Last Updated on 06/08/2022 by secretmoona
The episcopal city of Albi is a fascinating city with a rich medieval and Renaissance history, art and culture. Nicknamed “Albi the red” because of the colour of the bricks on all the city’s facades, Albi is listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Located on the banks of the River Tarn, the lovely town is easily visited on a day trip from Toulouse or within a weekend. Albi is built around the imposing Cathédrale Sainte Cécile cathedral and its massive bell tower. This city is also the birthplace of the famous 19th-century artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Keep reading to find out the best things to do in Albi France.
EXPLORE ALBI’S UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITES
Stroll the streets of the episcopal city
Undoubtedly, one of the best things to do in Albi is to stroll through the historical centre, wandering from square to square and just letting yourself be amazed by the pink architecture. Albi is walkable as most streets are pedestrian only. Follow the cobblestone streets and discover the episcopal city at your own pace. There are many shops, restaurants and cafes to stop by on the way.
Admiring the imposing cathedral is one of the top things to do in Albi. Sainte Cécile Cathedral is the largest brick cathedral in the world. At 114 metres long, 35 metres wide and with a 78 metres bell tower, the cathedral can be seen from all over the city. The cathedral is considered a masterpiece of Southern Gothic style and the symbol of Christian faith since defeating the Cathars. The southern style often surprises tourists who are more used to seeing cathedrals like that of Reims, Paris or Rouen.
This enormous building took 200 years to build, and the contrast between the exterior and interior is astonishing. Take the self-guided tour to the choir (€5) and admire the collection of exceptional stained glass ceilings, paintings, sculptures, and Italian frescoes dating back to the 15th and 16th centuries. Thanks to the audio guide, you will learn a lot during the visit.
Five secret facts about Sainte-Cécile cathedral:
- The largest brick-built cathedral in the world
- Europe’s largest painted cathedral
- The Great Organ has 3549 pipes. The Christophe Moucherel Association offers free concerts on Wednesday and Sunday afternoons in July and August.
- The oldest representation of the Last Judgement from the 15th century can be found under the Great Organ.
- The Vault has never been renovated and is nonetheless in spectacular dazzling colour.
- The Vault hides valuable objects like the facsimile of the Mappa Mundi, an important medieval map.
=> Albi Cathedral is open daily from 9 am to 6:30pm. Entry is free except for the choir, which costs €5.
Marvel at the garden of the Berbie Palace
After visiting the cathedral and the Toulouse Lautrec Museum, head to the Palais de la Berbie or Palace of the Bishops of Albi. It is the former episcopal palace of the city and one of the oldest palaces in France. It was built in the 13th century in the same pink brick as the Sainte-Cécile cathedral, creating a lovely architectural duo.
Behind the palace, you will find a magnificent French garden. Strolling along the pretty manicured garden, you will have a superb panoramic view of the banks of the River Tarn, the traditional boats cruising the river, the Pont Vieux and the old mills.
=> Access to the garden is free and open all year round.
Pont Vieux (Old Bridge)
The Vieux Pont sums up the picturesque view of Albi. The one thing that people admire and notice while strolling the garden of Palace Berbie is the beautiful bridge with its eight arches. The bridge was built in the 11th century to promote trade and accommodate the booming economy. Today it is a top attraction in the city and a popular photo spot offering spectacular views of the river, the Berbie Palace and Cathedral Sainte-Cécile.
The opposite Pont Neuf (new bridge, also known as 22 août 1944) also offers superb views of Albi. I believe it is where you will get the postcard-perfect town photo. You will see the old bridge, the episcopal city, the Bervie Palace and the Sainte Cécile cathedral. In short, you will be able to snap a shot of all the incredible UNESCO World Heritage classified sites at once.
Relax at Saint-Salvi Collegiate and Cloister
The Saint-Salvi collegiate church, named after Saint Salvi – the 1st bishop of the city, was built on the presumed site of his tomb. It is the oldest church in Albi, made from a mixture of brick and stone in both Romanesque and Gothic styles.
