Things to do in Montpellier, France
January 1, 1970
by Caitlin Hackett
An often overlooked city on France’s Mediterranean coast, Montpellier is thriving. Over half of its population is under 30, the city is becoming ‘smart’ and attracting a fair bit of attention from the start-up community in recent years. I decided to head down for a few days and check it out for myself. And I was not left disappointed; the city is absolutely charming with all its narrow, winding cobblestones streets and impressive buildings. The city is distinctly French, yet with a hint of Spanish vibrancy. It was also such a treat to see the sun shining every day. A city break here is definitely a must.
I stayed in a charming Airbnb in the historic centre which made it very easy to get around and see everything. Since I had such a marvellous time, I thought I would share with you what you must not to miss on a trip to Montpellier.
The sights of Montpellier
La Promenade du Peyrou
Beautiful gardens with views all over the city where you can go and appreciate the diverse landscape. This is also perhaps the most ‘instagrammable’ spot in the city if you like. It would also be a good place to take a moment to relax, maybe even read a book in the Mediterranean sunshine. Facing the gold-gated entrance is the Porte du Peyrou- a mini Arc de Triomphe. In short: it’s a pretty place just to walk around and be inspired.
The Historic centre
Get lost in the narrow winding cobbled street filled with cafés, little shops and boutiques selling all sorts of goods and trinkets. Every now and then, you’ll stumble upon a vibrant square filled with people watching the world go by whilst savouring their morning coffee. This is the best opportunity to soak up Montpellier’s wonderful atmosphere. If you find yourself in Place Sainte Anne, do go into the old church (Carré Saint Anne)! I say church, it’s actually been converted into an art space. Entry is entirely free and the exhibition I saw was really good. I’m not normally an art person (much to the disappointment of some of my French friends) but it was very clear what the exhibition was getting at and the long portraits of the women in the middle were just breath-taking. You definitely don’t need to be an expert to enjoy it, which is what I loved best.
Place de la Comédie
This is the most famous and largest square in Montpellier. Due to this, I find the atmosphere to be less authentic. Yes, this is a great spot to drink coffee and people watch in a French café. But the cafés here are overpriced, so if you’re on a budget, have your French café experience in Place Jean Jaurès instead (I promise the people watching here is just as good, if not better). What you can do in Place de la Comédie, however, is marvel the magnificent Opera and the architecture of the square more generally, including the Garenne cinema. Next, slip over to the Esplanade Charles de Gaulle; it’s a stunning park that is perfect for a picnic and a good bit of shade. At the far end of the park, you can get another view of Montpellier as well as take a peek inside the Nelson Mandela Centre for International Relations. The building itself was closed when I went but I believe it does host some cultural exhibitions. Nevertheless, the garden is full of wonderful corners exhibiting cities from around the world.
If like me you like nature, then you may want a day outside of the city. In that case, grab a Velomagg (the city’s bike sharing scheme) and head down the cycle path starting around Port Marianne that leads to the sea. Be warned: the Velomaggs are not the best bikes in the world, but at 50 cents an hour, you can hardly complain. The 12km journey is a great way to get some exercise and fresh air, and your reward at the end will be a moment to relax on the beach. The journey itself is also really pleasant and you never know, you may even see some flamingos. Exercise, fresh air and the beach. What’s not to love?
Eating in Montpellier
Getting to what is (obviously) the most important part: food! I love food from both sides of the Mediterranean as well as café culture. Luckily Montpellier has everything. I particular favourite of mine was Ma Première Cantine in the Jean Jaurès square for a fresh lunch with some fruit juice – or wine, we are in France after all…
Something else that really surprised me – and that the Brit in me absolutely loved – was all the tea rooms in Montpellier; there are so many of them! The best was definitely Les Demoiselles de Montpellier (Le Gram also has very good reviews). They have many kinds of tea, traditional and herbal alike, as well as vegan cakes. You can enjoy all of this in a cosy Mediterranean atmosphere – the perfect place to just think or journal. Another thing to note is that the city is very vegetarian (and vegan!) friendly. France tends to get a bad reputation for not being very accommodating to those of us who don’t eat meat, but Montpellier had plenty of delicious options and not just the token goat’s cheese salad.
Bars and pubs
As there are so many students in Montpellier, there are a plethora of bars and restaurants at night to cater for every kind of vibe. The best bars can be found between Rue Foch and the train station in the historic centre. And, as always, there is an Irish pub…
A final word
In addition to the beauty of the city, its people are extremely warm and welcoming. I met so many of them through yoga meetups, co-working events and through my Airbnb host. If you don’t speak French, most of the people living here do speak English. It really is incredibly easy to talk to people you come across on the street or in cafés and the city is quite international so you may even bump into someone from your own country (I came across a fellow Scottish person in a juice bar).
And that concludes my guide on what to do on a city break to Montpellier. Have I tempted you into booking your trip?