Young Montpellier: designer streetcars, the best baguettes in France, and attractions
Weekend in Montpellier

Young Montpellier: designer streetcars, the best baguettes in France, and attractions

The average age of a resident of Montpellier is 25 years. About a quarter of the city’s population are students of the university founded in the XII century. Montpellier also has the oldest botanical garden in France and the most delicious baguettes in the country.

Montpellier seemed to me a city that never sleeps and is always ready for adventure. I’m sharing my plan for a day or two of walking around this sunny and friendly city in the south of France.

What to do in Montpellier

You’ll most likely arrive in Montpellier at Montpellier Saint-Roch station — trains from Paris, Nice and Marseille arrive here.

The train station is only 200 meters away from the central square — I recommend to stop by the tourist office there, it is open from 09:30, on Thursday from 10:00. At the info center you can get a map of the city and buy a city-card for 24, 48 or 72 hours (from 13,5 EUR). It entitles you to free public transportation and discounts from 10% in museums and some stores.

Place de la Comedie (Place de la Comedie)

It is the central square of the city and was named after the Opera and Comedy Theater located here. In 1655, Jean-Baptiste Pauquelin staged his first play on the local stage. He later took the pseudonym by which we know him — Molière.

The square is decorated with the Three Graces fountain, the sculpture in its center depicting the three daughters of Zeus. The central part of the square used to be called an egg because of its oval shape. Now only the oval curb around the fountain reminds of it. Meetings are held near the fountain, and in the evenings musicians and street dancers gather here. In winter, a Christmas fair opens on the square.

Comedy Square is home to cafes and a movie theater
Comedy Square is home to cafes and a movie theater
The Opera and Comedy Theater was where Moliere staged his play.
The Opera and Comedy Theater was where Moliere staged his play.
The facade of the Opera and Comedy Theater
The facade of the Opera and Comedy Theater

Next to it is a brightly colored two-level carousel with horses, lights and music. You can ride from 11:00 am to 8:00 pm, on Thursday through Friday from 3:00 pm.

3 €
Ride the merry-go-round

The Place de la Comédie on the other side of the square turns into the Charles de Gaulle Esplanade, a green park with lawns and fountains. Magnolias, chestnuts and jasmine grow everywhere here, so in spring the air is filled with the crazy aromas of blossoming trees. Modern sculptures are often displayed on the paths of the park — such a public open-air exhibition. The Esplanade ends with the massive concrete Corum (Le Corum), which is an exhibition center and the Berlioz Opera House.

Both children and adults can ride the carousel
Both children and adults can ride the carousel
There is an outdoor sculpture exhibition in the park in front of Corum
There is an outdoor sculpture exhibition in the park in front of Corum

Le musee Fabre (Fabre Museum)

The art museum was founded by artist François-Xavier Fabre in 1828 and began with his collection of paintings and works of neoclassical art dating back to the fourteenth century. The museum exhibits Nicolas Poussin’s Venus and Adonis, Gustave Courbet’s Self-Portrait with Pipe, works by Montpellier native Frederic Basile, as well as Edgar Degas' The Nurse in the Luxembourg Garden, works by Delacroix, Peter Brueghel Jr. and Henri Matisse, and more than 4,000 works of graphic art.

7 €
The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday, 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

In 1968, a resident of Sabatier d’Espeyran donated her Hôtel de Cabrières-Sabatier d’Espeyran mansion with luxurious interiors and a collection of ceramics and porcelain to the museum.

Designer streetcars

The design of Montpellier streetcars on two lines was developed by French designer Christian Lacroix. The trains look bright and different from each other: the streetcars of each line are painted according to the color and symbol of the branch.

1,60 €
You can buy a ticket from a vending machine at the bus stop

You can take this streetcar to the Odysseum shopping and entertainment center or to the Mosson bus station on the outskirts of the city, where a flea market sprawls on Sunday.

Streetcars run from 04:00 am to 01:00 am, on Friday and Saturday until 02:00 am

Line 2 streetcars are painted with floral ornaments, each bearing the name of a historical figure
Line 2 streetcars are painted with floral ornaments, each bearing the name of a historical figure
There are streetcars of a different color on each line
There are streetcars of a different color on each line

Quarter Antigone (Quarter Antigone)

In the 1980s, architect Riccardo Boffila designed the Antigone neighborhood. The architectural solutions combine ancient Greek motifs and modernist experiments. The quarter begins at the end of Piazza Comedia behind the shopping center Polygone and continues to the waterfront. High-tech buildings are juxtaposed with pseudo-antique fountains and sculptures.

The sculptures of Antigone Park
The sculptures of Antigone Park

Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Montpellier (Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Montpellier)

This largest Roman Catholic church in the region was built in the fourteenth century. The cathedral was used by the Medical University until the 19th century.

It is now the cathedral of Montpellier. Inside it is worth seeing the elegant 18th century organ and stained glass windows.

  • The cathedral is active.
  • Open Monday through Saturday from 09:30 to 12:00 and 14:30 to 18:30.
The massive towers of the cathedral can be seen from afar
The massive towers of the cathedral can be seen from afar
Details of St. Pierre
Details of St. Pierre’s Cathedral
A sundial has been installed on the cathedral
A sundial has been installed on the cathedral

Universities (Universite de Montpellier)

Montpellier is home to three large universities, popular among international students as well. The largest and oldest of them is the medical one: it was founded in 1220 and still graduates students.

