Montpellier’s Old Town: Top 18 Things to See and Do

I’ve been an expat in France for more than six years, and, during that time, I’ve traveled extensively around the country. And one of my favorite cities is Montpellier, so much so that I’ve visited several times.

It’s located in southern France and is known for its striking architecture and buzzing cultural scene.

As the 8th largest city, there’s a lot to do here. And one of the top attractions is its historic district, Écusson.

I loved everything about this neighborhood. From the charming narrow streets to the jaw-dropping cathedrals, I found something to do at every turn.

In this guide, I’ll share with you the top 18 things to see and do in Montpellier’s Old Town.

Here is a list of the best things to do in Montpellier Old Town
Things to do in Écusson, Montpellier.

18 Things to do in Montpellier’s Old Town

Écusson is the heart of Montpellier.

Whether you’re interested in history, art, food, or local culture, there are tons of things to do in this charming neighborhood.

Here’s a look at the top tourist attractions and things I recommend you do while visiting.

1. Explore Place de la Comédie

This is the Carrousel de la Comédie in Place de la Comédie. It's standing still and there are people waiting for it to start. It's next to a tall stone building.
Carrousel de la Comédie

Place de la Comédie is the largest square in Montpellier.

It’s lined with grand buildings and is a popular spot for locals and tourists alike.

From outdoor cafés to historical landmarks, it’s the perfect place to start any Montpellier itinerary.

Stroll along the wide promenades, soak in the ambiance of the open-air market, or people-watch at a sidewalk café.

A few must-visit sites are the Opéra Comédie, the Fontaine des Trois Grâces, and the Carrousel de la Comédie.

But my favorite thing to do here was photograph the architecture. The ornate details and grandeur of the buildings were perfect.

Everything matched and looked like it was built specifically for this square.

Nearest Tram Stop: Comédie (Lines 1 and 2)

2. Stroll through Promenade du Peyrou

This is the view of the Aqueduc Saint-Clément. It's a long aqueduct and in the distance you can see rooftops and trees.
Aqueduc Saint-Clément

The Promenade du Peyrou is a picturesque park with stunning views of the city.

At the center stands an impressive statue of Louis XIV.

Then, behind it are two of the most beautiful monuments I saw in Montpellier, the Château d’Eau and the Aqueduc Saint-Clément.

I went at sunrise and had the whole place to myself. I walked around, admired the architecture, and took in the panoramic views.

Best of all, I felt safe walking alone as a solo female traveler.

Helpful Tip: For the best view of the aqueduct head to the small platform next to the Château d’Eau. That’s where I took the photo above.

Nearest Tram Stop: Peyrou – Arc de Triomphe (Line 4)

3. Discover the Musée Fabre

This is a portrait of young Edgar Clarke at the Musée Fabre. It was painted by Fabre and shows a small boy holding flowers and walking in the woods. Next to it, there are two other paintings.
A Portrait of Young Edgar Clarke by Fabre

The Musée Fabre was founded in the early 19th century by François-Xavier Fabre, a renowned artist and collector from Montpellier.

From classical masterpieces to contemporary works, this museum offers a diverse range of exhibits. In fact, it houses over 2000 paintings alone.

My favorite collection was the one donated by Fabre himself, especially his portraits of historical figures.

One example is in the photo above. It was painted by Fabre and features a young Edgar Clarke.

Address: 39 Boulevard Bonne Nouvelle

Nearest Tram Stop: Comédie (Lines 1 and 2)

4. Browse Les Halles Castellanes

This the inside of Les Halles Castellanes. There is a fruit and vegetable stand with people standing next to it.
Les Halles Castellanes

No trip to Montpellier is complete without visiting Les Halles Castellanes, the best indoor market in town.

Here, you can find everything from fresh produce and meats to local delicacies like cheeses and wines.

I had a blast walking around and talking with the local vendors. They were all incredibly friendly and eager to share their knowledge about Montpellier.

I also learned about local dishes to try like aligot and cassoulet.

I ended up buying some fresh fruit for a picnic in Jardin des Plantes.

