The Best Things to Do in Montpellier, France’s Sunny Southern Hidden Gem

Triumphal Arch or Arc de Triomphe in Montpellier city in France

Montpellier is a charming and dynamic city in the south of France, boasting 300 days of sunlight per year, winding medieval streets, palm tree-studded promenades, and a vibrant food scene. Often overlooked in favor of its flashier neighbors to the east in the Côte d’Azur, Montpellier is a hidden gem in the South of France and absolutely worth a visit.

In the Medieval Ages, Montpellier was a hub for culture and education, featuring the oldest medical university in the world that is still operational today. These days, Montpellier is one of the most rapidly growing metropolises in the country, with a thriving student culture and laid-back ambiance. Its proximity to the Mediterranean means that the climate is pleasant throughout the year, with mild winters and sun-drenched summers.

Here are some of our suggestions for things to do in this wonderful city.

14 Things to Do in Montpellier, France

1. Soak up the energy of the Place de La Comédie

Fountain of the Three Graces at the Place de la Comedie, main square in Montpellier city in southern France. People are with blurred faces.

This central square, lined with Haussmann style buildings surrounding the gorgeous Fontaine des Trois Graces, is a hub of activity and the ultimate place to start your visit to Montpellier.

During the summer months and weekends year-round, the square tends to get very busy. It’s a central meeting place for tour groups, a plein air stage for buskers, a dining room for any number of cafés and restaurants, and all-around the ultimate place to people-watch.

Just a stone’s throw away, you can find important art and heritage sites, like the Musée Fabre and the Pavillon Populaire, plenty of shopping opportunities in the surrounding streets, and countless places to savor the city’s gastronomy. The square is also at the heart of the tram network, featuring a stop where lines 1 and 2 intersect.

Address: Pl. de la Comédie, 34000 Montpellier

Price: Free

Time to spend: 30 minutes

Hours: 24/7

2. Get lost in the Écusson

Montpellier, France – June 24, 2023: Traditional French architecture in Rue de Bras de Fer in Montpellier, France.

The Écusson is Montpellier’s historic city center. Here, you’ll find narrow winding streets, towering cathedrals, ornate buildings, and countless charming shops, restaurants and cafés. It’s easy to get lost among the pale limestone buildings and cobbled streets, and the best thing to do is to let your own feet be the guide. Wander among the streets, peeking into concept stores and used bookshops, and soak in the local sights and culture.

Be sure not to miss the colorful staircase of the Rue de Bras de Fer, the magnificent toy & curios shop, Pomme de Reinette, the endlessly fun graphic novel & comic arts store En Traits Libres, and the numerous quirky friperies (vintage stores) dotting the Rue de la Université.

Keep an eye out for Lego pixel-art scattered around the streets, usually next to the names of streets or high up on the sides of buildings. This is the work of local artist Élément42, whose mission it is to bring joy to the daily lives of the community.

3. Get cultured at the Fabre Museum

Montpellier, France - 07 12 2022 : View of the ancient classical stone facade of Hotel de Massilian, an historic building home to the Musee Fabre, a famous landmark of the city

Located just off the Place de la Comédie, the Musée Fabre is Montpellier’s most popular museum. Founded in 1825 by painter François-Xavier Fabre, this gallery’s expansive collection gives an in-depth overview of the past 600 years of artistic activity in Europe. Inside its walls, you’ll see works by Rubens and other Flemish masters in the 17th century, impressionist works by Marseille-born artist Fréderic Bazille, a close contemporary of Monet, and modern and contemporary pieces by Pierre Soulages. 

Address: Pl. de la Comédie, 34000 Montpellier

Price: 9€, 6€ for students. Free for everyone the first Sunday of each month.

Time to spend: 2 hours

Hours: Tuesday to Sunday, 10AM to 6PM

4. Visit the Jardin des Plantes

The famous Historic botanical garden and arboretum of Montpellier, the oldest in France, Herault, Occitanie

Created in 1593, the Jardin des Plantes is the oldest plant garden in France, and the perfect place to stroll through on a sunny afternoon. It features a bamboo forest, an orange grove, huge cacti, beautiful flowering magnolia, and so much more. Despite being centrally located, it is incredibly peaceful, and the perfect place for a quiet moment of calm.

