There are some fun activities at Pont du Gard that are worth doing when you make a visit to the famous Roman aqueduct in the south of France. Most visitors typically spend time taking photos of the bridge and walking from one side of the river to the other, but they’re missing out on some other adventures. I have visited Le Pont du Gard at least 6 times in the past 40+ years and keep returning.
Table of contents
- A. Why Visit Le Pont du Gard Aqueduct?
- B. Where Is Pont du Gard?
- C. Activities At Pont du Gard
- You Cannot Walk Across The Top Of Pont du Gard
- 1. Walk Through The Pont du Gard Aqueduct
- 2. Kayaking Pont du Gard
- 3. Pont du Gard At Night: Sound And Light Spectacle
- 4. Hike Around The Pont du Gard
- 5. Swim In The Gardon River By The Pont du Gard
- D. Pont du Gard Visitors Centre, Museum, And Discovery Area
- E. Frequently Asked Questions
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A. Why Visit Le Pont du Gard Aqueduct?
When you see articles about the south of France, photos of the Pont du Gard often pop up. Pont du Gard means “bridge of the Gard” and it’s an imposing sight—an enormous bridge-aqueduct that spans the Gardon River (also known as the Gard River). It is one of the best-preserved monuments that is now a UNESCO World Heritage site (designation in 1985) and is also one of the most visited French monuments. attracting 1.4 million visitors a year.
But in addition to being a pretty picture, it is also a great achievement in engineering when you understand more about its history. It is, after all, almost 2000 years old….and still standing.
(a) History Of Pont du Gard France
So what makes the aqueduct, Pont du Gard so unique? The limestone bridge, built by Roman emperor Augustus’ lieutenant, Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, was designed to transport almost 9 million gallons of water each day from the spring, source d’Eure in Uzès in the north. It was constructed as just part of the Roman aqueduct of Nimes and wound its way through the Massif Central region of France to the city of Nimes until about the 6th century. Work began in 20 B.C. and was completed in the 1st century A.D., around 50 A.D.
(b) Pont du Gard Facts
Pont du Gard is a multi-level bridge (3 tiers), 47.6 meters (160 feet) high and 275 meters long. The top-level originally had 47 arches and it is where the water was channeled. In the 12th century, much of that third tier and 12 of the arches were destroyed and today, only 275 meters in length remain. It is estimated that the true length of the third tier would be 360 meters if those arches were still there.
The middle tier has 11 arches and the lowest level has 6 arches.
Pont du Gard is an engineering marvel and incredibly well-preserved. Here are some interesting facts about Roman ingenuity and expertise:
- Pont du Gard was the highest aqueduct bridge in the Roman Empire
- Pont du Gard Was Made Using Blocks Of Limestone
- some blocks were as heavy as 6 tons. It is said that over 50,000 tons of blocks were used to construct the aqueduct
- the blocks were assembled to fit together and stay together by gravity. For most of the aqueduct, no mortar was used. No bulldozers or forklifts either.
- Slope: from beginning to end, the bridge’s gradient, or slope, only changed by 2.5 cm. This allowed the water to continuously flow.
- No Piers In The Water: there aren’t any piers (pillars or supports) that go into the water. If you look at the photo above, you’ll see that the arch on the bottom level actually straddles the river.
- Declining Maintenance And Use: periodic maintenance was required to clear the calcium carbonate deposits from inside the aqueduct. Not cleaning out the deposits and having vegetation start to seep into the channels began to slow the flow of water. By the 4th century, there was declining use of the aqueduct and it went into disrepair. As time passed, much of Pont du Gard was damaged and looted of its stone blocks.
- Toll Bridge: Pont du Gard was also a toll bridge for a time. In the 13th century, feudal lords and later the Bishops of Uzès were given the right to collect tolls; however, they were also responsible for its maintenance.
- Flood of 2002: On September 8 and 9, 2002, there was a disastrous flood of the Gardon River, and damage to nearby towns was significant. The level of the water got close to the top of the first level of Pont du Gard and miraculously, the bridge was not damaged.
- Tourist Attraction: In the 18th century, Pont du Gard became a popular tourist attraction as it was the best-preserved section of the Nimes aqueduct. Carts and then motorized vehicles in the 20th century were actually allowed to cross the bridge using the road that was adjacent to the first level.
- Success brought along commercialization, traffic, and wear and tear and these began to ruin the appearance and attractiveness of the area. In 1996 work began to change the Pont de Gard area into a “pedestrian-only” site.
