Toulouse might just be the most underrated city in France! Never fear, we are here to change that. Once you see all the amazing things to do in Toulouse, you’ll be sure to add it to your France itinerary. If you are planning a road trip through France or hopping on the Eurail, make sure to set aside two or three days to visit this charming French city.
We hadn’t thought of visiting Toulouse before booking a boat trip with Le Boat through the South of France on the Canal du Midi, but I’m glad we set aside a few days to enjoy it. Toulouse always seemed overshadowed by the likes of Paris, Nice, or Marseille. But when we arrived at the Grand Balcon hôtel located just off the main square of the city, we knew we were in for a treat.
Where is Toulouse?
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Toulouse is located in the south of France three hours north of Andorra and three hours west of Montpelier. It is not located on the Mediterranean coast like Cannes or Marseille but instead is located inland directly on the banks of the River Garonne. The Canal du Midi runs through Toulouse as well.
About Toulouse, France
Known as the Pink City (La Ville Rose), Toulouse got its name from the pink bricks used to build most of its buildings. Toulouse is France’s fourth largest city after Paris, Marseilles, and Lyon and yet it is easy to explore on foot.
With a student population of 140,000 academics attending its prestigious university, it makes Toulouse a cool place to visit in France. We made the most of our three days in the city and want to share with you all the reasons you should add Toulouse, France to the top of your list.
The charm of visiting Toulouse is its laid-back vibe. It may not have as many famous attractions as Paris, but its hospitality is second to none. We had heard that the people of Toulouse are the friendliest in France and after visiting this beautiful city, we agree.
Everyone was warm and welcoming and thrilled to offer advice to help us plan our time in the city. It reminded me of traveling 20 years ago when we could simply sit on a terrace to enjoy a coffee while watching the people pass by. Toulouse will make you slow down, relax and really feel the energy of the city.
Things to do in Toulouse, France
There are a lot of things to do in Toulouse and the best way to make the most of your time in la Ville rose is to purchase the Toulouse Pass. We always purchase a city pass when exploring a new destination as it makes entering museums and famous landmarks easy. The Toulouse Pass offers 1, 2, or 3 day passes that include public transport and free entrance into most of the city’s most popular tourist attractions.
Commonly known as Capitole, Le Place du Capitole is most likely the first place you’ll stop in Toulouse. The main city square of Toulouse is gorgeous. The Capitole dominates the square spanning 420 feet (128 meters) along the eastern containing City Hall, The Opera House (Theatre du Capitole). Located in the Old Quarter, the Place du Capitole is lined with restaurants with outdoor terraces.
Make sure to look down as the cobblestones are adorned with the Occitan cross depicting the signs of the zodiac. During the day, it fills up with merchants selling everything from dresses and hats to souvenirs while at night it is wide open making for the perfect gathering place.
From the Place du Capitole, you can hop on a Toulouse City 70 minute bus tour. My Brother and Sister in Law took this tour and loved it as a fantastic introduction to all of the things to do in Toulouse. Check out rates on GetYourGuide
On The River Garonne
The Garonne River is the heartbeat of the city with it cutting through the center of Toulouse. There are public parks, picturesque bridges and historic buildings lining the river. The best way to see the River Garonne is to book a river cruise. Your Toulouse Card includes 20% off Cruises on the Garona River or Canal du Midi with Les Bateaux Toulousains.
Place de la Daurade
Le Capitole may be the official gathering place in Toulouse, but The River Garonne is where you’ll find the majority of the population relaxing on its banks. The lovely promenade along the river’s banks attracts sunbathers, cyclists, and people out for an evening stroll as the sun goes down. The Garonne River offers beautiful views of the dome of La Grave and Pont Neuf. Just like Paris, Toulouse has its own Pont Neuf.
Located on the Garonne River the Pont Neuf (New Bridge) is the most photographed place in Toulouse, France and with good reason. Contrary to its name, Pont Neuf is the oldest bridge in Toulouse dating back to the 16th century. The best place to photograph is from the left bank of the River Garonne. Keep an eye out for the hidden red devil perched on the bridge. I’m not sure why it is there, but it’s a unique addition to this historic structure.