Address: Rue de l’Herberie

Nearest Tram Stop: Comédie (Lines 1 and 2)

5. Take a Photo of Rue des Bras Fer

This is a photo of L'Escalier Arc en Ciel Belvédère on Rue des Bras Fer. It's a set of stairs and each one is painted a color of the rainbow. Above it there are triangle flags that are also painted in the colors of the rainbow.
L’Escalier Arc en Ciel Belvédère

Écusson is filled with charming streets, but Rue des Bras Fer is one of the most picturesque.

This is where you’ll find L’Escalier Arc en Ciel Belvédère. It’s a small staircase that stretches the length of the street. And every step is painted a different color of the rainbow.

The best place I found to take a photo is at the bottom of the stairs (at the corner of Rue de l’Ancien Courrier and Rue des Bras Fer).

I went in the afternoon, and I was still able to take a photo without anyone around.

Afterward, I visited a small bookshop halfway up the stairs called Le Bookshop. It also has a café with a terrace outside on the stairs.

Nearest Tram Stop: Comédie (Lines 1 and 2)

6. Admire Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Montpellier

This is the entrance to Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Montpellier. It shows two red doors surrounded by four sets of columns.
Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Montpellier

The Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Montpellier was built in the 14th century.

It showcases Gothic architecture, intricate stone carvings, vaulted ceilings, and elaborate stained-glass windows.

Helpful Tip: The Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Montpellier is also referred to as the Montpellier Cathedral.

Throughout its history, it has survived sieges, battles, and wars. And, in 1906, it was labeled as a historical monument.

When I first saw it, I thought it was a fortress, which is very different from other famous cathedrals in France, like Sainte-Chapelle on Île de la Cité in Paris.

Helpful Tip: You can climb one of the towers (Tour Urbain V). Tickets are sold through the Montpellier Tourist Office.

Address: Rue Saint-Pierre

Nearest Tram Stop: Albert 1er – Cathédrale (Line 4)

7. Admire the Porte du Peyrou

This is the Porte du Peyrou. It's an arch with a french flag on top and cars are driving through it.
Porte du Peyrou

The Porte du Peyrou or Arc de Triomphe de Montpellier is a stunning archway that serves as the entrance to the city’s royal promenade.

It was built in 1691 as part of the Promenade du Peyrou and classified as a historical monument in 1954.

Even though it’s part of the promenade, it’s outside the park itself, so it’s easy to miss.

I visited the Porte du Peyrou after I finished exploring the promenade. It was early in the morning, so I was able to appreciate it without cars zooming by.

Address: Rue Foch

Nearest Tram Stop: Peyrou – Arc de Triomphe (Line 4)

8. Check Out the Faculty of Medicine

This is the courtyard at the Faculty of Medicine in Montpellier. It shows a stone structure with three arches and four tall bushes.
Faculty of Medicine

The Faculty of Medicine is renowned for its contributions to the advancement of medical knowledge and practice. It was established in the 12th century and is the oldest medical school in the world.

It also houses the Musée et Conservatoire d’Anatomie where you can explore medical artifacts and historical documents.

Reservations with the tourist office are required to visit the museum. Otherwise, you can tour the courtyard and entryway for free.

The first time I visited Montpellier, the museum was closed so I toured the courtyard.

I was amazed by the intricate details on the building’s façade and enjoyed taking photos of the beautiful architecture.

Address: 2 Rue de l’École de Médecine

Nearest Tram Stop: Albert 1er – Cathédrale (Line 4)

9. Relax in Esplanade Charles de Gaulle

This is the Bassin du Champ de Mars in Esplanade Charles de Gaulle. It's a large lake surrounded by trees and walking paths. There are ducks swimming in the center of it.
Bassin du Champ de Mars

Esplanade Charles de Gaulle is a leafy promenade next to Place de la Comédie. It’s a popular spot for locals and tourists to relax, have a picnic, or go for a walk.

It’s also where you’ll find the Pavillon Populaire, a photography exhibition space that highlights national and international artists.

Helpful Tip: Entry to the Pavillon Populaire is free.

I walked through Esplanade Charles de Gaulle on my way to the Corum.

The open-air market in Place de la Comédie spilled over, so I stopped to browse the stalls.

