Last Updated on April 6, 2023

Toulouse gets its nickname, La Ville Rose (the Pink City), from its distinctive brick and terra-cotta architecture. The old capital of Languedoc is now the capital of the new Occitane region and in many ways is closer in flavor to southern European Spanish than to northern European French.

Despite the city’s rising high-tech environment, its well-preserved center village with brick-paved streets between the Garonne River and the Canal du Midi helps Toulouse maintain a small-town feel.

Most of Toulouse’s old mansions date back from the Renaissance when this was one of the wealthiest cities in Europe. Located in southwestern France, Toulouse boasts a rich history, fascinating culture, and mouth-watering cuisine that make it a favorite destination for travelers.

If you happen to be planning a visit to this lovely southern French town, we’re here to help with some favorite things to see and do.

Canal du Midi

This 300-year-old waterway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, runs through the heart of Toulouse and provides a beautiful backdrop for strolls and bike rides. You can also take a boat tour along the canal and see the city from a different perspective.

Boat tours pass by lush vineyards of the Languedoc wine region and move through historic water locks where riders discover medieval villages and ancient fortress cities.

Basilique Saint-Sernin

Completed in 1100, the basilica is the largest and purest of form Romanesque church in Europe, topped with a wedding-cake bell tower.

Though the interior of the church isn’t as stunning as the exterior, it impresses with its enormous size and double side aisles. The altar was consecrated by Pope Urban II in 1096.

Relics include those of the apostles and first bishops of Toulouse, and the crypt contains body parts of more major Catholic saints, plus a thorn said to be from the Crown of Thorns.

Pont Neuf

French for “New Bridge,” this 16th-century span is the oldest in Toulouse and is a beautiful spot to take a stroll and enjoy the views of the Garonne River.

Pont Neuf is considered a Renaissance masterpiece and is one of the most photographed structures in Toulouse.

A wonderful way to appreciate it is by taking an afternoon boat tour on the River Garonne passing more of Toulouse’ stunning sights like the L’Hôtel-Dieu Saint-Jacques and the solemn dome of the Hôpital de La Grave.

Place du Capitole

Toulouse’s magnificent main public square is the city’s literal and metaphorical heart of Old Town. Locals show up en masse on sunny evenings for coffee or an early apéritif at one of its colorful cafes and restaurants lining the square. In summer months, the square is filled with street performers and musicians, adding to the festive atmosphere.

The Place due Capitole is named after the Capitole de Toulouse, an impressive historic building housing the city hall and the Théâtre du Capitole. The neoclassical façade and grand staircase of the Capitole is worthy of a visit.

Marché Victor Hugo

If you’re into markets, you’ll enjoy this indoor shopping area named after famous French writer Victor Hugo.   

The market is housed in a beautiful 19th-century building. Its wide variety of vendors sell regional fresh produce, meat, fish, cheese, baked goods, and other specialty foods along with flowers, clothing, and other wares.

There are also several cafes and restaurants located inside the market where visitors can enjoy a meal or a drink while taking a shopping break.

Musée Saint-Raymond

This museum, housed in a 16th century building, is dedicated to the archaeology and history of Toulouse and the surrounding region. It’s a fascinating look at the city’s past and well worth a visit.

Musée Saint-Raymond’s collections include artifacts from the ancient Roman and Greek civilizations, as well as prehistoric and medieval objects from the region around Toulouse. Some of the highlights of the collection include Roman mosaics, sculptures, and other decorative objects, as well as prehistoric artifacts as stone tools and pottery.

Muséum de Toulouse

This natural history museum is one of the oldest in France, with a collection numbering than 2.5 million items.

Its collections cover a wide range of topics including geology, botany, zoology, and anthropology.

Visitors can see fossils from the Tertiary period, including those of giant prehistoric mammals such as mastodons and woolly rhinoceroses. There’s also an extensive assembly of insects and butterflies, as well as a range of taxidermy specimens of animals from around the world.

The museum’s planetarium offers shows and its permanent exhibit, “Cabinet of Curiosities,” highlights the more unusual and rare specimens in the museum’s repository.

Fondation Bemberg

Yes, it’s another museum we recommend you visit while in Toulouse, but the setting alone is impressive.

Situated in the historic Hôtel d’Assézat, a beautiful 16th-century mansion in the heart of the city, the museum houses a collection of fine art and decorative objects collected by the Bemberg family. These include works of art from a wide ranging from Renaissance paintings and Baroque sculptures to 20th century modern art.

Famous artists such as Degas, Renoir, and Toulouse-Lautrec are included in the collection as well as antique furniture, porcelain, and other decorative objects.

Cité de l’Espace

For those interested in space and astronomy, this space-themed museum and amusement park opened in 1997 and has become one of the top tourist destinations in the region.

The park features a wide range of attractions and exhibits including life-size replicas of spacecraft and modules. Among them are the Ariane 5 rocket and the Soyuz capsule.

There are also a number of interactive exhibits that allow visitors to experience simulated space travel, such as a virtual reality trip to the Moon.

Cité de l’Espace also sports a planetarium which screens immersive shows about space and the cosmos, and a range of educational programs and workshops designed to inspire and educate visitors of all ages about space and science. The park also offers space-themed festivals and stargazing events throughout the year.

These are just a few of the many things to do and see in Toulouse. With its rich history, vibrant culture, dreamy jumble of coral and dusty pink-colored shopfront and churches, and wonderful French and international cuisine, it’s a standout destination of Southern France.

Author

  • Michael Kompanik

    Michael Kompanik is a retired Navy CAPT and San Diego freelance journalist. His love of Europe began with his NATO assignment to Naples, Italy in the 90s where he traveled extensively to 17 European countries. Since then, trips to Europe are always on his radar.

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