8 must-see things to do in Perpignan

Visiter Perpignan

Perpignan, the capital of Roussillon and the Pyrénées-Orientales: here’s a selection of the 8 must-do things to do in Perpignan!

Visiting Perpignan may not seem like much of a trip, given the city’s poor reputation. However, the city nicknamed « la belle catalane » has a lot to offer. Prefecture of the Pyrénées-Orientales department, it is the last major French city before reaching Spain, with 121,934 inhabitants.

Perpignan, between sea and mountains, enjoys an ideal location: 13 kilometers from the Mediterranean Sea, 25 kilometers from the Spanish border and 85 kilometers from the Espace Cambre d’Aze (2,400 meters above sea level), the nearest ski area. The town has grown over the decades on the Roussillon plain, with an arm in the sea and feet in the Pyrenees, with the Pic du Canigou (2,784 metres) – visible from the town center – and the Albères massif marking the Spanish border.

With its Mediterranean climate and 300 days of sunshine a year, Perpignan is an attractive place to live, especially as it boasts a rich history and culture, tinged with a strong Catalan identity. What to do in Perpignan? There’s no doubt that you won’t get bored in « Perpi », as the locals say.

A cultural change of scene is guaranteed in this city with a Catalan rather than French soul, between the Castillet, the Palace of the Kings of Majorca, museums, bars and restaurants. It’s almost Iberian in flavour. Here’s our selection of things to do in Perpignan.

1. The Citadel, the historic center

Visiter Citadelle, Perpignan

At the heart of the city center lies the ancient citadel of Perpignan, a fortification built around the royal castle by King Jacques II of Majorca in the early 14th century. The city of Perpignan, the scene of Franco-Spanish battles, was surrounded by thick fortifications between the 13th and 16th centuries.

Built in the shape of a star – a legacy of Vauban’s pencil stroke – the Citadelle is a gigantic fortified enclosure surrounding the Palace of the Kings of Majorca and its surroundings. Dismantled at the beginning of the 20th century, some of its remains can still be seen today – from Rue Jacques Premier – as you enter the old gates that once led into the Cité.

Today, Perpignan’s Citadel is home to the Palace of the Kings of Majorca and a military barracks. As for the medieval fortifications, only the emblematic Castillet and the Porte Notre-Dame remain. You can climb up to the Castillet keep – which marks the entrance to the old town – and enjoy a fine view over the city. Opposite, the free Galeries Lafayettes terrace offers an even higher view of the city.

2. Stroll downtown

Visiting Perpignan also means wandering the narrow streets of the city center, between museums, historic monuments, cafés, bars and restaurants, combining historical and cultural visits with immersion in the social life of the Catalans. The center of the old town boasts a rich architectural heritage, some dating back to the Middle Ages, and is lined with narrow streets and well-preserved old houses.

No fewer than 34 buildings are listed as « historic monuments » and 19 as « cultural monuments ». Last but not least, eight buildings and five districts have been awarded the « 20th century heritage » label, making the city center a must-visit area when visiting Perpignan. And for those who like to go out, there are numerous bars dotting the pavement between the SNCF train station and Square Bir Hakeim.

3. Visit the Castillet

Visiter Castillet, Perpignan

Photo credit: Wikimedia – Przemek P

The Castillet is the former main gateway to the medieval city walls. Built in 1368, it is constructed of brick and Baixas marble. Transformed into a prison between the 17th and 18th centuries, it now houses the Casa Pairal museum of local history and ethnography.

Access is gained by climbing the 142 steps to its pinnacle. Open from 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. from June to September, admission costs €2 for over-26s.

4. See the Sea Lodge

Visiter loge de la mer, Perpignan

Photo credit: Wikimedia – H2k4

Built in Gothic style between the 14th and 16th centuries, the Loge de mer has been the heart of Perpignan’s public life since medieval times, housing the Hôtel de Ville and the Palais de Justice.

Located on Place de la Loge, the building is an ornamental complex embellished with pointed arches and large sculpted windows. It’s not a building you can visit, but you can admire it while enjoying a cup of coffee on the terrace.

5. The Palace of the Kings of Majorca

This palace was built in the 13th century and bears witness to the power of the Kingdom of Majorca. Begun before 1274 in late Romanesque style and completed after 1300 in Gothic style, it shows the extent to which Perpignan was an economic, political and cultural center of the Mediterranean in medieval times.

Guided tours are available, and the site is open to the public every day except January 1, May 1, November 1 and December 25. Tickets cost €2 (minors), €3 (reduced rate with Pass Patrimoine 66) and €4 (adults).

6. Palais de la Députation

Visiter Palais Députation, Perpignan

Photo credit: Wikimedia – Enfo

This palace was built in the second half of the 15th century, on the Plaça del pa (Bread Square), to be the headquarters in Roussillon of the permanent representation of the Diputacio al General or Generalitat, the political organization of an autonomous community in Spain.

7. Hyacinthe-Rigaud Museum

The Musée Hyacinthe-Rigaud brings together a collection of paintings and decorative art, a collection of Catalan Gothic art and modern paintings, including works by Aristide Maillol (1861-1944) and Pablo Picasso (1881-1973). The museum is named after Hyacinthe Rigaud (1659-1743), a portrait painter born in Perpignan.

8. A boat trip

Canet-en-roussillon

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Martin Silva Cosentino

Finally, it would be a shame to visit Perpignan without taking advantage of the coastline. The city is just 13 kilometers from the Mediterranean Sea.

And with its Mediterranean climate and 300 days of sunshine a year, a boat trip is a great idea for an outing with family or friends.

Renting a boat during your stay in Perpignan will allow you to enjoy the scenery of the Mediterranean coast while filling up on vitamin D!

How to get to Perpignan

You can reach Perpignan by car, train or plane. The Perpignan train station is located in the city center, which is quite convenient if you’re coming to spend the day in Perpignan, otherwise you have the option of flying. Perpignan-Rivesaltes airport is about 8km from the city center. To find a cheap flight to Perpignan, you can do your search on the website of our partner Ulysse.

Where to stay in Perpignan?

You can find a cheap hotel in Perpignan and the surrounding area by searching on this hotel comparator. There are many options, but make sure you choose accommodation in the city center so you can stroll around and easily access the city’s restaurants and bars.

Map of hotels and accommodation – Perpignan