Visiting Aix-en-Provence: The City of Fountains
Aix-en-Provence is a Goldilocks town: not too big, not too small, and with a lot of character.
It’s located in the Provence region of France, about 45 minutes north of Marseilles and 2.5 hours from Nice. Its name comes from the Latin word for water, which is appropriate because there are fountains all. over. the. city. Not quite as many as its nickname, “The City of a Thousand Fountains”, would indicate, but they do show up everywhere!
Aix is also a university town, so it has a lot of students and a young, hip vibe to compliment the classic European flavor. Combine that with pretty trees, beautiful squares, and great architecture and you have a wonderful experience waiting for you.
There are a lot of places to explore and must see, fun things to do in Aix-en-Provence!
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Cathédrale Saint Sauveur
I love moseying around old European churches and cathedrals – the architecture is always so grand and imposing, there are often lots of intricate details to look at, plus it’s really cool to consider that for a long time churches were the center of village life: a lot of history and special events have happened in these buildings.
The church in Aix-en-Provence was an interesting place to spend some time; in particular, the baptism pedestal was actually out and filled with water in one of the chapels, which I found very interesting! This was the first time I have seen a baptismal bowl actually featured in any of the churches that we’ve toured.
Overall, it’s quiet, it’s peaceful, it’s free, it’s full of cool architectural details, and it’s a look into the town’s history. Highly recommend stopping by.
The Fountains of Aix-en-Provence
Aix’s fountains are a unique bunch. There are some that are big and grand, commanding the middle of a square or serving as the end cap of a busy street, and others that are smaller and tucked down a side street or in a corner. Others are actually drinking water fountains (and some of the prettiest drinking water fountains I’ve ever seen).
The biggest and most well-known fountain is Fontaine de la Rotonde, which is at the end of the Cours Mirabeau (a pedestrian avenue). It makes a very pretty picture as you walk down Cours Mirabeau and see the imposing fountain framed in by buildings lining the avenue.
This spot is a must-see in Aix – although truly, it would be difficult to visit Aix-en-Provence and NOT come across this fountain at some point!
In fact, Cours Mirabeau has four fountains being bookended by Fontaine de la Rotonde and Roi René, with two more in between. One of these, Fontaine Moussue, brings forth hot water. So with one street you’ll find four nice examples of fountains, but there are more to explore!
Another popular fountain is at Place d’Albertas. The fountain is smaller than the Rotonde, but still makes a great shot. It stands in the corner of a small courtyard and the buildings provide a cute backdrop. For the best lighting, aim to be there at sunset so that the shadows are the least imposing.
Another one we made a point to see was the Place des Quatre Dauphins. It’s an obelisk bracketed by four dolphins – or one artist’s interesting interpretation of dolphins. It’s at the center of a little roundabout in a more residential area and is a great stop if you’re headed to the south side of the old town.
In total, Aix has over 40 fountains (which is a far cry from 1000! – even the Romans had click-bait) and as you wander around the city, keep your eyes open and you are sure to see many of them!
Sidenote: There actually used to be several hundred fountains, as the area has a wealth of springs that the Romans were drawn to and put to use. Many of those are now incorporated into the city water supply.
Stroll Cours Mirabeau
Cours Mirabeau is a wide pedestrian avenue that runs down the approximate center of Aix-en-Provence old town. It has a variety of shops, including cinemas, restaurants, clothing stores, chocolatiers, patisseries, and gelato stands. The street is tree lined, has several fountains, and lots of space for pedestrians to stroll, window shop, pick up a treat, and hang out. It has a really nice ambiance and is an enjoyable place to spend an afternoon or evening (or both!) and we passed through several times. It also happens to be a fantastic spot for pictures.
Tip/sidenote: Cours Mirabeau serves as a bit of a dividing line for old town, where the north side has more businesses and the south side has more residential areas.
On Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday mornings it is also home to a shopping market that is worth stopping by. Speaking of markets…
I love a good market, and Aix-en-Provence offers some of the best market days in the region. The city has not one, not two, but five different regular city markets, each selling different things on different days. There are also a few special occasion markets. It’s a double win because the markets are located in the many beautiful squares found in Aix. When considering what to do in Aix-en-Provence, you cannot miss a market day!
The more traditional food market is located at Place Richelme. It’s open every day of the week from 8am-1pm and you’ll find locals and visitors alike browsing the fruits, vegetables, nuts, cheeses, breads, and dried meats.
Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday mornings are big market days – with four different markets winding throughout the city. These markets are found at Place de l’Hotel de Ville, Place des Precheurs, Place de Verdun, and Cours Mirabeau.
First, at Place de L’Hotel de Ville is a flower market. Flower markets in France are so beautiful and interesting! Especially to me as someone from the United States, where flower markets are just not nearly as common. There are also a lot of flowers I don’t see as frequently here – such as peonies. I feel like I see peonies being sold everywhere in France. Anyway, I just love the sights, smells, and general laid-back feel of the flower market.
Place des Precheurs and Place de Verdun are two squares that essentially flow into each other, each with a different market. Place des Precheurs is another food market and Place de Verdun is an artisan market selling crafts, pottery, provincial soaps, and lavender products.