Entry is free, and the office of tourism offers guided tours if you’re interested in learning more about their collection of flora.

Address: Bd Henri IV, 34000 Montpellier

Price: Free

Time to spend: 1 hour

Hours: Tuesday to Sunday, 12PM to 8PM from June 1 to September 30 and 12PM to 6PM from October 1 to May 31

5. Wander through the Place de la Canourgue

Montpellier, France - 08 14 2023 : Cityscape view of ancient fountain of the unicorns on famous Canourgue square with St Peter cathedral in background in historic city center

In a city full of charming places, this tree-lined and flower-filled square might just top the list. On the north side, there is a fountain featuring 2 magnificent unicorns, and behind it, a terrace with an unbeatable view of the iconic Cathedral Saint-Pierre.

The square is surrounded by a café, bar, brunch restaurant and the fabulous and historic Hotel Richer de Belleval. Just around the corner you’ll find the boutique grocery store Le Panier d’Aimé which sells local products, including everything from Pic Saint-Loup wine to salt from the Camargue, any of which would make the absolute best souvenirs.

Address: 1 Pl. de la Canourgue, 34000 Montpellier

Price: Free

Time to spend: 30 mins

Hours: 24/7

6. Shop like a local at the Marché des Arceaux

MONTPELLIER, FRANCE - 05/31/2020 - Lattes Sunday market, fresh food

Located directly underneath the magnificent Saint-Clément Aqueduct, this market takes place twice a week and features in-season produce from local farmers, stands selling fresh bread and pastries, creations from local artisans and so much more. You’ll see locals carrying baskets overflowing with leafy greens, people with baguettes sticking out from under their arms, merchants holding out tastes of seasonal fruit to passersby, and more varieties of cheese than you probably ever knew existed. Crowds tend to peak around noon, and even then the vibe is always convivial and friendly.

This is the ultimate place to soak up the local food culture, mix and mingle with the locals, and pick up a unique souvenir. Grab a coffee, a pastry and some seasonal fruit for breakfast à la français, and enjoy the slow life. Make sure you bring cash, because only a handful of stands accept card.

Address: Bd des Arceaux, 34000 Montpellier

Price: Free

Time to spend: 45 mins

Hours: Tuesday and Saturday, 7AM to 1:30PM

7. Try an éclair at Maison Bonnaire

Montpellier, France - 09 21 2022 : A view of the display window at the bakery Maison Bonnaire, filled with different flavours of eclairs.

Maison Bonnaire is one of the top bakeries in town for bread, croissants and pain au chocolat. They even won the award for the best croissant in the region in 2022, so you know they’re not messing around. While their viennoiseries are undeniably top tier, their éclairs are even more extraordinary, and an absolute must-try when visiting Montpellier. They have a wide assortment of flavors, and a few special flavors that they change seasonally, all of which create an irresistible mouth-watering display in their front window. 

Heads up, they have three locations in town, two “boulangerie/patisseries” and one “chocolaterie/glacier”. The one on Rue Saint-Guilhem is the one you’ll want to go to for éclairs.

Address: 45 Rue Saint-Guilhem, 34000 Montpellier

Price: Eclairs for 4€40, or a box of 4 for 16€

Time: Monday to Saturday, 6:30PM to 8PM

8. Hunt for treasures at Dimanches du Peyrou

Sale of antiques on the street. Old things from different eras.

The very best thing to do on a Sunday morning after you’ve finished your café crème and pain au chocolat is to head to la Promenade du Peyrou for the brocante. Under the shade of the towering plane trees, the whole square transforms into an open air flea market, with booths selling all sorts of antiques and second-hand goods. You can find clothes, shoes, decorations, photographs, books, cameras, glassware, furniture and so, so much more. In the center, there is typically a small handful of food trucks and patio tables so you can refuel. This is a great place to pick up a unique souvenir, chat with locals, or just soak up the energy of the city.

