City Guides Nouvelle-Aquitaine

Best Things to Do in Sarlat, France (Sarlat-la-Canéda)


Article written by Elisa - Travel Writer & Local in France
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Visit Sarlat, Dordogne

Sarlat is one of the most beautiful medieval towns in France. Known officially as Sarlat-la-Canéda, it’s the capital of the Périgord Noir, and a visit to this lovely town and its ancient streets is one of the best things to do in Dordogne.

The Périgord Noir is in the southeast of the Dordogne département (Nouvelle-Aquitaine) and is named ‘Black’ in reference to the dark foliage of the many oaks present in this area.

This is a part of France that has seen the best and the worst of man throughout history. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Sarlat-la-Canéda has the highest concentration of historical monuments per square meter in the world, with 66 listed buildings in an 11-hectare perimeter!

So if you are curious about visiting Sarlat on a weekend getaway or as part of a Dordogne road trip, we’ll show you the best things to do in Sarlat, France.

Sarlat-la-Canéda - Dordogne

Are you planning to visit Sarlat, Dordogne, last minute?

Below, are some of the best Sarlat tours, hotels, and more!

Top Experiences and Tours in Sarlat

Top Sarlat Accommodation and Lodging

Le Petit Manoir (top suggestion), Plaza Madeleine & Spa (luxury), Naâd Hotel Sarlat Centre Ville (mid-range), Hotel Le Mas de Castel (mid-range), Best Western Le Renoir (mid-range), and Hotel Montaigne (mid-range), Le Clos de la Canéda (mid-range), Les Jardins du Porche (apartments).

Don’t leave for Sarlat without travel insurance!

SafetyWing, our trusted travel insurance policy for long and short trips (starting with a minimum of 5 days), covers COVID-19 for new policies purchased, and since April 2021, unplanned quarantine is covered, too. 

What to Do in Sarlat, France

Sarlat-la-Canéda is a must for any Dordogne road trip and the place to go if you love history, medieval castles, and great food. If you’re convinced, then here’s a look at some of the best things to do in Sarlat-la-Canéda

1. Get lost in the Old Town

Sarlat’s Old Town looks like nothing less than a fairy tale village, filled with beautifully kept buildings and tiny, twisting paths. It’s bisected by the Rue de la République, which divides the more popular western part of the town from the aristocratic east side.

You’ll want to spend at least an afternoon exploring the Old Town when you visit Sarlat, Dordogne. You’ll be treated to lots of historical buildings to admire, tiny shops selling unique goods, local cafés, and lots of the city’s trademark charm and character.

2. Enjoy the View from the Top of the Old Church of St. Mary

The Old Church of St. Mary is located in the city’s main square and is surrounded by charming outdoor cafés. It was once a symbol of the success of the town’s middle class, but it was damaged during the French Revolution and abandoned in 1794.

Today this church is little more than a few ruins dotted by stone gargoyles, and yet it’s no longer abandoned. It was renovated by Sarlat resident and architect Jean Nouvel, and it features a market area and rooms that are used for cultural activities.

However, the top attraction at this church is the Sarlat Panoramic Elevator, one of the best things to do in Sarlat. It’s a glass lift that will take you 27 meters to the top of the bell tower for panoramic views of the city and a brief but fascinating lecture on the measures taken to preserve the town.

Unfortunately, we could not visit the top of the church due to COVID-19 restrictions, but everybody who took that lift will tell you it is one of Sarlat’s must-dos!

3. Visit the Sarlat Market

The Sarlat Market is widely considered to be one of the most beautiful in all of France. It’s held in the city’s Old Town area, and there’s nothing quite like shopping with the majestic architecture and history all around you, which is why this is one of the most popular Sarlat things to do.

The market is held on Wednesdays and Saturdays and features a range of food products, from wine to walnuts, fruits, and vegetables. You’ll find the food producers around Place de la Liberté in the morning and more general stalls throughout the day along Rue de la République.

This area also plays host to the amazing Truffle and Foie-Gras Market held in December, January, and February. This market is at Place Boissarie, on Saturdays from 9 am to 12 pm.

4. Visit Saint-Sacerdos Cathedral

This is the type of cathedral that will give you a real sense of how old some parts of France really are. Saint-Sarcedos Cathedral was originally built in the 1100s but has been redeveloped several times over the years to include a mix of styles.

