Things to do in Toulouse

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by Hertz - 14 September 2018

Affectionately known as La Ville Rose or the Pink City, Toulouse lies on the banks of the Garonne River in the sunny south of France, not far from the border with Spain. As the capital of the Occitanie region, it’s an important industrial centre but also boasts plenty of visitor attractions, from historic buildings and peaceful botanical gardens to an aerospace museum.

Toulouse is an exciting destination in its own right and it’s also an ideal base if you’re planning trips to the Mediterranean coast or even the Pyrenees mountain range. But you’ll want to make sure you experience all the highlights of the city before hitting the road, so we’ve rounded up a few ideas to get your trip started.

History and architecture 

Romance oozes from France’s fourth largest city, in large part thanks to the blush-tinged architecture that forms the heart of Toulouse. Its history is long and rich and nowhere more prominent than in the old town on the east side of the Garonne River.Head here and begin with a trip to one of its most famous buildings, the Basilique Saint-Sernin. Visitors are drawn to the elegant rose-hued exterior – join them and marvel at some of the finest Romanesque architecture in Europe. Made from the pink bricks typical of Toulouse, its most notable feature is the impressive octagonal bell-tower.

 

Inside, you’ll find a marble altar dating back to 1096 along with medieval frescoes in the north transept. These were only found in the 1970s, when plaster that had been added to the walls in the 19th century was removed. Entry to the basilica is free but you can pay to explore the ambulatory, where its treasures are housed, and the crypt which contains the relics of several saints.

Just a short walk away is the Couvent des Jacobins, another of the city’s most significant religious buildings. A church was first built on this site in the 13th century before being expanded over the years to create the huge, pink brick building you can see today.

Head inside to admire the intricate stained glass windows and peaceful courtyard, along with several chapels including the one dedicated to St Antonin, which features some impressive 14th century frescoes on its ceiling.

 

Switch things up at lively Place du Capitole, the city’s main square, lined on one side by the 18th century Capitole building. Once a meeting point for local magistrates, today the neoclassical building serves as the city hall.

Stand in the square and gaze at the Capitole’s exterior, with its remarkable pink marble columns, before making your way inside to see the Salle des Illustres – Hall of the Illustrious – featuring art and furnishings from the late 19th century.

What to do in Toulouse

Toulouse may have some incredible historic buildings but it’s also home to a number of exciting modern attractions.

The city is at the heart of France’s aerospace industry and just a few miles away from the centre is one of its most popular attractions, Cité de l’Espace – an intriguing museum where visitors can learn all about space and the wonders of the universe. With interactive displays, a planetarium and IMAX show, it’s the perfect day out for families. Star attractions include full-scale models of iconic spacecraft, including the Ariana 5 rocket and the Mir space station. Booking tickets online before visiting can help you avoid long queues on the day. 

Add the Muséum de Toulouse to your must-see list. Wander through the natural history exhibitions and learn about the solar system, the formation of earth and mankind’s place in the universe.

Beautiful botanical gardens neighbour the museum so save some time for a leisurely stroll through the grounds. Dating back to the time of the French Revolution, Jardin des Plantes is a manicured oasis and a leafy wonderland. Amble through the trees and along flower-bordered paths, where peacocks proudly strut their stuff.

Fine art fans should visit to the Musée des Augustins. It contains sculptures and paintings dating from the Middle Ages to the 20th century, including works by Delacroix and Toulouse-Lautrec. The gallery is housed within a former monastery, so you can enjoy wandering around the peaceful cloisters as you admire the artworks inside.

You might also want to visit Les Abattoirs, a museum in a former slaughterhouse on the other side of the Garonne River. This gallery opened in 2000 and houses an impressive collection of modern art, with space for huge installations and temporary exhibitions.

Where to stay and eat in Toulouse

Hotels in Toulouse 

Toulouse is one of the biggest cities in France, so you won’t be short of options when it comes to hotels. We’ve picked a few to help you begin your search.

For a luxurious stopover, try La Cour des Consuls Hotel and Spa Toulouse. This hotel is just a short distance from the Place du Capitole, housed within two 18th-century buildings that have been converted to include 32 rooms, a restaurant and spa. Its restaurant, Le Cenacle, offers gourmet dining with traditional French dishes such as foie gras and fillet of sole.

Also located within the heart of the city is Privilège Appart-Hôtel Clément-Ader, offering  stylish studios and apartments. Parking is available onsite, perfect if you’ve booked car hire in Toulouse, and guests can enjoy access to the pool, sauna and fitness centre, while in the evening you can relax in the hotel bar or take a seat outdoors on the patio.