Address: Promenade du Peyrou, 34000 Montpellier

Price: Free

Time to spend: 1-2 hours

Hours: Sundays, 8:30AM to 2PM

9. Take a trip through time in Antigone

MONTPELLIER, FRANCE - JUNE 20, 2016: Montpellier Place de Thessalie in heart of Antigone neighborhood. Antigone - New district in Neo classical style between historic center and river Lez.

This mostly-pedestrian neighborhood is one that everyone seems to either love or hate. It was built in the 1970’s, and was inspired heavily by ancient Greek architecture and myths. As you stroll through, admire columns, buildings built according to the golden ratio, cornices, and symmetrical perspectives. You’ll find Place Zeus, Poseidon street, a statue of the god Dionysos, and a replica of the famous Winged Victory of Samothrace.

Antigone also features a farmer’s market on Sundays from 8h to 13h30.

Address: Antigone, 34000 Montpellier

Price: Free

Time to spend: 1 hour

Hours: 24/7

10. Take a dive into the local cuisine

Montpellier, France - 22 May, 2023: People enjoying the bars in the city center. The squares are one of the best places to try the local cuisine.

Montpellier is a city where many cultures intersect, and so you can get really good food from all over the world. Its prime geographical location offers a culinary treasure trove, with the mountainous Cevennes region to the north providing exquisite cheeses such as Pelardon, the southern coast delivering fresh fish and oysters, and excellent wines such as Pic Saint-Loup and Grès de Montpellier from vineyards scattered across the region.

There are plenty of restaurants in the city where you can test the best of what the region has to offer.

For classic-with-a-modern-twist Mediterranean food, check out Rosemarie. Sit at their eclectic outdoor patio under the shadow of cypress trees and the stunning Église de Saint-Roch. They have a sprawling menu of meat, fish, and veggies, and the best thing to do is to order several plates and share.

For a taste of gourmet French food, check out La Table des Poetes, an “éco-responsable cantine gourmande” which features a menu that changes every week and always showcases local and in-season products.

For incredible Lebanese food (plus arguably the best falafels in town!), check out Tempo. They have such a large list of offerings, that there is guaranteed to be something for everyone. All their dishes are made in-house, using ultra fresh ingredients. 

11. Taste local wines at a wine bar

Exterior of wine bar
Instagram @pleinsud.montpellier

Montpellier and its surroundings have been producing wine since as early as 500 B.C., when the Languedoc region was an Ancient Roman settlement. So it should come as no surprise that some of the best wines in France are produced just on the periphery of Montpellier. There are plenty of wineries you can visit, and wine tasting-tours to take, but you don’t even need to leave the city to try some high-quality, AOP classified wines.

To taste a local selection of natural wines, check out Plein Sud, a convivial and bustling wine bar just around the corner from the Musée Fabre. You can sit outside on the patio, or inside underneath their cavernous medieval arches. Owned and operated by three friends with a passion for wine, it’s a cozy spot with charming decor and a friendly and bustling atmosphere. They also serve tapas featuring local and in-season products, along with sourdough bread from a local bakery.

For a classy and intimate experience, visit Hotel Pinard. They’re relatively new to the Montpellier wine bar landscape, but have already won numerous awards and accolades. They offer small, gourmet plates, and a plethora of wines from around the world to choose from.

12. Get arty at Halle Tropisme

Group of young people sitting in cafe
Instagram @tropismemtp

Located on what was once a military base, Halle Tropisme is undoubtedly one of the coolest and artsiest places in the city. Its walls house over 60 artists’ studios and offer a diverse and eclectic artistic and cultural programme with something for everyone. It seems like there is always some sort of event going on, based on anything from music, to art, to food, to fashion… Grab a drink and a snack at the convivial Café Tropisme and explore whatever is going on at the moment.

Address: 121 Rue Fontcouverte, 34000 Montpellier

Price: Free, unless there is a paid event. Check out their website for more details.

Time to spend: 1-2 hours

Hours: Depend on the events happening, but normally: Mondays 9:30AM to 7PM, Tuesdays 9:30 to 11PM, Wednesday to Friday 9:30AM to 1AM, Saturdays 2PM to 1AM, Sundays 11AM to 4PM

13. Go to the beach

Aerial view of Palavas les Flots, a seaside resort in the South of France - Isthmus between the sandy beach of the Mediterranean Sea and the Pond of Perols with residential buildings

The best way to make the most of a scorching hot summer day is to spend it at the beach. Luckily, you can get from the center of Montpellier to taking a cooling dip in the Mediterranean in no time at all.

