Last Updated On: June 3rd 2016
Toulouse is called the ”pink city” because of the color of the bricks used for the main buildings. It is the fourth city of France – after Paris, Marseille, and Lyon – and the major city of the southwest of the country. You’ll fall in love with the melodic southwestern French accent, the charm of all the little streets, the beauty of the architecture, the richness of the culture, and this art de vivre and relaxing atmosphere specific of this region. You’ll pronounce the name of the city like “to lose” but you won’t lose your time visiting the city!
Toulouse exists since the fourth century before JC. It was one of the main cities of the Roman Empire. It has a rich history from Clovis (4th century) to The Cathars (11th century), and through the flourishing pastel trade during the Gold century of Toulouse (15th century) when the big houses with terracotta bricks were built. The Canal du Midi connects the Garonne river to the Mediterranean sea, and avoids sailing through the Strait of Gibraltar (16th century). And not to forget the aeronautical adventure at the dynamic Airbus company.
Due to it’s location in the South-West of France, Toulouse has a warm oceanic climate. So you can visit Toulouse all year long, but be aware that the summer can be hot and windy. The very strong Autan wind (from the Latin ‘altanus ventus’, which means from offshore) can drive people crazy. The best months to visit are May, June, and September when the temperature is good and there are not too many tourists. You may also choose to come for one of its numerous festivals, especially in the summer. So remember to check beforehand and book your accommodation early in advance.
Toulouse Blagnac airport (TLS) is 7 km from the Toulouse city center. You’ll find all the public transport to Toulouse, from taxi to shuttle bus and tram. If you choose to arrive by train, it’s a 15-minute walk to the Capitole square at the city center.
In the city you can take advantage of the metro (two lines), tram, and bus services provided by the Tisséo network.
There is plenty to see in Toulouse: big and beautiful monuments, mansions, and museums. It is also worth just roaming the streets.
The Capitole square (Place du Capitole, 31000 Toulouse) is one of the most beautiful French squares, a spot you can’t miss. It’s also where you’ll find the town hall, built in the 18th century with brick, stone, and marble. In the center of the building, the eight columns symbolize the eight capitouls (similar to mayors) who ruled the city from the Middle Ages until the Revolution. The paintings on the ceiling of the archades tell the story of the city. The Occitan cross, the symbol of Toulouse, appears in the center of the square. Markets, shows, and performances are often found here. To enjoy a great view, simply go to the two-story McDonald’s restaurant.
Big, beautiful, decorated with sculptures, frescoes, and adorned with an octagonal tower of 67 m, the Saint-Sernin Basilica is one of the biggest Roman churches in the Occitan area and one of the oldest in France. It was built between the 11th and 13th centuries upon the grave of the Saint-Sernin, formerly called Saint-Saturnin, the first bishop of Toulouse and the Martyr in the 3rd century. This masterpiece of Roman art is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is open all year. Entry to the Basilica is free. The fee to visit the crypts and ambulatory is €2,5, free for children under 16 years old.
Other churches are worth exploring too. The Saint-Etienne cathedral (Two Gothic styles: the Southern, massive; and the Northern, finer), Notre-Dame du Taur (the bell tower wall), Notre-Dame de la Dalbade (famous for its ceramic tympanum), Eglise Saint-Pierre des Chartreuse (famous for its stucco decorations, angel sculptures, and wood carvings), Notre-Dame-de-la-Daurade (the Black Virgin), Jacobins Convent (a building known for its “palm tree” columns; they offer regular tours and concerts). They are free or with a very reasonable fee, and at less than 1 km from the Capitole.
A lot of museums offer you the possibility to explore the culture and history of Toulouse, from Roman art to contemporary art. The most known are: Musée des Augustins (21 Rue de Metz, 31000 Toulouse), a former convent that presents Roman and Gothic pieces, sculptures, and paintings from the 17th to the 19th centuries; Les abattoirs (76 Allée Charles de Fitte, 31000 Toulouse), contemporary and modern art; Musée du Vieux Toulouse (7 Rue du May , 31000 Toulouse), to learn the history of the town through paintings, objects, and furnitures in an intimate atmosphere.
Strolling is a good way to discover the authentic Toulouse, at the south of the Capitole square. The facades of the house are beautiful. Go through the Change street, the Marchands street, the Trinité square, etc. You’ll enjoy also the many mansions like: Brucelles mansion (Change street 19), its inner court is typical of a capitoul mansion and is often open; Assézat mansion (Place d’Assezat, 31000 Toulouse) is also worth a glance and it houses an interesting museum, the Bemberg Foundation. The tourism office offers very interesting tours. If you want to discover the ‘nature’ of the city, you can walk on the Garonne bank, enter one of the beautiful gardens (the Royal Garden, the jardin des Plantes, the Japanese Garden), or have a boat tour on the Garonne river.
Renting a bike to discover the city and the surroundings is possible. Though there are not many bicycle rental facilities you’ll find either normal or electric bikes. Toulouse also has a network of self-service bike rental like that in Paris but you have to register first. Prices are very affordable. You can collect a bike at a bike station, and then return it to a different station.