Basilique Saint Sernin
It may not have the magnificent setting of Notre Dame in Paris, but Basilique Saint Sernin is one of the must-visit cathedrals in all of Europe. It has been welcoming pilgrims along the Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James) for centuries.
We went inside not really expecting a lot, but ended up spending much longer than expected. The massive cathedral is the largest Romanesque church in France and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The nave is 21 meters high with huge marble pillars and altars. Don’t miss going into the crypts of Basilique Saint Sernin and take your time to view the paintings and frescoes, jewels, and relics that date back to the 6th century.
Church of the Jacobins
The Jacobins Convent was much more difficult to view than expected. It is surrounded by narrow streets, but once we found the angle it worked for a photograph. Dating back to 1230, this church was built as a monastery and played a role in creating the first university in Toulouse.
The campus today is located just across the street from it. It was built in the style of Southern Gothic architecture and has been restored over the centuries. Don’t miss searching for the “Palm Tree” which is located in the apse and is one of 22 ribs of the incredible vaulted ceiling.
It is free to enter with your Toulouse Pass and it is worth going inside to see its beautiful architecture of vaulted ceilings, stained glass windows, cloisters, and historic relics.
Canal du Midi (UNESCO World Heritage Site)
The Canal du Midi is located in Toulouse and this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a must-see. You can take a barge dinner cruise down the canal or you can stroll along its banks. It is interesting to see the old barges converted into houseboats where people actually live year-round on the historic water vessels.
The Canal du Midi begins in Toulouse and runs all the way to the Mediterranean Sea for 250 km. It is considered a major feat of engineering that was built from 1666 – 1681. For centuries it was an important mode of transportation, but with the invention of the railway, it declined. However, today it is popular for bargers and houseboats to take a trip along the historic route. We did exactly that after our time in Toulouse. Say tuned for more in the coming days!
Day Trip to Carcassone
Located on the Canal du Midi just one hour from Toulouse, Carcassone is a must-stop on your itinerary. This day tour takes you to the UNESCO World Heritage city of Carcassonne which is listed as is one of the 25 great sites of Midi-Pyrénées. The fortified city houses the magnificent Château of the Counts of Carcassonne and the Remparts.
Musee George Labit (George Labit Museum)
While you are in the area of the Canal du Midi, stop at the Musee George Labit. This is a small museum, but it is the prettiest in all of Toulouse. Entrance is free with your Toulouse Pass and it’s worth popping in to take advantage of its air conditioning. The outside is a colorful mosaic, and inside you’ll see Asian and Egyptian art and antiquities.
Jardin Japonais (Japanese Garden)
The perfect place for a walk in the early morning is the lovely Japanese Garden of Toulouse. Jardin Japonais offers 7000 square meters of green space complete with the typical rocks, water, and pavilion you see in a traditional Japanese garden. There is a zen rock garden and even bamboo. While walking through the Botanical Garden we saw people enjoying Tai Chi and meditation and we spied large golden fish in its Koi pond.
Cité de l’espace
Toulouse is the center of the aeronautics and space industry in France. In fact, Toulouse is one of the leading centers in aerospace in the entire world. Airbus Group has its headquarters in Toulouse employing 27,000 people. The interactive displays at the Cité de l’espace include everything aer onautics related. Several airplanes are on display from old World War relics to the Airbus of today and there is not one but two of the legendary Concordes on display. Being the aviation capital of France, it is from Toulouse that the first Concorde took flight. Anyone who has even a bit of interest in aeronautics should make sure to visit the Cité de l’espace.
Grand Balcon hôtel
Our hotel Grand Balcon plays tribute to the aviation history of Toulouse. When you enter its doors, you’ll see photos of the famous pilots that graced its walls. This former guesthouse, located just off the Place du Capitole, to aviation pioneers feels like a little slice of history. Its chic rooms are even designed to capture the feel of a flight with its main lounge offering that Avant-Garde of the 1930s when aviators let off steam in its halls. See rates and availability on Booking.com / See Reviews and compare prices on TripAdvisor
Take a trip to Wine Country
Toulouse is located in the heart of one of the best wine regions in the world and a trip to Southern France wouldn’t be complete without booking a wine tour. This tour takes you to discover the wines and winemaking of Limoux.