If you’re looking for a family-friendly beach next to a bustling seaside town, check out the beach at Palavas-les-Flots. For an active seaside trip featuring volleyball on the sand, or even a jet ski rental, check out the Carnon Beach. For a more rustic and secluded beach experience, visit the Villeneuve-les-Maguelone Beach.

All of these beaches are accessible by public transit, and the full list of shuttle services provided by the city can be found here. Expect crowds on weekends, but even during the high tourist season, you can find more secluded spots by following the coastline away from parking lots and shuttle drop-off points.

If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even rent a bike and make your way to the beach on two wheels. You can follow the scenic bike route along the Lez all the way down to Palavas-les-Flots, a laid-back seaside vacation town. You’ll find lots of shops and restaurants right along the beach, including lots of options for ice cream.

14. Take a day trip to Sète

May 28, 2012: Typical boats of Sète in Occitanie, France, in Sète, in the Hérault in Occitanie, France

Sète, sometimes called “the Venice of Languedoc” because of its canals, colorful fishing boats and never-ending charm, is a fishing village just a 30 minute train ride away from Montpellier. It is famous for being the birthplace of poet Georges Brassens, and also the tielle, a sort of fish and octopus pie which you can find at the Halles de Sète. Walk along the canals, admire the multicolored buildings and enjoy ultra-fresh world-class seafood.

Take a hike up the Mont Saint-Clair to the panoramique for a stunning view of the red roofs of the city, the glistening blue of the Mediterranean, and the aquaculture of the Étang de Thau. There is also the local bus no. 5 that can take you straight there.

Sète hosts numerous festivals throughout the year, the most famous of which is the Fêtes de la Saint-Louis, which takes place every August. This festival dates over 280 years and features the Mediterranean tradition of water jousting which is an absolute must-see, fireworks, and carnival processions. Check out the calendar at the tourism office to see current and upcoming events.

Tips for Traveling to Montpellier

Any trip to Montpellier is guaranteed to be one filled with hundreds and thousands of years of culture, incredible food, beautiful sunny skies, and lifelong memories. But here are a few tips to help make your trip the best it can be.

Transportation: The downtown core is very walkable; the streets are compact and everything feels like it’s “just around the corner” from everything else. The streets are mostly closed to cars, although you’ll occasionally see a local driving a car slowly through an impossibly narrow street. Just keep an eye out for scooters, which tend to weave through crowds at high speeds and generally disobey traffic rules.

The tram system makes it easy to traverse the city and even to access places that are a little further outside of the center. There are 4 lines (with construction currently happening on the 5th line that is scheduled to finish sometime in 2025!), and they can be relied on to come semi-regularly. The public transit system is entirely free to residents as of December 2023 (the largest city in Europe to do so!), but for visitors tickets cost 1.60€ each way and can be bought through the “M’Ticket TaM” app available for Android and Apple devices. More info about the tram system can be found here.

Until they finish construction on the new line, it’s a bit tricky to get to and from the airport or the Sud de France train station (about 6km from the city center), since for both you’ll have to take some combination of tram, bus and shuttle bus. You can find a detailed explanation of how to get to the airport here, and how to get to the train station here.

Uber and Bolt are the main ridesharing apps, and traditional taxis are popular also.

Restaurants: As is the case in most French cities, restaurants typically open for lunch from 12PM to ~2:30PM, and then close until dinner, which starts at 7PM at earliest. Most restaurants and stores are closed on Sundays and Mondays, but there are certainly a few exceptions so while you won’t have nearly as much choice as on a Saturday evening for example, you won’t go hungry.

Language: Most people speak at least some conversational English, but will appreciate a friendly Bonjour! when you enter a shop or boulangerie.

What to Wear: The fashion in Montpellier is definitely more laid-back than that of the flashier and fashion-forward Paris or Côte d’Azur, with a diverse range of attire reflecting various levels of formality. Dress in whatever you’re comfortable in, and absolutely do not stress it.

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