Most of the royal physicians in France graduated from the University of Montpellier, not the Sorbonne. In 1531, the future philosopher and humanist François Rabelais entered the medical faculty. University legends say that Michel Nostradamus studied here, but he was dishonorably expelled from the faculty for illegally selling medicines.

Only students are allowed to enter the university building, but for tourists, there’s a quick trick on how to get into the grounds. The Faculty of Medicine has a museum of anatomy (Le musee d’anatomie) and can be accessed with a guided tour from the tourist office.

14 €
You must sign up for the tour in advance on the website

Start times vary, with tours lasting 2 hours.

The Faculty of Medicine is located next to St. Pierre Cathedral
The Faculty of Medicine is located next to St. Pierre Cathedral
One of the university buildings
One of the university buildings

Botanical Garden (Jardin des plantes)

At the end of the 16th century, a botanical garden was established near the university to grow medicinal plants for the needs of the medical faculty. It is considered to be the oldest in France and was used as a basis for the opening of the Parisian one.

It’s free
The botanical garden is open from 12:00 to 18:00, from June to the end of September at 20:00. Monday is a day off

The garden covers an area of over 4 hectares, with avenues of tall cypress trees, a Japanese corner with bamboo, bougainvillea, lotuses and various varieties of cacti. The plants are labeled with their names, so a walk through the garden will be both educational and informative.

In the botanical garden, everything is braided with vines and flowers
In the botanical garden, everything is braided with vines and flowers
There’s bamboo growing in the Japanese corner
The botanical garden has sculptures of distinguished scientists from the city and France
The botanical garden has sculptures of distinguished scientists from the city and France
The cypress trees here are huge
The cypress trees here are huge

Peyroux Gate (Porte du Peyrou)

Montpellier has its own Arc de Triomphe. It was installed in 1691 in honor of King Louis XIV. He made Montpellier the capital of the Lower Languedoc region, built the Place Peyroux and the aqueduct for the city’s water supply.

You can climb to the observation deck on the triumphal arch on a guided tour from the tourism office. The visit to the Peyroux Gate is included in the sightseeing tour of the historic center. There are no separate tickets for climbing the Arc de Triomphe.

11 €
Tour of the historic center: booking and payment online
Every self-respecting French city has its own Arc de Triomphe
Every self-respecting French city has its own Arc de Triomphe
The street leading to the Peyroux Gate
The street leading to the Peyroux Gate

The Peyroux Gate stands on the highest part of the old town and opposite it is the Peyroux Garden, a quiet and secluded park with a good view of the historic center. At the end of the park is a gazebo, next to which are the remains of the aqueduct, the city’s old water supply system.

  • Admission to the park is free.
  • Open from 07:00 am, closing time depends on the season, the earliest is at 20:00.
The entrance gate to the Peyroux Garden
The entrance gate to the Peyroux Garden
The aqueduct used to bring water into the city.
The aqueduct used to bring water into the city.
A gazebo in the Peyroux garden
A gazebo in the Peyroux garden
View of St. Pierre Cathedral from the park
View of St. Pierre Cathedral from the park

St. Anne’s Church (Carré Ste Anne)

The Neo-Gothic church, whose spire rises 70 meters, is now closed for services. The church now hosts contemporary art exhibitions.

  • Open from 08:30 to 17:30, on Thursday from 09:00 to 19:00. Saturday-Monday is a day off.

Observatory (Tour de la Babote)

In the early 18th century, the Royal Scientific Society opened an observatory in Montpellier. The tower of the observatory survives from the fortress walls of the city from the reign of the Aragonese kings in the 12th century. The satellites of Jupiter, Halley’s Comet in 1758 and Uranus after its discovery in 1781 were observed from here. About 40 solar and lunar eclipses were recorded during the entire time the observatory was in operation. In 1783, inventor Lenorman jumped from the observatory tower using the prototype of the modern parachute.

The tower is now occupied by the Montpellier Astronomical Society. There are no guided tours, but the tower itself is located on a busy street.

The walls of the Montpellier Observatory
The walls of the Montpellier Observatory

The most delicious baguettes at Des reves et du pain.

Stop by the boulangerie, or bakery, Des reves et du pain. In 2015, 2017 and 2019, it was voted the best bakery in France by residents and tourists on Tripadvisor. Here for 200 years they have been making bread according to traditional recipes in their own oven on fire — with a thick crust, so it stays fresh for days. Buy a traditional baguette or a lemon croissant and enjoy the sunny weather in Peyroux Park.

  • Open from 08:00
  • Sunday and Monday are off.
The bakeries sell both baguettes and sweet desserts
The bakeries sell both baguettes and sweet desserts

Beaches of Montpellier

The Mediterranean coast is just 10 km from Montpellier, and millions of years ago the sea was splashing around on the Place de la Comédie. The beaches of Palavas-les-Flots and Carnon offer light sand, soft waves and a carefree Mediterranean atmosphere.

The beaches are conveniently accessible by bicycle on dedicated paths. The journey takes about an hour and a half. Rent a bicycle from one of the 150 rental shops or from the tourist office in the central square.

Velomagg is an automated rental station. To get a bike, you need to have a bank card and a cell phone. The first hour is free of charge, after that the rent is 0.5 €/hour.

The Ville&Velo bike store also rents out bicycles for the whole day for €15. Here they are newer and lighter. The store is open from 10:00 to 19:00.

The beaches can also be reached by public transportation. Take the brightly colored streetcar line 3. It takes about 30 minutes to get to the Perols terminus, Etang de l’Or. Then walk following the signs for about 20 minutes towards the beaches.

After a hot city, there
After a hot city, there’s no time for pictures