Travel Guides Crafted by Experienced Archaeologists & Historians

Prehistoric Cave Art In France

From the World famous cave of Lascaux to one of the most recent discoveries – including Cosquer and Chauvet, France has some of the most spectacular prehistoric cave art in the world. Painted and engraved images, as well as bas relief sculptures, were made by Homo sapiens and probably also Neanderthals between about 36,000 to 12,000 years ago, a period that coincides with the end of the last Ice Age. In this is a guide to the caves, replicas and museums of Ice Age art in France we provide all you need to know to plan your trip.

About Our Guide to the Cave Art of France

Frequently Asked Questions About Visiting the Decorated Caves in France

Some of the more frequent questions we get asked about visiting the cave art in France. 

Can you still visit the cave painting sites in France?

Yes. Although there are many sites in France that are closed to the public, there are a number of very good sites that are still accessible. This guide provides the information for those.

Where are the cave paintings in France?

Cave art sites are found in a number of locations in France, including Normandy and Burgundy. But the main concentrations are in the south west. There are three main areas that have a number of decorated caves, museums and theme parks that are popular destinations: the Vézére Valley in the Dordogne, the Lot Department in the Midi-Pyrénées, and the foothills of the Pyrénées mountains. The Vézère Valley, in the Dordogne, is so rich in Palaeolithic archaeology that the area was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1979. These three areas do not, however, account for all the accessible decorated caves; use the interactive map and list below for all cave art sites that can still be visited.

Is the Lascaux cave open to the public?

No. Lascaux was closed to the public in 1963. In 1983 the first replica, Lascaux 2, was opened to the public. A second replica of the cave was opened to the public in 2016. Lascaux 3 is a touring exhibition of some sections of the original cave.

Is the Lascaux 4 better than Lascaux 2?

While Lascaux 4 is a more complete replica than Lascaux 2, the two experiences are very different. For Lascaux 2 there are smaller groups, and you do not get the sense you are being rushed through the ‘cave’. The experience includes being in the cave with a torch, attempting as much as possible to recreate what it must have been like for people in the Stone Age to see these images painted and engraved on the cave wall. Lascaux 4 is definitely a 21st century clinical museum experience, with greater use of state-of-the-art techniques to allow visitors to learn more about Ice Age art in Europe.  If you have time, visit both. If you have to choose one, and you have a deep interest in cave art, there is no choice, in my opinion – visit Lascaux 2.

Are there guided tours of the caves in France?

A few tour companies do offer guided tours to the cave paintings in France. These tend to be large groups. We have created a flexible itinerary for those who are happy to drive in France. Follow our Self Guided Tour of the Best Cave Art Sites in France.

Where Can You See the Cave Art in France?

The following interactive map shows the location of cave art sites open to the public, as well as the various museums that have cave art exhibitions. These vary from fragments of rock with painted or engraved images on them to permanent displays that cover the archaeology of these sites. 


Map of Cave Art & Museums in France

Visitor Information at a Glance for the Ice Age Caves in France

CAVEDatesDays of the WeekBuy Tickets
Arcy-sur-Cure (Burgundy) (unconfirmed dates)31 March to 1 November 2024All weekAt the cave, on the day
Bara Bahau (Dordogne)February - NovemberAll week in July/August, otherwise closed Mondays

Onsite/online
Bédeilhac (Pyrénées)30 March - 3 November 2024All week in July/August otherwise closed FridaysOnline recommended
Bernifal (Dordogne)
Cap Blanc (Dordogne)January - DecemberClosed SaturdaysOnsite/online
Chauvet 2January - DecemberAll week, except January - closed Mondays & TuesdaysOnsite/online
Cosquer MéditerranéeJanuary - DecemberAll weekOnsite/online
Les Combarelles (Dordogne)January - DecemberClosed SaturdaysOnline only
Cougnac (Lot) (unconfirmed dates) 31 March - 1 November 2024All week, except October - closed Sundays
Onsite/online
Font de GaumeJanuary - DecemberClosed SaturdaysOnline only
Isturitz & OxocelhayaJanuary - DecemberAll weekOnline recommended
Lascaux 230 March to 1 November 2024All weekOnline only
Lascaux 4All yearAll weekOnline/onsite
Pech Merle30 March to 1 November 2024All weekOnline only
Roc au Sorcier31 March to 4 November 2024All week in July/August, otherwise closed MondaysAt the site, on the day
Rouffignac31 March to 1 November 2024All weekAt the cave, on the day
St Cirq - Grotte du SorcierApril to mid NovemberAll weekAt the cave, on the day

