Montpellier travel guide

Montpellier in France

Situated in the south of France at the Mediterranean Sea, Montpellier is the eighth largest French city with approximately 255,000 inhabitants (as of 2009) and has been referenced by the New York Times as one of the forty-five destinations to visit in 2012. The town, pedestrian friendly, offers a combination of narrow medieval passages and large boulevards and squares of the nineteenth century. Students make up nearly a quarter of the population and the University of Montpellier (Université de Montpellier) is one of the oldest in the entire world.

The city of Montpellier was founded in the tenth century AC. Its perfect position, almost halfway between Italy and Spain, next to the “via domitia” and the Saint Jacques de Compostelle road, have allowed Montpellier to grow into an important trading city. Gilders, goldsmiths, drapers and money-changers settled and the mix of Christians, Saracens, Jewish and Italians have rendered Montpellier a cosmopolitan city. Additionally, the pilgrims have substantially contributed to the continuous development of charitable and hospitable institutions.

Montpellier Hérault Sport Club (in short Montpellier HSC) is now the pride and joy of the locals for winning the French football championship in 2012.

The city has a busy nightlife with restaurants, bars, discos and numerous events organized throughout the year. But the historical centre also boasts several cultural sights, such as the Medical College and its Botanical Garden (Jardin des Plantes), Saint Peter's Cathedral (Cathédrale St-Pierre) and the Royal Peyrou square (Place Royale du Peyrou).

Additionally, the region offers many outdoors and sports activities, as well as other occupations delighting adults and children. The beaches on the Mediterranean coast, only twelve kilometres from the city centre, are reachable by public transport and young couples, families or groups of friends can find many activities matching their wishes. 

Last but not least, the Pourcel brothers have opened their first restaurant, Le Jardin des Sens (11 avenue Saint-Lazare, €40–€80 per course, website) holding 1 star of the Michelin guide and are now considered as the French gastronomy ambassadors around the world.

Places and monuments to visit

Historical centre

  • The Place de la Comédie, also known as the Place de l’Oeuf (egg’s square), because of its original oval shape, is Montpellier’s central square. In its centre, the statue Les Trois Grâces, emblematic of the city, faces the Opera House.
  • The Comédie Opera House was inaugurated on the 1st of October 1888 to meet the needs of Montpellier’s intellectuals thirsty for shows and productions. With its 1,600 seats covered in red velvet and gilt, the auditorium is decorated like a traditional Italian theatre.
  • Previously not allowed, today the visit of several private mansions through a guided tour is highly recommended by the tourist office. The heart of Montpellier has an abundance of these private mansions dating from the seventeenth until the nineteenth century. Notably, during the seventeenth century the facades of these buildings were very austere in contrast to the monumental staircases and their graceful balustrades leading to a patio. In the eighteenth century the facades were particularly embellished thanks to a local family, the Girals. Later, with the ascension of the bourgeoisie, the private mansions became a symbol of social status and were decorated with exuberant and ostentatious ornaments.
  • Designed by François II d’Orbay, the Triumphal Arch (Arc de Triomphe, also known as Porte du Peyrou), a replica of the famous arch of Paris, was built in 1692 in honour of Louis XIV, in the exact position, where a gate of the old city’s ramparts used to be. With the guided tour offered by the tourism office, the visitor can climb up the eighty-eight steps until the top of the building to enjoy one of the most spectacular views over Montpellier.
  • The Peyrou Royal Square was completed by the architect Jean Giral in 1774. A statue of Louis XIV on a horseback was erected halfway on the square's promenade, which ultimately leads to the water tower and the aqueduct. In the summer evenings, lots of students meet at the square for a drink until midnight.
  • As Montpellier was not fed with water, the Aqueduct des Arceaux also called Aqueduct St-Clément was built in 1754 by Henry Pitot de Launay based on the ancient Roman Bridge of the Gard (Pont du Gard), which forms part of the Nîmes aqueduct.
  • The church of Saint-Pierre became a cathedral when Maguelone’s diocese was relocated to Montpellier. Its immense porch is consisted of two impressive pillars, reaching 4.55 metres in diameter.
  • The Medical College is the oldest medical school operating in the occidental world. It was founded in the end of the twelfth century and it became famous in 1340 with the launch of an anatomy course. Numerous well-known practitioners studied in Montpellier, such as Nostradamus, François Rabelais and Arnaud de Villeneuve.
  • The Botanical Garden, one of the oldest in Europe and the first in France, was created by Pierre Richer de Belleval in 1593 by Henry IV’s edict. All botanical gardens thereafter, including the one in Paris, have taken the Montpellier Botanical Garden as example. Visitors can discover more than 2,000 plant species in 4.5 hectares of land, in a garden protected and classified as a Historical Monument. Address: 1 Boulevard Henri IV,  Opening hours: from 1st June–31st September, Tuesday–Sunday, 12:00–20:00; from 1st October–31st May, Tuesday–Sunday, 12:00–18:00
  • The Saint Charles Chapel, a hospital, was built in 1678 by order of Louis XIV at the Carme convent. The two stands were corresponding to the two hospital floors. In that way the patients could assist to the church service from their floor.
  • Situated in the old Jewish quarter, which no longer exists, the medieval mikvé is a Jewish bath built during the thirteenth century, showing the important role played by the community in the city's development.
  • The Saint Côme Amphitheater was built by the architect Jean-Antoine Giral between 1751 and 1757, to house lectures of the Chirurgical College, while today the building accommodates the Commerce Chamber.

