The capital of the Midi-Pyrenees with the wonderful Canal du Midi flowing through its heart, Toulouse is the perfect city for your next vacation to France. Magnificent museums, rich culture, amazing architecture and a vibrant and energetic street and night life. A week in Toulouse will only see you scratching the surface of this city.
Why is Toulouse so popular?
Toulouse grows on you, rather agreeably. It was formerly the capital of a vast region united by the Occitan dialect, and this tradition still prevails, notably in street names, which are bilingual, and the way it proudly defends its Occitan ancestry.
Any expectations of city grandeur are soon dispelled as you explore this ancient sprawl of narrow streets and squares, grand and small, on the banks of the Garonne.
A southern city, within site of the Pyrenees, and the fourth city of France, Toulouse is open to influences from Spain and, architecturally at least, Italy, too.
Marketing PR proclaims that the quality of life and economic dynamism attract more than 18,000 new people each year, seduced by the region and its European metropolis capital, which successfully couples development with an easy-going lifestyle.
Spring break Toulouse style
There is an energy about the city that seems boundless, a simmering vibrancy and mildly frenetic atmosphere that can leave you breathless. Much of that is to do with the annual influx of over 100,000 university students – the third largest such gathering in France, after Paris and Lyon – which unavoidably brings a certain joie-de-who-cares to the city.
Equally, it brings impromptu street entertainment in the form of musicians, fire-jugglers, trick cyclists and bizarrely dressed individuals bent on some idiosyncratic mission beyond the ken of most onlookers.
Life in Toulouse
This remarkable city is a paradox: nothing changes, and yet there is constant change. The core heritage lies in its architecture, its life-giving association with the Garonne and that more recent watercourse, the Canal du Midi, which traverses it, and in its many sub-districts, each with tangible individuality.
And yet new state-of-the-art hotels – like the Citiz – appear, to take the place of ageing venues, and extensive renovation is under way in the district of Carmes.
Elsewhere, it seems, someone is constantly investing time in thinking up new ideas that promote the city, not least the artistic installations along the Canal du Midi that celebrated the life of canal-designer Pierre Paul Riquet.
He now lies buried beneath an unimposing slab in the cathedral of St Étienne, and never quite lived long enough to see his beloved inspiration reach the sea.
Just an hour’s flight from Paris, and around one-and-a-half hour’s drive from the Mediterranean or the Pyrenean ski resorts, the city, with a core population of 445,000 (1.1 million in the wider metropolitan area), has much to attract those who are happy living in cities.
It has 160 parks, gardens and squares, 79 sports grounds, 1,000 hectares of leisure areas, 1€ per day cycle hire (www.velo.toulouse.fr andregular food and craft markets.
This is the capital of France’s largest region, Midi-Pyrenees, and it shows. There is no sycophantic nodding in the direction of Paris or Lyon, just a business-like enthusiasm, always in touch with reality.
Walking is the best way to see the city, especially the charming area of narrow streets (ruelles intimes) in the St Etienne district around the Place des Carmes (see Walking Tour).
Pedestrianisation of the city centre is moving apace, but you can also choose to hop on the free electric shuttle service, the Tisséo, if you want to explore the city centre less energetically.
Things to do in Toulouse
If you can stay in Toulouse for only a few hours, be sure to start by visiting the splendid monuments that have made the city famous. Toulouse has over 600 acres of historical sites, the most extensive in France. If you can, try to include a night tour so that you can explore the magical lighting background of the “Plan Lumière” illuminations!
Like most cities, Toulouse has its quota of ‘must see’ buildings, and those in this energetic place really are worth seeking out. Central to the city is the capitole a huge, ornate building named after the ‘capitouls’, or consuls, who once ran the city.
Today, it still houses the administrative machinery of city government, amid galleries of fine art in the form of wall paintings and statues; it’s all splendidly roccoco, and not surprisingly in demand for weddings even if that demand sometimes assumes the semblance of a matrimonial assembly line.
In front of the Capitole, the huge square – lined with rather plainly designed red-brick buildings in order not to detract from the magnificence of the main building – is the site of three markets each week, which are typically bustling affairs.
Not far away, the Basilica Saint-Sernin is a seriously impressive building with styles reminiscent of the abbey-church at Conques in Aveyron. By contrast the church of the Jacobins has a most surprising and simple construction, accomplished in a number of stages.
