Although France’s fourth-largest city is often overlooked by travellers, the Pink City of Toulouse offers splendour, culture, and food, all at the most ideal pace. Toulouse has earned its nickname “La Ville Rose” from the distinctive warm tones of its terracotta buildings. This unique architecture paired with a relaxed university town atmosphere, make it an intriguing and different place to consider for your weekend break.
When sitting in my room in the first few days of my London elective, I received an email from RyanAir alerting to cheap flights. Normally I try to ignore these emails because they give me bank-account-anxiety, but heck, I was here to explore. £9 flights to Toulouse leaving tomorrow? It seemed like a stretch at first… but it was the weekend and I had £9 to burn.
Five years have quickly elapsed since I was last in France. Learning French throughout school and fondly enjoying my previous visits, France always draws me back. Although I have never visited Toulouse before, there was a warm familiarity in the city that brought together memories from other parts of France and simultaneously inspired excitement for new discovery. Things came flooding back that I hadn’t realised I had missed so much: throwing back espresso at standing bars, sizeable cheese aisles with priority in supermarkets, and the internal fist pump when you’re understanding someone speaking a different language.
Spending the weekend exploring this South-Western French gem was everything my soul needed. Warm weather, shuttered windows, and cheese for breakfast drew no complaints from me. To make matters better, armed with a 48H Pass Tourisme from Tourisme Toulouse, access to almost of Toulouse’s attractions and museums was gratuit. I know my cue — it was time to get exploring!
Although Toulouse is often missed in itineraries, it provides a perfect, authentic weekend break and should be on the agenda of anyone looking to uncover a deeper side of France. I’m going to be recommending La Ville Rose to everyone from now on! So without further stalling, here’s what I got up to and a Toulouse guide to help plan your own adventure.
Best Things To Do In Toulouse
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SUNSET BY THE RIVER GARONNE
It is hard to miss the River Garonne when in Toulouse. The sizeable waterway ribbons its way through the city and is a beautiful place to promenade. There are several bridges which stretch across the river which serve the city not only functionally, but aesthetically. Pont Neuf’s romantic curvatures and historic value make it a must-see and my favourite bridge crossing the River Garonne. However, you can’t look past Pont Saint-Pierre. This comprehensively lamp-adorned masterpiece reaches across the Garonne and provides an exemplary foreground to the Chapelle Saint-Joseph de la Grave behind.
Although a stroll along the River Garonne is wonderous at any time of the day, it comes alive at sunset. The golden rays light up the peach-coloured buildings in an extraordinary manner. At sunset, the grass and steps descending down to the river bank were full of locals enjoying food, music and company. It is a great atmosphere! I would recommend Place Saint-Pierre for the sunset or La Daurade Place and Garden.
Opening Hours: Always open | Cost: Free
WANDER THE AISLES OF MARCHÉ VICTOR HUGO
There is something remarkable about French markets, and Marché Victor Hugo has every ounce of this je ne sais quoi. The market in the lower floor of a rather geometric building and everything quintessential in French cuisine can be found here. Spend some time in the morning wandering amongst the aisles of boulangers and cheese-mongers, and maybe stop for un café at one of the standing bars. It can get busy at times, but the bustle is part of the charm.
Opening Hours: 7:00 – 14:00 | Cost: Free
THEN DO IT ALL AGAIN AT MARCHÉ CARMES
Marché Carmes was similar to Marché Victor Hugo although felt even more local. If you are looking for something a little more low-key, then this is the place for you. Or, you can do what I did, and visit both markets and eat more than you can handle. There were some wondrous breads on display throughout the market and plenty of cured meats, fresh vegetables, and seafood.
Opening Hours: 7:00 – 12:30, closed Mondays | Cost: Free
CATCH AN EXHIBITION AT LES ABATTOIRS
Les Abattoirs is a fantastic and easily accessible gallery which is definitely worth a visit. When I was in Toulouse, they had an exhibition on Picasso and how artists depicted the impact of the Spanish Civil War. It was thoroughly interesting and I suspect many of their other exhibitions are of similar standard. Most of the signs explaining the artworks are only French, so be prepared!
Opening Hours: 12:00 – 18:00, closed Monday/Tuesday | Cost: Free With Pass, €3.00 otherwise
WALK (OR RUN) ALONG CANAL DU MIDI
The Canal du Midi which connects Toulouse with the Mediterranean was declared as a UNESCO World Heritage site in the 90s. In Toulouse you can sample some of its majesty by taking a walk (or run if you’re keen) along the canal. With a fascinating history in trade and production, the canal is of great historical value.
Opening hours: always open | Cost: Free
RELIVE HISTORY AT COUVENT DE JACOBINS
Staggeringly, construction of the convent began in the early 1200s which is almost difficult to comprehend. The convent was constructed predominantly from terracotta brick which gives it an warmth in colour which is iconic of Toulouse. Until the mid-1300s, there were several additions to the convent, but after that, it has remained virtually undeveloped.
The vastness and height of the church itself is breathtaking and the perfect place to take a moment and reflect. If you venture to the cloisters, you will be delighted by a peaceful beauty and symmetry. My favourite part of visiting Couvent de Jacobins was the Chapel Saint-Antonin just off the cloisters which has intensely beautiful ceilings.
Opening Hours: 10:00 – 18:00 | Cost: Church (Free), Cloisters (Free with Toulouse Pass; €5.00 high season; €4 low season)
ALLOW YOURSELF TO GET LOST IN THE STREETS
Much of Toulouse’s beauty is in its meandering, colourful streets. During your visit, allow yourself some free time, ditch the map, and just get lost in the architecture and life of the city. The city is heaving with cozy cafés, hidden wine bars, and copious bookstores to fill your stroll.
