A tiered amphitheatre where gladiators fought for cheering crowds. Millennia-old temples dedicated to Roman gods. Ruins of structures commissioned by Caesar Augustus. No, this isn't Rome – though you'd be forgiven for thinking so. All of these antiquities can be found in Nîmes, France, which was once a major hub for the Roman Empire around the first century CE.
The quantity and quality of Nîmes' architectural landmarks provides living evidence of the city's significance to the Romans. The stone coliseum is especially astounding, where crowds of 24,000 strong came to witness gladiator contests and boar races. The two-storey structure is in far better shape than the one in Rome and continues to host concerts and bullfights. Built around the first century BCE, the Maison Carrée – one of the world's most complete Roman temples, with Corinthian marble columns edging a raised platform – is another ancient wonder that defies time.
It's easy to be mesmerised by Nîmes' wealth of ancient monuments, but the city offers more beyond its historical relics. Contemporary art lives inside the glassed-in walls of the Carré d'Art modern art museum, while the futuristic Musée de la Romanité contains archaeological finds from pre-Roman to medieval times. After all that sightseeing, take a breather in the Jardins de la Fontaine – an 18th-century formal garden full of statues, tree-lined walkways, water features and even more Roman ruins.