Toulouse is the city of contrasts. Ancient winding streets that remember the soles of his sandals of Roman legionaries and the European largest the National Centre for Space Studies are found side by side. When walking along the waterfront of the Garonne river, you never know who you meet at the corner — a trouvere or a hero in a spacesuit. The French call Toulouse “La Ville Rose” and consider it the most stylish city in the country. All because of red brick from which buildings of the City Center were made.
Those who like The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry visit Toulouse as the Mecca. A courageous aviator started his first flights over Africa and the Atlantic from exactly this place. A mixture of ancient and modern, Spanish, Basque, and Lengadocian traditions, a charm of Provence and fiery energy of Gascony — it’s all about Toulouse. You are the lucky one, is you had an opportunity to try this crazy cocktail!
Districts of Toulouse
The city is divided into six districts. Three of them are considered the safest and most attractive for tourists:
- historical center — La Ville Rose;
- the northern district;
- Marengo - Jolimont district.
"The Pink City," the heart of Toulouse, is shaped like an irregular hexagon. One of its edges is outlined by the bend of the Garonne River. The boulevards constructed in the XIX century enclose the area in an inner ring. The South Canal created the outer boundary, which connects to the river. Most architectural sights, museums, cozy cafes, and bohemian restaurants are concentrated here. There are no green "oases" for walks or recreation with children in the "Pink City." However, there is plenty of clubs, bars, and intrinsic French spontaneity. The sight of citizens singing songs while waiting for a cab at the door of a drinking establishment is quite common.
The northern neighborhood is much quieter than its neighbor. Experienced tourists prefer to settle here to get a good night's sleep after an eventful day. It is in the north of Toulouse, where the Grand Rond public park and the Royal and Botanical Gardens are located. Bridges connect all three green spaces. You can rest your tired feet in one of the colorful restaurants in the area.
Marengo - Jolimont is ideal for tourists with children. It features a small but picturesque promenade, many parks with small ponds, where you can feed the ducks and ride on boats, entertainment, and playgrounds. The center of attraction for children and teenagers is a large rope park. Marengo - Jolimont is a place where you can melt into the city, blend in with the locals strolling leisurely, sip coffee on the veranda, or go shopping.
The southern part of the city is not the most favorable place for tourists. It is not recommended to stay in the residential areas of Mirail, Empalot, Bellefontaine. Although Toulouse, like most municipalities in France, is quite safe, you should not test your luck.
The eastern suburb attracts all lovers of intellectual tourism. Over four million guests a year visit it. The culprit of this invasion is the Space City theme park. Those who want to feel like fearless conquerors of the universe can study full-size models of the Ariane 5 rocket, the Mir space station, and the Soyuz module, control the launch in interactive pavilions with simulators, see a lot of installations and exhibitions.
Toulouse is a multifaceted and diverse city. If you rush to see all its attractions in one visit, it is better to think of a detailed itinerary. But there is another option. You can just walk around, dissolve in the life of the city, observe the locals, linger in the places that attract you the most. And be sure to leave a few of Toulouse's secrets unsolved so that there is a reason to return to this beautiful city.
The Jewish community has existed in Toulouse since the VIII century. It is the fourth-largest Jewish community in France and has about 30 thousand people. Twelve percent of Toulouse's residents come from Arab countries. This proximity contributes to frequent conflicts between members of national communities. But these events, more often than not, take place in residential areas and do not affect the city's tourist areas.
From the IV to the VIII centuries AD, Toulouse had flourished as the capital of the Germanic Visigoth kingdom and declined as a simple garrison settlement under the first Frankish King Clovis. For several centuries, the city was a bargaining chip in territorial wars.
In the Middle Ages, Toulouse became one of the largest municipalities of Western Europe and the cultural center of France. In 1214, Saint Dominic established an order of preachers to educate and combat heresy in the south. And 15 years later, the city's first university was founded. There are now twelve institutions of higher education located in Toulouse. There are more than 100,000 students.
The heyday of Toulouse as an industrial center was at the beginning of the last century. In 1915, the French government decided to create chemical and aircraft production in the city. At the end of World War II, Toulouse received generous government allocations to develop the aerospace, information technology, electronics, and biochemical industries. But the old part of La Ville Rose is carefully preserved to attract visitors and develop the tourist business. The city's cultural life is very rich. And the breadth of entertainment on offer — from excursions to the Space City to themed shows in the famous Bikini nightclub — even the seasoned traveler will appreciate.