Cave Art Self Guided Tours

Visiting the Prehistoric Caves in the Vézére Valley

Abri Cap Blanc

The bas relief sculptures of animals, mostly horses, at Cap Blanc are the finest examples of sculptured Palaeolithic art still in situ and open to the public in France. The highlight of the frieze is a carved horse, the body of which measures over two metres in length. In the deposit in front of the carved panel lies the body (now a cast) of a young female. The archaeological deposit also revealed tools that must have been used to carve the animals. Today the shelter is enclosed within a building that also houses a very good museum.

Abri Pataud Excavation & Museum

Abri Pataud is one of a very few prehistoric sites open to the public  to see ongoing excavations. An important site, both for prehistory  it has revealed and the history of archaeology. Many techniques of excavating cave deposits were first used here. A suspended walkway allows visitors to walk through the excavation, and see the successive layers of prehistoric periods, from the Aurignacian to the Solutrean. See the remains of fire from thousands of years ago in context. After a tour of the site, don’t miss the adjacent museum, with its carved ibex on the ceiling and many of the artefacts found here.

Bara Bahau

Located deep in the cave on a sloping, soft limestone wall are a number of engraved animals and geometric patterns, including horses, bisons, bears and deer. Before the cave was occupied by Palaeolithic communities, bears hibernated in the cave and scratched the walls with their claws. As at other caves, the artists here made use of some of these scratch marks. The original prehistoric finely incised depictions are difficult to see. To help visitors better experience this cave, line drawing of the images have been placed on light-boxes in front of the panel.

Font de Gaume

Font de Gaume is the only decorated cave in France that has polychrome paintings that has remained open to the public. Although access is very restricted, and why tickets are highly sort after. In a narrow gallery there are over 230 animal engraved and painted depictions. Not only are some of the painted bisons polychrome, they are also both engraved and painted. One of the many highlights of the site is a frieze of 5 bison, where the artist(s) made use of the contours of the rock face to give shape to the painted bison.

Lascaux II

Lascaux II opened to the public in 1983, situated about 200 m from the entrance to Lascaux. About 90% of the original cave is reproduced in this the first replica. With the opening of Lascaux IV, Lascaux II has remained open, itself a historical monument. Visitors now get a very different experience to what was offered before, an what is on offer at Lascaux IV. Long gone are the groups of 25 being rushed through so that as many groups can make it as possible – that is now Lascaux IV. A guided tour starts above ground and takes you to the entrance of the famous cave, before heading into the replica where you are treated to seeing the Hall of Bulls by candle light. An experience for those who have a deeper interest in cave art and prehistory.

Lascaux IV

Lascaux IV opened to the public in December 2016. The first replica and the original cave was in effect becoming a victim of Lascaux II’s success. A new replica was installed in a start-of-the-art interpretation centre was constructed at the base of the hill in which the cave of Lascaux is found; just outside the town of the town of Montignac. Visitors get a guided tour through an almost complete reproduction of the cave and are then left to explore various interpretative galleries.  The experience is very high tech, this is not just a more complete and better replica. The emphasis is on imparting what we know about prehistoric art as opposed to building an amazing replica.