Finally, as mentioned above, on the Cours Mirabeau, you find the textile market. Stalls line the pedestrian walkway with clothing options, bags, scarves, and linens. When we walked through there were a lot of dresses that caught my eye – I love a good dress!
At the end of the Cours Mirabeau, on the south side of the Rotonde fountain, the market shifts into a flea market. We really enjoyed meandering down, perusing the second hand treasures on offer. To the north-west of the fountain, you’ll find a small food section with an emphasis on hot foods and specialty offerings like smoked meats, cheeses, and jams.
Tip: Plan your stay in Aix to coincide with a market morning.
Tip: If you’re wanting to bring home a French souvenir, the market at Aix is a great place to find something. We have brought back lavender products, soaps, jams, and were tempted by many other goods.
Tip: On the second Sunday of every month, the Place de l’Hotel de Ville is a second hand book market, and at Christmas, the Cours Mirabeau is a Christmas market.
Read more: The Best Things to Eat in Aix-en-Provence
Atelier de Cezanne
The artist, Paul Cezanne, was born in and went to university in Aix-en-Provence, and spent much of his later life there as well. His studio is just outside of old town Aix. It was about a 15 minute walk from the north edge of old town. You can get a tour of the studio or just wander around the gardens.
Do reserve your time online in advance, as space is limited. We actually did not get a tour because we did not realize how limited space was, and they were sold out the day we showed up (without a reservation). Next time! We did get to look around, peak into the first room, and stroll the grounds, which were peaceful and lovely.
A short walk outside the old town part of Aix-en-Provence is the city library. As someone who loves to read, I was really excited to stop by to see the façade by the entrance, which is designed to resemble a few popular French books. This is a stop that’s somewhat off the beaten path. It’s a quick visit and although the inside of the library is pretty ordinary, I am glad we stopped by to see the outside.
Aix-en-Provence is a well-known shopping destination. There are many, many options ranging from luxury designers to cute boutiques throughout the city and a lot of unique pieces available. We mostly window-shopped and enjoyed admiring all the beautiful displays. There are great shops dotted everywhere, but if you want a suggestion, Rue Clemenceau and Rue Marius Reynard are good streets to start on.
Practical Info for Aix-en-Provence
Where to Stay
I would recommend staying in or right by old town. This adorable hotel with old French architectural details is centrally located, just a few blocks away from the Cours Mirabeau. It’s the perfect spot for exploring Aix and immersing yourself in old French charm.
Aix-en-Provence is a very walkable city. We didn’t use any public transportation here; everything we did was in easy walking distance.
For getting to and from Aix, you have a few options. The closest airport is Marseille; however, Nice is also an option, and where we flew into, as the flights were much cheaper going into Nice. It’s also an easy train ride to Aix from Paris.
Once you are in the region, you can choose to rent a car and drive yourself around, take the train, or take the bus. We’ve done just about every mode of transportation in southern France, and there are pros and cons to each!
Renting a car gives you the most flexibility, but it is also the most hands-on option (need to navigate, find parking, etc). Thankfully, driving in France is fairly straightforward, road conditions are good, and traffic on the freeways isn’t bad at all.
We chose this option on our second trip to southern France because some places we wanted to hit weren’t easily accessible to train and much less convenient by bus.
Most cars in France are manual transmission, so if that’s going to be a problem you’ll want to make your car reservation as early as possible (limited number of automatic cars) and be prepared to spend a little more.
If the places you want to visit are easily accessible by train this is an excellent option for getting around southern France. You don’t have to mess with parking, tolls, driving in narrow old towns, or navigating.
However, sometimes the train routes do not connect directly to the places you want to visit. Plus, there is always less flexibility when you aren’t driving yourself.
This is the cheapest option, but honestly, this is my least favorite option because it’s the slowest. Buses can take a long time! It’s a good option though if you don’t need to go far. It’s also the only public transportation option for accessing some of the smaller villages in Provence.
So, which one to choose?
I would choose a car if…
- You want to get places really early or stay late
- If you are planning on going a new place everyday or almost every day
- If the places you want to visit aren’t easily accessible by train (no direct route or the direct route is much slower than the driving time)
I would choose the train if…
- You don’t want to deal with the hassle of parking and navigating
- You are only doing a couple of day trips
- You want the experience of taking the train in France
- The places you want to go are easily accessible by train from where you’re staying
I would choose the bus if…
- You are on an incredibly tight budget
- The places you want to visit are super close to where you are staying
Aix makes a great base camp city! Alternatively, if you choose to stay in Marseille or even Nice, Aix could be a day trip destination itself.
If you do stay in Aix, we have visited and highly recommend trips to Pont du Gard, Arles, Avignon, the calanques of Cassis, Moustiers-Saint-Marie/Le Gorge du Verdon, and the Sentier du Littoral of Antibes.
Our favorite things to do in Nice
What to Eat in Nice for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner
The Best Things to Eat in Aix-en-Provence
Hiking the Calanques of Cassis
Visiting Pont du Gard: An Old Roman Aqueduct
Exploring the Sentier du Littoral of Antibes
Professional photos by Claire Madeline Photography