Exploring Avignon, France with Kids
Avignon, France has so much to offer families. I had an entire day planned in the city involving renting bikes and tooling around Barthelasse Island, checking out a few of Avignon’s historic buildings and visiting the market hall for lunch. Then we woke up and discovered it was the coldest day of the year in Provence. . .like sting your face cold. We regrouped and headed to Avignon with the express purpose of visiting the Pope’s Palace. Anything else we accomplished would be a bonus.
The Pope’s Palace is a World Heritage Sight and a must see attraction in Avignon. As one of the most visited sites in France they have done an amazing job with the visit mechanics. The line can get long because the entry hall is small and everyone has to go through security. Immediately after security you purchase your tickets. Then you head to the next room where you pick up your guide. These tablets with attached headphones are given to everyone over the age of 8. There is a video that shows you how to use the tablets.
If you have a stroller you will need to trade it in for a Chicco backpack carrier. Strollers are not useful due to all the stairs and strictly prohibited since some of the flooring is original. We turned in our stroller and picked up a backpack (there is a weight limit). If you’re thinking your toddler can walk during the tour, know that the Palace is enormous. We initially didn’t pick up a backpack, but were one room in when we decided to go back for one.
Once we were all sorted with the kids we set off on our adventure. The tablet guides are amazing. I was able to lengthen the straps on mine so that the Big Little could hold it. In each room the tablet plays an audio tour. You use the tablet to see what the room would have looked like in the 14th century when it was occupied by 7 Popes.
Most exciting for the kids though is that a papal coin is hidden in each room. You use the table to explore objects in the room and find the coin. This was a huge hit with both the Big and Middle Little. The Big Little could do it on his own but the Middle Little needed a ton of help. (Which was OK because Jeff liked playing the game too.) Jeff was able to hand the tablet back to the Middle Little in the backpack carrier while still keeping the straps around his neck. The staff is very serious about keeping the tablet straps around your neck.
Most of the tour was inside, keeping us out of the bitter cold, but you pass through open corridors more than once. The general temperature in the palace is only slightly different from the outdoor temperature. Keep that in mind when you dress for your visit.
The Papal seat moved to France in 1309 when Pope Clement V was chased out of Rome. My favorite rooms in the Palace of Popes were the formal dining rooms which were divided during the six conclaves that were held here. They would literally construct walls to make room for all of the cardinals, only to remove them at the end of the conclave.
Many of the rooms have not been fully restored so you can see the weathered painting on the ceilings, paintings on the walls and also original ornate tile floors. You are prohibited from taking photos in these rooms.
Most of the larger rooms have plenty of benches to sit down, which is good because as I mentioned this place is huge. We visited during a low season on a day most people chose to stay home, but I imagine that the enormity prevents the palace from feeling overcrowded even when it is busy. The headsets also keep everyone quiet which is helpful.
Venturing up to the roof provides a stunning view of the golden Mary that tops the church as well as a unique perspective on the building.
The visit to the roof is optional but worth the additional stairs.
The visit was well worth it even with the kids. They learned quite a bit while hunting for the coins. I learned a ton with my audio tour and likely would have listened to every additional thing I could find if the kids would have tolerated it. This is certainly one of the best orchestrated tours we have had the pleasure of going on.
We emerged outside in the bitter cold and got a glimpse at some of Avignon’s beautifully historic buildings. We were tempted to explore the city until the wind hit us and we decided to go directly back to the car.
Luckily, we had parked on top of the Avignon Market Hall. We popped into the market for a quick gander and to pick up some food to take with us. There are a few full service restaurants in the market hall, but with tired kids and high top seats they were not ideal for us.
We found plenty of fresh produce and picked up baked goods at a bakery stand. This would be a wonderful option for stocking your rental house as there are fishmongers, butchers, herb sellers and everything else you might need.
Overall we wish we had more time in Avignon. In the summer you could easily spend a full day, if not more in Avignon. We were pleased with our decision though to visit the Palace of Popes and head home.
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