Montpellier is the principal city in the Languedoc-Roussillon region in southwest France. It's been the fastest growing city in France over the past 25 years and, as a result, it has very modern districts on the outskirts that are in stark contrast to the old winding roads of the city centre. The town is home to a lot of students due to the presence of the University of Montpellier which has the oldest medical school in Europe, and, as such, Montpellier has a very young feel to it.
One of the principal attractions of Montpellier is the climate. It has a dry Mediterranean summer and a mild winter. The city itself isn't on the beach but it is easily accessible via public transport and there are also several beautiful villages that are accessible via bus as a day trip.
Montpellier Méditerranée Airport (MPL IATA), formerly Fréjorgues Airport, is situated on the outskirts. The route 120 is a shuttle bus service operated by Hérault Transport that goes to Place de l’Europe. At the airport the signs will point to Navette which is French for shuttle. It costs €1.60 or €2.40 to add an extension bus / tramway ride. The tram stop is easily spotted from where the bus arrives. Place de l'Europe is in Antigone, to get closer to the middle of town, take the blue tram (Line 1) to Place de la Comédie.
The airport is fairly well connected by way of Air France's central hub in Paris. Ryanair flies from Brussels-Charleroi (CRL), Frankfurt-Hahn (HHN), although on a reduced timetable over the winter months. There are also regular flights to Copenhagen with Sterling.
Montpellier's main train station is Montpellier St. Roch. It is serviced by a TGV connection from Paris, 3h 15min, Lille, 4h 50min and Lyon, 1h 40min, Valence 1h 45min, Nice 4-5h. It is also serviced by the Talgo service to Barcelona. Most destinations in Southern France are also easily accessible by rail from Montpellier.
There is a coach station situated in the city centre, less than 500m from the main train station.
From the A9 motorway, take any of the 5 exits that serve Montpellier:
- Montpellier Est
- Montpellier Sud
- Montpellier Ouest
- Saint Jean de Vedas
The A75 is free of charge between Clermont-Ferrand and Montpellier.
Park at a tramway station (e.g. Occitanie, Jacou) and take a tram: parking in the town centre can be hard, so be sure to have your licence.
Montpellier is a compact city and walking across the whole city centre does not take long.
The tourist information office have a map Montpellier à vélo, which shows you where the best places to go by bike are and places where it is dangerous to cycle. The city has an extensive network of cycle paths, often separated from traffic for added safety. There is also a bike path running all the way to the beaches at Palavas-les-Flots and Carnon. The ride from the city to the beach takes about an hour.
Bikes may be rented at machines (VéloMagg) in various places in the city centre including Virgin, the tourist office on the place de la comedie and the main TAM velo office, located adjacent to the train station. The price is €2 for one day.
Just remember, if you are cycling in the old centre, that there are streets which are actually staircases and although they are a sight to behold (the rue du bras de fer), a glorified shopper bike will not tackle them as well as a fully suspended Cannondale.
Be advised that whereas a smart card allows a 24h/day use, only a small subset of the Velo Magg kiosks operate on Sundays, in which case it may be better to visit one of the manned offices, either adjacent to the train station or near l'Opéra.
Montpellier has a comprehensive public bus system. Many buses leave from stops in front of the train station. Buses use the same tickets as the tram; you can purchase tickets from the automatic machines located at each tram stop, or you may purchase tickets from the driver. If you purchase a ticket from a machine, be sure to validate it in the machine when boarding. One-way tickets cost €1.40 and can be reused for transfers up to one hour from the first validation. Round-trip (aller-retour) tickets are €2.50. Also, be warned that bus service is limited on weekends and the last buses run before 09:00 all week.
The most notable bus lines for visitors are line 28, which runs from the Port Marianne tram station to the beach at Palavas les Flots, and L'Amigo late night bus, which runs from the main bus stop in front of the train station to the nightclubs on the outskirts of town. Please note that the 28 is often crowded, and the last stop is actually a 20min walk from the beach itself. Still, this is the best way to get to the beach if you do not have a car.