Hidden from the hustle and bustle of the nearby shopping streets, the charming garden of the Saint-Salvi abbey is a natural haven of peace. Take time to relax, observe and smell the delicious scent. Aromatic and medicinal herbs are cultivated in the small garden. The garden is accessed from several places: from rue Sainte-Cecile, by crossing the collegiate church or from the place Saint-Salvi.
=> The Collegiate and Cloister are open every day. SecretMoona’s tips: Look at the bricks of the walls under the arches: some still bear the fingerprints of the brick-makers.
TOP THINGS TO DO IN ALBI FRANCE
Albi is not only about the UNESCO World Heritage monuments. It is a lovely city with many unique museums and places to sample French gastronomy.
Stroll along the Tarn riverbanks
A lovely activity in Albi on a dry and warm day is to stroll along the river, through the “Echappée verte” or “Greenway” in English. By following the path, you will admire the Berbie Palace’s immense fortifications, the arches of the Pont Vieux, the old restored mills and traditional boats cruising the river.
During the summer season, people enjoy having picnics and playing sports like canoeing. The long stretch is a relaxing walk; you can see herons, beavers and wild boars.
Wander the Cordeliers neighbourhood
Stroll through the Cordeliers cultural district. It includes the Grand Théâtre des Cordeliers, the Pierre Amalric media library and the CGR cinema. The theatre is a unique architectural building wrapped in a golden copper aluminium mesh, which tints according to the sunshine. It hosts shows, ballets, concerts, conferences and seminars. A restaurant on the panoramic terrace offers a breathtaking view of the city.
Visit the museums
The Toulouse Lautrec Museum is a must when you visit Albi. Housed in the former episcopal palace of Berbie Palace, the museum presents the world’s most extensive collection of works by the Albigensian painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. The house where he was born still exists but can’t be visited. At the time of his death from alcoholism and syphilis, Toulouse-Lautrec’s art had no home; however, thanks to his mother, the Toulouse-Lautrec museum was opened.
Toulouse-Lautrec is most famous for his posters and paintings depicting scenes in the Montmartre area, cabarets, especially the Moulin Rouge and women. As you explore the museum, you discover the artist’s evolution through drawings and paintings of brothels, posters, lithographs etc. The museum also hosts temporary exhibitions worth checking out.
As you visit the museum, pay attention to the architecture of the building: large vaulted rooms and medieval floors, painted ceilings, a renaissance gallery and a chapel.
Those who enjoy visiting museums will enjoy exploring the Musée de la Mode (Fashion museum) and the Lapérouse museum. The Fashion Museum, which occupies part of the former Annonciades Convent, is integral to Albi’s heritage. This museum’s five exhibition rooms retraces a fashion history from the 17th century to the 2000s. The clothes and accessories exhibited belong to the same private collector and are kept in excellent condition. It is a top attraction for fashion enthusiasts. Be sure to visit the charming shop next to the museum selling vintage jewellery and clothes.
Located at the old Albigensian mills, the Lapérouse Museum evokes the life and career of navigator Jean-François de Galaup de Lapérouse, who undertook a scientific expedition in 1785 around the world. He set off in Brest and sailed around Vanikoro in the Solomon Islands before disappearing during a shipwreck. The museum displays navigation instruments, maps, and scale models of ships that any maritime exploration and history lover will enjoy.
Shop for local produce at Albi’s Covered Market
After exploring the fantastic sights of Albi, you will probably be hungry. Like any other place in France, markets sell freshly produced food. Albi is no different, and visitors should not miss the covered market and open-air farmer’s market. The open-air market takes place every Tuesday and Saturday in the morning on Place Fernand Pelloutier. If you happen to be in Albi on another day (except Monday), then explore the covered market. Located just off the Toulouse-Lautrec museum on rue Emile Grand, the market offers fresh fruits and vegetables, cheeses, freshly-caught seafood, farm-raised poultry, and freshly made bakery and pastries. Don’t forget your tote bag, as you will be guaranteed to buy some locale specialities as you peruse the vendors’ carts.
=> Opening hours: Albi’s Covered Market is open daily except Mondays from 7 am to 2 pm. The farmers’ market is open on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
Take some pictures of Place Savène
This little hidden square is a haven of peace and a charming photo spot! Located in the old town, it is full of quintessentially French residences. With its colourful shutters, half-timbered houses, benches and cute little cats, it is a secret place worth enjoying even for a few minutes.
