Although it is France’s fourth largest city, Toulouse has a very relaxed, friendly feel to it. There are plenty of things to see and do in the city – and many of them are free - but if you’re short on time this post offers my suggestions for how to spend 24 hours in Toulouse.
Known as the ‘Ville Rose’ (Pink City) for the colour of the terracotta bricks used in many of its buildings, Toulouse, in the southern French region of Occitanie, enjoys a mild climate and a great location on the banks of both the River Garonne and the Canal du Midi.
Home to a large student population due to its well-regarded university, Toulouse easily blends the old with the new. The charming Old Quarter is lined with buildings in all shades of pink whilst just outside the city centre, which is ringed by wide boulevards, the finest aeronautical engineering is on display at the home of Airbus.
My visit to Toulouse was brief but I managed to pack plenty in to my visit. I’d booked to stay two nights in Toulouse so that I had one full day to see the main points of interest.
With the benefit of long daylight hours due to visiting in summer, 24 hours was enough time to give me a good overview of the city.
Itinerary for one day in Toulouse
My day started after breakfast with a walk along Promenade Henri Martin beside the River Garonne. As my hotel was located near the Canal de Brienne, I also enjoyed wandering along the plane tree-lined canal.
At Pont Neuf (the old bridge), where you can look across the river to the lovely Musees de la Medecine, I turned left and headed to the Hotel d’Assezat Fondation Bemberg.
Built in the 17th century as an elegant town house for one of the city’s rich merchants, it is now home to a private museum for a collection of paintings, sculptures and objets d’art. (Free entry to the courtyard, admission fees apply to the gallery.) I didn’t go inside but spent some time admiring the lovely courtyard and imagining what it must have been like to live in such an elegant mansion.
At Notre-Dame de la Dalbade, just a short walk away, I marveled at the colourful, sculpted façade and rose window above the door.
As I strolled along the ancient narrow streets towards the town centre, I couldn’t help but admire the pleasing mix of architecture. Pink houses blended in with half-timbered buildings overhanging the footpath, whilst wrought iron balcony railings added grandeur to others.
Ready for a rest, I continued on towards the Place du Capitole and stopped for coffee and a pastry in one of the neighbouring side streets. I can recommend L’Amie des Laveurs, a boulangerie and patisserie, on rue Gambetta.
I was eagerly anticipating seeing Place du Capitole and it’s namesake building, Capitole, Toulouse’s impressive Town Hall and National Theatre. The 128 metre long façade of the building, which features eight columns of pink marble, takes up one side of the square and oozes importance. It dates back to 1750.
The façade isn’t the only impressive thing about Capitole, though. Step through the main entrance, pass through the pink and white striped Henry IV courtyard and head into the Salle des Illustres for an unexpected surprise.
Stunning late 19th-century frescoes line the domed roof and walls of a number of rooms, creating a wonderful display.
I am still amazed that you can visit a public building and see priceless artworks for free – and photography is permitted inside. It seems incredible and a huge privilege to be able to experience this.
Back outside, I spent some time absorbing the lively atmosphere in Place du Capitole and the surrounding squares before my stomach reminded me it was time for lunch.
When it comes time to eat, there’s no shortage of choice in Toulouse and luckily, thanks to the large student population, prices are pretty reasonable. Some of the busiest restaurants can be found in Place du Capitole directly opposite Capitole but these appeared to be full of tourists and we prefer to eat where the locals eat.
A few streets away from Place du Capitole, we found an outdoor café where we could enjoy both our lunch and the typically French pastime of people watching.
After refueling, it was time to explore the shops that had been enticing me with their ‘Solde’ (Sale) signs. In France, shops are only allowed to put their goods on sale twice a year and fortuitously I was visiting during the annual summer sales.
Galleries Lafayette was the first store I visited but there were numerous others whose daily takings were increased thanks to my husband and I!
TIP: If you’re not into shopping, why not relax in the Japanese Gardens or enjoy a cruise on the River Garonne or Canal du Midi? See below for more info.
When we’d had enough of shopping, we made our way to Basilique St-Sernin. With its prominent octagonal brick bell tower, the basilica is hard to miss. Built in the 11th and 12th-centuries, it is the largest Romanesque basilica in Europe.
