Toulouse is filled with colourful streets, an ancient centre and vibrant nightlife. Throw in one of France’s best food markets and you have the perfect city break. My Toulouse travel blog has all you need to know, what to do, where to stay, and where to taste the best French cuisine.
I’m not often left to my own devices on press trips, but I really appreciated the freedom to explore Toulouse on my own. Although it is France’s fourth largest city, walking around the city centre, it feels anything but. I start obsessing about the colourful buildings and ogling at the many boulangeries and patisseries that I pass by. Before I know it, I’ve spent two hours rambling around Toulouse’s old town and my mind is filled with lots of inspiration for my Toulouse travel blog.
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Toulouse is not thronged with tourists and feels remarkably quiet for a Saturday morning. I decide to grab a chair in Café des Artistes, one of the many al-fresco cafés in Toulouse. I tried a chocolatine (Toulouse’s equivalent of a pain du chocolat), sure it would be rude not to! Listening to the locals chatting in their dreamy French accent, I’m beginning to feel like a local. I even managed a ‘Chocolatine s’il vous plait’ and ‘Merci Monsieur’ to my dashing French waiter! I was feeling quite pleased with myself and was loving the idea of exploring a strange city alone.
Unfortunately this ‘living like a local’ notion didn’t last long. I try discreetly to get a selfie of the café with my iPhone, but all I can see is my big head, and nothing of the pretty café behind me. I took out my selfie stick, and just like that, I was a tourist again…
Toulouse is a pretty cool place to be a tourist though. The city is really easy to navigate and it is such a joy to ramble around – you cannot help but fall in love with its pretty streets. Known as La Ville Rose, or The Pink City, most of the buildings have a delightful pinkish-terracotta brick facade.
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Toulouse is a university town and has a wonderful atmosphere, it felt like the kind of city that I could live in. I love Paris (who doesn’t?), but I could never see myself living there. It seems I am not alone in my thinking, Toulouse has often been voted the most attractive place to live in France by natives too. As well as Toulouse’s pretty streets and cultural centre, it is a lively city that hosts over 1000 events each year. There are festivals on regularly, with nominal entrance fees, and summer evenings are particularly animated. The Victor Hugo Market has a nocturnal gathering four times a year from 6.30pm – 10.30pm and this just happened to be on while I was there. The streets surrounding the market were thronged with locals enjoying wine and charcuterie plates, the atmosphere was electric.
Toulouse is also superbly situated to enjoy many of France’s beautiful towns and region, located between the Pyrenees and the Mediterranean. You can enjoy a hike in the mountains, a day at the beach, take a trip to the ancient city of Carcassonne, or go wine tasting in Bordeaux. Toulouse also happens to be the gateway to the Basque country, which brings me nicely on to my next point – Toulousans love tapas!
Toulouse Travel Blog – Where to eat in Toulouse:
Expecting good food in France is a given, but I was really surprised by the Basque influence in Toulouse. We spent our first evening in Le Bar Basque, a nice spot down by the Garonne River. Of course, as the name suggests, they served tapas, but I saw tapas menus sketched on blackboards outside many bars and restaurants in Toulouse. Even traditional French restaurants had a tapas section on their menus. I love tapas, so this suited me no end. Most tapas were typically French cuisine, but if fois gras or rabbit rillettes are not your thing, there was always a charcuterie plate and delicious cheeses available.
We dined in a traditional brasserie ‘Huguette’ on our first night. I enjoyed sharing the charcuterie plate, but the pièce de résistance was the black pudding with marinated peppers – I was close to uttering ‘Oh là là’, it was that good. Huguette is worth a visit for this dish alone, in fact my fellow journalists all bought some to bring home. I also tried the traditional Toulouse sausage, when in Rome and all that, but personally I didn’t see what the fuss was about…
The following day we visited the Stade Toulousain rugby stadium. Toulouse is a massive rugby city. If you happen to be a rugby fan, take a trip to the stadium and dine in the club’s restaurant, Brasserie de Stade Toulousain. The attention to detail was superb, even the glasses were black and red, Stad Toulousain’s colours, and the food was pretty good too! You will also spot the Heineken Cup displayed proudly in the bar.
Cosmopolitain is a good choice if you are looking for tapas with a French twist. This modern tapas bar has an extensive menu and a cool vibe. Don’t miss the gnocchi au pesto with pata negra (Spanish black ham) or the carre du cochon – a delicious side of pork.
If you happen to be visiting during the summer time, then make sure you visit La Brasserie du Capoul for some al-fresco dining. I enjoyed steak-frites, as you do, but there was a variety of dishes ordered from our group and everything was top class. While the food is great, the service is a little slow, so make sure you give yourself plenty of time – we had a flight to catch so unfortunately missed cheese and dessert!
