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Pau travel guide

Photo of Pau

Visit Pau (Nouvelle-Aquitaine, France)

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The town of Pau is in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques department of Aquitaine, about an hour north of the Pyrenees mountains.

Explore Pau

France This Way comment: Pau is an impressive town, with a large and vibrant town centre as well as the views to the mountains and a castle among the attractions, and a visit is recommended - preferably on a sunny day if you want to appreciate the views!

You can start your visit to Pau on the Boulevard des Pyrénées, which goes from east to west along the south side of the town centre, following the ridge of a hill and between the castle and the Parc Beaumont.

Go to Pau on a sunny day and you will be absolutely spellbound by the view from the Boulevard des Pyrenees. The lower hills of the Pyrenees can be seen in the distance with the snow-capped mountains behind. In the foreground you have the palm trees contrasting dramatically with the mountainous landscape beyond.

Boulevard des Pyrenees

The boulevard de Pyrenees is not just a walk with views, it is also where you will see most of the impressive buildings in the town, with several grand mansions and apartment blocks, a church, and open areas of park along the way.

Napoleon ordered the wall of the Royal Square to be knocked down opening up a wonderful vista to the residents and visitors of Pau, and Adolphe Alphand, a colleague of Haussmann, Paris’ most famous town planner, designed the Boulevard des Pyrenees complete with its natural balcony. The town hall is at the other end of the Place Royale.

Opposite the Place Royale you can take a lift down to visit the contemporary gardens: these were rather neglected the last time we visited but are usually well maintained and interesting to visit for a contrast with all the 19th century architecture elewhere in the centre of Pau.

At the east end of the boulevard next to the Palais des Congres you can continue your promenade in Beaumont Park, a wonderful spot for a picnic or to escape the bustle of city life for half an hour. Some of the trees in the park are more than a 100 years old.

There is a funicular between the boulevard and the lower town of Pau, free to use: this will be of interest mostly to visitors arriving at the train station

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Pau castle

At the west end of the Promenade des Pyrénées, the chateau de Pau was the birthplace of King Henri IV. It was also the fortress of the Viscounts of Bearn and a royal residence during the renaissance.

The original 14th century castle of Gaston Febus was converted into a Renaissance chateau by Marguerite d’Angouleme who surrounded it by gardens. These too are in the Renaissance style. It is her grandson Henri who became the king of France and the turtle shell that was his first cradle can be seen in the château.

The chambers in the west wing were decorated by Louis-Philippe for his wife Queen Marie-Amelie and later were frequently used by Eugenie, the wife of Napoleon, as she travelled between Biarritz and Bearn. Both Louis-Philippe and Napoleon bought many tapestries to adorn the walls of the chateau which has, of consequence, one of the biggest collections of tapestries in France.

On the third floor of the castle you can visit the Musee Bearnais, a museum of Bearnais architecture, furnishings and other aspects of Bearnais life.

See Chateau de Pau for more information.

Castle at Pau

Elsewhere in Pau town centre

The streets around the castle contain examples of 16th, 17th, and 18th and 19th century architecture and it is a pleasure exploring the streets in this area. Pick up the leaflet ‘Guide History and Heritage’ from Pau tourist office to be sure to spot all the details, from ‘lucky' hound shaped door handles to sculpted stone arches.

The shopping centre is to the east of here, along the Rue Maréchal Joffre and in the surrounding streets. This area is pedestrianised and attractive, with numerous shops and restaurants. The centre of this part of Pau is Place Georges Clemenceau, a large square wth a (modern) fountain in the centre 

Pau Museums

In the Hedas quarter which is Pau’s oldest residential quarter you can visit the Bernadotte Museum. Jean Baptiste Bernadotte was a brigadier general in Napoleon’s army who fought for France but was also a hero in Sweden, where rather remarkably he was offered the throne in 1810. His descendents still reign in Sweden.

The museum is the house where Bernadotte was born and as well as seeing an authentic Bearnais house you can find out about Bernadotte himself

Another museum in Pau is the Fine Arts Museum, the Musee des Beaux Arts. This is a good museum with works by Rubens and Degas amongst many others. The pride of the collection is ‘The New Orleans Cotton Office’ by Degas.

The Museum of the Resistance and Deportation on rue Despourrins is a chance to see many items that represent life during the period that France was under Nazi occupation.