Les Combarelles

Les Combarelles, unlike most of the other caves open to the public in the Les Eyzies area, is notable for its many exquisitely engraved depictions along a windy, narrow passage of about 240 metres in length. Although the usual range of animals were engraved, such as horses, bison, mammoth, reindeer, bears, and lions, there are also a number of representations of humans. Depictions of humans in European cave art are relatively rare, but there are exceptional examples here: stylized outlines of female bodies.

Rouffignac

With over eight kilometres of underground tunnels, the cave of Rouffignac is the largest of the decorated caves in the Vézère Valley currently open to the public. The cave has both paintings and engravings, an these are located deep in the cave. Visitors are taken to a number of the panels on an electric train. Besides some extraordinary examples of prehistoric art, there are also ancient bear pits, as well as historical graffiti that indicates this cave has been known about in the Modern period for a few hundred years at least.

St Cirq - Grotte du Sorcier

In a small rock shelter in the limestone cliffs above the quaint and picturesque hamlet of Saint-Cirq is an extraordinary and rare incised engraving of a male human figure – which has for along time been called the ‘sorcerer’. Although there are not many other images in the cave this is still a good cave to visit. Not only for the rare depiction of the human figure and the human head, but also to see that not all decorated caves are as visually striking as some of the more well known caves in the Dordogne. The setting of the shelter makes the visit all the more worthwhile. The site stays open longer than others, so can be left to the end of the day.

Visiting the Prehistoric Caves in the Lot

There are some spectacular limestone caves in the Lot Department of the Midi-Pyrénées region. And a number of these are open to the public as geological attractions. At Gouffre de Padriac, for example, visitors take a small boat ride on an underground lake. Three of these caves with Ice Age art are open to the public – and are as interesting for their geology as much as the prehistoric cave paintings. They are Grotte des Merveilles, Cougnac and Pech Merle. The last two are amongst the most important caves in Palaeolithic Europe, and archaeological research carried out on the imagery in these two caves has done much to advance understanding of cave art in Europe.

These three caves in the Lot are not that far from the Vézére Valley, a couple of hours drive at the most. Taking in the best sites in both areas is easily achieved. The three Lot caves are not as close together as some of the best caves in the Dordogne are. With careful planning ahead, however, it is possible to see all three in one day if that is required.

Cougnac

A guided tour at Cougnac takes visitors to two separate caves, one that is of geological interest and the other of archaeological – with the paintings. The tour starts in the undecorated cave, which provides visitors with information about the natural processes that create the limestone caves in which Stone Age artists came along many millions of years later and made their paintings and engravings. The nearby decorated cave has some of the finest examples of paintings in France, with a few unique and rare depictions.

Pech Merle

Since the discovery of the paintings in 1922 research on the paintings at Pech Merle, including the techniques used to make the images, what pigments the artists used, and also how some of the more complex panels developed over time, have been at the forefront of research on and debates about the meaning of Palaeolithic cave art in western Europe. Without doubt, this is one of the most striking decorated caves still open to the public in France – and should really not be missed. It is also the easiest cave to book tickets for.

Visiting the Prehistoric Caves in the Pyrénées

The majestic Pyrénées also has a significant concentration of decorated caves. Sadly, for conservation reasons, not as many of these are open to the public. But those that are accessible to the public are exceptional examples of prehistoric cave art in France, and should not be missed. These include Niaux, édeilhac and La Vache. Near to these caves is the Pyrénées Park of Prehistoric Art (Parc Pyrénéen de l’ Art Préhistorique), and here visitors will find excellent facsimiles of painted panels from some of the caves in the area that are not open to the public.

Niaux

Niaux has some of the finest examples of Palaeolithic art in Europe. The cave stretches back into the mountain for about 2 km, but the first painted panels are only 500 m from the entrance. Besides paintings on the wall, there are also engravings on the clay floors. Graffiti from the 17th century suggests that these visitors knew about the prehistoric art. A walk of nearly 40 minutes takes you through some spectacular speleological features to the gallery of black animals

Mas d'Azil Cave

At 70 m high, with a river and a road running through the ‘tunnel’, the cave is itself well worth seeing. Visitors take a guided tour of the underground tunnels, learning about the prehistoric people who lived here. Unfortunately the cave art is in inaccessible parts of the cave, but there are reproductions of these images in the museum along with other artefacts recovered by archaeologists.

