist Office on Place de la Comédie, to trace its medieval origins to the 19th-century heyday.
You will visit Rue du Bras-de-Fer, the steep passageway with brightly coloured steps that makes for the ultimate Instagram post. You can stock up on vintage postcards and prints on Rue de l’Ancien Courrier, the oldest pedestrian street in the city.
Contrast the Old Town with a stroll around the modernist architecture of the Port Marianne district, taking the tram over the Lez River. This sprawling new district is pushing the city limits eastwards towards the coast. It features some landmark buildings, such as The Cloud, designed by architect Philippe Starck, and the Arbre Blanc, a strikingly modern take on a Japanese-style pagoda with a chic rooftop bar.
3. It’s easy to reach the beach
One of the great things to do in Montpellier is to go to one of its beaches, probably one of the best in the Mediterranean. The closest strip of golden sand to the city is at Carnon, which is 30 minutes away via tram (plus a 10-minute walk from the terminus). A day pass for public transport covers the journey and the beach has plenty of little cafes for fresh fish and cool drinks between bouts of sun-basking.
Further afield, there are more beaches at the resorts of Palavas-les-Flots and La Grande Motte, although you need a car for these. You can try activities like scuba diving and stand-up paddleboarding and don’t worry if you fall in — the water is lovely. Afterwards, the beach bars crank up for sundowner cocktails and sunset DJ sets.
4. Savour the flavours of the Med
A couple of food markets are showcasing the region’s best goodies, like local olives, cheese and seafood. Les Halles Laissac is the city’s covered market and food hall for lunch on the go. The Marché du Lez, located outside the centre in the Port Marianne district, is a new development. Here you'll find a market, food trucks and vintage stores around a courtyard, set in a former nightclub decorated with street art.
A glass of local wine is the perfect aperitif, especially a fruity red or rosé from the Pic Saint-Loup vineyards outside Montpellier. Head for Place de la Canourgue, the most charming of all Old Town Squares, for a terrace seat at L’Atelier de la Canourgue and watch the world go by. If you prefer craft ales, brewpub Hopulus, located just off Place Jean Jaures, has a daily happy hour and a range of beers brewed on-site.
If you're on the lookout for a gourmet experience in France, try our tailor-made trip to Eastern France. Start your trip in Lyon with some unique food tours before setting off on a walk across the Beaujolais region. Almost every day ends with a wine tasting, soothing for body and soul.
5. Exploring the Herault area - one of the best things to do in Montpellier for history buffs
Montpellier is the hub of the Herault department and offers convenient rail links for a day trip. The closest place to visit is the former fishing port of Sète with its attractive Old Port, sandy beaches and a clutch of restaurants serving fresh local seafood — try the oysters. Take a boat trip around the canals out to the Thau Lagoon, where the Canal du Midi comes from Toulouse to meet the sea.
Visiting the Roman city of Nimes is one of the best things to do in Montpellier, especially for history buffs. The Museum of Roman Civilisation opened recently, tracing the development of Nimes from the Iron Age to the halcyon days of the Roman Empire. Other Roman buildings across the city include the amphitheatre and the extremely well-preserved Maison Carré, the former Roman forum.
Sète's charming waterfront © Picturereflex/Shutterstock
- By plane: flights between the UK, Ireland and France are plentiful, though industry consolidation and higher departure taxes mean that the bargain-basement fares of the budget airlines’ heyday are much rarer than they were. Look out for special offers advertised on the airline websites or in the media. The main budget airlines are easyJet and Ryanair.
- By bus: Eurolines runs regular services from London Victoria to forty French cities (including Montpellier), with up to eleven a day to Paris, crossing the Channel by ferry or Eurotunnel.
- By car: The simplest way to take your car to France is on one of the drive-on drive-off shuttle trains operated by Eurotunnel. The service runs continuously between Folkestone and Coquelles, near Calais, with up to four departures per hour and takes 35 minutes.
- For central location: Hotel d'Aragon
- For couples: Mas de Lafeuillade
- For total relaxation: Domaine de Biar
- For price and quality: Couette et Café
Where to stay in Montpellier
Find more accommodation options to stay in Montpellier.
Montpellier beckons travelers with its enchanting ambiance and a wealth of captivating experiences. Ready for a trip to France? Check out The Rough Guide to France or The Rough Guide to Provence & the Cote d'Azur.
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Top image: St. Peter's Cathedral in Montpellier, France © Picturereflex/Shutterstock