New districts and contemporary architecture

  • In 1978, Montpellier bought old “terrain” of the French army to develop the city and two years later Ricardo Bofill designed his project, seeing the Antigone District as a Mediterranean one, contrasting the classic architecture of the Polygon.
  • From the Comédie to the Lez, visitors can discover a contemporary and modern architecture with the Golden Number Plaza, the Millénaire and the Europe square.
  • The Port Marianne District was designed by well-known architects just like the new city hall of Montpellier (Jean Nouvel and François Fontès in 2011).
  • The Odysseum District is a leisure complex featuring theme restaurants, an immense shopping centre and an aquarium, as well as an ice rink.

Museums and galleries to visit

  • The Fabre Museum is housed in an exceptional monument combining classic and modern architecture and its permanent exposition is consisted of world-class collections, including masterpieces by Raphaël, Veronèse or even Poussin donated by the painter François-Xavier Fabres in 1825. Later the collection was completed by Antoine Valedau, who furnished the museum with Flemish and Dutch works from Mieris, Dou and others. In the nineteenth century the Fabre Museum entered the modern era receiving pieces of Delacroix or Courbet. Throughout the twentieth century the collection has also been enriched with representative works of well-known painters, such as Monet and Degas. At the end of the visit, the visitor will discover the unique set of masterpieces by Pierre Soulages telling the story of this French artist. Address: 13 rue Montpelliéret, Opening hours: Tuesday–Sunday, 10:00–18:00, Entrance fees: Permanent exposition only: €4.00–€6.00; Permanent & Temporary exposition: €7.00–€9.00
  • The Ecusson’s Gallery presents abstract and figurative works by contemporary artists including original engravings and bronze statues. Address: 11 rue de l’ancien Courrier, Opening hours: Tuesday–Saturday, 23:00–19:00
  • The Ancien Courrier’s Gallery, housed in the mansion of the Marquis de Montcalm, is pre-senting the work of contemporary painters passionate by south of France colours and lights. Address: 3 rue de l’ancien Courrier, Opening hours: Tuesday–Saturday, 10:30–13:30 and 15:00–19:00

Events to attend

  • The Estivales is a night market taking place every Friday evening in summer at the Esplanade Charles de Gaulle (next to the Comédie). The visitors get the chance to discover local wines and taste French food, surrounded by 150 local merchants and artists. To sample wine from the 180 winegrowers on the market, one needs to go to the ticket office and buy a wine glass and tickets for few Euros. Then visitors can choose the wine they want to taste at the different stands installed at the esplanade for the purpose of the market. The wine merchants are happy to advise on the characteristics of their wines and help people choose one that will match their tastes. Afterwards, and with a filled glass in hand, people like to walk around the esplanade and discover the numerous specialties from the region of southern France. Feel free to buy a plate of fresh oysters coming from the lagoon of Thau (only 30 minutes drive) or to taste some Pelardon, a goat's cheese coming from the Cévennes. You will also find several different kinds of sausages, paella, and other delicacies. Opening hours: Friday, 18:30–23:30
  • The festival Montpellier Danse allows people to see every year more than thirty regional and international dance groups performing from three to ten shows a day for ten days. Period: June–July
  • The FISE, International Extreme Sport Festival, is one of the biggest extreme sport festivals in Europe and invites amateurs as well as international stars in different sports: BMX biking, skating, roller skating, wakeboarding, kite-surfing, skiing, snowboarding and freestyle motocross. Visitors can also enjoy the concerts every evening during the festival. Period: May – website
  • The International Battle of the Year by Boty France brings together 22 nationalities in the different Hip-Hop fields. Period: May – website

