Article written by Elisa - Travel Writer & Local in France
This article may contain compensated links. Please read disclaimer for more info.
Article written by Elisa - Travel Writer & Local in France
Toulouse is a lively city in Southwest France on the banks of the Garonne River. The capital of the Occitanie region and the fourth city in France for the number of inhabitants, Toulouse is nicknamed “la Ville Rose” (the pink city) for the many pinkish brick buildings.
Tourists usually overlook Toulouse, although it is one of the best cities in Southern France to visit. Toulouse has many historical landmarks, delicious local cuisine, and vibrant nightlife since it is a university city.
This city is a true hidden gem with a stunning central square, Gothic and Romanesque churches, more green spaces than the ones you will be able to explore over a weekend, and waterside walks. Many people compare Toulouse to Barcelona because of its sunny weather, vibrant atmosphere, and active nightlife.
In September 2023, Toulouse will host some competitions of the World Cup Rugby 2023, so this is a great opportunity to re-discover the city or to visit Toulouse for the first time.
Are you curious to know all the best things to do in Toulouse, France? Then keep reading!
Are you planning to visit Toulouse last minute?
Below, are some of the best Toulouse tours, hotels, and more!
Top Experiences and Tours in Toulouse
Top Toulouse Accommodation
Boutique Hotel Soclo (top suggestion), Hotel des Arts (mid-range), La Cour des Consuls Hotel & Spa Toulouse – Mc Gallery (luxury). Check out the best hotels in Toulouse, France.
Don’t leave for Toulouse without travel insurance!
HeyMondo offers travelers insurance that combines medical and travel-related coverage for single trips (leisure and business trip), annual multi-trip, and extended stays (with Covid-19 coverage included). Use this link to get a 5% off.
What to Do in Toulouse, France
Although Toulouse has a good metro network, most of the places to visit in Toulouse and Toulouse things to do are located in the Old Town at walking distance. We only took the metro to go from/to the train station to our hotel at Place du Capitole (with our suitcases), but we are Parisians, so we are used to walking a lot 😉
TIP: This French road trip covers Toulouse and many other beautiful places in Southern France!
1. Take a Walking Tour of the Old Town
There is no better way to explore a city than on foot. The streets around the Capitole de Toulouse are the historic part of the city, with charming private mansions, restaurants, cafès, and shops.
We suggest you join this 2-hour private walking tour of Toulouse’s Old Town (in English) that covers the main places to see in Toulouse to learn about its history and heritage. Stroll around the city’s historical center to admire the gorgeous Neoclassical and Romanesque pink buildings, passing by Toulouse’s unmissable landmarks such as the Place du Capitole, Hotel d’Assezat, and Basilica of Saint Sernin. Meanwhile, the expert local guide will tell you all about the local culture and the importance of the pastel in Toulouse’s economic growth.
2. Place du Capitole and Town Hall
Place du Capitole is Toulouse’s main square that houses the city’s Town Hall (where the “capitouls” or magistrates met) and the Theatre du Capitole. A Toulouse must-see, the beautiful square is locals’ favorite meeting spot as it is surrounded by renowned restaurants.
On the square floor, you can admire a huge Occitan cross with the symbols of the zodiac, but what will surely catch your eyes is the stunning facade of the Townhall. In use since the 12th century, Le Capitole is even more gorgeous on the inside (no fee to visit), with its historical rooms decorated with paintings and frescoes on the ceilings.
Le Capitole is one of the most beautiful town halls you can find in France, and it’s one of the free things to do in Toulouse, France.
After a great fire of the Capitol, the capitouls decided, in 1525, to build a keep, known today as the Consistories Tower or the Archives Tower, to protect the archives and the gunpowder in anticipation of an invasion of Languedoc by the Spaniards during the war between François I and Charles V. This tower hosts today the Toulouse Tourism Office and it is the starting point of their guided tours (mostly in French).
3. Visit the Basilique Saint-Sernin
The Basilique Saint Sernin is on the top of the list of Toulouse tourist attractions and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built during the 11th century, the Basilica has been a major pilgrimage spot since medieval times, and it is part of the famous Camino de Santiago.
This church is one of the largest Romanesque churches in Europe and, on the outside, features a five-story brick tower and a stunning entrance door with a treasured sculpture portraying Lazarus and Dives.
Inside, the Basilica displays well-preserved stained windows and a mindblowing 21-meter-high nave with vaults. Basilique Saint Sernin also contains more relics than any other church in France, many of which were donated to the church by Charlemagne. Visitors can see some of them in the side naves.
4. Stroll Around the Banks of the Garonne River
Toulouse is crossed by the Garonne River, and strolling around its riverbank is one of the locals’ favorite things to do in Toulouse during the summer. During the riverside walk, you will see stunning views of Pont Neuf, a 16-century bridge, and of Dôme de la Grave, the iconic dome of the chapel that is part of the city’s hospital.
We suggest you explore the former river port of La Daurade, which has been fitted out for walking and accessing Garonne’s upper banks. The Garonne riverside is the perfect spot for enjoying an afternoon apéritif with friends in one of the many bars you will find there.