A new way to explore the city is via its sounds, thanks to Résonance Sonore association. They offer a two-hour ‘sound walk’ from the Capitole area with sounds of the different districts, sound reportages, and interviews. Currently only in French but they are working to offer audio tours in English. (+126.96.36.199.00.19 or firstname.lastname@example.org)
Shopping can be done on the St Rome Street (a pedestrian zone from the Capitole square), along the long and renovated Alsace Lorraine street (now a pedestrian zone that you can’t miss, especially during the Christmas season), and the little streets between St Georges square and the Alsace Lorraine Street where more authentic shops are. The shopping center Gramont is also easily accessible by metro.
The cité de l’espace (Avenue Jean Gonord, 31500 Toulouse) is just a few kilometers from the city centre. There is free parking but you can easily get there by public transport too. Open from 10 am to 5 pm (or 6 pm or 7 pm, depending on the day). This is a very interesting place, especially for children. Through exhibitions, 3D films, workshops, and experiments, you can discover the space, an astronaut’s life, the exploration missions, etc. You won’t be disappointed!
Eat and Drink
You’re in a big city in France, the southwest of France! So eating and drinking must be on your agenda. You’ll find plenty of restaurants and bars to fill your stomach, especially in the city center, in the Carmes area, and near the Capitole. Moreover, it’s a region with a lot of specialities, among which the famous ‘cassoulet toulousain’.
Le Py-R (19 Descente de la Halle Aux Poissons, 31000 , Toulouse) is one of the only three restaurants with one or two stars in the Michelin guide. The young chef Pierre Lambinon offers a gastronomic menu at €68. Be ready and hungry to enjoy it! Presentation and the quality of food are in harmony with the season, flavours… a real gastronomic dining experience of the French cuisine.
If you’re looking for good atmosphere, friendly service, and good food at an affordable price, you’ll like Le Saint-Sauvage (20 rue Salenques, Toulouse, France). The midday menu is only €18!
Cross the Garonne to discover this little restaurant, L’accessoire (34 rue des Teinturiers, 31300 Toulouse), headed by Henriette and Pascale: fresh food directly from the market, and the daily changing menu. Note that it is only open during lunchtime and in the evening only on Thursdays plus every 20th of the month and on demand for groups.
There are several food markets with plenty of locally produced fruits, meat, and vegetables. Three of them are covered markets and are open every mornings until 1:30pm, except on Mondays. In the Victor Hugo market (Place Victor-Hugo, 31000 Toulouse), you’ll also find locally produced flowers and a selection of little restaurants on the first floor. The market of Carmes (Place des Carmes, 31000 Toulouse) and the market of Saint-Cyprien (Place Saint Cyprien , 31300 Toulouse) house only food sellers, but the quality and the quantity are impressive. It’s an added bonus that the Saint-Cyprien market is located in an amazing building from the 19th century.
The cultivation of violets was very important at the end of the 19th century and in the first half of the 20th century, and Toulouse exported them all over Europe. The production declined afterwards but violets are still the symbol of the city. You may be curious to try one of the violet specialities in sweets, dishes with violets, vinegar, mostard, and liqueur. Go visit and shop in the house of violets!
So much to see in Toulouse, it’s mandatory to stay for at least one night. There are many options: more than a hundred hotels in the city center, including three five stars hotels. You can also stay in a cozy Bed and Breakfast, a student room, or a hostel. You could also find a camping site in the near surroundings of the city. Toulouse is a dynamic city with a lot of congresses, student exams, and festivals. So you may be short of options on certain dates.
Hôtel Ours blanc has 3 locations in the city center. From two stars (25 Place Victor Hugo 31000 Toulouse) to four stars (2, Rue Victor Hugo 31000 Toulouse), it allows you to choose according to your budget.
With a view of the Capitole, Le Grand Hôtel de l’Opéra (1 Place du Capitole, 31000 Toulouse) is a four stars hôtel with spa, sauna and hamman, bar, and a gastronomic restaurant les jardins de l’opéra. Classic and cozy, you’ll particulary enjoy the service and the location.
One of the small budget options is the hostel La petite aubergre de Saint-Sernin (17 Rue d’Embarthe, 31000 Toulouse). It is located in the city centre. You will sleep in a room for 4, 6 or 8 people for less than €25. You get free access to the kitchen and terrace, which will guarantee a good stay.
Here are additional options for where to stay in Toulouse.
Travel Tips and Local Blogs
For more Toulouse travel tips and suggestions, have a look at these local blogs and resources.
Tourist Information Centre (Donjon du Capitole, Square Charles de Gaulle, 31080 Toulouse, :+33 892 18 01 80, 10:00–13:00, 14:00–18:00) will provide all the information you need about Toulouse: what to do, what to see, and where to sleep with a booking service for the accommodations.
Among all the blogs existing about Toulouse, you’ll find some in English like we-toulouse.
And here’s a glimpse of La Ville Rose: