If a stop in Toulouse hadn’t been the only option to reach Andorra, I wouldn’t have paid it any attention at all. And what a shame that would have been. France’s fourth largest city (after Paris, Marseille, and Lyon) is probably most known for its limitless pun potential, but beyond its name is a classic European city brimming with allure.
A notch on France’s sunbelt halfway between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, Toulouse feels decidedly more like the latter. The blushing streets, sweet summer heat, and relaxed way of life down in le Midi—the colloquial term for southern France—all meld together in nectarine-colored retrospection. Toulouse may have earned its moniker La Ville Rose from the rosy terracotta buildings of its old town, but it could easily be France’s most romantic city. (Whoever conferred that title to the congested overtrodden sprawl of Paris?)
Top 7 things to do in Toulouse
Toulouse may not be at the top of every itinerary of France, but the rosy capital of Occitanie certainly deserves attention. Here’s what not to miss in The Pink City!
The historic heart and centerpiece of Toulouse is its neoclassical capitol building, which houses both the Théâtre du Capitol opera house and the Salle des Illustres, a gilded gallery filled with 19th-century paintings tracing the history of Toulouse.
2. Basilica of Saint-Sernin
The Basilica of Saint-Sernin is Europe’s largest Romanesque building. It’s named after the third-century saint, Saturnin, or Sernin, who was the city’s first Christian bishop. Refusing to take part in the pagan sacrifice of a bull, he was tied to the animal and dragged through the city until his body detached at the place where the church of Notre Dame du Taur now stands. The subsequent killing of the sacrificial bull following the martyrdom of Saturnin lent its name to the city’s present-day train station, Toulouse-Matabiau, from matar (“to kill”) and biau (“bull”).
3. Toulousian cuisine
Don’t miss out on a hearty serving of the classic cassoulet, a scrumptious slow-cooked duck and white bean casserole beloved across France that traces its origins to the area. Another local specialty is fénétra, a dessert humble in appearance but rich in taste. This pastry of apricots, lemon confit, and almond powder dates back to Roman times: it was first consumed during Feretralia, a regional festival commemorating the dead which took place every year around mid-March.
4. Church of the Jacobins
Southern French Gothic aren’t three words often seen together, but they refer to a specific style of militant-looking architecture found in the south of France, where the Catholic Church sought to establish dominance following the emergence of alternative Christian sects in the 12th and 13th centuries. Toulouse’s Jacobin convent with its iconic interior palm tree nave is considered the jewel of Southern French Gothic, or gothique méridional, architecture. It is also the final resting place of St. Thomas Aquinas.
5. Cité de l’Espace
Among the French, Toulouse is known as the center of aeronautics and space exploration. The Cité de l’Espace, or Space City, on the outer rim of Toulouse is a wonderland for those interested in the cosmos.
6. Canal du Midi and Toulouse’s waterscapes
The UNESCO-listed Canal du Midi, constructed during the reign of Louis XIV, is a feat of 17th century engineering. Beginning in Toulouse, it stretches all the way to the Mediterranean Sea. A stroll along its pathway under the shade of peridot plane trees is the perfect way to spend a hot summer day. For a change of scenery, head to the magnificent banks of the Garonne River, or the Japanese Garden.
7. The museums of Toulouse
The Pink City boasts many museums which are often housed in architectural œuvres worthy of their own merit. Most notable among them are the fine art collections of Musée des Augustins and the Fondation Bemberg. Another, the archeological Musée Saint-Raymond, is one of several of the city’s venues to grant free entrance to visitors on the first Sunday of each month.