The church was an important stop for pilgrims undertaking the journey on the ‘Way of St. James’, and has been extensively renovated over the last few decades.
Entry is free but for just 2.50 euro you can visit the ambulatory and crypt to see ancient relics and treasures.
Having spent most of the day on our feet, we took time out for a short rest and a cool drink before we made our way to Allee Jean Jaures.
One thing I enjoy doing in a new city is taking a city tour as it gives me a great overview of the city and takes me past places that I might not otherwise visit.
At 6pm we boarded the open-topped Citytour Toulouse bus for a 75-minute tour of the city. Commentary was provided in English (and seven other languages) via headphones and although the tour took us past some of the sites we had visited earlier in the day, it was still worthwhile as we picked up plenty of interesting facts.
The Citytour starts and finishes at Place d’Amenie on Allee Jean Jaures. Click here to check prices and buy tickets.
After finishing our Citytour, it was just a short walk to Place Wilson, another lively square with plenty of dining options. Although it was a Monday night, the area was buzzing with people and had a very festive atmosphere.
We enjoyed a lovely dinner outdoors at a typically French bistro before meandering back to our hotel around 10.30pm.
After a long, but very enjoyable day visiting many of Toulouse’s main attractions, it was time for bed.
More things to do in Toulouse
For the best views over the rooftops of Toulouse, head to Galeries Lafayette. A panoramic terrace on the 6th floor offers great views of the Pink City. (Unfortunately the terrace was closed for renovations when I visited.)
Churches and Museums
In addition to the ones mentioned above, Toulouse is home to several other churches of interest. The somewhat austere exterior of Couvent des Jacobins is in total contrast to the light interior. Inside the Gothic church, the 22 ribs of a palm tree-shaped vault stretch upwards. (Small entry fee applies.)
Two others worth visiting are the Saint-Etienne Cathedral which was built over five centuries from the 13th-century, and the Carmelite Chapel, home to some exquisite 17th-century painted murals. (Free entry to both.)
There are over 20 museums in Toulouse including the National History Museum, Les Abattoirs (a former abattoirs which now houses modern and contemporary artworks), and Cite de l’espace, a space museum dedicated to all things aeronautical.
River and Canal Cruises
An enjoyable and relaxing way to see the city and surrounds from another perspective is from the water. Cruises on the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Canal du Midi are available from March to June, and cruises on both the River Garonne and Canal de Brienne operate from June to October.
No visit to France is complete without a trip to the local market and Toulouse’s Marche couvert Victor Hugo (covered market) is a fine example. With over 100 stalls selling everything from fish to fruit and vegetables to cakes and pastries, a visit will definitely overload your senses.
On the bottom floor of the market hall over 100 merchants sell their produce whilst the top floor is home to numerous restaurants serving meals from the produce sold below.
The market is open every day except Monday from 6am to 2pm.
Parks and Gardens
There is plenty of green space to be found in Toulouse and these make an ideal place to escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. The Jardin des Plantes is a seven hectare park with a 200 year old sculpted garden, and the smaller Jardin Japonais (Japanese Gardens) feature a pond and pagoda.
Day trips from Toulouse
If you’d like to get out of the city, Carcassonne, the Fronton vineyards, Albi and the beautiful villages of the Tarn and Tarn-et-Garonne departments (including Cordes sur Ciel), are all within easy reach.
Getting around Toulouse
The best way to get around Toulouse is on foot. All of the places I visited in my one-day itinerary mentioned are within close proximity to Place du Capitole.
Public transport is available to reach Cite de l’espace, the airport and the city’s outskirts.
Where to stay in Toulouse
For something a bit more central (and upmarket), I would consider the Crowne Plaza Capitole, located in Place du Capitole. Click here for current prices
Getting to Toulouse
Toulouse is situated in south west France, 680 km south of Paris and 400 km north of Barcelona. Driving times are approximately six and a half hours from Paris and four hours from Barcelona.
Flights from all over Europe service Toulouse Blagnac Airport.
The Paris to Toulouse train journey (numerous services per day) takes around four and a half hours. Click here for fares and timetables
There are numerous daily services on the Toulouse to Barcelona train line, with a journey time of around four hours (one connection required). Check timetables and fares here
Toulouse is also connected to many other destinations in France by frequent rail services.
Still need more info about Toulouse? Visit the city’s official tourism website here.
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