B. Where Is Pont du Gard?
Pont du Gard is located in the commune, Vers-Pont-du-Gard, which is in the Gard department of the Occitanie region. Here are some distances:
- Avignon-Pont du Gard: 26 km
- Nimes-Pont du Gard: 24 km
- Arles-Pont du Gard: 28 km
The area is popular for outdoor activities, especially water sports as the Gardon River flows under the aqueduct. One of the closest towns is Remoulins (2.5km away), where I stayed for one year because I wanted to be close to the aqueduct. Check out this excellent Bed and Breakfast (it has a pool which is a treat during the hot summer months): La Combe Joseph
C. Activities At Pont du Gard
Here are 5 fun things to do at the Pont du Gard:
- walk through the famous aqueduct
- kayak under Pont du Gard
- attend a sound and light show (possibly with fireworks)
- hike around Pont du Gard
- swim in the Gardon River
There’s only one thing you can no longer do because you might kill yourself. I can’t believe I did it, but that was a long time ago when safety measures weren’t as important I guess. Here’s information about that dangerous pursuit.
You Cannot Walk Across The Top Of Pont du Gard
Sorry to disappoint you but you can no longer walk across the top of Pont du Gard. In the early 1990s, I walked across the top of the aqueduct and yes it was a bit scary. As you can see from the photos, it was easy to photo-bomb me and the activity was incredibly dangerous!
To give you perspective, zoom in on the photo of me in front of Pont du Gard and look at all the people on top of it. No railings!
They certainly don’t let you walk across the top anymore. The closest you can get is by taking a tour that takes you THROUGH the aqueduct.
1. Walk Through The Pont du Gard Aqueduct
The only way to walk THROUGH the aqueduct is to take a guided tour. It’s an enjoyable way to learn more about how Pont du Gard was built and constructed to provide water to the citizens of Nimes. You’ll also gain access to the inside of the aqueduct and get splendid, panoramic views of the entire region.
The tour I took was only available in French and lasted 1 hour. The Pont du Gard website has conflicting information as it indicates an English tour, yet in the description, it says “the visit is in French”, so you’ll have to double-check when you book your ticket or when you get there. The cost is 15 € and also gives you access to the Discovery areas which house the museum, temporary exhibitions, cinema, and children’s play area.
The meeting point is located by the visitor centre. Our tour guide took us down the left bank towards the aqueduct. We stopped to learn about the construction of the bridge and were also shown an incredibly old olive tree that was transplanted at Pont du Gard in 1988. As the inscription in the nearby rock beside it says, “I was born in 908 AD in Spain and was planted by the Pont du Gard on September 23, 1988.”
(b) Inside The Aqueduct
Our tour guide took us to the river’s edge and then up the stone stairs where we entered the aqueduct. After climbing the stairs to get to the top we started walking across the third tier. While you are not entirely enclosed during the short walk, you are surrounded by stone and the width of the path is only around 2 feet and the height is probably around 68” (under 6 feet), so watch your head!
At times there are openings above so it’s not really like walking in a tunnel and you likely won’t get claustrophobic. Check out my “walkthrough” in this YouTube video: click here or on the image.
2. Kayaking Pont du Gard
Paddling a kayak under Pont du Gard is an experience I could do over and over again. I have rented a kayak twice and to see the mammoth Pont du Gard aqueduct in your view while paddling on the calm Gard is something everyone should try.
(a) Kayak Rental And Route
Here are the details on how to do this experience:
- To do this activity, you have to be over the age of 6, know how to swim 25 meters and be submerged under water
- Park your car in Collias and rent a kayak from Kayak Vert. There are a number of canoe or kayak rental companies in the area. Just look for signs like, “Pont du Gard kayak rental”, “Pont du Gard canoeing”, or “Pont du Gard canoe rental”. [In France I have sometimes found that “canoe” and “kayak” are used interchangeably and often just mean kayak.]
- The kayaks come in various sizes: 1, 2,3 or 4 seats
- Cost: 24 € per person
- You will be provided with paddles, life jackets, and a big waterproof “barrel” or container for your belongings (no guarantee how tight it will be but I’ve never had a problem with my things getting wet). We brought a picnic lunch so we needed the container, just in case.
- It is actually fairly easy to do the 8 km, 2-hour route
- You start the journey in Collias and you can make it a half-day or full day out.
- When you arrive at Pont du Gard, a bus transports you back to your car in Collias where you parked your car. It’s included in the cost.