=> SecretMoona’s tips: Be sure to get your camera ready, especially on sunny days when the flowers are in bloom and displayed outside the residences. Do not forget to remain discreet when you visit this kind of place. Locals live here all year round; therefore, their tranquillity should not be spoiled.
Escape into nature along the Greenway
To discover another side of Albi, take the 4km urban hiking trail along the river banks. Starting at the foot of the cathedral and Berbie Palace, Echappée Verte offers three different paths to follow: Riverbank Path, Wild Path and Mouline Path. The trails take people across small streams, mini bamboo groves, under the Vieux Pont, and a lovely walk.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION ABOUT ALBI FRANCE
Where in France is Albi?
Albi, city, capital of Tarn department, Occitanie region, in the Languedoc, southern France. It lies along the Tarn River, where the latter leaves the Massif Central for the Garonne Plain, northeast of Toulouse. Occitanie is the fourth-largest tourist area in France and is a major destination.
How to get to Albi
Albi is strategically located in the heart of the Occitanie region. The small town has 8 UNESCO sites and is accessible for a day trip or weekend trip from both Toulouse and Carcassonne.
- By train: Gare d’Albi-Ville and Gare d’Albi-Madeleine are the two train stations on the Toulouse to Rodez branch line. Albi-Ville can also be reached by train from Paris via TGV to Toulouse, then connecting to a local train. From Toulouse Matabiau station, it takes 1 hour 5 minutes to Albi-Ville and costs on average €10 for a return trip. You can find tickets as cheap as €1, especially during summer.
- By air: Toulouse Blagnac airport is slightly over an hour from Albi. Rodez airport is an hour to the north.
- By car: From Toulouse, it will take 1 hour by train and 45 minutes by car to reach Albi. Many parking lots for cars and motorhomes will allow you to visit the historic centre on foot.
Where to stay in Albi France
Albi has a good range of accommodation despite its small size. Whether you are visiting Albi for a weekend, or a more extended trip, you will find the type of accommodation you need in Albi. Find other accommodations in Albi here.
Hotel Ibis Styles Albi Centre Le Theatro: a hotel with a rooftop
Located in the city centre, the Ibis Styles Le Theatro hotel is perfect for a stay with friends or family in Albi. The hotel has two restaurants, including a rooftop restaurant and a spa! The atmosphere is friendly and relaxing, and the staff are lovely and welcoming.
Where to eat in Albi
For lunch? Restaurant Caf’Art Le Hibou
This restaurant is opposite the covered market and offers a simple menu made from market products. The place is charming and lively, mixing the old with more contemporary art. The establishment is spread over several floors with very different atmospheres, including a concept store, a beer bar and a tattoo parlour.
With a view? The rooftop restaurant at Ibis the Théatro
Located on the 8th-floor rooftop of the Ibis Styles hotel and offers a breathtaking view of Albi and the Sainte-Cécile cathedral! The restaurant is a great place to enjoy lunch, an afternoon drink or two with friends (they offer excellent cocktails) or dinner in the evening. The menu consists of shareable dishes cooked entirely with local products. The Aubrac beef burger and sweet potato fries are to die for.
For the best dessert? Pâtisserie Michel Belin
Michel Belin is a well-known master pâtissier and chocolatier in France. He has five shops in Albi and even 2 in Japan! While exploring the Cordeliers district, stop by his tea room for some delicious dessert. No matter your taste, Macaroons, chocolates, pastries, and homemade hot chocolate will satisfy your palate after a visit to one of the shops. In addition to making exceptional desserts, the chef also offers a snack menu in several of his shops—a good plan to eat in Albi on the go.
For dinner in Albi? Le Clos Sainte Cécile
Located off a quiet street behind the cathedral, Le Clos Sainte Cécile offers traditional French cuisine in a cosy and romantic setting. The 3-course meal was delicious and nicely presented. If you want a nice place to eat dinner, I strongly recommend this restaurant with an inviting and intimate terrace shaded with trees. I had a great evening at the Le Clos Sainte Cécile, and the service was excellent!