Arles has it all – history, contemporary architecture, museums, shopping, gourmet food and enough grit to capture your interest. Arles is considered the gateway to the Camargue wetlands and Rhône River delta. It is the last major urban centre before leaving Provence’s southwestern boundary. Below is our city guide for visitors to Arles. While the city centre is small and easily covered on foot, there is a lot to see in this town, so if time permits, plan on spending at least two days in Arles.

Roman Arles

While there is evidence of Ligurian settlement dating from 800 BC in the area, the Phoenicians established a port on the shores of the Rhône River. In 123 BC, the Romans took control of Arles (Arelate in Latin), determined to expand the influence of the community as a trading centre. Although Arles would have been closer to the sea during that era than today (due to centuries of silt build-up), the Romans built a canal to the Mediterranean in 104 BC.

Arles Must-See Provence Roman Arena

Depending on how you enter the centre of Arles, you may pass a portion of the ancient ramparts. Relics of the Roman settlement are visible today, and it’s easy to walk between them. These sites include the three-level amphitheatre (arena), antique theatre, the Alyscamps burial ground, Constantin thermal baths, Saint Trophime cloister, and the Cryptoportiques (the remains of old shops and storage areas). In addition, the Musée départemental Arles antique has several vestiges and models from the Roman era, including a full-size wooden barge.

Arles History Roman Arena Explore Provence @PerfProvence

During the Roman Era, Arles was an important trading center along the Rhône River. Cargo from over the Empire travelled along the Rhône to Avignon, Tarascon, Arles, and beyond. Imports such as tapestries, fabrics, spices, and grains from other Mediterranean ports moved up the river on low-hulled wood boats. Commercial trade of local products such as almonds, wine, and olive oil was active.

Around 2,000 years ago, one of those barges sank. It lay where it dropped, covered by mud until scientists surveying the river discovered it about ten years ago. You would think that a ship that old would have dissolved by then. But no! The mud had protected the wood from decay. That was the good news. The bad news was that the wood was so weak that the barge would collapse if brought to the surface and dried out. What to do? Fixing this problem would cost money and lots of it. The director of Musée departmental Arles Antique had incredible foresight and managed to secure funding for the archives of significant artifacts from the Roman era, including a bust of Caesar Augustus and one of the wooden barges.

Musée départemental Arles antique (website)
Presqu’île du cirque romain
BP 205
13 635 Arles cedex.
Closed on Tuesdays
Free entry on the 1st Sunday of each month

Art in Arles

Fondation Vincent Van Gogh: Imagine arriving in Provence for the first time on February 20, 1888, after two years of struggling to make a living in Paris. For Vincent van Gogh, who grew up in Holland, Provence’s radiant light starkly contrasted with its muted colour palette and luminosity. Some might say this profound change spurred his creative abilities to obsessive reaches. During his two years in the South of France, van Gogh produced over 200 paintings and many drawings.

Vincent van Gogh spent over a year in Arles, where he painted and sketched. He socialized with other artists, including Eugène Boch, Christian Mourier-Petersen, Dodge MacKnight and Paul Gauguin. In December 1888, van Gogh cut off his ear during a raging psychotic episode and gave it to a local prostitute. By May 1889, van Gogh’s mental stability had deteriorated to the point where he admitted himself into Saint-Paul de Mausole, the asylum, in St Remy de Provence. During the year (May 1889- May 1890), van Gogh was highly productive in the Alpilles, completing 150 paintings and 100 sketches.

Vincent Van Gogh Fondation Arles

Visit Fondation Vincent van Gogh in the centre of Arles (35 ter, rue du Docteur-Fanton). The Fondation does not have a permanent collection of the artist’s work but exhibits pieces from other museums, including the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Temporary shows have featured artists such as David Hockney, Alice Neel, Pablo Picasso and others.

Fondation Vincent Van Gogh (website)
35 Rue du Dr Fanton
13200 Arles
Closed on Mondays

LUMA Arles – an interdisciplinary creative campus – officially opened in June 2022 in the former Parc des Ateliers. Maja Hoffmann’s grand vision for converting 11 hectares of abandoned railway yards into a gathering place for creative minds began as a concept in 2013. Frank Gehry Architects designed a contemporary tower that reflects elements of the natural environment in its construction materials.

While some detractors may have yet to embrace the 12-story Frank Gehry-designed tower, few can argue that the LUMA Foundation project has successfully converted abandoned railway lands into attractive urban parks and gathering places. Today, the sparkling 15,000 m2 LUMA tower twists skyward from its circular base, surrounded by 11,000 stainless steel bricks that reflect the Provencal sun and sky.

LUMA Arles Art Centre

Parc des Ateliers, LUMA, Arles, France. ©Rémi Bénali (2021)

Where the Frank Gehry group had Maja Hoffmann’s vision and guidelines to follow, they would break ground on a new building. However, the balance of Parc des Ateliers was a little better than that of a scrapyard, which included seven industrial hangar buildings and a plot of land that had once been part of the Alyscamps cemetery. French landscape architect Bas Smets’s first impression of the site was a harsh landscape with abandoned concrete slabs, no water, and almost no vegetation. He describes this project as the most complex and challenging of his career. In a complete transformation, the Parc des Ateliers now has a pond, pathways, varied topography, 80,000 plants and 500 trees.

LUMA Arles (website)
Parc des Ateliers
35 Avenue Victor Hugo
13200 Arles
Open daily from 10h to 19h30

The park grounds, the base of the tower and the Drum Café are all free to visit.
Reservations are recommended for dining at the Drum Café.
Book in advance for the guided visits to the tower and grounds.

