Perpignan packs the Mediterranean, mountains and much, much more into a family holiday

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Beachy in summer, great for skiing all winter, and fascinating year round, this is a very easy city to love.

The historic centre is wonderfully walkable, guided tours are the best type of fun for kids, and if you want to know anything – about almost everything – just ask. The Perpignan Office de Tourisme couldn’t be more helpful, and in English too.

Interested to know more right now? Here’s what the tourism experts have to say about the very persuasive qualities of their home town.

Le Castillet defensive tower located at Perpignan

1/4  Mediterranean city packed full of surprises

  • Perpignan didn’t become part of France until the mid-17th century. It still considers itself a true Catalan, sits less than 40km from the Spanish border, and naturally does street signs in both French and Catalan. 
  • Sant John the Baptist is the city’s patron saint and is celebrated every year in March with the Festival of Books and Roses where the men offer a rose to their girlfriend or wife and the women give their boyfriend or husband a book.
  • Perpignan was capital of Mallorca in the 13th century. Its role was brief, but the legacy lives on in the imposing Palace of the Kings of Mallorca which stares over the city even today. Don’t miss this one, it has the best views, and makes for fun history lessons kids actually remember.
  • The city’s cathedral quarter at the heart of the old town is the largest Romanesque-Gothic complex in France, and every bit as impressive as it sounds.
  • Perpignan enjoys over 300 days of sunshine annually. A good excuse to go play in one of its many parks. Square Bir Hakeim, on the edge of the old town, has a skate park to please board toting teens, and a cute playground for younger kids.
  • In its time, Perpignan’s defended Spain against France, and France against Spain. These days it limits warrior-spirit to rugby (a huge city passion). But you can still see a hint of defensiveness in the intriguing Castillet: the last vestige of the ancient city walls, home to the Museum of North Catalonia History, and another architectural wonder.   
  • Perpignan is minutes from the Mediterranean, just over an hour’s drive from Pyrenees’ ski resorts, and direct UK flights to Beziers or Girona Airport take less than two hours.

2/4 Art looks livelier from Perpignan’s perspective

You don’t find many French children who aren’t familiar with Hyacinthe Rigaud. His (much) larger than life portrait of ‘Louis XIV King of France and Navarre’, is a permanent fixture in school history books from Strasbourg to La Réunion. The nine foot tall original might hang in The Louvre, but the artist’s celebrated royally at the Musée d’Art Hyacinthe Rigaud, in his home town of Perpignan. 

No need to go full-on educator in this museum, the stunning permanent collection  does all the work for you, effortlessly. Rigaud’s 17th century portraiture keeps company with splendid medieval art, creative contemporary Perpignan is well represented; and works by Raoul Dufy and Picasso in the modern collection bear remarkable testimony to the city’s role as safe haven for Catalan artists during the early 20th century. 

Artistic talent still flocks to Perpignan and, ‘à cent mètres du centre du monde’, is where to see it in action. This huge exhibition space is easy to find. It’s literally 100m from where Salvador Dali claimed to have had a vision of Perpignan Station as the ‘centre of the universe’; a moment immortalised in his enormous work, simply called, ‘La Gare de Perpignan’. You have to go to Germany to see that painting. But you can drop in on, ‘100 metres from the centre of the world’, any time and find something just as inspiring going on; from pop-up workshops to full-scale exhibitions, performance art, street art, music, movies and installations.

The city isn’t shy about keeping its traditional arts alive either. Head to Sant Vicens and learn about the legendary Catalan ceramics loved by celebrities for over 70 years. Visit Perpignan in November for the historic Saint Eloi Garnet Fair. Or just go shopping, it’s an art history lesson in itself; if you need proof spend some time admiring generations of Catalan weaving skills at Les toiles du soleil.

 3/4 Kids love Perpignan, from street markets to waterparks

Nearby Mediterranean beaches have instant child-appeal, but Perpignan manages to turn almost everything into an adventure, even its many, many medieval monuments. Find that hard to believe? Download the free Perpignan 3-D app, go exploring the city’s gothic grandeur and you might be surprised at how quickly kids come round to the idea of history as fun – borrow a tablet from the Office de Tourisme if you don’t have a phone.

Sticking with the past, Perpignan Natural History Museum should definitely be on your to-do list. It’s packed with oddities, but none come more intriguing than the 18th century Cabinet of Curiosities and its Egyptian Mummy, complete with coffin.

When time’s tight and you want to see as much as possible, hop aboard the Little Train and tour the entire historic city centre in just 40 minutes. Bonus on this one is a multi-lingual audio guide, so you get to sit back and enjoy the ride while experts do the explaining.

Water-based fun isn’t limited to the Med. Moulin à Vent swimming complex, is slide and chute-rich, indoors, and minutes from the old town. Or if the sun’s shining – and it often is – head to Aqualand Saint Cyprien on the coast for a more white-knuckle experience.

Don’t miss out on retail roaming in Perpignan either, kids love wandering the street stalls along Rue Paratilla. More commonly known as ‘rue des épices’, this is where the smells, sounds and tastes of the Mediterranean all in one place, and it’s good for interesting restaurants too. 

The village of Collioure near Perpignan. Photo credit: @Nicolas Berthet

4/4 Perpignan on the table, by the sea and in the mountains

You can’t visit a city with its toes in the Med, head in the mountains, and both Spain and France at heart, without focusing a little bit on food and drink.

The endearing combo of Catalan bakeries and French Patisseries is usually enough to satisfy most kids, particularly if you introduce them to local treats like rousquilles and bougnettes – perfect exploration fuel.

Picnic essentials are best picked up at Le Carré Arago or Les Halles Vauban: both brilliant markets, and easy to spot right in the city centre. And naturally, tapas is everywhere in Perpignan, but found at its finest served with Roussillon wine on Avenue du Maréchal Leclerc.

For more fine local traditions, head to the nearby village of Collioure for the morning market every Wednesday and Saturday. It’s lovely to wander round, and has the added attraction of a gorgeous little harbour, pretty beaches, and an eyeful of the medieval summer palace; another beauty built for the Kings of Mallorca in the 13th century.

And if you’re around in summer, don’t simply stick to the seaside. A journey on the Yellow Train from Perpignan, high up through the Pyrenees, is a wonderful way to catch some sun from another angle; and see UNESCO World Heritage legends like Mont-Louis, as well as some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in Europe.

Visit Perpignan Office de Tourisme to find out more about where to stay, what to do, and why you should be thinking about a family holiday in this fantastically original city.

There will be direct flights from the UK to Perpignan between March and October, and from Dublin between May and September.

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