Toulouse, Midi-Pyrenees: tourism & sightseeing
Visit Toulouse (Midi-Pyrenees, France)
Toulouse is a very interesting city, in the south of France and in the Midi-Pyrenees region. It is the 4th largest city in France and succeeds very well at combining the attractive old centre of the city with modern success in industry, together creating a bustling and lively city.
France This Way comment: there is a great deal of interest to explore and discover in Toulouse, and here we discuss a few of the highlights. However, describing the individual monuments fails to capture the essence of the city - the cafes and restaurants, the small shady squares you discover...the small things that combine to make Toulouse so fascinating and interesting.
Start your visit to Toulouse in the central Place du Capitole, a large open square in the heart of the city (with convenient parking underneath the square). The grand building with eight columns on one side of the square, in the characteristic pink brick of the town, is the Capitole du Toulouse, the head of local government and dating from 1750.
The buildings of the Place du Capitole date for the most part from the 18th century. As well as the town hall there is the opera on one side and the Place du Capitole and on the other side (through the arch) is a 16th century donjon (dungeon) which is now the building of the Toulouse tourist office. There are several cafes around the square, making it the centre of activity in the city centre.
The 'trademark' of Toulouse is perhaps the small pretty pink bricks with which many of the houses and important buildings have been constructed, which seem to change colour as the day (and the sun) passes. Hence the city is often referred to as the Ville Rose (pink city). These bricks are also often combined with the local white stone to create a decorative effect.
From the Place du Capitole, head towards the Garonne river, passing through 'old Toulouse' where grand houses line the streets. Toulouse has a number of particularly fine houses worth seeing, including:
- The Hotel d'Assezat is a lovely 16th century Renaissance palace with a large courtyard. You can enter the building and view the collection of art of the Bemberg Foundation - a collection put together by Georges Bemberg.
- The Hotel de Pierre has an ornate stone facade and was built during the 16th,17th and 19th century. It is also called the Hotel de Clary and the Hotel de Bagis but is widely called the Hotel de Pierre because it is one of the few buildings in Toulouse made of stone and not brick.
- The Hotel du Bernuy has a great octagonal tower and is now a part of the Lycee of Pierre de Fermat. Lucky lycéeans! This 16th century mansion is one of the most attractive in Toulouse. Another impressive building is the Hotel du Vieux Raisin.
The Garonne river passes through Toulouse, and the river banks are often tree lined and a pleasant opportunity to amble in peace, and escape from the bustle of the city. The river banks are lined with impressive houses, again mostly dating from the 18th century: look out particularly for the Eglise Notre-Dame de la Daurade and the neighbouring School of Fine Arts Building.
Across the Garonne river from here is the Hotel-Dieu Saint-Jacques.You can cross the river on the impressive 16th century arched pont-neuf (translation: 'new bridge' although it is now far from being new) impressively, even this bridge manages to incorporate some of the local pink brick!
When you have crossed the Pont Neuf you will see a lovely old 19th century water tower which is now home to an art gallery which is dedicated to photography by famous and up and coming artists. It is an excellent gallery. I first visited the gallery nearly 30 years ago and bought a collection of black and white prints which I still have on my wall today. The same style of prints are still sold at the gallery for a very reasonable 3-4 euros each.
Religious monuments in Toulouse
Saint-Sernin church, a substantial 11th century roman style church, is perhaps best known for its tower, with five octagonal levels each pierced by ornate arches, and is one of the finest buildings in Toulouse as well as being the largest roman style church in the world. This church, along with the Hotel-Dieu Saint-Jacques, also form part of a UNESCO world heritage site, being on the pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostella.
The Convent of Les Jacobins is an excellent example of gothic architecture from the 13th and 14th centuries and has a wonderful cloister, used for concerts throughout the summer months.
Toulouse's Cathedral of Saint-Etienne is unusual as it is a kind of amalgam of two churches, incorporating two different styles of gothic architecture. One dates from 1230 and the other was started on a different axis in 1272 but this was later abandoned. Later reconstructions have also taken place and the cathedral facade is now most unusual, with a white stone arched facade and rose window 'inset' in a later, larger red brick facade.
If you like museums - well, Toulouse has plenty! From fine arts to modern art, from antiques to natural history, you are sure to find the museum that covers your interest.
- My favourite, although there are many I haven't visited, is the Contemporary Art Museum (Les Abattoirs). This is a new museum set in a renovated slaughter house, and combines permanent exhibits, with works by many of the most famous artists of the 20th century, with interesting temporary exhibitions.
- Another personal favourite is the Museum of the Augustins in Toulouse. Not just a very impressive collection of art from the last eight centuries, it is also housed in a very attractive building - most notable perhaps is the cloisters of this ancient convent.
- The Musée St Raymond is housed in the former 16th century St Raymond hospital. Inside is a collection of art and archaeology from Antiquity to the Middle Ages.
- The Musée Paul Dupuy is housed in a lovely 17th century townhouse and contains a collection of graphic and decorative art from the region.
- The Musée Georges Labit is a collection of Asian Art and Egyptian Antiquities housed in a Moorish Villa. Take a wander around the exotic and Mediterranean garden.
- The Musée du Vieux Toulouse is housed in a 16th century mansion and has a collection devoted to the history of Toulouse from ancient times to the 20th century. It includes paintings, sculptures, ceramics etc.
The large botanical gardens (Jardin des Plantes) in Toulouse are a very spacious and carefully planted garden to the south of the city.
The Canal du Midi also passes through Toulouse and has pretty shady banks where you can take a stroll. The Canal du Midi which runs from Toulouse to Sete on the Mediterranean is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The modern wealth and success of Toulouse is based largely on the aerospace industry, with several important companies established in the region and bringing a significant level of prosperity to the town. As a result, one very popular attraction on the edge of Toulouse is the Cité de l'Espace, which combines modern 3D cinema 'space' experiences and children's leaning experiences with a hands-on chance to see and touch some genuine examples of spacecraft.
Map of Toulouse and places to visit
Visit near Toulouse with France This Way reviews
... or see ALL recommended places to visit in Haute-Garonne
Toulouse has received the following tourist classifications: listed town of Art and History ; historical protected town centre' (secteur sauvegardé)
Address: Toulouse, Haute-Garonne, Midi-Pyrenees, 31000, France || GPS: latitude 43.6045, longitude 1.44403
Plan your visit to Toulouse, Midi-Pyrenees
Sightseeing & tourist attractions to visit nearby
- Jardin japonais de Toulouse: remarkable garden
- Toulouse basilique St Sernin (monuments on French pilgrim routes): heritage site
- Toulouse Hotel-Dieu St Jacques (monuments on French pilgrim routes): heritage site
- Jardin Royal de Toulouse: remarkable garden
- Canal du Midi: heritage site (2km)
- Parc du château de Merville: remarkable garden (18km)
- Forêt de Bouconne: site of natural beauty (18km)
- Jardin et parc du château de Larra: remarkable garden (23km)
- Jardin et parc du château de Loubens: remarkable garden (28km)
- Jardin des Martels: remarkable garden (32km)
Market days in Toulouse, France
Regular market(s) are held in Toulouse each Wednesday all day & Tuesday & Thursday & Sunday & Saturday & Friday. (Markets are held in the morning unless stated.)
The French version of this page is at Toulouse (Francais)