Places to drink and dance

Montpellier is a vibrant city with numerous bars and clubs in its centre as well as around the city, but reachable by public transport. Throughout the year, the bars generally close at 01:00 but during the summer time they stay open until 02:00 in the morning.
  • Le Rebuffy, located in the Foch district, welcomes numerous students that fancy drinking a beer while playing cards or board games. Victim of its own success, it can be difficult to find a table outdoors. Address: 2 rue Rebuffy, Opening hours: 07:00–02:00
  • The O’Carolans Irish Pub is truly an Irish pub. You can enjoy a chilled Irish stout seating at the terrace with a nice view of Saint Anne's Church or watching the major sporting events and the bilingual staff will serve you in either English or French. Address: 5 rue du Petit Scel - website, Opening hours: Monday–Tuesday, 13:30–01:00; Saturday & Sunday, 12:30 –01:00
  • The Fitzpatrick’s is an Irish pub housed in a seventeenth century building with a nice terrace on the Saint Côme square. This family-run pub often holds sporting events as well as regular live traditional Irish music. Address: 5 place Saint Côme - website, Opening hours: 12:00–01:00
  • The Café Joseph, located at the lively Jean Jaurès square, is surrounded by many bars and restaurants. For the last 20 years, it has absolutely been the place to be. They serve draught beers, wines and snacks, such as Tartare with homemade fries. Address: 3 place Jean Jaurès - website, Opening hours: Bar 09:00– 13:00, Sunday 09:00–01:00; Restaurant 12:00–00:00, Sunday 16:00–12:00
  • Le Shakespeare is housed in a beautiful seventeenth-century building in the heart of Jacques Coeur's district. You will find draught ales, lager and can improve your French or chat in English drinking a beer at their nice terrace. Address: 12 rue de la Petite Loge - website, Opening hours: Monday–Sunday, 16:00–01:00
  • The Barberousse Shooter Bar, 10 metres from the Comédie, offers an extraordinary choice of shooters prepared after exclusive recipes. Address: 6 rue Boussairolles - website, Opening hours: Tuesday–Saturday, 18:00–01:00
  • The Charlie’s Beer, just two steps away from the Comédie, serves twelve kinds of draught beer (Belgian and French) and fifty different bottled beers. This old-school bar plays only vinyl disks. Address: 24 rue Aristide Ollivier, Opening hours: Monday–Saturday, 17:00–01:00
  • The Circus gives the feeling that you are entering a New York pub with a circus theme. Next to the Jean Jaurès square, it is well located and serves numerous draught beers and a wide choice of whisky. Address: 3 rue Collot - website, Opening hours: 18:00–01:00
  • The Café de la mer, gay-friendly, is located at the most quiet place in the historical centre next to the prefecture. You can ask there about all the gay-friendly places in Montpellier and around. Address: 5 place du Marché aux Fleurs, 34000 Montpellier, Opening hours: Monday–Sunday
  • The Rockstore consists of a concert hall, two clubs and a Rock café. The atmosphere in the club downstairs is Pop and Independent Rock, but can also host electronic parties. The club upstairs plays randomly electro, breakbeat, soul, funk, garage rock, sixties rock and psychérock. Address: 20 rue Verdun – website, Opening hours: the Rock café opens at 18:00 and the club closes at around 04:00
  • The Villa Rouge is one of the best clubs in France. Gay-friendly, the clubbers dance mainly to electro music. The club consists of four halls, a nice patio and a restaurant. Address: Route de Palavas, 34970 Lattes – website, Opening hours: Wednesday–Sunday, 23:00–04:50 (until 06:00 in summer), Price range: €6–€18
  • The Pulp Garden (for above 25-year-olds) is well-known for being the place, where the Jet Set of Montpellier likes to hang out. The club offers a patio, two bars and one dance floor playing all kinds of music. Address: Espace Latipolia, route de Palavas, 34970 Lattes – website, Opening hours: Thursday–Saturday, 20:00–05:00 (until 06:00 in the summer)
  • La Côte plays all kinds of music including house-electro. Address: Route de Carnon, Avenue de L’Agau, 34970 Lattes – website, Opening hours: every day 19:30–07:00