Make sure you take note of the belfry and western façade, as they’re the older parts of the church, but the newer parts, with their mix of styles, are just as striking and memorable.

5. Admire the Lantern of the Dead

The Lantern of the Dead is one of the most unique things to see in Sarlat. This small stone tower commemorates a visit made to the town by St. Bernard, one of the founders of the Cistercian order.

The Cistercian order was a Catholic order that split off from the Benedictines. The order was dedicated to strict observance of the Benedictine rule and spread throughout much of Western and Eastern Europe in the 12th century.

The monument itself is rather dramatic and surprisingly modern for its age, as it’s shaped like a rocket despite having stood since 1147. The use of this surprising landmark was lost in time.

6. Explore Sainte Marie Church (now Sarlat’s Covered Market)

Sainte Marie Church, built in the Gothic style, was in the 14th and 15th centuries Sarlat’s parish church. Badly damaged during the French Revolution and successive pillages, the church was recently renovated by the famous architect Jean Nouvel.

Sainte-Marie Church (covered market)

The Sainte Marie Church is now home to a covered market. The market is open every day, year-round, but the opening and closing times change depending on the season.

Wandering through the stalls checking out cheeses, snacks, and other products, while being stared at by the church’s ancient gargoyles is one of the most popular things to do in Sarlat, France.

7. Enjoy the Local Cuisine

According to the famous gastronomer and culinary critic Curnonsky (1872-1956), ‘Perigord is one of the regions of our country where we eat the best, and for centuries.’ Here, regional products are recognized as one of the main factors that attract tourists, and therefore they are highly valued, especially walnuts, chestnuts, black truffles, porcini mushrooms, foie gras, and strawberries.

In the Périgord, the cuisine is a family tradition, and the recipes and know-how are passed on from generation to generation. The must-try dishes in the Périgord are the Périgourdine Salad (with meat), Omelette with Porcini Mushrooms, Confit de Canard (and many other ways to prepare duck), Lotte (fish) with Chorizo, Potatoes Sautéed in Duck Fat, and more.

Cabécou of Périgord is THE cheese to try in this area, a small, soft goats’ milk cheese, and the Walnut Cake is one of the most typical desserts in the Périgord.

If you are interested in learning more about Sarlat-Dordogne’s local cuisine, this Sarlat guided tour with market visit and tastings always gets excellent reviews.

8. Visit the Prehistoric Grottoes of Lascaux on a Day Trip

Prehistoric Grottoes of Lascaux - Dordogne

The Prehistoric Grottoes of Lascaux are a great choice when you’re wondering what to do in Sarlat. Located about half an hour away from Sarlat by car, Lascaux is home to a collection of Paleolithic cave paintings, some of them estimated to be up to 20,000 years old!

There are several similarly decorated caves in the Vézère Valley, but the quality, age, and size of the Lascaux collection put them in a class of their own.

The site consists of a complex of caves with several different areas, and The cave paintings mostly depict large animals that were native to the region at that time. The Caves of Lascaux are on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list and are a stunning and awe-inspiring look into France’s very long past.

Today the original Lascaux is closed to the public, but visitors can admire an exact replica, Lascaux IV, located nearby.

The best way to see and understand the caves is with this top-rated Lascaux IV and cave art guided tour. This will ensure that you see all the best sights and give you an insider’s view into this fascinating slice of human history.

9. Explore the Dordogne Valley on a Half or Full-day Trip

Perigord - Dordogne

Bisected by the river of the same name, the Dordogne Valley is a place of old villages, ancient ruins, friendly locals, and bucolic beauty. Visitors to this region enjoy being part of the slow pace of life, exploring lovely Dordogne villages, and tasting the local food.

You can’t travel to Sarlat without experiencing the history and natural beauty of this part of France. And the best way to do that, if you don’t have a car, is on a Dordogne Valley Half-Day Sightseeing Tour that will take you to all the best towns and Dordogne castles and give you an insider’s view of the local way of life.

What to Do near Sarlat, France

Rocamadour - France

Do you have an extra day (or two) in Sarlat? Consider taking a day trip to any of these places:

And there you have it, what to do in Sarlat, France, for any kind of traveler. What Sarlat activities appeal to you most?

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