Its stained glass windows are quite modern, bright and colourful, bringing muted radiance to the interior. And tucked away through a door lie the cloisters, a place of peace and quiet. Here, during the autumn months the splendid acoustics are put to good effect during the Piano aux Jacobins festival.
Not far from the centre of things the Pierre d’Assézat mansion is a magnificent 17th-century town mansion built by Nicolas Bachelier for Pierre d’Assézat who made his fortune from woad, a plant used in dyeing. The building houses the Fondation Bemberg, a private museum with a very interesting permanent collection of paintings, bronzes and objets d’art.
As well as the Garonne, the city has its share of another ancient aquatic thoroughfare, the Canal du Midi, which links the Med and the Atlantic.
Designed by Béziers-born Pierre-Paul Riquet the canal is today classified as a World Heritage Site. Built under Louis XIV, it is the oldest operational canal in Europe, and provides a chance to see the city from a boat tour, or to use its banks for cycling or walking.
Toulouse Cite De L Espace
The Cité de l’Èspace on the outskirts of Toulouse is a fabulous theme park, a place for discovering, experimenting and learning about the universe.
The park was opened in June 1997 and contains full-scale models of rockets and the Mir space station. Total immersion is guaranteed in the centre’s two auditoriums equipped with the latest in modern sound and image technology.
The IMAX cinema (with its giant screen and 3D glasses provided) and two huge planetariums (140 and 280 seats) put on spectacular shows throughout each day, while the Terradome tells the history of space from the ‘Big Bang’ to the solar system as we know it today.
Cité de l’Espace, on the outer ring road, is a unique concept, and the sort of inter-planetary experience wherein children might never know you had gone as you slip back into town for lunch (not that you have to, of course).
Within the grounds themselves, you’ll find an unusual range of lifesize spacecraft. Climb on board the Soyuz 1st generation spacecraft and an exact replica of Mir, the famous space station in which many Russian cosmonauts have been trained.
Of course, there is so much more to see and appreciate; it is a very vibrant and enterprising city, constantly updating itself. No matter how many times you visit, there’s always something new.
The latest addition to the collection of Toulouse’s attractions is the Aeroscopia Museum, a unique collection of aviation heritage, creating a link between the past, the present and the future of aviation.
Why visit Aeroscopia muesum in Toulouse?
Aeroscopia is the story of the great pioneers of aviation. Here, in the birthplace of global civil and military aviation, the Airbus Group laid the foundations of its head office in January 2014.
For more than 30 years, the players and witnesses of this industrial, technical and human saga, as well as those who love aircraft and love to fly, have strived for this history to be forever remembered and shared.
For the preservation of historical heritage, this enthralling aviation museum addresses this expectation. The foundation stone was laid on the 16th of June 2011, and finally the centre opened its doors in 2015.
In the Midi-Pyrénées region, 80,000 people make a living from the aviation industry; it is indisputably the driving force behind the region’s economy.
Between the first powered aircraft designed in secret in the town of Muret by Clément Ader, and the first flight in the skies of Blagnac of the A380, flagship of the European aviation industry, more than a century has passed.
To fly across the seas and the continents, first came the aircraft made by Latécoère and Dewoitine, then the Languedoc and the Armagnac.
At the end of the ’50s, Caravelle, the first French jetliner, proved to be a resounding success. Then in 1969 it was Concorde’s turn to take to the skies for the first time in Blagnac. These aircraft were followed by the entire Airbus family, affirming Toulouse’s mission to fly higher, faster and farther.
Allée André Turcat, 31700 Blagnac
Information and reservations
Tel: 05 34 39 42 00
Open: Aeroscopia museum is open all year round including Sundays and bank holidays from 9.30 am to 6 pm.
NOTE: The exhibition hall is not heated so wear warm clothing if visiting during the winter months.
Under 6 years old: free
Adults: €11.50: Reduced price*: €9.50
*Reduced price: minors, students, large families, jobseekers, disabled persons
Additional charge for guided tour: €3.50
Additional charge for renting an audio guide: €3.
What is the Toulouse Tourist Pass?
The Tourism Pass gives you free or discounted admission to several of the city’s tourist attractions and partner sites (subject to availability) and can travel freely on the Tisséo network, the public transport service for the Toulouse area.
This card is personal and valid for 1, 2 or 3 days depending on the chosen option. You must validate it every time you travel on the Tisséo network (metro, tram, bus, shuttle, airport) and present it every time you enter a partner site.
On sale at Toulouse Tourist Office and Tisséo agencies (Airport, Arènes, Jean-Jaurès, Marengo-SNCF, Basso-Cambo, Capitole).
