Toulouse, the fourth-largest city in France, is well-loved for its welcoming locals, idyllic climate, and picturesque streets.
Here are some top tips for must-see attractions and activities, straight from a local:
1. Stroll through the historic city centre
Known as “La Ville Rose” (The Pink City) due to its distinctive pinkish terracotta brick architecture, Toulouse is steeped in rich history. Enjoy the city’s warm weather as you meander through Rue Saint-Rome, Rue Pargaminières, and Rue du Taur, leading to the heart of the city, le Capitole. This former provincial government seat boasts a private art collection and regularly hosts captivating performances by the Orchestre National du Capitole. Just a stone's throw away is the Grand Balcon Hotel, previously a sanctuary for aviation pioneers André Mermoz and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
2. Plan a shopping day
A stone's throw from the Capitole lies Toulouse's main shopping thoroughfare: Rue Alsace-Lorraine. This bustling retail area beautifully combines traditional Toulouse architecture with chic Art Deco facades. Don't miss the striking 24-hour clock on the other side of the "La Dépêche" building, which adds a unique charm to your shopping experience.
3. Discover the mysteries of the Basilique Saint-Sernin
Situated in Toulouse's historic centre, the magnificent Basilique Saint-Sernin is a sight to behold. Step inside to be swept away by its spiritual ambiance. This basilica, which lies along the famed Chemin de Saint-Jacques de Compostelle, invites visitors to explore its sacrosanct sacristy. There are also whispers of an ancient treasure concealed beneath this towering edifice, the tallest Roman church in France and one of the largest globally.
4. Immerse yourself in the history of the South-West
The Hôtel d’Assézat is a hidden gem in the heart of Toulouse. Hidden by a formidable perimeter wall, the stunning Renaissance townhall reveals its beauty as you enter the courtyard. Constructed for one of Toulouse's most illustrious merchants, it now serves as a prominent art gallery, housing exhibits that narrate Toulouse's prosperous past.
5. Explore Toulouse’s leading industry
Toulouse's reputation in France is dominated by one thing: aeronautics. As the host city for Airbus's headquarters, Toulouse celebrates its legacy through several expansive museums. Aeroscopia is a must-visit for aviation enthusiasts, where you can marvel at the iconic Concorde. If the allure of space entices you, head to Cité de l’Espace, where you can tour the MIR space station, walk on the moon, or mimic a rocket launch!
6. Experience La Halle de la Machine
Have you ever dreamed of riding a Minotaur? At La Halle de la Machine in Toulouse, you can! This unique museum displays enormous wood and steel structures, where engineering ingenuity meets imagination. Learn how these gigantic creations move and 'breathe' smoke at this awe-inspiring museum.
7. Relax in Toulouse’s gardens
The gardens of Toulouse are perfect for relaxation. Soak in the tranquillity of the Jardin des Plantes, complete with a peaceful lake and charming ducks. For a touch of the Orient, visit the Jardin Japonais. If you're in the mood for a traditional French day out, head to Lac de la Ramée for some pétanque and a dip in the refreshing oasis. As the day ends, head up to Pech David hill for a breathtaking sunset, where the city's pink glow, yellow lights, and vibrant colours create a surreal atmosphere.
8. Photograph Toulouse’s iconic monuments
Whether you're an aspiring influencer or just looking to capture the perfect snapshot of the city, you can't miss the Pont Neuf and Hôtel Dieu. The Pont Neuf, an architectural masterpiece arching over the Garonne, guides you to the Hôtel Dieu, the city's former largest hospital. This UNESCO-listed monument offers a glimpse into Toulouse's vibrant past. Enhance your experience by taking a boat trip on the Garonne for an alternative perspective.
9. The Pink City’s vibrant night life
Toulouse, known as the best student city in France, is renowned for its lively nightlife. Experience the bustle of Place Saint-Pierre, a hotspot teeming with bars. Try the metre of Pastis at Chez Tonton or explore the intriguing interiors of Saint des Seins and La Couleur de la Culotte.
10. Eat like a local
For a true Toulousain experience, you must indulge in the city's culinary delights. Famous for its Cassoulet, Saucisse de Toulouse, and traditional Gascon cuisine, Toulouse offers a gastronomic journey that locals hold dear. Immerse yourself in this culinary culture by exploring local markets. Discover gourmet treats at Marché des Carmes in the chic district, or visit the renowned Marché Victor Hugo. For an authentic slice of local life, stroll around the bustling Marché Saint-Aubin.
Bonus tips from a local:
Toulouse is capital of the "Chocolatine" (known as 'croissant au chocolat' in Australia). Our very own Julian from the Alliance Française Sydney staff recommends savouring an award-winning Chocolatine at Boulangerie CREDO, or sampling an outstanding version in the city center at Pâtisserie Conté, where the irresistible "croustillant au chocolat" is also a must-try. For an experience of delightful pastries, don't miss out on Un Petit Gâteau.
Craving Toulouse's speciality, the Cassoulet? Find your way to Les Copains D’abord, nestled near the Canal du Midi. If you're seeking exceptional value for your money, then Le Restaurant, a superb eatery known for its quality offerings, should be on your itinerary.
For additional recommendations, explore the Urban'hist website, curated by the
Municipal Council of Toulouse, where you can uncover the city's hidden gems and fascinating anecdotes about its rich past.
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