(b) Kayak Vert
Kayak Vert has a variety of routes and durations:
- Collias to Pont du Gard (8 km)
- Collias to La Baume to Collias (7 km) (Your route is in the Gorges du Gardon)
- Collias to La Baume to Collias to Pont du Gard (15 km)
- they also offer some other routes from Pont St Nicolas and Russan to Pont du Gard and these are considerably longer routes (ie. 11km and 30km respectively)
(c) What You Should Bring On Your Kayak Excursion
As tempting as it may be, think twice about bringing your camera. If you do bring it, keep it in the container until you are docked. I had a waterproof smartphone case and was extremely careful about taking it out to take photographs
You can easily get a sunburn in the summer, so consider bringing:
- t-shirt to cover
- water shoes come in handy as they make it easier to get in and out of the kayak
3. Pont du Gard At Night: Sound And Light Spectacle
Visiting Pont du Gard after dark should also be on your list of things to do, especially in the summer when there is the Pont du Gard light show. The bridge is illuminated and music often accompanies the spectacle. There might even be fireworks, too, as was the case a few years ago when I attended “Les Féeries du Pont”.
(a) Les Féeries du Pont
“Les Féeries du Pont” was a show I’ll never forget and the ticket was only 25 €. The spectacle took place on two consecutive weekends in June and on the website the event was described as having “video-mapping projections, flame generators, light compositions, theatre of light, pyrotechnics and original music.” The extravaganza was created by Groupe F, deemed “the world’s best pyro-technicians”.
The show’s theme was “Feux Romains” (Roman Fires), which was in keeping with the history of the Pont du Gard, which was built by the Romans.
(b) Food At The Sound And Light Show
When I arrived at 8:00 pm, there were already many cars parked even though the event wasn’t scheduled to start until 10:30 pm. Fortunately, when I arrived on the right bank the restaurant (with an expensive fixed-price menu) was open; however, there were a number of food trucks set up with picnic tables set up all over the area.
Many families had brought along provisions for their own picnics. When Pont du Gard has events like this, there are often special food vendors on site.
(c) Viewing Area To See The Sound And Light Show
After having something to eat, most spectators eventually positioned themselves on the grassy hillside that faces the Pont. We were all set for the show! As we waited for the show to start, a band played cheesy music by the river, and the technicians tested out the different effects, such as lighting up the Pont and surrounding area.
(d) Pont du Gard Spectacle
I have been to a sound and light show before, at Château de Chenonceau in the Loire Valley many years ago. Images were projected onto the château and the classical music was accompanied by French commentary. To be honest, I wasn’t all that impressed…..but this show at Pont du Gard? WOW!
While it was too difficult for me to understand the French commentary, the images gave me enough of an idea of the storyline (history of the Pont). The music and light show combined with the fireworks made this event spectacular. There were also actors dressed in reflective costumes riding horses. To see them far away in the distance was just as impressive as seeing them up close.
It is difficult to show you photos of the images as it was so dark for my camera; however, as pictures (and videos) sometimes speak louder than words, here are some of the evening’s highlights. Click here or the image above with the horseman to watch the video.
4. Hike Around The Pont du Gard
Pont du Gard sits on 165 hectares of protected land and much of the area is forested. There are some trails and paths that lead you to higher points, which is perfect for getting panoramic views of the aqueduct.
(a) Memoires de Garrigue
There is a 1.4km walk through the botanical gardens called Mémoires de Garrigue (Memories of the Garrigue). You’ll see remains of Pont du Gard and be introduced to Mediterranean agriculture, walking through vineyards, past olive trees, and numerous plants native to the area.
(b) Panoramic Views From The Hills On The Right And Banks
The end of the guided tour takes place on the right bank. From there I decided to hike around the area. I’m glad I had my trail running shoes (running shoes would be fine) as there are paths that take you higher into the hills, and provide excellent panoramic views of the aqueduct that you certainly don’t get from anywhere else.
Not all paths have signage. I stayed on the tourist paths and occasionally wandered off into scrubland and more wooded areas. If you do this, be sure to bring along some water as it can get very hot in summer.
(c) Remains Of The Nimes Aqueduct
After I finished the tour walking through the aqueduct on the third level, I walked through the Pouzin tunnel, which was constructed in 1865. After Pont du Gard stopped being used to transport water to Nimes in the 4th century, there was still interest centuries later on getting water to the city.