Here are just a few of the sights available to users of the Toulouse Tourist Pass:
Museum De Toulouse
Museum De Toulouse + Expo Temporaire
Fondation Bemberg + Expo Temporaire
Musée Des Augustins
Cité De L’espace
Let’s Visit Airbus
Les Trains Touristiques De Toulouse (Gratuit Avec / Free With Pass Premium)
Bateaux Toulousains Croisière Canal Du Midi / Boat Cruise (Gratuit Avec / Free With Pass Premium)
Amphitheatre Romain De Purpan
Eglise Saint- Pierre -Des – Cuisines
Couvent Des Jacobins
Musée Des Abattoirs
Chateau D’eau / Association Pace
Les Histoires De L’histoire
Jardins Du Museum
Quai Des Savoirs + Expo Temporaire
Museum Terre De Pastel
Musée Du Vieux Toulouse
Musée Saint-Raymond + Expo Temporaire
Aviasim Pack Découverte 40 Min
Calicéo Forfait 2h
Citytour Sud-Ouest Cahors & Rocamadour
Granhota Location Canoë-Kayak
Granhota Descente Encadrée Canoë-Kayak
Granhota Rallye Urbain 1/2 Journée
La Bicyclette Électrique (Day Hire)
La Maison Du Vélo (Day Hire Vtc)
Mobilboard Toulouse-Loisirs Segway – Parcours 1h
Navicanal (4/5 Pers For 1h)
Toulouse Croisières L’ Occitania Formule Capitaine
Best places to stay in Toulouse
Hotel St Claire
29 place Nicolas Bachelier, 31000 Toulouse
Tel: 05 34 40 58 88; www.stclairehotel.fr
A small, informal hotel just away from the centre, but still close to a varied range of restaurants and bars.
18 allée Jean Jaurès, 31000 Toulouse
Tel: 05 61 11 18 18; www.citizhotel.com
Excellent, modern and completely refurbished to the highest standards. No restaurant (other than for breakfast), but you don’t need one; you are on the very edge of Place Wilson, and there are plenty of eateries there. Reserved underground car park adjacent.
Hotel Clos des Potiers
12 rue des Potiers, 31000 Toulouse
Tel: 05 61 47 15 15; www.le-clos-des-potiers.com
Mansion-like residence just away from the centre; limited enclosed parking; no restaurant (other than for breakfast), but an elegant and stylish place to stay for peace and quiet.
Best places to eat in Toulouse
For those who assess a city by the contentment it bestows on their stomach, Toulouse will be highly prized. Almost equidistant between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, it has the benefit of sea food from both coasts.
Perhaps more so than anywhere outside Paris, offers an opportunity to compare the oysters of Hérault with those of Charente Maritime. But equally you can gorge yourself on the glorious Toulouse sausage, which usually finds its way into the legendary cassoulet, a dish over which there can be passionate disagreement as to which is the best.
8 rue Mage, 31000 Toulouse
Tel: 05 61 53 07 24; www.restaurantenmarge.com
Michelin-starred restaurant, that meets all the standards you would expect. Small and intimate; reservations essential.
Restaurant Le Cardailhac
21 rue Perchepinte, 31000 Toulouse
Tel: 05 61 53 11 15; www.cardailhac.fr
Fine dining in an intimate atmosphere. Reservations essential.
Restaurant Monsieur Georges
21 Place Saint Georges, 31000 Toulouse
Tel: 05 61 29 81 96; www.monsieurgeorges.fr
Something far more rustic, set around a square just off Place Wilson, and serving a wide range of regional and traditional cuisine.
La Villa Tropézienne
8-10 Rue Victor Hugo, 31000 Toulouse
Tel: 05 61 22 58 58; www.villa-tropezienne.com
A lovely, bright, modern restaurant serving dishes from the Mediterranean.
SW Café, Hotel Sofitel
84 allées Jean Jarrès, 31000 Toulouse
Tel: 05 61 10 23 10
Ignore the ‘café’, this is a high quality restaurant, serving imaginative and well-prepared dishes.
Restaurant l’Air de Famille
1 bis rue Jules Challande, 31000 Toulouse
Tel: 05 61 29 85 89
Small, back street restaurant with excellent cuisine.
14 allée Roosevelt, 31000 Toulouse
Tel: 05 61 23 38 88
Old-world charm in this small brasserie, with excellent sea food dishes.