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France’s fourth biggest city is picturesquely placed along the banks of La Garonne River and we decided we had to visit after hearing it affectionately referred to as the ‘La Ville Rose (the Pink City’ ) due to the terra-cotta colours of the historic buildings located all over the city.
As we visited out of season (March 2020), we’d managed to book return flights the previous month for only £20 ($26 USD / $23) so we thought we had nothing ‘Toulouse’ by visiting (sorry, not sorry!). Whilst the weather didn’t play ball all weekend, even when it is raining heavily, there is lots to see (and more importantly, eat and drink!)
Our trip to Toulouse was a quick two day, one night affair and given the inclement weather, we didn’t get to do as many of the museums and churches as we’d have liked and definitely plan to return again soon – you could definitely spend two or three days here exploring.
Things to do in Toulouse:
Marche Victor Hugo
Our favourite French foodie foray in Toulouse, Marche Victor Hugo is THE must visit place for anyone who wants to try a lot of delicious foods (and it also suits all budgets, from 1 Euro oysters through to Lobster and cured hams that costs an exuberant amount of Euros). We visited on a Friday and Saturday lunchtime and it was noticeably busier and more vibrant on the Saturday.
Cleared adored by locals, there are oodles of food stalls (boucheries, charcuteries, boulangeries etc) plus several very popular small bars, selling beer and wine (some cheap, some not so). We could have spent hours wandering around here buying delicious food from the gourmet stalls.
If you want a more sit-down affair with table service, head upstairs to the first floor where you’ll find several sit down restaurants all offering various menu du jours (all around 15 to 20 Euros, offering 2 to 3 courses, some including a glass of wine). This was the busier area on Friday lunchtime, with barely any seats available – clearly popular, this area also has an extensive balcony area outside overlooking the nearby avenues.
Marche Couvert des Carmes
Smaller than Marche Victor Hugo but with emphasis on food to take home as opposed to eating and enjoying there, this was the first fresh market we stumbled across in Toulouse, approximately a 10 minute walk from the Palais Du Justice tram stop (the last stop from the airport). We liked this covered market as the meat and cheese stalls all looked so good – we also discovered a bakery stall selling fresh croissants for just 1 Euro. Open every day of the week from 7am to 1.30pm (except Mondays).
The Basilica of Saint-Sernin
Built in the 11th century and now a UNESCO listed World Heritage monument, you’ll likely recognise this when you arrive as you’ll have seen the external five-storey eight-sided bell tower on various tourist postcards in the south of France, as it is one of Toulouse’s most iconic and well known historic monuments. The main basilica itself is the largest Romanesque church in southern France, free to visit and it remains open to the public during services – we visited at around 10am one Saturday morning and got to listen in as a service was held.
Flea Markets and Other Markets in Toulouse
A familiar sight in most French cities, Toulouse had more than its fair share of flea markets on the Saturday morning we visited. Several are these are all quite close together, meaning it is quite easy to visit a lot of them.
Of these, we’d recommend the farmer’s organic market, Esparcette, Marche Bio du Capitale, held every Tuesday and Saturday (8am to 2pm) as it is the most picturesque setting and is also quite handy for the main Toulouse tourist office.
As it was very close to our hotel, we visited the local fruit and veg market, Marche Cristal. Whilst likely not worth a special visit, this was fun to explore and great if you are self catering. We also discovered by chance a flea market selling antique books in the square directly outside Place St Etienne.
Fromageries / Cheese Shops
Here at CK Travels, we worship regularly at the altar of French cheese, buying copious amounts in the supermarkets in the UK. However, when in France, do as the French do and visit one of the many fromageries dotted around the city. Food always tastes better at the source! In fact, many of the cheese stalls offer samples. We particularly liked Betty’s, a cheese shop that has several outlets in and around Marche Victor Hugo – all of the cheeses were arranged so charmingly and there were lots of small samples to try of all different types of cheese.
We also pretty smitten with Xavier Fromager Affineur, just across from Marche Victor Hugo. The staff here were so friendly and this was our idea of cheese shop heaven – alas, cheese can’t currently be taken back to the UK in your luggage so we made do with some samples and taking ‘reference’ photos of all the cheeses we wanted to eat and buy another time.
Place du Capitole / The Capitole
The very heart of Toulouse, the main square is home to city hall (Capitole) built in the 1750s as well as the renowned Toulouse Opera House, with lots of alfresco cafes, bars and shopping galleries. Resplendent to walk around, a lot of Toulouse’s walking tours start here and the main square sometimes plays host to a weekend flea-market.
As a random aside, if you are on a really tight budget, we wouldn’t usually recommend going to McDonalds but the one in Place du Capitole has an upstairs seating area directly overlooking the main square so the views are pretty sweet! That said, a lot of the outdoor cafes also offer menu du jours, such as a set breakfast for only 7 Euros (the million dollar views are included!)
Couvent des Jacobins / Jacobins Convent
Let there be light! Dating from the early 13th century, this serene convent is a thing of beauty, particularly if you visit around lunchtime on a sunny day when the church floods with light as the sunlight hits the stained-glass windows, reflecting rainbow colours across the church columns. Free admission to the church, with a small entrance fee for the abbey and garden.
Pont neuf and La Garonne river
The ‘New Bridge’ (also the oldest in Toulouse) was completed in 1632 and is an impressive sight, straddling La Garonne River – the 7 arches reflect mightily on the water and offer fantastic photo opportunities at sunset
220 metres in length, you can walk across the length of it both sides and it is one of the main traffic thoroughfares for Toulouse traffic. If you head across it from the old town, you’ll find the Galerie du Château d’Eau at the other end on the western bank as well as Musees de la Medicine and Les Abattoirs, a former slaughterhouse that is now a leading centre for French modern art.
Ma Biche Sur Le Toit Rooftop Restaurant
Ma Biche Sur Le Toit is a rooftop bar/restaurant with incredible views across Toulouse, and a great place during the summer for an alfresco cocktail or glass of wine. Situated on the top floor of one of Toulouse’s main department stores, we visited on a dark and rainy evening so we contended with marvelling at the retro interior (slightly Las Vegas in style) as we couldn’t see the views outside. Service is brisk and there is an extensive food and drink menu.
Toulouse tourist pass
We used a 48 hour Toulouse tourist pass for our weekend in the city. The pass includes unlimited use of public transport (bus, metro and tram), free entry to many museums and reduced rates for activities such as hop-on hop-off tours and river cruises.
You can buy the Pass for either 24, 48 or 72 hour durations from the Toulouse tourism website, the reception desk at the tourist office in Donjon du Capitole (metro station Capitole), the Tisséo agency at Toulouse-Blagnac airport and from the Tisséo agency in Matabiau-SNCF station.
La Petite Auberge de Saint-Sernin
Compact and cosy dormitory hostel set in the historic Saint-Sernin district with BBQ and free Wi-Fi. Check out prices and availability for La Petite Auberge de Saint-Sernin
Hotel Albert 1er
Located in the heart of Toulouse, the Hotel Albert 1er is within walking distance of Place du Capitole and other main attractions. Check out prices and availability for Hotel Albert 1er
La Cour des Consuls Hotel & Spa Toulouse-MGallery
Luxury 5 star hotel situated in the Toulouse City-Centre district with terrace, spa and on-site restaurant. Check out prices and availability for La Cour des Consuls Hotel
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Disclaimer: The Toulouse tourist passes and meal at Ma Biche Sur Le Toit were gifted by Visit Toulouse
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