Last Updated on 08/07/2023 by secretmoona
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 on 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 southwest between the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, the city offers all the goodness of a southern city, including cultural heritage and great architecture.
Admire the architecture in the Pink City
Have you ever wondered why Toulouse is called “the pink city”? The answer is simple – the buildings are constructed using terracotta bricks, giving them a pinkish hue. The grand Capitole, the charming Jacobin convent, and the graceful St Sernin Basilica are some of the most remarkable examples of this.
It is always interesting to discover what makes the authenticity of a city. Toulouse’s architecture, built with typical regional materials, comes from different historical currents.
Toulouse Haussmanism: Toulouse Haussmanism is a unique architectural style incorporating regional materials. The key element of this style is the facade of the buildings, which must maintain the same height and lines to create a cohesive appearance. In Toulouse, yellow and red bricks are blended harmoniously to form a single entity. You can find this distinctive style on the alleys of François Verdier or the rue de Metz.
Neoclassical: Neo-classical architecture is a style that followed the Baroque era and primarily featured elements from ancient Greece and Rome. The style modernizes ancient forms and is easily recognizable. In Toulouse, the Neo-classical style is abundant, with buildings such as Dôme de la Grave, School of Fine Arts, and Halle aux Grains featuring this architectural touch. It is one of the most prevalent architectural styles in the city.
Neo-Gothic: Toulouse has plenty to offer if you’re a fan of Gothic and medieval architecture. You’ll see many buildings with flying buttresses, glazed openings, and clean cutouts, all inspired by the architectural style of yesteryear. Two great examples are the Musée des Augustins and the church of Gesù in Toulouse.
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 splendid building. It houses the Town Hall, the National Theatre and the 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 day and night.
Hôtel d’Assézat /Foundation Bemberg
Toulouse was an important trading city in the 16th and 17th centuries, 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 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
Visit the Musée des Augustins
The Musée des Augustins must be on your itinerary if you like museums and architecture. The Musée 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.
Visit the Couvent des Jacobins / Les Jacobins Monastery
Don’t be put off by the simple 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. This was one of my favourite places during my trip to Toulouse.
Admire the 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, constructed between 1080 and 1120, was an essential stop on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela. Until now, people have visited this church before/after stopping at Lourdes.
Visit Les Abattoirs
Across from the Garonne, in the Saint-Cyprien district, you can discover two new museums. The Museum des Abattoirs is dedicated to contemporary art. In contrast, 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 unique posters, the time when the boat was the only way to connect one continent to another for passengers and goods. The competition was intense, and to make known their lines, transport companies used famous posters artists: Albert Brenet, Cassandra, Paul Colin, Max Ponty, etc.
Things to do in Toulouse, the Pink City
Relax at the Jardin Japonais
This garden is surprisingly exotic and located north of Toulouse city centre, in the Compans Cafarelli district. Created in 1981, the Jardin Japonais is an immaculate 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 peaceful land.
This zen garden favourable to relaxation has all the elements of a garden you will find, for example, in Kyoto: plants, islands and bridges, lanterns, streams, stones, gravels and sands, ponds, and carp. The garden design looks like a triangle with a stone garden, bonsai courtyard and tea garden. Incredibly, they could represent the scenic Japanese view of the sea and mountains. Water is replaced by sand, and the mountains by rocks.
Stroll along the Garonne River
A visit to Toulouse will not be complete without a stroll along the Garonne River. The Garonne is the most important river in 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 Point Saint-Pierre, you can walk along the banks to Quai de la Daurade and Pont Neuf. Alternatively, you can sit back in the park by the Quad de la Daurade and enjoy the spectacle before you without missing the sunset!
For more about Toulouse, check out how to spend 24 hours in Toulouse with a Greeter.
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