For something a little different, try the Le Grand Balcon Hotel near Place du Capitol. Set in a former townhouse, this boutique hotel has a glamorous 1930s aviation theme and there’s even a suite that’s been fully redecorated as a bedroom from this era. There’s a breakfast room serving a tasty American-style buffet and the hotel is also perfectly located if you want to explore Toulouse’s bars and restaurants in the evening.

Restaurants in Toulouse

Foodie flock to Toulouse for good reason. This city is known for having some of the best food in the south of France and you’ll find many cafés and restaurants serving delicious traditional dishes and modern cuisine.  

One thing that should be on any foodie’s bucket list in Toulouse is cassoulet, a local meaty stew made with duck or sausage and haricot beans. For some of the best in the city, head to La Cave au Cassoulet, an establishment that made its name serving up hearty portions of this classic French dish. The restaurant is housed in a brick cellar, providing a unique atmosphere that makes it a popular choice for locals and visitors alike.

Take your dining experience up a notch at Restaurant Michel Sarran just outside the city centre.With two Michelin stars to its name, it’s well worth a visit if you’re planning to indulge during your stay. Roasted blue lobster, garlic-stuffed pigeon and duck confit are counted among the superb dishes on the a la carte menu.

If you’re looking for meat-free meals, you’ll find a good variety of options in Toulouse. Try La Faim des Haricots or La Belle Verte, an organic restaurant and tearoom serving vegan brunches and desserts as well as tasty gluten-free dishes.

Day trips from Toulouse

Make the most of your holiday to Toulouse and take a few day trips to see more of France during your stay.

Just an hour’s drive south-east of Toulouse is Carcassonne, the largest medieval walled city in Europe. As the Cité comes into view, you’ll feel like you’ve almost fallen straight into a fairy tale. This medieval wonder is a triumph of turrets, battlements and ancient walls, and will take your breath away. Wander along the cobbled streets to explore the ramparts and castle before heading to the lower town, known as La Ville Basse, to check out the modern areas of this historic city.

For another fascinating day out, head to the town of Albi just an hour’s drive north-east of Toulouse. The Sainte-Cécile Cathedral, an enormous Gothic structure that was once the largest brick building in the world, presides over the city in spectacular fashion. The cathedral is an impressive sight from the outside but inside there are even more amazing sights, including a remarkable altar fresco depicting the Last Judgement.

Next to the cathedral is the Berbie Palace, once home to the town’s bishops and now housing a museum dedicated to Albi’s most famous son, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, who was born here in 1864. The museum holds the largest collection of the Post-Impressionist painter’s works, along with others by Matisse, Gaugin and many more.

After visiting the cathedral and palace you can spend a relaxing afternoon exploring the Old Town, with its beautiful historic buildings alongside many modern shops, cafés and restaurants.

Beaches near Toulouse

Turn your city break into a beach break by driving to the stunning southern coast. This gorgeous pocket of France features many beautiful resorts within easy driving distance of Toulouse, so we’ve taken a closer look at a few to give you some inspiration. 

 

Make the coastal town of Narbonne-Plage your destination, less than two hours’ drive from Toulouse. Sink your toes into the golden sand, which stretches for miles. This particular spot is popular with watersports fans thanks to the excellent facilities for yachting, kayaking and a host of other activities.

Valras-Plage is another contender for a day trip to the beach, near the town of Béziers. This modern resort has excellent facilities for kids, with plenty of play areas and places to stop for an ice cream. There’s an array of shops and restaurants near the waterfront, while the beach has warm clear waters that are perfect for swimming.  

Hikes and walks near Toulouse

As well as being ideally placed to visit the coast, Toulouse is also situated on the Canal du Midi, a 150-mile route created in the 17th century to connect the Atlantic with the Mediterranean. Today it’s a hugely popular destination for walking and cycling, and you can even take a boat trip if you want to admire the views from the water.

 

The canal path leads from Toulouse out to the valleys of the Lauragais district, Carcasonne and finally to the port of Sète. This route snakes past rural villages and towns, while there are also a few cafés along the waterfront where you can stop for a drink and watch the boats pass by.

If you’ve booked car hire in Toulouse, venture out to the Pyrenees mountain range that divides the Iberian Peninsula from the rest of Europe. Scenic hiking routes are in abundance throughout the rugged peaks, but if you’re short on time and can only visit one place, head to the Pic du Midi. The cable car takes you to a height of more than 2,877 metres where you can enjoy unforgettable views across the snow-capped mountains.

 

 

Whether you’re planning to visit the mountains, coast or countryside, Toulouse is the perfect gateway to the south of France. And even if you’re not planning to travel too far from the city centre, car hire in Toulouse can really help you make the most of your stay.

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Article by Hertz

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