France’s fastest growing city is young and fresh – almost half the population is under age 30. The vibrant student city of Montpellier is bursting with both historic and contemporary architecture, thriving nightlife and breathtaking natural landscapes. It’s no wonder why everyone wants to learn French in Montpellier!
Montpellier around town
The first step in meeting Montpellier is to make your way to the Place de la Comédie, the heart of the city. Full of terraced cafés and buffered on one side by the lovely Opera Comédie, this will probably be the place where you meet up with your friends once the sun goes down before diving into Montpellier’s legendary nightlife.
On the other side of town, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time at the Saint-Pierre of Montpellier Cathedral, which looks like a fairy tale castle with its twin towers and brightly coloured rose windows. Just behind the cathedral lays the Montpellier Botanical Garden, the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and relax among its fragrant flowers. It’s free to visit, but just keep in mind that it’s closed on Mondays.
Just south of the gardens, you’ll find Montpellier’s Arc de Triomphe, which straddles the Promenade du Peyrou, a wide, tree-lined path perfect for going for a run or a romantic evening stroll with your new paramour. At the end of the promenade, you’ll see the Saint-Clément Aqueduct, which you can climb for some nice views over Montpellier.
Finally, the Esplanade Charles-de-Gaulle is another great place for a stroll or for enjoying your lunch al fresco on one of the park benches. Catch some shade under its trees in the summer, pop into one of the cafés along the esplanade to warm up with a cappuccino when it gets chilly out or shop at the local markets along the promenade – the perfect place to mix and mingle with the locals!
Natural pursuits around Montpellier
During your time in Montpellier, you must plan an excursion to the Pic St-Loup. About half an hour from the city centre, park your car in the designated lot in Cazevieille before you go on one of the most beautiful hikes of your life. The walk to the top of the Pic St-Loup takes about an hour to an hour and a half and will reward you with views that might just be your best memory of Montpellier. If you don’t have a car, you can go on an organised excursion with your language school or one of the many tour companies in the city that offer day trips to the mountains including vineyard visits.
The Maison de la nature is a nature preserve in the wetlands to the south of Montpellier where you can watch flamingos roaming freely and wander the wooden footbridges of the nature trail.
Fancy hitting the beach? There are plenty close by! Montpellier’s nearest beaches are Palavas-les-Flots, at about 15 km away and La Grand Motte, about 25 km away, and super easy to get to by bus. Play a game of beach volleyball, suntan on the wide, sandy beach or sip cocktails in one of the chic beachfront restaurants.
If you’re looking for more natural surroundings, the gorgeous Espiguette beach is all rolling sand dunes without a building in sight. Espiguette is further away at about 35 km from the centre of Montpellier, but it’s still accessible by bus so you can plan a day in this stunning natural setting, either swimming in the Mediterranean or horseback riding along the beach.
There are scores of things to do for the culture vulture in Montpellier, with most of the museums being super student friendly since many offer free admission. Montpellier’s most prestigious and visited museum is the Musée Fabre. Full of artwork by the French, Italian, Flemish and Spanish masters, this historic museum offers free admission on Sundays.
Just behind the Musée Fabre in the park of the Esplanade Charles de Gaulle, the Pavillon Populaire boasts free photography expositions that rotate about three times a year – fabulous if you’re looking for something to do with your classmates after French class!
The Carré Sainte-Anne is truly spectacular. Housed in a converted church, this exhibition centre (also free) hosts modern, avant-garde art expos. The juxtaposition of the former cathedral’s towering pillars, stained glass windows and soaring vaulted ceilings with the contemporary artwork is just mind-blowing and not to be missed!
Housed in the beautiful Hôtel de Varennes, an 18th–century mansion, the Musée du Vieux Montpellier is the perfect place to dive into the city’s history. Full of artefacts like the 13th-century Black Madonna, there’s plenty to pour over here. Admission is insanely cheap and even free for visitors under 26 years old.