Bédeilhac

The cave of Bédeilhac has an enormous entrance, one that was attractive to the German army during World War II. They intended to use the cave as an airplane hangar. This activity destroyed a lot of archaeological deposits in the cave. Bédeilhac has a great diversity of parietal and portal art, including representations engraved and moulded in clay. Some of the side galleries are closed to the public, but the main gallery is accessible by a guided tour and has some interesting examples of Palaeolithic art.

Prehistoric Caves in Other Areas of France

Arcy-sur-Cure

There are two decorated caves at Ary-sur-Cure, but only one – la Grande Grotte – is open to the public. This is a large cave that has been visited for many centuries and is particularly well known for the geological limestone features. The prehistoric paintings were found in 1990 during the cleaning of the walls. Most of the paintings are depictions of mammoths. The other cave has engraved images, but these are considered too difficult for visitors to get to without potential damage. These cave paintings are amongst the oldest painted images in Europe.

Grotte Chauvet 2

The discovery of Chauvet Cave in 1994 by three speleologists had a enormous impact on cave art research. Not only was the cave art as spectacular as many other decorated caves in France, but because the cave had been sealed since prehistory the archaeology of the cave’s inhabitants lay undisturbed on the floor. For conservation reasons the cave would never be open to the public, the cave has been faithfully reproduced – the art and the the archaeology – which opened to the public in April 2015. Besides the replica, an excellent state-of-the-art interpretation centre provides an excellent background to the art of this period of the Stone Age.

Cosquer Méditerranée

Opened in June 2022, Cosquer Méditerranée is home to the recently created replica of Grotte Cosquer. The submerged entrance to the cave of Cosquer was discovered in 1985 but the Ice Age art, both paintings and engravings, were only found by divers in 1991. The first human occupation of the cave was about 30,000 years ago, and the last around 19,000 years before the present. This new facility tells the story, history and archaeology of Cosquer Cave. After taking a lift to the replicated submerged entrance 37 below sea level, visitors board exploratory vehicles and take a guided tour, available in 6 different languages, to explore the replica of the ‘underwater cave’ on a journey that takes 35 minutes.

Roc au Sorciers

The highlight at Roc-aux-Sorciers near Angles-sur-l’Anglin is a panel of up to 18 m that has a number of exceptionally carved animal and human figures. Today the site is closed to the public. A facsimile of the panel can be seen in an innovative, multimedia interpretative centre in the village. Some of the original carved blocks of limestone that were removed from the cave can now be seen in the Musée Archéologie Nationale just outside of Paris. Traces of red and black pigment have been found on the carved figures, suggesting that the animal figures were coloured when they were made.

Abri de la Chaire-à-Calvin

Although not the clearest of bas relief representations in France, this is one of the few shelters with carved animal images that is on open view. The small panel, just under three metres long, is protected behind a secure fence. In all there are eight carved animals. Rock art scholars do not agree on their identification as their defining features are either absent or very badly preserved. The carvings may be representations of horses or bovids, but the images also bear a striking resemblance to carvings of ibex at other similar sites. The Angoulême Museum has artefacts from this site on display.

Grottes d'Isturitz & Oxocelhaya

Although the archaeology in Isturitz cave was badly damaged, the cave is one of the more important Palaeolithic sites in France. Not only do the archaeological deposits have evidence of some 70,000 years of near continuous occupation, extensive excavations recovered hundreds of beautifully carved artefacts. Isturitz and the adjacent Oxocelhaya cave also have images on the walls, and in Isturitz there are bas-relief sculptures on a large stalagmite near what would have been the prehistoric entrance to the cave.

cave Art Related Museums & Theme Parks