Other things to see in Pau

Beaumont Palace, at the east end of the Boulevard des Pyrenees in the entrance to Parc Beaumont, was built as a winter palace in 1900 at the request of foreign wealthy holiday-home owners. It is now a casino and conference centre, and a large pond has been built in front of it by the architect Francois Lombard, which reflects the façade in the water.

Pau has strong English ties. A Scots doctor, Alexander Taylor, came to Pau to recover from Typhus and he was so impressed by the healing powers of Pau’s climate that he wrote a book, and a flood of rich British followed him.

Many of these built large villas and English style gardens, some of which can be visited today. Ask for details at the tourist office.

Church Saint-Martin

Attractions nearby

Towards the end of the 19th century Pau became the site of the first European golf course, a course which stll has a very good reputation.

Our favourite places to visit close to Pau include Oloron-Sainte-Marie, with a pretty view along the river and a cathedral among the highlights, and the fortified village of Navarrenx, still surrounded by its medieval ramparts.

To the south-east of the town you can visit Lourdes, of interest because of the sanctuary and the history of Bernadette even if the town is now far too commercialised.

Explore elsewhere in the Béarn. You can find more travel ideas in the Pyrenees-Atlantiques guide and the Aquitaine guide.

See also: 

Photos of Pau

Click any picture to start the gallery

  • castle
  • church-saint-martin (1)
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  • palais-beaumont (1)
  • palais-de-justice
  • place-recaborde
  • place-royale
  • promenade-des-pyrenees-villas (1)
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  • town-centre (2)
  • town-centre (4)
  • town-hall
  • view-pyrenees

Map of Pau and places nearby

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Visit near Pau with France This Way reviews

Chateau de Pau

Chateau de Pau

The Chateau de Pau is an impressive combination of the renaissance and 19th century architectural styles

Chateau de Pau guide
Oloron-Sainte-Marie

Oloron-Sainte-Marie

There are several sights of interest in Oloron-Saint-Marie including a picturesque section of river

Oloron-Sainte-Marie guide
Church Sainte-Croix in Oloron-Sainte-Marie

Church Sainte-Croix in Oloron-Sainte-Marie

The Church Sainte-Croix is an interesting roman style church built in the 12th century

Church Sainte-Croix in Oloron-Sainte-Marie guide
Cathedral Saint-Marie in Oloron-Sainte-Marie

Cathedral Saint-Marie in Oloron-Sainte-Marie

The cathedral of Sainte-Marie is best known for its remarkable 12th century entrance

Cathedral Saint-Marie in Oloron-Sainte-Marie guide
Navarrenx

Navarrenx

Navarrenx is a traditional fortified French bastide town in the western pyrenees

Navarrenx guide
Sarrance

Sarrance

The small village of Sarrance is in the valley of the Gave d'Aspe and has an interesting church to visit

Sarrance guide

... or see ALL recommended places to visit in Pyrenees-Atlantiques

Tourist classifications for Pau

Pau is classified as a village in bloom (ville fleurie) 4*

Address: Pau, Aquitaine, 64000, France || GPS coordinates: latitude 43.301, longitude -0.368

Plan your visit to Pau, Pyrenees-Atlantiques

Sightseeing & tourist attractions to visit nearby

  • Jardin du château de Momas: remarkable garden (18 km)
  • Jardins du château de Viven: remarkable garden (18 km)
  • Zoo d'Asson: zoo or wildlife park (21 km)
  • Oloron-Sainte-Marie: town of art and history (24 km)
  • Eglise, Oloron-Sainte-Marie (monuments on French pilgrim routes): heritage site (24 km)
  • Grottes de Betharram: site of natural beauty (26 km)
  • Eglise St Blaise (monuments on French pilgrim routes): heritage site (33 km)
  • Vallée d'Ossau: site of natural beauty (36 km)
  • Tarbes: ville fleurie 4* (36 km)
  • Col d'Aubisque: site of natural beauty (36 km)
  • Marshall Foch house: national monument (37 km)
  • Jardin Massey: remarkable garden (37 km)

Market days in Pau, France

Regular market(s) are held in Pau each every day except Sunday. (Markets are held in the morning unless stated.)

The French version of this page is at Pau (Francais)

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