The best time to visit Toulouse
From mid-spring to late summer, the city experiences an influx of tourists. Toulouse is a particularly buzzing, bustling place from June through August. A music festival marks the end of the first summer month, the Electronic Siesta, followed by the Summer in Toulouse Festival. Another interesting tradition is the Open-air Cinema Festival, an event that takes place in the open air. It lasts from July to the end of August.
If you're nervous about the lines at the box office and cafes and the noise and clamor, it is best to postpone your trip to the fall. September would be a perfect time. The miniature maples in the Japanese Garden are especially beautiful, the weather is not much different from summer, and the locals are even more welcoming to visitors, having taken a little break from the tourist peak.
Cold rains often accompany October and November in Toulouse, and early December is the time to prepare for Christmas. During this holiday, shopping malls have promotions and giveaways, and museums offer discounts on tickets.
It is better to go shopping at fairs and markets in the morning hours of the weekend. Local vendors value their time and finish work fairly early. Shopping in souvenir shops, boutiques, and shopping malls is better on weekdays.
If you plan to use public transport in Toulouse often, you can buy a travel card at the terminal at the bus stop. A card for ten trips will cost €12.9. This is a great saving, as the price of a single ticket is €1.6.
The most beautiful photos of the historic center of Toulouse are obtained under the dawn or dusk sun. The pink brick buildings look fantastic at this time.
Things to do in Toulouse
- Walk on the waters of the South Canal, a UNESCO-listed canal. This waterway is an architectural masterpiece that fits perfectly into the landscape beauty of France. The canal originates in Toulouse and stretches to the port of Sete past picturesque hills and vineyards. You can treat yourself to a short cruise of a few hours, including a traditional Toulouse lunch or dinner. Or, alternatively, purchase a full two-day tour. Self-confident sailors may well rent a boat and walk the canal on their own.
- Stroll through Capitole de Toulouse, around which the historic part of the city and its main architectural and cultural attractions are built. You can catch your breath and enjoy delicacies without distracting from the beauty at one of the many restaurants that set up tables outdoors. If you prefer organized transportation, take a guided tour by electric car.
- Admire the city's main temple, the Basilica of Saint-Sernin. This is the largest Romanesque church in the world. It was built in the XI century on the burial place of the first bishop of Toulouse, Saturnin of Toulouse, who was martyred for his faith. The basilica contains priceless religious artifacts. It is still a place of pilgrimage for Christians.
- Step into the Capitol. This historic three-story building is located in the central square of the city. Today, it houses City Hall, the opera and symphony orchestra, and often hosts weddings. Most of the rooms are accessible to tourists and offer XIX-century interiors, classicist paintings and sculptures, and impressionist paintings.
- Visit the Festival of violets. It is held annually at the beginning of February and gathers the best florists in the world. The action lasts just two days, but its festive scent can be caught in any shop, store, cafe, and restaurant. The violet is a symbol of Toulouse. Every year, tourists take tons of fragrant souvenirs out of the city: perfumes and lotions, soaps and sachets, embroidered napkins, candied flowers, and violet marmalade. The latter, surprisingly, has nothing to do with sweets. The French serve it with meat dishes.
- Go on a gastronomic excursion to the Victor Hugo Market. Culinary experts organize it. The program includes an introduction to the market, buying delicacies, and tasting them with a guide. Obligatory purchases include several kinds of foie gras, Roquefort cheese, and Cahors red dry wine.
- Find harmony among the beauties of the Japanese Garden. In 1981, the mayor of Toulouse, Pierre Baudy, decided to set up a theme park in the city. It was created in the image of the ancient gardens of Kyoto. Its main landscape elements are hills and hillocks. The park has many artificial ponds with red arches carved bridges over them. There is a large stage in the center of the Japanese Garden. It is often used during festivals and city celebrations.
- Buy antiques at the flea market by the Basilica of Saint-Sernin. Vendors show up every Sunday at the temple. Finding particularly valuable items here is difficult. However, with patience, you can find vintage watches and costume jewelry, accessories, books and postcards, nice decorative items in the piles of junk.