Palais des Papes

Top choice in Avignon

Palais Des Papes, Avignon, France. (Photo by Marka/UIG via Getty Images)

UIG via Getty Images

The largest Gothic palace ever built, the Palais des Papes was erected by Pope Clement V, who abandoned Rome in 1309 in the wake of violent disorder after his election. Its immense scale illustrates the medieval might of the Roman Catholic church.

Ringed by 3m-thick walls, its cavernous halls, chapels and antechambers are largely bare today – but tickets now include tablet 'Histopads' revealing virtual-reality representations of how the building would have looked in all its papal pomp.

The palace served as the seat of papal power for seven decades. Highlights include 14th-century chapel frescos by Matteo Giovannetti, and the Chambre du Cerf with medieval hunting scenes. It can be hard to take it all in, so it might be worth joining one of the regular guided tours run by the tourist office.

The palace has been inscribed as a World Heritage site by Unesco since 1995. Look out for special events during the Festival d'Avignon, and special son et lumière (sound and light) shows from mid-August to September.

Tickets can be booked in advance online.