Then I took a break on the benches in front of the Bassin du Champ de Mars before visiting the Pavillon Populaire.

Despite being in the popular tourist area, Esplanade Charles de Gaulle was peaceful and serene.

It was a nice change of pace from the busy streets and bustling squares.

Address: 8 Avenue du Pont Juvénal

Nearest Tram Stop: Comédie (Lines 1 and 2)

10. Visit Jardin des Plantes de Montpellier

This is the Jardin des Plantes de Montpellier. There are lots of trees and fauna surrounded by walking paths.
Jardin des Plantes de Montpellier

A short walk from the Cathédrale Saint-Pierre, Jardin des Plantes is a beautiful botanical garden that spans over four hectares.

It was established in the 16th century and is the oldest botanical garden in the country.

It features an impressive collection of plants from all over the world, but most are local to the region.

I loved getting lost in the winding paths and admiring the colorful flowers and trees.

Information boards were also scattered throughout the garden so I could learn about the different species.

Address: Boulevard Henri IV

Nearest Tram Stop: Albert 1er – Cathédrale (Line 4)

11. Find a Trompe l’Oeil

This is the Fresque Murale Place Saint Roch. It's a lifelike mural that looks real. It shows people standing at their windows then in the upper right corner there is a reflection of the Saint Roch Church.
Fresque Murale Place Saint Roch

Montpellier has two murals that are known as “trompe l’oeil,” which translates to “trick of the eye.”

They give the illusion of a three-dimensional scene on a flat surface and often look very lifelike.

One of these can be found in Écusson at Place Saint-Roch.

It’s called Fresque Murale Place Saint Roch. It features windows with people looking outside and the reflection of the Église de Saint-Roch, which is in front of the mural.

I first saw the painting when I was exiting the church, and I didn’t realize what it was. I thought it was real and had to double back to take a closer look.

Address: Place Saint-Roch

Nearest Tram Stop: Observatoire (Lines 3 and 4)

12. Marvel at the Tour de la Babote

This is the Tour de la Babote. It's a tall stone tower with windows.
Tour de la Babote

The Tour de la Babote is one of the last remaining medieval towers in Montpellier.

It was built in the 13th century and originally served as a watchtower for the city. It was later converted into an observatory.

Today, it’s home to two prestigious groups – the Société Astronomique de Montpellier and the Chess Club.

You can’t go up in the tower, but there is an informational board next to it that details its history. Then, in the back, there’s a small square with a few shops.

After I checked out the tower, I stopped by the Social Bar Montpellier for a beer. The weather was nice, and they had lots of outdoor seating.

Address: 17 Boulevard de l’Observatoire

Nearest Tram Stop: Observatoire (Lines 3 and 4)

13. Discover Église de Saint-Roch

This is the interior of the Église de Saint-Roch. It shows the pulpit and the aisle leading to the altar. Then in the back there is the infamous stained glass window of Saint Roch in front of the Montpellier Cathedral.
Église de Saint-Roch

The Église de Saint-Roch is a neo-Gothic style church from the 19th century. It’s dedicated to Saint Roch, who was born in Montpellier and is known for healing victims of the plague.

It features an imposing façade, although not as fortress-like as the Montpellier Cathedral. Then, inside there are paintings and statues depicting Saint Roch.

But my favorite feature was the large stained-glass window above the altar. It shows Saint Roch in front of the Montpellier Cathedral with his dog (photo above).

Address: 4 Rue Vallat

Nearest Tram Stop: Observatoire (Lines 3 and 4)

14. Find the Cannonball

This is the Cannonball at Rue des Étuves. It shows a open window with a plant hanging over the edge. Then below it is a small hole where the cannonball is.
Cannonball at 30 Rue des Étuves

Montpellier is full of hidden gems and one of them is the cannonball located on a building at 30 Rue des Étuves.

Legend has it that during the siege of Montpellier in 1622, a cannonball was shot and landed on this building. It’s still visible today, embedded in the wall.

But if you look closely, you’ll see there are no signs of impact.

This, plus the fact that it’s perfectly symmetrical makes many skeptical of its authenticity.

