Is it cliche to say I felt like I was in a romantic travel movie?
When I think about France, I think about Paris with its shops, the Eiffel Tower, and pastries. Even after studying in Aix-en-Provence, I forget that most of the country consists of small, quaint towns that one can walk from end-to-end. Toulouse feels more like a town than the fourth largest city in France. It’s also a bit of a college town with a major university.
The growth of Toulouse was based on pastel, a blue dye, that was bought and distributed all over Europe. The money from the exports resulted in development of large houses and architecture expansion for the city. Today, Toulouse is a center for aviation and science.
Why Travel to Toulouse?
A warm weekend was a refreshing break from London’s cooler temperatures as it felt like the middle of summer. Locals and tourists were fashionable in dresses and tank tops while lounging on grassy sections near the River Garonne.
A friend was in the region visiting her family, and we decided to venture to France to see her during her stay. Without much time to plan for the trip, I decided to stumble upon the sights by walking the city. As I walked around trying to find free entry to public places, I found churches galore. Below are the highlights from two days in Toulouse.
Place Du Capitole
Enter the capitole and learn about the architecture and the city. Small plaques and information are available throughout the public areas. Walk through an open courtyard before the entry way up the marble stairs. Admire the large painting as you climb the stairs to the first floor. Walk through a hallway to a gallery where more paintings are hung. Take notice of the oils and the detail of the brush strokes.
A sneak peek inside the capitole.
Visit at night when the market closes for a less-crowded experience.
My favorite part of the city was walking along the Garonne and admiring the many bridges that cross it. Stroll along it at night and see the university students picnicking on the banks.
To say that the locals have their choice of churches is an understatement. I’m not much of an architectural nerd, but the insides and outsides of the various ones around the city allow you to see the progress of churches and cathedrals through many centuries. Some are more active than others and visiting times vary. Spend some time before your trip and create a do-it-yourself walking tour. Below are a few of the ones I visited.
1. La Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Toulouse
The high ceilings are something to see.
The outside is equally impressive.
2. Notre-Dame de la Daurade
3. Église Notre-Dame de la Dalbade
Walking to the Dalbade.
4. Couvent des Jacobins
Entrance to the church is free, but it’s the garden that is the main attraction. I opted to not pay for the admission as there was much to see in a short amount of time.
5. Paroisse Saint Exupère and Communauté Assomptionniste
6. Basilique Saint-Sernin de Toulouse
The largest remaining Romanesque building in Europe. It has significance to the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route.
An orchestra performance during our visit.
Others I didn’t visit were: Vieux Temple – Protestant Church and Church of Saint-Pierre des Chartreux.
After visiting so many churches and cathedrals, it was time to find some green space throughout the city.
1. Jardin des Plantes
The Jardin des Plantes is a large park south of the city center and spans several blocks. Read a book on a bench or visit the museum, cafés, or admire the botanical gardens on the grounds.
2. Prairie des Filtres
Head west from the city center and cross River Garonne on the Pont Neuf bridge. Stroll along the river and watch locals enjoy the weather by lounging, picnicking, or playing games in the grass.
Center of France’s Aerospace Industry
Did you know that Toulouse is a hub for the aerospace industry in France? Yeah, I didn’t realize it either. You can tour the facilities, which are located near the airport. A mistake I made was not realizing that a level of background check may be needed depending on your citizenship. I didn’t have enough time to get the clearance in order to do a tour, which I was wanted to do.
What to Eat
Duck, duck, and more duck! Cassoulet, pate, pastries. Everything you think about French cuisine and more. The ice cream cooled us off on the warm days. Menus, or full course meal-of-the-day, are popular across many restaurants in the area. I actually did this at one of the restaurants without knowing the menu until the dishes were delivered to the table. It was fantastic and a spontaneous way to sample French food.
Getting Around Toulouse
I stayed in the city center at an Airbnb (sign up today), which meant most everything I wanted to see could be accessed by foot. Getting from the airport was pretty straightforward using public transportation. Like most of Europe, the public transportation around the city make most of the neighborhoods and attractions accessible. I paid as I went since the weather was nice and did most of my touring on foot. After two days in Toulouse, I rented a car from the central train station to head toward the Pyrenees for a few days of hiking.