There are several parking lots in the city centre. However, it is inadvisable to travel in the city centre by car as it gets busy, you will get stuck in traffic, and it's not very well signposted. The city centre is also a traffic-free zone! Your best bet is to park by a tram station at the end of a line such as Odysseum on line 1 or Sabines on line 2, but if you do insist on driving, parking in the Polygone shopping centre will save you a lot of your precious spending money!
The Montpellier tram service features four lines: line 1 from West to East(Mosson<->Odysseum) line 2 from South-West to North-East(Saint-Jean-de-Vedas<->Jacou) line 3 from West to South-East (Juvignac<->Perols/Lattes) line 4 circle line (Albert 1er<->Saint-Denis). A fifth is currently being built.
The trams tend to be very pleasant way of travelling across the city, they are clean and comfortable, offering a better view of the city as a whole than travelling on buses. Trams arrive every 3-5min at peak hours but less frequently at night, once every 15min. One major advantage of the tram is that it operates until midnight, making much more of the city easily accessible after dark. Ticket prices are the same as for the buses and the tickets are interchangeable.
Purchase tickets before boarding - there are multi-lingual ticket machines at each tram stop. A day pass is available and is recommended for anyone who plans to see anything outside of the centre. Longer-term passes are available as well from the TaM office situated across from the train station. Be sure to validate your ticket in the machines on board the trams (just by the doors), as being found without a valid ticket will result in an on-the-spot fine. Not speaking French or being a traveller will not be accepted as an excuse.
Of particular interest in the old centre
- Écusson (Old Town). Ecusson is the old town of Montpellier. Its streets twist and turn under stone arches and are named after the old businesses that resided there. The old businesses have long been replaced by modern ones but the old town has maintained its historic feel. It's easily accessible from Place de la Comédie by walking up Rue de la Loge, although Rue de la Loge itself is wide and very modernised and you should head off the main roads to get into the small windy streets. Place St Roch is a particularly nice area that is worth heading towards.
- La promenade du Peyrou (La Place Royale du Peyrou). A three hectare esplanade established in 1689 and situated on the west side of the old town (Écusson). It contains the Château d'Eau and a big statue of Louis XIV on a horse. It's also very close to both the Aqueduc Saint-Clément the Arc de Triomphe.
- Les Jardin des Plantes (Botanical Garden), Boulevard Henri IV. A historic botanical garden and arboretum established in 1593. It is France's oldest botanical garden. free.
- La Cathédrale Saint-Pierre, L'Ecole de Médecine, and Le Musée d'Anatomie
- L'Hôtel des Trésoriers de la Bourse
- La Place de la Comédie. The main focal point of the city and contains the Three Graces fountain
- Musee Fabre, 39 Boulevard Bonne Nouvelle. An art museum established in 1825. It underwent a €61.2 million renovation which was completed in 2007
- The Antigone District. Neo-classical architecture district. Built on the site of the former Joffre Barracks and designed by Ricardo Bofill.
- The Arc de Triomphe (Porte du Peyrou), Rue Foch. A triumphal arch inspired by Porte Saint-Denis in Paris. You can climb to the top but you can only get access on one of the walking tours from the information centre. The view is amazing.
- Le Carré Sainte-Anne, 2 Rue Philippy. A deconsecrated church that has been converted to a contemporary art gallery. The church is in the old quarter of Saint-Anne, with narrow streets typical of the medieval era.
- La Place Saint-Roch. A pretty square that contains many bars, cafes, restaurants, murals and Saint Roch Church.
- La Tour de la Babote, 17 Boulevard de l'Observatoire. A tower that was originally built as an observatory on top of the ramparts of Montpellier, it's an interesting building and contains some good restaurants.
- There are many tours available for Montpellier but they can be a little hard to find on the internet. A good walking tour in English can be joined on Tuesdays at the information centre. The advantage of this tour is that they have the keys to certain monuments (such as the Jewish baths and the Arc de Triomphe) that you can't get into on other tours. The view from the top of the Arc is amazing. If you prefer not to walk there is the little train tour that drives around the small streets of Montpellier for about 45min and offers information in multiple languages.