Places and markets to shop

The Ecusson (historic centre) abounds with little boutiques and well-known chain shops. Below, you will find several streets, where you can do your shopping.
  • Rue de l'ancien courrier: clothing, accessories and decoration articles
  • Rue de la loge: clothing and shoes
  • Grand rue Jean Moulin: clothing,  accessories, make up, skin care and shoes
  • Rue de l'Aiguillerie: clothing, decoration articles and hammocks
  • Rue Saint Guilhem: kitchen accessories, wine, champagne, regional products as well as biscuits and chocolate
  • The Polygone is the biggest shopping centre in downtown Montpellier with more than hundred shops. Address: 1 rue des Pertuisanes – website, Opening hours: Monday – Friday, 10:00–20:00; Saturday, 09:30–22:00
  • The Odyseum Shopping Center, opened in September 2009, is an open-air shopping centre. There, you will find an extensive range of boutiques (more than 100) as well as a Home & Garden store, a Sport outlet and a Hypermarket. Opening hours: Monday – Saturday, 10:00–20:00 (09:00– 21:00 for the Hypermarket) – website
Numerous local and traditional markets in Montpellier will let you discover the culture of southern France. 
  • Les Halles Castellanes (Place Castellane, Monday–Saturday, 07:00–19:00, Sunday, 07:30–14:00)
  • Les Halles Laissac (Place Laissac, Monday–Sunday, 07:00–13:00 and Saturdays until 15:00)
  • Place de la Comédie (Monday–Thursday, 07.00–13.30; Friday–Saturday, 07:00–18:00)
  • Les Halles Jacques Coeur (Boulevard d'Antigone, Monday–Saturday, 08:00–21:00 and Sunday, 08:00–15.30)
  • Marché des Beaux-arts (Place des Beaux-arts, Monday–Saturday, 07:00–13:00)
  • Marché des Arceaux (Boulevard des Arceaux, Tuesday–Saturday, 07:00–13:00)

Activities for children

  • Végapolis is the ice rink of Montpellier and it has two runways. One has a sportive ambiance and the other offers a clubbing atmosphere with lighting effects. Address: Place de France, Odysseum – website, Opening hours: Monday–Sunday, 10:00–12:30 and 14:00–18:30, Tuesday, Wednesday Friday and Saturday, 09:00–00:30, Entrance fees: €4.10–€5.00; Ice skate: €2.70
  • The Planetarium was inaugurated in 2002. Visitors can experience an extraordinary intergalactic trip under a dome of a 15-metre diameter and the latest technology. Address: 100 allée Ulysse, Odysseum – website, Opening hours: Monday–Sunday; Screenings are every hour from 14:00 onwards, Entrance fees: €5.30–€6.30 Euros
  • The Mare Nostrum is a new-generation aquarium taking you across the seas and oceans of the world with 3,500 animals belonging to more than 300 species. Address: Allée Ulysse, Odysseum – website, Opening hours: Monday–Sunday 10:00–19:00 (until 20:00 during July and August), Entrance fees: €7.50–€15.50 
  • The Amazonian greenhouse (la serre amazonienne) is the largest tropical glass building in France with over 500 animals belonging to 60 species and 3,500 plants belonging to 300 species. Address: Montpellier Zoological Park, 50 avenue Agropolis – website, Opening hours: Tuesday–Sunday, 10:00–17.00, Entrance fees: €3.00–€6.50

Beaches

The beaches are reachable by public transportation or car and the nearest is at 12 kilometres from the centre.

Public beaches

Several public beaches are located near Montpellier, such as:
  • Villeneuve-lès-Maguelone
  • Palavas les Flots
  • Le petit TraversCarnon
  • Le grand TraversLa Grande Motte
  • L'EspiguetteLe Grau du Roi
  • Les AresquiersFrontignan

Private beaches

Private beaches have also been developed along the Mediterranean coast of France:
  • At La Paillotte Bambou, you can rent a beach chair or a private area to spend your day at the beach. Address: Accès 47, Avenue de Carnon le grand travers, 34280 La Grande-Motte – website, Price range: €22.00 per beach chair including a salad and one drink, Restaurant €15.00–€40.00
  • The beach chairs of L'Effet-Mer look more like beds. You can stay and relax at the beach all day, enjoying a drink at its bar and nice food at its restaurant, prepared by the cook, Cédric Gerl. A wonderful brunch is also organized every Sunday. Do not forget the Afterwork on Thursday as well as the parties taking place on Friday nights. Address: Grand Travers, 34280 La Grande-Motte – website, Price range: Beach €20.00 per beach chair, Restaurant €19.50–€35.00, Brunch €35.00, Parking available
  • La voile bleue offers a new experience combining parties, “art de la table” and design. Address: Avenue du Grand Travers  34280 La Grande-Motte  – website, Price range: Restaurant €19.50–€24.50
  • Le Carré Mer is the beach restaurant of the Pourcel Brothers located on the beach of Villeneuve-lès-Maguelones. Please note that nudism is accepted there. Address: Route de Maguelone  34250 Palavas-les-Flots – website, Price range: Beach €10.00–€12.00 per beach chair, Restaurant €15.00–€34.00, Parking available
  • Face à la Mer, powered by solar energy, is the eco-friendly place to be. Address: D59, 34280 Mauguio – website, Price range: Beach €10 per beach chair during the week Restaurant €11.50–€25.00