Museon Arlaten Arles

©Rémi-Benali Cd13 Coll. Museon Arlaten musée de Provence

The Muséon Arlaten took eleven years to open its doors after a massive restoration project of the Hôtel de Laval-Castellane, constructed between 1505 and 1515. During the French Revolution, Hôtel de Laval-Castellane became a temporary prison. Finally, in 1904, Provence’s Nobel Prize winner, Frédéric Mistral (poet and author), used the funds from his award to buy the dilapidated building from the municipality. He established Hôtel de Laval-Castellane as the headquarters for Félibrige – the association he cofounded to protect the Provençal language.

Many of the museum’s 40,000 pieces are related to Mistral and his work. Organized by timeline, your first glimpse is a return to 1 AD and the remains of a Roman forum. Classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the museum walks through time from the Romans to the Arlesians. The central staircase – Le Grand Escalier, designed by French architect Michel Bertreux of Tetrarc, floats over the exhibits and highlights the backdrop by Christian Lacroix.

Muséon Arlaten (website)
29 – 31 rue de la République
13200 Arles
Closed on Mondays

Musee Reattu Arles France

Musée Réattu is the Fine Art museum in Arles. The building, once the Grand Priory of the Order of Malta, stands at the last bend in the Rhône River before it reaches the Mediterranean. Views from the top level provide the perspective of the mighty waterway that has forever shaped life in Provence. The museum takes its name from Jacques Réattu, a painter who, while born in Arles in 1760, only returned years after achieving artistic success. He bought the properties associated with the Grand Prieuré de l’Ordre de Malte and established his studio where he could see the Rhône River. The Musée Réattu vast and varied collection includes 57 drawings by Pablo Picasso.

Musée Réattu (website)
10, rue du Grand Prieuré
13200 Arles
Closed on Mondays
Please note: The Saliers courtyard and the Musée Parallèle, located on the ground floor, are accessible to wheelchairs and strollers. The museum’s collection is on three (3) levels and has many stairs, making it difficult for people with reduced mobility.

Photography in Arles

Since 1970, Arles has been the location for an international photography exhibition – the Rencontres d’Arles (Les Rencontres d’Arles), which runs annually from early July to the end of September. The Rencontres is a big deal photography festival drawing international photographers and viewers from around the globe.

The Rencontres aims to make photography accessible to all with 40+ installations throughout Arles in museums, chapels, cloisters, bookstores, and industrial spaces. Although the venues are close together, seeing all the exhibits in one day is impractical. Purchase tickets online or at the tourist office in Arles. There are options for day passes and festival passports. Download the festival app and start planning your visit.

Reconcontre d'Arles Photography Show

Dining in Arles

Competing for your Saturday shopping attention is the large market in Arles. There are two market days in Arles – Wednesday and Saturday. By decree of King Henri III, these weekly markets have taken place since 1584. The Saturday market is the largest of the two markets and one of the biggest in Provence. The 450+ stands line Boulevard des Lices and Boulevard Georges-Clémenceau almost 2.5 kilometres in length and offering everything and anything you might want, including live poultry, eggs, olives, fresh rockfish, garden plants, herbs, and dresses.

Jardin des Arts
38 rue de la République
13200 Arles
Telephone: +33 (0)4 90 96 10 36
The restaurant is in a 13th-century cloister.

Le Bistro or Le Restaurant
19 rue des Carmes,
13200 Arles
Telephone: +33 (0)4 90 47 61 13

Michelin-stared Chef Jean-Luc Rabanel offers diners the option of dining in the Le Bistro or Le Restaurant. His focus is organic food for his two-star restaurants that are located right in the heart of the old centre of Arles. You can also sign up for a cooking class or book a bed in the beautifully appointed rooms or apartments across the street from the restaurant.

Mas De La Chassagnette
13200 Arles
Telephone: +33(0)4 90 97 26 96

Just a short drive into the Camargue to visit Chef Armand Arnal (one Michelin star) at La Chassagnette. He invents recipes with organic products directly from his kitchen garden on-site. Reservations are a must.

Cuisine de Comptoir
10 rue de la liberté,
13200 Arles
Telephone: +33 (0)4 90 96 86 28

Cuisine de Comptoir is perfect for lunch. The menu lists eleven tartines (open-faced sandwiches) on grilled pain Poilâne (a sliced bread initially produced in Paris). The options include vegetarian options and some Provencal classics with chevre. Book in advance. This restaurant is famous for a reason.

Le Galoubet
18 Rue du Dr. Fanton,
13200 Arles
Telephone: +33 (0)4 90 93 18 11
Open daily

Located steps from Fondation Van Gogh is Le Galoubet (no website). They serve prix-fixe menus of local, traditional Provencal dishes. The restaurant has a street-side terrace with a leafy canopy. Both the food and service are excellent—book in advance.

Buy some sausage from Maison Genin. They have been making le saucisson d’Arles for five generations.

11 rue des Porcelets,
13200 Arles
Telephone: +33 (0)4 90 96 01 12

Shopping in Arles

In a world marked by fast fashion, Margareth & Moi stands apart, designing timeless pieces for collectors. The brand’s creators, Gildas Pennec and Victoria Hernando, express their philosophy through their collections, delivering sophisticated yet pure cuts celebrating elegant women.

Marius is another reason to visit Arles, a boutique filled with local Provencal artisan creations. At the core of Marius is the Arles en Créa association, which brings together local designers from the Arles region (Alpilles/Camargue). The Marius boutique is an exhibition and sales space where the member’s creations are for sale. All items are handcrafted and locally produced. There are eight (8) creators per year, and one artist presents their work in a pop-up fashion each month. The store is a cooperative with operating costs shared among the creators, and every person runs the store for a day on a rotation.

Marius Arles
25 Rue du 4 Septembre
13200 Arles
Closed on Sundays and Mondays