- Take a walk on the Esplanade one day when the weather is nice (it is most of the time). It's lined with trees, benches, a couple of outdoor restaurants, and often the tents of a market selling clothing and food and is a lovely place to spend the afternoon. Keep to the well-lit part at night unless you wish to buy drugs or be mugged or both (this has improved since a new police station was opened close by recently). The police station is right next to the tourist information building so all your tourism needs are located right next to each other.
- Visit the zoo, 50 avenue Agropolis, Montpellier . The zoo has an outside part with lions, bears, etc. (free admission), and an inside part with an Amazonian forest (about €6).
- Walk down the entire Antigone district. Start off from the Place de la Comédie, walking past the Ibis Montpellier Comedie hotel (the tall step hotel), through the interior of the Centre Commercial le Polygone (the large shopping mall), and down the entire Antigone district, until you reach the river (around 20 minutes walk). Enjoy the tremendous neo-classical architecture, the symmetries, the patterns and the scale of it. At the end you can look back at the beautiful semi-circle buildings folding around you from where you came, and ahead is glossy and stylish the regional council building (Languedoc-Roussillion region). There are several restaurants at the banks of the river.
- A little further out of town but easy to get to is the beach. If you've hired a car there are many beaches in the area but if you're relying on public transport the easiest beaches to get to are Carnon and Palavas. Carnon is normally recommended as the nicer of the two but it depends what you like. Palavas is more developed with restaurants and bars on the beach. Carnon is mostly residential along the beach and is a very simple beach with few if any amenities. To get to them take the green tram (Line 3) to Pérols Etangs de l'Or. From there you can either walk, hire a bike (there is a Vélomagg hire station right at the tram stop) or, for Palavas, catch the 131 shuttle bus the rest of the way. If you're walking/biking you will cross an estuary and come to a roundabout. Left over the river is Carnon, right is Palavas. The walk is next to (but not on) a major road and is not pretty. The bus from Carnon leaves from Place de France (Tram line 1) instead; the bus is route 106. Neither the 131 or 106 bus is frequent; timetables are available to download from the operator's website; Hérault Transport
For upmarket shoppers, the best bet is in centre-ville. There is an abundance of clothing stores, the most high-end being found on the main streets leading away from the Place de la Comedie and on the rue Foch. For those with a more modest budget, the Polygone shopping centre, also near La Comedie, contains a large variety of stores, including major French chains such as Inno and FNAC. There is also a small area in the centre where most of the 'offbeat' shops have typically clustered together, along with plenty of kebab shops and sandwicheries.
If you like to haggle and want a different experience, there is an enormous flea market every Sunday morning. Take the blue line tram all the way to the last stop at Mosson, and then just follow the crowd of people. The market sells just about everything under the sun, including brand-name clothing, movies (mostly pirated), and the usual assortment of household odds and ends. Haggling is the norm but the prices are generally reasonable to start with. The market (marche aux puces) is particularly well known as a place to buy bicycles, although be sure of the quality before you buy. There have been 'some' reports of stolen bikes turning up at the market as well.
Visit Sauramps bookstore (Le Triangle, at one end of la Comedie) and the Gibert Joseph book store (at the Place de la Prefecture). These independent book stores are real treasure for the city and offer a wide variety of topics and languages.
Numerous specialized shops may be found in the vicinity of Rue Saint-Guilhem and Rue de l'Ancien Courrier, including comics (Azimuts), gaming (Excalibur, Lud'm, Games Workshop), Japanese arcade and takoyaki in Rue de la Friperie, and medieval crafts and goods in Rue des Soeurs Noires (Le Prince de Saint Gilles).
The Savon de Marseille would make a good present to take home. It's a kind of soap that is made exclusively in Marseille, has a good reputation and a long history. It's not made by any particular company, instead it has a composition and style common to the area (in the same way that French wines and cheeses have localised styles). It comes in all sorts of colours and perfumes. Obviously it would be more appropriate to buy it in Marseille, but if you're not going that way you can find it in Montpellier.
Montpellier is very cosmopolitan for a city of its size and has a wide variety of ethnic cuisines available, in addition to traditional French food. The centre features a plethora of over-the-counter sandwich shops and similar places specializing in kebabs (nearly as many of these as there are hair salons and real estate agencies). If you're looking for the classic French cafe experience, try any one of the many bistros near La Place de la Comedie. For a good coffee in a more relaxed atmosphere, there's also a nice café near the Louis Blanc tramway stop.