5. Explore the Canal du Midi by Boat or Bike
Stretching from Toulouse’s center to the city of Sète on the Mediterranean Sea, the Canal du Midi is an artificial canal that dates back to the 17th century. An outstanding engineering construction, this UNESCO site used to be a major commercial hub.
The Canal du Midi is located on the northern side of the city, and it is delightful to cruise by boat. Another great activity to do here is to explore the canal by bike. If you are wondering where to rent a bike in Toulouse, check out this rental shop.
Why not join a bike tour like this one to cycle along the canal for 35 kilometers in good company? A guided tour of the Canal de Midi by bike is one of the best things to do in Toulouse.
6. Visit Saint Etienne Cathedral
Another must-do in Toulouse is to visit the Saint-Etienne Cathedral. The Cathedral was built in the 13th century, featuring a blend of Northern and Southern Gothic architecture with Baroque details. This is because the Cathedral is actually made of two churches joined together.
Saint-Etienne Cathedral’s exterior boasts a massive bell tower and decorative carvings and sculptures. Once you step inside, you can admire stained glass windows, beautiful frescoes, and ancient relics.
At the end of the church is a huge wooden organ, which appears suspended in mid-air and is still in use today. The Cathedral has exceptional acoustics, so you will surely enjoy hearing the organ!
7. Explore Toulouse’s Gardens
Toulouse has many remarkable parks and gardens that are perfect spots for relaxing breaks. The unmissable green areas in Toulouse are the Royal Garden, the Botanical Garden, and the Japanese Garden.
Walk around the old exotic trees and stunning Le Fabre statues at the Royal Garden. This well-curated English garden is embellished with a duck pond and a small bridge.
The Jardin des Plantes is Toulouse’s lovely botanical garden. Hundreds of medical plants, fountains, and several old buildings give the Botanical Garden a distinct historic charm.
The Japanese Garden is a tranquil green space with traditional Japanese features like a zen rock garden, a bamboo grove, and a pond with koi fish with a lovely bridge.
8. Violet Shopping
The Toulouse Violet is one of the symbols of the region, which has been proudly wearing its colors since 1985 when the name “Toulouse Violet” (“Violette de Toulouse”) became a registered trademark.
Introduced in France under Napoleon III, this variety from Northern Italy was cultivated in Toulouse under glass frames since 1850.
At the beginning of the 19th century, 600 families made their livings from the sale of cut Violets in winter and used them to create round bouquets sold by weight. The Violette de Toulouse was so fashionable that it was exported to England, Germany, Russia, and even Morocco by airmail.
Violets were first crystallized in Toulouse at the beginning of the 20th century. The perfume was created in the 1930s. In the 1950s, a regional craftsman invented Violet liqueur, and local workshops made “Violet Seller” dolls. These by-products contributed to the fame of the Toulouse Violet.
It is possible to buy violet-related products and souvenirs everywhere in Toulouse. On the Canal du Midi, the Maison de la Violette (opposite 3 Boulevard Bonrepos) invites locals and visitors to board a barge entirely devoted to violets! This is the ideal place to learn all about one of the Violette de Toulouse through exhibitions, workshops, and more.
9. Fondation Bemberg
Toulouse was a merchant city hosting many hôtels particuliers, opulent private mansions from the Renaissance Era. One of these is the former Hotel d’Assézat which now houses the Fondation Bemberg (Avenue Jean-Pierre d’Assézat, Toulouse).
This 16th-century mansion is one of the best things to see in Toulouse. It was designed by Nicolas Bachelier, a local Renaissance architect, under the commission of Pierre d’Assézat, who built his fortune on the pastel (woad) trade. What’s special about Hotel d’Assézat is that it is one of the very few open to the public (and one of the most beautiful).
The mansion took 30 years to complete, and today it houses the magnificent art collection of Georges Bemberg, including works of French artists Monet, Matisse, and Cézanne.
10. Try the Local Food
If there is one thing you need to do during your stay in Toulouse, it is to try its interesting local dishes. Check out our Toulouse food guide, where we describe the most popular Toulouse dishes, desserts, and other regional specialties.
If you want to learn more about the local food in Toulouse, you can visit the Victor Hugo Market, which is the main market in the city. Toulouse also has many fun food tours to discover the great specialties of this beautiful city. This Traditional food walking tour always has good reviews, while this Toulouse food and history walking tour combines history and food tastings.
10. Take a Day Trip
Toulouse is within easy reach of other fantastic destinations in the region, so if you have a spare day during your holiday in Toulouse, consider taking one of these Toulouse day trips.
Carcassonne is one of the best places to visit near Toulouse. Located just 1 hour from Toulouse, Carcassonne is a medieval citadel listed as a UNESCO site with impressive fortifications and a stunning basilica. The best way to discover Carcassonne is with this guided tour with private transfer, but it is also possible to visit by train.
Albi is another medieval city worth visiting. Located 1 hour from Toulouse, Albi is characterized by its red brick architecture and a breathtaking cathedral. Albi is easy to reach by regional train, so it’s ideal for a self-guided trip.
However, to make the most of your day trip to Albi, you should join this organized tour that will lead you to Albi and the charming village Cordes-sur-Ciel.
And there you have it, what to do in Toulouse, France, for any kind of traveler. Which Toulouse things to do tempt you most for your coming trip?