Blue, pink and violet: these are Toulouse’s colours. From the banks of the river Garonne to the pink coloured buildings in the old town and the Capitole square, discover the things to do in Toulouse and especially the 7 things you shouldn’t miss out when you visit the Pink City.
The 4th biggest city in France is the ideal destination for a holiday in the sun (weekend getaways work perfectly fine too!). Located in the south-west between the Mediterranean sea and the Atlantic ocean, the city offers all the goodness of a southern city including cultural heritage and great architecture.
- 1 Things to do in Toulouse – Admire the architecture
- 2 Things to do in Toulouse – Soak up the culture
- 3 Things to do in Toulouse – Take a stroll
Things to do in Toulouse – Admire the architecture
Place de la Capitole
There are lots of places (squares) in Toulouse and France for that matter but Place du Capitole is the grandest. Built with the city’s trademark red bricks, the Capitole is a grandiose building. It houses the Town Hall, the National Theatre and Opera House. The Capitole is open to the public except when there is a wedding. Step inside the building and marvel at the impressive staircase and beautiful Salles des Illustres. You will think that you’ve just entered a room in a castle! The brick and marble facade is stunning both during the day and night.
Hôtel d’Assézat /Foundation Bemberg
Toulouse was back in the 16th and 17th centuries an important trading city, with its traders becoming extremely rich. You can see the extent of their wealth in the Vieux Quartier (old quarter). Massive mansions surround the city, some of them still standing tall like the Hôtel d’Assézat. This former private residence is now home to a prestigious private art collection. The building built in a renaissance style housed the Bemberg Foundation’s art collection. Though few of these mansions are open to the public, some being converted to hotels, etc., they can still be seen among the city’s landscape.
Things to do in Toulouse – Soak up the culture
Musée des Augustins
If you like museums and architecture, then the Musée des Augustins must be in your itinerary. TheMusée des Augustins – Toulouse Museum of Fine Arts – is located in a former Gothic convent which was unused since the suppression of the monastic orders during the French Revolution. Dating back to 1795, the museum is one of France’s oldest museums. Admire the Gothic sculptures and the Pardo room on the first floor, then check the temporary exhibitions in the church. Finish your visit by watching more statues and paintings on the first floor.
Couvent des Jacobins / Les Jacobins Monastery
Don’t be put off by the austere look of this convent – it was a monastery after all. The inside is beautifully impressive, especially the murals in the Saint Antonin chapel and the palm-shaped vault.
Basilique St-Sernin / Saint-Sernin Basilica
The Basilica Saint Sernin takes its name from the first bishop of Toulouse. And its story is quite extraordinary. According to the legend, refusing to prostrate in front of a pagan statue, Saturnin was tied by the feet to a bull and dragged across the street of Taur. The first basilica was built to honour his memory. The Romanesque-styled church which constructed between 1080 and 1120 was an essential stop on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela. Up until now, people visit this church before/after stopping at Lourdes.
Across from the Garonne, in the Saint-Cyprien district, you can discover two new museums. The museum des Abattoirs is dedicated to contemporary art whereas the MATOU (Musée de l’Affiche de Toulouse) is the museum for poster art, postcards, etc…Opening in 2000 in the city’s old slaughterhouse, the Abattoirs museum has become an exciting cultural venue. In addition to exhibitions, you can see live performances or movie screenings. The red brick building of the nineteenth century is a beautiful piece of architecture. After your visit, take the time to visit the garden and admire the panorama over the Garonne river.
MATOU was my favourite. It is the first of its kind, the exhibition space is minimal and well arranged. The exhibition “Paquebots” (cruise ship) shows, through a series of exceptional posters, the time when the boat was the only way to connect one continent to another for both passengers and goods. The competition was intense and to make known their lines, transport companies made use of famous posters artists: Albert Brenet, Cassandra, Paul Colin, Max Ponty, etc.
Things to do in Toulouse – Take a stroll
Located north of Toulouse city centre, in the Compans Cafarelli district, this garden is surprisingly exotic. Created in 1981, the Jardin Japonais is very clean and well kept botanical garden; they manage to keep it like that thanks to a strict “no walking or sitting on grass” rule. As soon as you enter, you find yourself in a quiet and peaceful open land.
This zen garden favourable to relaxation and rest has all the elements of garden you will find for example in Kyoto: plants, islands and bridges, lanterns, streams, stones, gravels and sands, ponds, carps. The design of the garden looks like a triangle with the stone garden, bonsai courtyard and tea garden. It’s incredible that they were able to represent the Japanese scenic view of the sea and mountains. Water is replaced by sands and the mountains by rocks.
A visit to Toulouse will not be complete without a stroll along the Garonne river. The Garonne is the most important river of southwestern France, running from Bordeaux – where it meets the Atlantic – to Spain. Like a people magnet, people flock to the banks every afternoon – friends, families, couples or tourists.
Place Saint-Pierre and Place de la Daurade are some of the liveliest places in Toulouse. During the day or night, young people find themselves in the numerous terraced cafes or bars like Café des Artistes or Couleur de la Culotte. From the Point Saint-Pierre, you can walk along the banks to Quai de la Daurade and Pont Neuf. Alternatively, you can just sit back in the park by the Quad de la Daurade enjoy the spectacle in front of you without missing the sunset!
For more about Toulouse, check out how to spend 24 hours in Toulouse with a Greeter.