Montpellier is dotted with eateries ranging from very touristy to truly authentic. Geography plays a large role here: the matrix of restaurants in the town square generally cater to visitors who are optimizing for convenience, but not for price or quality so much. Head away from the city centre—north, south, west, but generally not east—for a more genuine experience. Place St Roch, Place Jean Jaurès and a more sprawling area in the north-east of the city (near Basilique Notre Dame des Tables) seem to be areas with a high concentration of restaurants.
- Georges Cafe, 11, Rue de la Loge. Situated in a small alcove/court yard off the side of Rue de la Loge, it's a cute little cafe/restaurant with a small but tasty menu. A good choice when you're near Place de la Comédie and don't want to settle for the more touristy restaurants. About €10pp.
- Art Mango, 40, Square de la Babote. A Thai restaurant with a French twist. The menus are typically a Thai curry or a large Thai-inspired salad with an entrée, desert or Thai beer. €10-15.
- Burger et Blanquette, 1 Rue Rosset. A burger joint with a French twist (like a duck and foie gras burger). It has two menus, one with burgers and one with traditional fare. €10-18.
- L'Alliance des Plaisirs, 8 Rue du Petit Saint-Jean. An intimate restaurant good for a dinner for two €40pp.
- La Jardin des Sens, 11, Avenue Saint-Lazare. A pricy restaurant but with a very good reputation and one Michelin star. €50pp at least.
- Playfood, 16 Boulevard Louis Blanc, ☎ . Unusual restaurant in which all the dishes are served in shot glasses. Good quality.
- Kafelin, 14 rue Durand, ☎ . Cat cafe close to Gare St Roch. Free admission.
France is the country for wine and the Languedoc Roussillon region produces more annually than the whole of Australia! There are too many varieties to name here (it deserves its own wiki) but as a pointer for red try a mid priced pic st loup. The white for the local seafood and especially the oysters is picpoul de Pinet, no need for lemon juice! During the summer months many people stick to rose, but a lot of restaurants also serve chilled red wine. For sweet-tooths, the neighbouring towns of Lunel and Frontignan produce good quality muscat and have their own appelations.
The apéritif liquor of the south of France is Pastis, which, while not for everyone, is a definite part of the local culture. Pastis should normally be served onto a single ice cube and then diluted to taste. There are, however several bizarre permutations of this drink that can be concocted using grenadine, mint syrup and orgeat (almond and rose flower)
- Le Bookshop. Great for language learners, this English language bookshop and café has weekly language exchanges, a book club, children's story telling, creative writing workshops and a host of other events. Located near the Halles Castellan in the centre of town, it's run by Marit and Dario
- The Greyhound Pub, Place de la Comédie. Loosely English themed pub that serves a wide variety of beers and other alcoholic drinks. Friendly service. The owner was in the Tour de France!
- Martins Club. 8 Rue de la Monnaie. A cosy, exotic lounge bar that proposes a wide range of exotic cocktails, narguiles (hookah pipes), teas, and a lot of themed parties. The staff is very friendly.
- Le Corto Hole in the wall located near the Faculte de Medicine in the centre. Quality beer and a must for anyone who likes the atmosphere of a small bar. Be sure to check out the basement - one table has been jammed into a tiny grotto for a literal 'hole in the wall' experience.
- Vert Anglais is an English-owned bar and restaurant with a friendly English-speaking staff. Located behind the Virgin Megastore. Lunch service, extensive cocktail list, half-price beer happy hour, and students get half-price beer all night on Mondays.
- Le capucin located Place du marché aux fleurs justes in front of the prefecture, not far from Gibert Bookshop, this café is anachronistic, a rural-café in the heart of the town
- Le café de la mer, Place du marché aux fleurs justes, close to Le capucin, enjoy the terrasse at this bar, one of the gay headquarters of the town
- La pleine lune (Full Moon Bar), rue de Figuerolles, (walk on Boulevard Gambetta, opposite to St. Denis Church, turn left, and you will find the bar to your right), sometimes crowded, very bohemian to the point that the walls sweat patchouli oil!