Food and drinks to taste

During the Middle Ages, the main source of the Montpellier’s wealth was the spice trade, thanks to a syndicate at Tripoli (current Lebanon). Therefore, spices like ginger, saffron and pepper are widely used in traditional recipes of southern France.
Under the Third French Republic to welcome the prestigious guests, a dish of Montpellier has always been proposed to prestigious guests. Nine of them, including the Turbot à la Cambacérès, the Tatin de Foie-Gras and the Blanc Manger à la Cambacérès, were created by Jean-Jaques Régis de Cambacérès.
 
At the various markets of the city and the wider region of south France, there are several specialities that should not be missed. These include the following:
  • Pelardon, goat cheese from the Cévennes region
  • Tapenade, olive paste
  • Anchoïade, anchovy and olive paste
  • Oignons doux, mild onions from the Cévennes region
  • Olive de Nîmes, a variety of olives
  • Aïoli, a garlic-mayonnaise sauce
  • La Fouguasse, a type of bread that can be salted or sweet
  • Oysters (les bouzigues) and mussels from the Thau lagoon
  • Bull and wild boar sausages
  • Les Tellines, a type of clams accompanied by a range of sauces
  • Les Petits Pâtés de Pézenas, pastry filled with sweetened lamb meat
  • Le Beurre de Montpellier, butter from the region of Montpellier

Local plates

In the restaurants of southern France, you can taste several local plates, such as:
  • La Gardiane de Taureau, coming from Nîmes and Arles, a stew with Camargue bull meat and red wine
  • Le Cassoulet de Castelnaudary, Carcassonne and Toulouse, a stew of butterbean and different kinds of meat
  • La Ratatouille, a well-known vegetable stew
  • La Bourride à la Sétoise, a plate prepared with fish and seafood, similar to the Bouillabaisse
  • La Macaronade, a speciality from Sète made with macaroni pasta and a mix of tomatoes and beef
  • La Brandade de Nîmes , a plate made with salt cod
  • La Tielle de Sète, a pie made of cuttlefish, squid or octopus
  • Le Poulet à la Catalane, a type of chicken stew

Desserts

Plenty of sweet biscuits or desserts can also be tasted in the Languedoc, such as:
  • Les Oreillettes, a type of dough deep-fried in olive oil and flavoured with orange blossom
  • Les Zézettes de Sète, shortbread biscuits
  • La Crème Catalane, a type of baked custard topped with a layer of melted sugar
  • Les Grisettes de Montpellier, liquorice sweets

Red wines

  • Corbière: liquorice, thyme and black fruit flavour
  • Faugère: liquorice and fruit flavour
  • Saint-Chinian: cocoa, laurel and black fruit flavour
  • Costière de Nîmes: red fruit, vanilla and violet flavour

Sweet white wines

  • Muscat from Saint-Jean-de-Minervois, Mireval, Lunel or Frontignan

Around Montpellier

Many cities and beautiful villages are not to be missed in the south of France, especially Villeneuve-lès-Maguelone (13 km from Montpellier), the medieval city of Aigues-Mortes (33 km), Nîmes (57 km) a jewel of roman history, Pézenas (61 km) known for being the hometown of Le Molière, Uzès (80 km), Narbonne (95 km), Millau (114 km) with its viaduct (2,460 metres long and a maximum height of 343 metres) and Collioure (190 km).
 
Many sites of natural importance in southern France can be reached from Montpellier, such as the Camargue marshes, the Cévennes Mountains and the Pyrenées Mountains and also the Pic Saint-Loup (20 km), the Demoiselles and Clamouse caves (41 km), the Herault's gorge (44 km), the Salagou lake (55 km) and the Navacelles circus (74 km).
 
Last but not least, the Languedoc-Rousillon abounds with UNESCO inscribed sites, such as the Canal du Midi, the medieval abbey of Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert (44 km), the Pont du Gard (83 km), Avignon with the Papal Palace (97 km), the city of Carcassonne (151 km) and the Vauban Strongholds from Villefranche-de-Conflent (208 km) and the Mont-Louis (237 km).

Map of Montpellier with accommodations

The blue markers shows the location of various accommodations in Montpellier. The letter in the marker describes the accommodation types: H for Hotel, A for Apartment, R for Resort, B for Bed & Breakfast and O for Other (e.g. pension, villa). Click on the blue marker for more information on the accommodation.