Fake or real, I thought it was a fun sight to search for.

Helpful Tip: It’s easy to miss, so make sure to keep your eyes peeled.

Address: 30 Rue des Étuves

Nearest Tram Stop: Observatoire (Lines 3 and 4)

15. Try Regional Specialties

This is my order of Aligot from the Restaurant l'Aveyronnais in Montpellier. It has cheesy potatoes topped with a sausage. Then there is a small salad with a small bowl of sauce.
My Order of Aligot from This is my order of Aligot from the Restaurant l’Aveyronnais

Unlike Marseille or other southern cities in France, Montpellier isn’t as well known for its food.

Most specialties come from the region rather than the city itself. But that doesn’t mean these dishes aren’t worth trying.

Some of my favorites were:

Cassoulet – A hearty stew made with white beans, pork, and duck confit.

BouillabaisseA seafood soup originating from Marseille but popular in Montpellier as well.

La Tielle Sètoise – A savory pastry filled with octopus, tomatoes, and herbs.

Aligot – A cheesy mashed potato dish from the Aubrac region.

Fougasse – A flatbread similar to pizza but topped with olives and herbs.

16. Admire the Pénitents Bleus

This is the inside of the Pénitents Bleus church. It shows an aisle leading to the altar. There is a painting of Christ on the cross above the altar.
Pénitents Bleus

Pénitents Bleus is one of the most overlooked churches in Montpellier.

I stumbled upon it while I was looking for the cannonball on Rue des Étuves. The door was open, and no other tourists were around, so I peeked inside.

I was blown away by the stunning blue and white interior. There are also paintings by two renowned artists, Antoine Ranc and Claude Mignard.

While it may not be as grand or well-known as others in Montpellier, it’s definitely worth a visit.

Address: 11 Rue des Étuves

Nearest Tram Stop: Observatoire (Lines 3 and 4)

17. Shop at an Open-Air Market

This is the open air market in Place de la Comédie. It's a second hand book stand. There are tons of books spread across several tables.
Open-Air Market in Place de la Comédie

One of my favorite things about Montpellier (and France in general) is the open-air markets.

They are held on different days throughout the city and offer a variety of fresh produce, meats, cheeses, and other local products.

But in Écusson there is only one – Comédie at Place de la Comédie.

It’s open Monday to Saturday from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm.

But I went early so I could talk with the vendors before the crowds arrived.

Helpful Tip: From Tuesday to Saturday, you’ll also find non-food vendors.

Address: Place de la Comédie

Nearest Tram Stop: Comédie (Lines 1 and 2)

18. Get Lost in the Winding Streets

This is Rue des Gagne Petit. It's a small street with a paved walkway. On the left there is a man working under an umbrella. Above him there are rectangular flags hanging down. Each one is a different color with different decorations.
Rue des Gagne Petit

Montpellier’s historic center is a charming maze of winding streets and alleys.

It’s a perfect place to get lost in and discover hidden gems such as cute cafés, local boutiques, and street art.

I found so many picturesque spots just by wandering around and taking in the architecture and atmosphere.

Below is a list of the prettiest streets I stumbled upon during my visits:

  • Rue des Gagne Petit
  • Rue Lallemand

Helpful Tip: Rue du Bras de Fer is also on this list, but I mentioned it above.

Conclusion: Old Town Montpellier France

Montpellier may not be as well-known as other French cities, but it has its own unique charm and character.

From its stunning architecture to its bustling markets, there is always something new and exciting to discover. And its historic center, Écusson, is the perfect place to start exploring.

So, now that you know all the things to do in Montpellier’s gorgeous Old Town, it’s time to start planning your trip. Why not check out some of the other neighborhoods in Montpellier?

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Jen Ciesielski
Jen Ciesielski

Jen Ciesielski is the creator of Dabbling in Jet Lag. She has lived abroad for over ten years, traveled to more than 50 countries, and speaks French and English fluently. Her areas of expertise include moving abroad, learning languages, and travel planning. Originally from the United States, she now lives in France, where she has been for more than six years. She has also traveled extensively around the country. She shares her experiences as an expat living in France and helps thousands of people plan their trips every month.

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