Visiting Pont du Gard with Kids
Pont du Gard has been on my bucket list since we moved to Europe. I just knew I had to see the three level, Roman aqueduct in person. Our winter visit provided us with cooler temperatures and no crowds, making our visit to Pont du Gard nearly perfect.
Pont du Gard has two parking lots, as it spans the river. The signage can be sort of confusing, but you want to head to the parking area to the North of the river (labeled “rive gauche” on maps). This will put you at the museum and visitors center which is the perfect place to start your visit. You pull a ticket to park, but if you purchase museum admission your parking is free. Otherwise, I think it’s weirdly expensive.
Once you park, finding the visitors center is easy as it is well marked. The parking lot is huge, so I’m sure this place is swarming in the summer. In late February we were one of a dozen cars in the multi-acre parking lot.
There appeared to be three ticket options. We went with the middle option that included the guided tour crossing the top of the aqueduct. As usual ask for every discount you might qualify for: they seemed to have discounts for students, seniors, press, children . . . so do not be afraid to ask. Keep your tickets out after you purchase them because a security guard scans them just steps from the purchase desk.
The first guided tour of the day during our February visit was at 11am. I was initially worried we wouldn’t have enough to do to pass the time. I needn’t have worried. The Pont Du Gard site has plenty to do. Your ticket gets you into the museum, the Lido children’s museum and the movie.
We started at the movie, which runs every 15 min. It has some French text but is easy to understand. It has great recreations of Pont Du Gard that help explain exactly how it was built. It also features stunning aerial photography that puts it into perspective.
Next we hit up Ludo, the children’s experience. This hands-on exhibit is geared at children age 6 and up, but all three of my kids found stuff to explore and do here.
Each area is set up with challenges for the kids to accomplish. The Big Little loved the water challenges where they had to move water from springs to different cities.
The Little Little loved testing out the buckets. Here three buckets demonstrated why clay buckets hold the most amount of water.
The Lido focuses on Roman Life. Jeff helped the Big Little complete the mosaic floor in the bath house.
Meanwhile, the Middle Little found a series of places where you stick your head in a hole and see yourself in a mirror. He couldn’t stop laughing. “Mom. I’m all dressed up,” he was yelling across the room.
A third section focused on the archaeological skills required to learn about the Romans. Here, the Middle Little put together a pot and compared it to other pots to learn about its use.
The big little measured another pot and mapped its shape, comparing it with “known” pots. We easily spent 45 min exploring the Lido.
Just across from Lido’s entrance there are children’s bathrooms and changing tables. There are also benches in the hall, the perfect place for us to grab a snack before we headed toward the aqueduct for our tour.
It is a bit of a walk from the visitors center to the Pont du Gard site. You can see it looming in the distance though as you approach.
The tour across the third level is the only way to actually cross Pont du Gard. The visitors road on the top of the first level runs adjacent to the aqueduct.
The tour is really cool. You start by going up a spiral staircase that accesses the top level of the aqueduct. This is the level that carried the water. So you get to walk in the ‘pipe.’
The views from the top are stunning. It also really demonstrates the height of Pont du Gard.
Most of the tour is given from outside the tube. The tour guide talked for about 15 min, mostly in French. She would offer the two English speaking families some explanations as well, but it never quite seemed as long as what she said in French.
After all the talking you head inside the tube, which is just cool. The tour guide carries a flashlight and the ceiling has been removed every 10 feet or so to allow natural light into the tube.
In a few places it is quite a squeeze. The water from the spring left calcification behind on the walls. In the early years of usage they would stop the water and send someone in to clean it out. Over time this became expensive and they stopped maintaining the interior. Eventually that led to such a reduced flow that the pipe was no longer usable.
All around the area churches and buildings treated Pont du Gard as a quarry. Twelve arches were removed from the top section to build other buildings. The calcification inside the tube was an incredibly popular building material, so it was removed. Where it has been removed inside the tube you can still see glimpses of the red lubricant that coated the interior of the aqueduct to keep the water inside and moving quickly.
The tour ends on the other side of the river. You stop near a larger tube that was carved, but never used. We headed through this pipe and down the hill to the restaurant and riverbed.
Your food options at Pont du Gard are limited. In good weather I advise arriving with a packed lunch. There is a creperié and snack bar as part of the museum complex and a restaurant on the other side. We opted for a sit down lunch in the restaurant. The menu had limited options – we ended up ordering one salmon and one beef main and the salad starter. The food was delicious. It was more than enough to split with the kids. Eating here after the tour is a popular plan so it’s best to head right to the restaurant. In the summer it looks like they have ample outdoor seating, but in the winter there is one small interior dining room.
After lunch we headed out to the river to explore. This is really where the magnificent views start.
It’s hard to not be completely transfixed by this nearly two thousand year old bridge!
The widest arch spans the river, the others are all on rocks that are easily explored.
It is certainly worth it to pass under the arches. Here you can see how the road was coupled to Pont du Gard.
The water is incredibly cold and looks rather deep. We threw some rocks into the water and generally enjoyed the quiet that envelops the area.
Then we hiked up the hill on the road and took the pedestrian bridge back across the river. Just as we were crossing the bridge it started to rain a bit. This actually turned out to be a blessing as we thought we would head home and skip the museum, but the rain convinced us to duck into the museum for a bit.
Do not miss the museum! It is included with your ticket and is worth a pop in. The lighting is terrible making a few of the sign boards hard to read. (Pull your cell phone out and use the flashlight!) The museum is fascinating. Jeff and I could have easily spent over an hour in the museum, however with the little ones we moved through it in about 35 min.
There are exhibits on every aspect of the aqueduct. You’re probably wondering why the Romans needed to build aqueducts because most cities had ample underground water sources – the answer is pressurized water. Many of the cities had water, but bringing it from the mountains meant they could pressurize the water and feed it into their thermal baths and far reaching areas of the cities.
The kids loved the section on how it was built. I think it really blew the Big Little’s mind that this was all done without powered machinery.
I really enjoyed seeing the models of the Roman aqueducts in Europe as well as learning about how they managed to survive nearly two thousand years mostly intact.
In conclusion Pont du Gard is easily a full day outing. A visit to Pont du Gard ticks all the boxes from learning experience and museum to outdoor pursuits and just something really cool to see.