- Fitzpatricks, an Irish pub. Guinness, Kilkenny and Strongbow cider on tap. Owned by the same family as O'Carolan's up near place Sainte Anne.
- le Kaboum, ☎ . 18, rue du Saint Sépulcre, near place Sainte Anne. Tu-Sa 11:30-15:00 and 19:00-01:00. An original bar with a lot of beers (with chocolate or honey.) and crazy cocktails. Price are very low, like the bar and it's also possible to eat (crepe, fajitas.).
There are a few places to dance salsa, but you need to know when and where:
- Oxymore - 12, Rue Boussairolles - +33 4 67 58 64 39
- Le Kilimanjaro - 60, Avenue du Pont Juvenal - +33 4 67 13 24 16
- El Cuba Café - Odysseum - 1 Place France - +33 4 67 15 17 17
- Apollo Jazz Café - 129, Avenue de Palavas
- B4 Freestyle Bar - 110, Avenue du Pont Juvénal
- Cotton Club - 129, Avenue de Palavas
- El Cuba Café - Odysseum - 1 Place France - +33 4 67 15 17 17
- Havana Night - Route de la Mer - 63, Chemin Mas de Gau, Lattes - +33 4 99 52 23 75 (only 4th Friday of the month)
- Studio Latino - 1, Avenue de la Mer - Lattes - +33 4 67 99 07 81 (only the 1st and 3rd Saturdays of the month)
- Rock System - 26, Rue Charles de Gaulles, Fabregues (only the 2nd and 4th Saturdays of the month)
- Apollo Jazz Café - 129, Avenue de Palavas -
- El Cuba Café - Odysseum - 1 Place France - +33 4 67 15 17 17
If you're looking for French espresso, the world is your oyster! You'll find a good espresso on almost every corner. On the other hand, if you're looking for a good latte they are few and far between and most of the time they're made with a push-button machine rather than a genuine espresso. But a good latte can be found. Here's a couple of places that do it right.
- Fairview Coffee, 6 rue Loys. Fairview claims to be from Anglo-Saxon inspired coffee shop, but most of that influence comes from Australia, which is a good thing when it comes to a good latte.
- Café BUN, 5 rue des Etuves. Café BUN is a very new café nearby Place de la Comédie. It definitely makes a good latte as well. And at the time of writing they're in the process of installing a coffee bean roaster, which shows they have big plans going forward.
- Oxymore - R'n'B/Dance music with cheap drinks.
- Cargo - Dance music, affordable drinks, located near the train station in the centre of town. Student friendly.
- The Fizz - Opens after the bars close, and features indoor smoking room and a lower level dance floor that can be viewed on gold-framed monitors from the upper level bar.
- Le Panama Café - Open every night except for Mondays, multi cultural club. free entry and cheap drinks. on weekends the Latin music room is open (salsa, reggaeton, bachata etc.)
- Hotel Aragon (Small Boutique Hotel 3 Stars), 10 rue Baudin 34000 Montpellier (at 100 metres de la Place de la Comédie), ☎ , fax: , e-mail: email@example.com. Check-in: 14:00, check-out: 11:00. €75-180, Free Wi-Fi & Call.
- Hostel Montpellier, Rue des Ecoles Laiques. Lockout from 10:00-15:00 every day
- Hotel Kyriad Montpellier Centre-Antigone. 3-Star hotel in the centre of town, offering 69 rooms, free Wi-Fi, flat screen & Canal+, bathroom.
As in any other large city, tourists and locals alike are the targets of scammers in Montpellier. As a general rule, beware of people putting their hand out for money. But specifically, Montpellier has a bit of a problem with foreigners who have come to the city to beg. There are several common places you see them:
- Collecting for charities: People often walk around with a piece of paper claiming to be raising money for the deaf or disabled. They may pretend to be deaf while asking for a donation and for you to sign their document. If you refuse, they will put the pressure on with moans and sad faces but they're generally harmless. They have been seen pretending to be deaf, then after being refused will walk away talking to their fellow collector.
- Trying to help you with tram ticket machines around the main train station. Afterwards they will want money for their "service". It's also common to be asked for your change without the help with the machine.