The Pouzin tunnel was connected to the partially completed Pouzin canal, an overly ambitious project created to transport water from the Rhone River to Nimes. It was abandoned 3 years later in favour of another project.
I exited the tunnel and encountered another section of the aqueduct of Nimes —-the remains of the Valmale bridge (Pont de la Combe de Valmale). You can see the water channels and how water might have flowed through.
5. Swim In The Gardon River By The Pont du Gard
In addition to swimming when you go kayaking, you could simply grab a spot on the beach located on the right river bank and go swimming. It’s a very popular activity, especially when it’s incredibly hot in the summer (frequent).
Keep in mind that on the banks of the Gardon River, you will not find many sandy beaches, if any. It’s missing much vegetation and is much rockier due to a flood that occurred in 2002. On the riverside there are lots of pebbles and rocks and the grassy, shaded spots are more inland. There is a plan, however, to reinstall beaches in time.
The water can be deep in spots and the current can take you upstream, under the aqueduct. There are no lifeguards and in parts of the river the current can be strong, so be careful. Also, it is forbidden to dive from the Pont du Gard bridge or the rocks. There are washrooms on both banks of the river.
D. Pont du Gard Visitors Centre, Museum, And Discovery Area
(a) Visitors Centre
At the Visitors Centre, there is a gift shop, cafe, and washrooms. The walls of the open-air complex have excellent displays of Pont du Gard. In this area, you’ll also find the museum, temporary exhibitions, cinema, and a Discovery Area. This section has an educational games area for children aged 5 to 12.
(b) Museum (Permanent Exhibition)
I would be remiss if I did not mention the superb high-tech, multi-media museum that is located at the visitor’s centre. It is an extensive permanent display of artifacts, models of the bridge, and reconstructions so you can see how the aqueduct was constructed and used. A 13-minute documentary runs continuously in the cinema. It is all very well done.
(c) Temporary Exhibitions
Pont du Gard has ongoing temporary exhibitions located beside the permanent gallery.
When I visited, the temporary exhibition’s theme centred around “LOVE”. At the entranceway, there was a display with the phrase, “Quand notre coeur fait boum!” (“When our heart goes “Boom!”—one of the lyrics from Charles Trenet’s song, “Boum”). Inside, one gallery was about the science of love and the other was devoted to words, quotes, objects, and images related to love.
Even though the exhibitions may not even be related to the aqueduct, they are often interactive and interesting, to say the least.
Pont du Gard
Address: 400 Rte du Pont du Gard, 30210 Vers-Pont-du-Gard
Open: 7 days a week (note: the museum is closed Monday mornings). Hours vary depending on the season
Parking: there are two huge parking lots (one on each side of the river). It’s only a 10-15 minute walk to the visitor’s centre
- it is actually free to access the Pont du Gard site if you hike there. There is a fee of 9 € for parking
- access to the Pont du Gard museum, cinema, temporary exhibits, Discovery Area, and Memories of the Garrigue: 6.5€ (Free Admission for those 18 and younger.)
- Guided Tour: 15 € (Reduced rate for those 6-17 years of age)
- at the visitor’s centre, there is an eat-in cafe
- on the right bank of the Gardon River, facing Pont du Gard:
- “Les Terraces”: a sit-down restaurant serving Mediterranean cuisine
- “Les Petites Terraces”: a take-out food concession (“Les Petites Terraces”) with a few tables/chairs
- There aren’t many picnic tables. Most people just spread out a blanket on the grassy area by the banks of the river to have their picnic lunch/dinner.
E. Frequently Asked Questions
I stayed 6 hours where I visited the museum and the temporary exhibit, watched the film, took the tour to the top of the aqueduct, hiked around the area, and had lunch. I would allot a minimum of 2 hours if you’re just going to visit the museum and wander around the area. The tour alone is 1 hour and to be honest, it’s such a beautiful area you shouldn’t rush your visit.
SueJanuary 24, 2023 at 9:24 am
Thanks for this post Jan. It had me fondly remembering my trip to Pont du
Gard in 2018. We accidentally visited on France’s cultural holiday, which meant admission to the site, museum and parking were free, and that there were lots of local visitors rather than mostly other tourists, which is always nice. Everything about the site and the day was positive and memorable, most of all enjoying a leisurely, delicious and reasonably priced lunch at the cafe, with the Pont du Gard as our view only meters away.
JanJanuary 24, 2023 at 10:15 am
Thanks for sharing your memory. So nice to be able to attend with free admission and parking!
Fun as well to be in the company of locals enjoying the site too!