In order to get a better understanding of the local cuisine, we took a food tour of the Victor Hugo Market, by Taste of Toulouse. The ground floor is packed with various vendors selling everything from fois gras to candied violets (a local sweet in Toulouse), and upstairs there are five restaurants that only offer fresh produce from the market below. Walking around the market sampling the delicious produce was one of the highlights of my weekend. The tour culminated with a nice lunch at the market’s wine bar. We enjoyed what we purchased paired with some delicious wine. It really was a superb tour and something I would highly recommend if visiting Toulouse.
Toulouse Travel Blog – Top things to do in Toulouse:
Take time to explore Toulouse on foot.
Toulouse has many stunning cathedrals and impressive UNESCO World Heritage Sites, but strolling around its side streets was one of my favourite things to do in Toulouse. There are very few straight lines, most of the streets are curved which only adds to their mystery. You always wonder what is around the corner…
Visit the Basilica of Saint-Sernin.
The Basilica of Saint-Sernin is one of the largest Romanesque churches in Europe and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was built in the 11th century in honour of Saint Saturnin and it served pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela. Entry is free, but you can pay an additional charge to visit the ambulatory and the crypt.
Walk along the Garonne River.
Another favourite of mine was walking along the Garonne river. Its tree-lined path is stunning. Don’t miss Quai Lucien Lombard, it is the perfect place to capture the Dôme de la Grave, Toulouse’s most photographed monument. The Pont Neuf, despite its name, is one of Toulouse’s oldest bridges and is also located here.
Visit the Place to Capitole
The Place du Capitole is the heart of Toulouse and happens to be the seat of the municipal government since the 12th century. I found the neoclassical building really impressive, but I’m told that its interior is truly spectacular.
During our visit the square was transformed into rugby pitches for the FestOval, a rugby festival that takes place annually to coincide with the final of the French rugby championships. Former rugby internationals were on hand to help nurture younger players and there was a terrific atmosphere throughout the city. The final was stream-lined on to the square on Saturday evening – and luckily Stade Toulousian won the championship!
Visit the Airbus Factory and Aeroscopia Aeronautical Museum.
Toulouse is the home of Airbus headquarters that employs more than 21,000 people, suffice to say it is a really big deal in Toulouse! The A380, the world’s largest passenger airliner, is assembled here and you can tour the factory. You have to pre-book this tour a week in advance, so we were unable to see it. Instagrammers take note – photos are not allowed on the A380 tour…
If you don’t fancy taking the Airbus tour, but are still remotely interested in planes, visit the nearby Aeroscopia Aeronautical Museum. You don’t need to pre-book and you can visit the museum without a guide, so you can drop-in at any time. I loved stepping onboard Concorde and seeing the intriguing Airbus Supper Guppy. This is a 45-minute tour and is well worth doing.
Visit La Cité de l’Espace – The City of Space.
No Toulouse travel blog would be complete without mentioning La Cité de l’Espace. Live out your deep space fantasies and visit one of the best planetariums in the world! See the moon rock from the Apollo 15 mission, see the full-scale 53-metre-high replica of the Ariane 5 rocket launcher, and step inside the MIR Space Station training replica and the Soyuz spacecraft. There are experiences scheduled throughout the day including a moonwalk, rotating chair and moon runner experiences. This museum will give you extraordinary insight into an astronaut’s journey into space.
Cycle along the Canal du Midi.
The Canal Royal du Languedoc, or the Canal du Midi as it is more widely known, is a 240km route with 63 locks that required 12,000 workers to build! This UNESCO World Heritage Site has a tree-lined canal that links Toulouse with the Mediterranean Sea. It is full of walkers and cyclists but if you fancy just relaxing and enjoying the scenery you can get a canal boat instead.
Spend an afternoon in Carmes.
Carmes is a historic, yet chic neighbourhood that is full of charm and character. It is a nice place to pick up some local souvenirs or, better still, enjoy a glass of wine and Toulouse tapas! Don’t miss the Saint-Etienne Cathedral located on the outskirts of Carmes. With architecture stretching across several centuries, its unusual and eclectic style will leave you wondering if you love it or hate it!
Toulouse Travel Blog – Top tip for visiting Toulouse:
Make sure you buy the Toulouse Tourism Pass. This gives you free access to all public transport, including the airport shuttle, free entry to the museums and monuments, a guided tour provided by the tourist office, discounts at attractions such as Aeroscopia and La Cité du Espace, and various shops and shows. Priced at just €18 for 24 hours, €28 for 48 hours or €35 for 72 hours – don’t visit Toulouse without it!
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How to get to Toulouse:
Aer Lingus operates up to seven flights weekly from Dublin to Toulouse as part of its summer schedule and operates twice-weekly flights during the winter schedule. Fares start from €70.99 one-way including taxes and charges. Visit aerlingus.com.
Where to stay in Toulouse:
Budget: We stayed in the Hotel Albert 1er, a 3-star hotel that is superbly located just minutes from the Place du Capitole. It is a family-run, eco-friendly hotel with spacious rooms furnished in a modern French style.
Luxury: If you are looking for something a little more luxurious, check out Le Grand Balcon, a 5-star hotel located in the heart of Toulouse that combines tradition with trend beautifully.
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