Owned by Baroness Philippine de Rothschild, the Domaine de Baronaques is your first stop where you’ll tour the barrell room, vat house and view the French Chateau that dates back to the 19th century. You’ll then have the opportunity to taste three wines produced in the area. See more details here.
Museum de Toulouse
The Museum de Toulouse is the Natural History Museum in Toulouse. There’s one in every city right? It’s a huge museum with 32,000 sq ft (3000 square meters) of exhibition space. This is the perfect place to escape the heat of Southern France and to enjoy its displays that take you on a journey through time.
Jardins des Plantes
Jardins de Plantes is another fantastic greenspace in Toulouse. Located next to the Museum de Toulouse, we strolled through this on our way to the Canal du Midi. The 7-hectare gardens house sculptures, ponds, pedestrian pathways and play areas. It connects with other gardens too making it the perfect place to find some shade.
Jardin Grand Rond
This 18th-century garden is located in the hub of the city. The grand roundabout connects four tree-lined major thoroughfares in the city and you can walk from it along the shaded paths to the Garonne River, the Museum of Toulouse, Jardin Royal, Jardins de Plants, and the Old Quarter. Enjoy this greenspace in the middle of the city while admiring its gardens, sculptures, and pedestrian pathways.
The Hôtel d’Assézat
During a walking tour from the Toulouse Tourism office, we visited the Hotel d’Asézat but had no idea what they were saying as it was all in French. (We thought we understood enough to get by but bailed halfway through) The Hôtel d’Assézat was built to shelter the Foundation Bemberg which is a major art gallery that houses the personal collection of Georges Bemberg. The art dates back to the middle ages and the 16th century with a focus on 19th and 20th-century French paintings.
Other Toulouse Museums
We didn’t have time to go into every museum in Toulouse, but it is a city that is made for art lovers and culture seekers. We have lined up some of the more notable museums you must visit. From the Musée des Augustins to Les Abbatoirs there is something in Toulouse for everyone.
Musée des Augustins (Augustins Museum)
This fine arts museum is housed in the Augustinian monastery with Roman sculptures being the main attraction. The Musée des Augustins is one of the oldest museums in France housing more than 4000 works of art from works from the middle ages, all the way to the 20th century. The building is a work of art unto itself with its southern gothic architecture and cloisters.
Located on the former Abbatoir, Les Abbatoir is no longer a slaughterhouse, but instead a modern and contemporary art museum that houses performances, events, and concerts.
Toulouse is known for its gastronomy and dining in the city is a real treat. It boasts Michelin Star chefs and home-cooked family restaurants. One of the main dishes of Toulouse and this region of Southern France is the French cassoulet. Cassoulet is traditionally made with white beans cooked with duck confit and Toulouse sausage but today you can order vegetarian Cassoulet as well. So give it a try while there.
Where to Eat in Toulouse
La Gourmandine restaurant
This modern bistro has an amazing patio that is perfect for warm summer evenings. It had delicious food and fantastic cocktails. We had a set menu that was delicious from start to finish, my favorite was the fresh berries for dessert.
L’Air de Famille restaurant
We loved our set menu in L’Air de Famille restaurant. Mentioned in the Michelin Guide, this small tavern was packed with locals. It offers wine pairings with exceptional food in a relaxed unpretentious atmosphere. We loved the old records playing traditional music.
If you visit Toulouse France, you will have added one of the great cities to your travels. Toulouse has everything you could want out of an authentic French vacation. From shopping on Rue Saint Rome in the city centre to exploring the incredible southern gothic style architecture, you will not be disappointed.
This city may be large, but it feels small. It’s easy to get around and explore on your own and the people truly are the friendliest in all of France. (from our experiences in the country).
When visiting the South of France, Toulouse will be a city that you will remember for years to come.