Like many a French city, Narbonne, and specifically its historic heart is best explored on foot. Filled with authentic eateries and lots of museums, this town, which was once a thriving Roman port, now lies some kilometres from the sea thanks to a build-up of sand and silt in the River Aude over the past two millennia. Here’s a free and self-guided walking tour of Narbonne City.
Narbonne City Walking Tour: Practical tips, tricks & advice
I first visited the highly underrated Southern French city of Narbonne earlier this year during a solo adventure in France. Located in the historic Languedoc region of l’Hexagon, this off the beaten tourist track city has been inhabited continuously since antiquity.
Traces of Roman life can be found in fragments of the historic Via Domitia in the main town square, as well as lots of well-preserved sarcophagi and other interesting artefacts within the walls of the Museum of archaeology. Today, Narbonne is home to lots of little museums, small lanes, and independent eateries.
This stroll is best attempted on a clear and sunny day. Although the walk is mostly flat, it’s best to wear comfortable walking shoes as there are several cobbled sections along the way. If you’re looking to explore the city’s cathedral or climb the incredible ‘Donjon’ then sets of stairs are involved in doing this.
When it comes to finding food during this Narbonne walking tour, I highly recommend stopping off at the Narbonne food hall. Open from early ’til lunchtime each day of the week, produce is sourced locally as much as possible. Food stalls include vegetables, seafood, and local wines and one of the main highlights of Les Halles is that you can sit in one of four restaurants and see your food being cooked right in front of you.
Walking time: 22 minutes
Although this walking tour of the historic Narbonne City centre is fairly short, you’ll want to dedicate several hours to make the most of each attraction listed. For example, you’ll need about an hour for lunch, as well as half an hour to two hours per museum.
Distance covered: 1.7 km –
Narbonne is the kind of city that can easily be explored during the course of the day. However, if you want to experience some of the traditional French cuisine to be found here (I recommend Macar), then it’s worth an overnight stay.
During my time in the town, I opted to stay in the Hotel de France. While the decor was slightly dated, the rooms were clean, comfortable, and the owner was incredibly helpful when it came to suggesting local attractions and things to do!
Birthplace of Charles Trenet
This walking tour starts at the birthplace of one of Narbonne’s most famous resident, Charles Trenet. Born in 1913, the singer’s career spanned from the 1930s and all the way up to the 1990s. If you’ve ever listened to French music, then you’ll likely have heard the song ‘La Mer’.
Today, Trenet’s former home is now a small house museum covered in trailing ivy. Known in French as the ‘Maison Natale de Charles Trenet,’ wander inside and you can expect to find a traditional French home with 20th-century decor and furnishings.
Housed in a former ecclesiastical building, this unusual cultural attraction can be found within the walls of the Church Notre-Dame-de-
Most of these stones were recovered during the 19th-century following the dismantling of Narbonne’s city fortifications in the 16th-century. For a glimpse of medieval Narbonne today, be sure to keep a look out as there are plenty of ancient churches and stone walls still standing from this era.
Les Halles de Narbonne
If you’re looking for a great bite to eat in the very heart of historic Narbonne city centre, then you simply must stop off at Les Halles. As the owner of the accommodation informed me just before I set off for a day of exploring ‘Narbonne has one of the most authentic food markets in Southern France’.
Lying alongside the Canal de la Robine (a smaller branch of the Canal du Midi), the market was first opened in the early 1900s. Today, it’s home to over seventy food stalls. From seafood inspired dishes, to local wine, to vegetables grown nearby… You name it and Les Halles probably has it!
Pont des Marchands
Unique and incredibly aesthetically pleasing (you’ll want your camera to snap photos), the Pont des Marchands is literally translated in English as the ‘Merchants’ Bridge’. Located in the very middle of the old town, there has been a bridge on site in some form or another since antiquity.
For one of the very best views of the bridge (and to frame your snaps with some flowers), I recommend walking along the river’s edge to the Place des Barques or even strolling the extra twenty metres to reach the Boulevard Dr Ferroul.
Donjon Gilles Aycelin
For the very best view of Narbonne, I highly recommend paying a few euro and ascending the 42-metre tower of Donjon Gilles Aycelin. Dating all the way back to the 13th-century, climb to the top of this viewpoint and you’ll be rewarded by breathtaking views of Narbonne, as well as the rolling green hills and vineyards beyond the city limits.
Read more: Where to find the best view of Narbonne
Palais des Archeveques
The bishop’s palace is built in the Gothic and Romanesque styles and provides the perfect backdrop for enjoying a light lunch, glass of wine, or ice cream in Narbonne’s main town square. Since 1840, the Archbishops’ Palace has been classified as a historical site and once inside, it’s not hard to see why.
Now, the Palais des Archeveques comprises of a series of buildings which perform various functions. There’s the 19th-century town hall, the Museum of Art located within the archbishops’ former apartments, as well as the archaeological museum in a wing of the old palace.
Narbonne Cathedral is a beautiful example of Gothic architecture. Construction first began during the 13th-century, but due to various restrictions (land usage, finance etc)., only a small portion of the original plans were ever built. Today, when you visit, all you can see is the choir as this was all that was completed.
While in the cathedral, be sure to check out the Cathedral treasury (which is filled with manuscripts and priceless works of art dating back to the middle ages), as well as several beautiful stained glass windows. Entrance into the main portion of the cathedral is free.
While little is left in Narbonne from antiquity (one exception of note being a small slice of the Via Domitia in the main town square), the Roman Horreum is open on a daily basis and remains a prime example of ancient underground galleries. This well-preserved complex of tunnels lies beneath the city and is thought to have once been used as a grain warehouse or the like.