EXPLORE A ROMANESQUE ICON AT SAINT SERNIN BASILICA
Saint-Sernin is a jaw-dropping Romanesque basilica – in fact, the largest in France! Saint-Sernin is estimated to have been constructed between 1080 and 1120, and is the oldest Romanesque building known in Europe. If that isn’t enough reason to visit, the vast interiors and 21m high nave should cement your amazement. The crypts can also be visited which contain important relics.
Hours: 10:00 – 17:30 (low season); 8:30 – 19:00 (high season) | Cost: Free with Tourism Pass; €2.50 otherwise
ADMIRE THE BEAUTY AT MUSÉE DES AUGUSTINS
The Musée des Augustins is both a beautiful church as well as a museum housing fascinating pieces of sculpture and art from French history. There are often exhibitions on at the Musée which are worthwhile experiencing. It is a fascinating look into French history and Toulouse’s past. The Musée des Augustins is an architectural spectacle in itself, with a stunning church and cloisters of its own.
Opening Hours: 10:00 – 18:00 | Cost: Free with Pass; €4 otherwise
SOAK UP THE ATMOSPHERE AT PLACE DU CAPITOLE
The Place du Capitole is hard to miss when you are visiting Toulouse – it seems as though all roads lead to Capitole! The background to the sizeable open plaza is the exquisite Capitole building. Many restaurants and bars spill out into the Place in typical French style, as it really is the perfect place to grab a drink in Toulouse.
Hours: Always open | Cost: Free
BE INQUISITIVE AT THE AIRBUS FACTORY OR MUSÉE AEROSCOPIA
If you ever wondered about the marvel of flight, Toulouse may be able to answer some of your questions. Home to the Airbus factory and the Aeroscopia Museum, it is the perfect place to learn more about aeronautics. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to visit these museums but it is high on my to-do list for the next time I’m in Toulouse.
There are several different tours/circuits at the Airbus factory, and it is recommended to visit only if you have >1.5hrs allocated. The Aeroscopia Museum focuses on the history of flight and has plenty of plane models to explore and learn about.
Aeroscopia Opening Hours: 9:30 – 18:00 | Cost: €12.50, discount with Tourism Pass
Airbus Factory Opening Hours: 8:00 – 19:00 | Cost: €15.50 base rate, discount with Tourism Pass
How To Get Around Toulouse
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Public transport and walking are king in Toulouse. With a great network of affordable underground trains and above-ground trams, there is no difficulty in getting from A to B. The old city centre, where most attractions are located, is easily and enjoyably walkable. Wandering throughout the terracotta buildings and coloured shutters is an attraction in itself.
The Pass Tourisme includes all public transport costs for the duration of the pass which is a big help – especially when getting to/from the airport, or heading out to the Airbus and Aeroscopia museum.
FROM AIRPORT (TLS) TO CITY
Tram (most recommended)
- Tram T2 towards Palais de Justice from outside the airport and alight at Arènes. The journey takes approximately 20 minutes from the Aéroport to Arènes and the trams leave approximately every 15 minutes.
- From Arènes catch the Metro Line A towards Balma Gramont and alight at Capitole
- From the airport you can purchase a single ticket from the machines which costs €1.70. This one ticket can be used for both the tram and metro. The machines only accept coins and card (not notes).
- More information can be found on the official Tisseo site
- The airport shuttle bus can also be used and runs frequently. The bus costs €8 each way or €15 for a return ticket.
How Long To Spend In Toulouse
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I was fortunate enough to have 48 hours in Toulouse which was adequate to see most of the things I really wanted to experience. Although there is still so much in Toulouse I will have to save for the next trip.
In an ideal world, I would recommend 3 – 4 days in Toulouse to ensure time to see the attractions, enjoy long lunches, wander slowly, and maybe even take a day trip to nearby Carcassone (about an hour away on the train).
Where To Eat and Drink in Toulouse
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If you haven’t eaten way too much food, have you even been to France? Thankfully, as a university town and not overly-touristic, there are plenty of great and affordable places to enjoy high quality French fare. With only 48 hours in Toulouse, I could only try a few places. Here are some recommendations:
- Le May Restaurant: tucked away from the main streets of Toulouse, this beautiful restaurant offers authentic French fare at reasonable prices
- Main square: in the main square there are plenty of restaurants with tables spilling out into Place Capitole. The prices here are still fairly reasonable and the atmosphere is exciting – a good experience to have in Toulouse.
- Winebar N5: sit at the bar and sample some fantastic French vin along with small plates of cured meats.
- Marché Victor Hugo et Marché Carmes: wander through the marketplaces and try whatever takes your fancy. Fresh fruit and vegetables, cured meats, a wealth of cheeses, have an espresso at the bar, or maybe a vin with the locals.
- Plaisirs et Truffes at Carmes: there isn’t much information about this bakery online but I loved it. It was a great place to grab delicious bread for breakfast, a tasty quiche for lunch, and, bien sûr, a tartelette aux framboises for dessert.
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Although my visit to Toulouse was somewhat unanticipated, I left feeling refreshed and re-Frenched. It was easy, after visiting all the fantastic museums and hotspots, to escape and engage with the local scene. Toulouse should not be missed if you are looking for a perfect, authentic French weekend break. What a fabulous few days and I can’t wait to get back to France soon.
I was delighted to be welcomed to Toulouse by Tourisme Toulouse and received a complimentary 48h Pass Tourisme and itinerary assistance to explore La Ville Rose. You can find out more about the Pass and other valuable information at Tourisme Toulouse. As always, all opinions are my own!
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