10 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Toulon
A typical Mediterranean port town, Toulon has one of the prettiest harbors in France. This beautiful natural harbor is filled with small fishing boats and fashionable yachts. Along the picturesque port, palm-fringed waterfront sidewalks are lined with boutiques and the terraces of bustling brasseries. The city of Toulon combines a resort ambience with the feel of a real working town, as it is France's main naval base as well as a center of fishing and other industries. Toulon also boasts a rich Provençal heritage seen in traditions such as the "Cérémonie des Couleurs" and the colorful markets. Leisurely seaside strolls and time spent basking on the beach help to soak up the sunny Mediterranean lifestyle.
See also: Where to Stay in Toulon
1 Vieille Ville (Old Town)
The Old Town of Toulon was severely damaged during the Second World War, however it has retained much of its former charm. Tourists will enjoy wandering the narrow cobblestone streets and relaxing at the peaceful squares embellished with gushing fountains. On warm days, it's pleasant to stop in one of these shady squares and enjoy a refreshment at an outdoor café. Another attraction in the Old Town is the Préfecture Maritime, where the "Cérémonie des Couleurs" takes place every day after sunset. Tourists should also head over to the Hôtel de Ville to see the famous "Caryatides" at the building's entrance. These sculpted figures that seem to hold up the balcony were created by Pierre Puget (1620-1694) and have been copied many times all over Provence (for instance at Cours Mirabeau in Aix-en-Provence), but here, they remain unsurpassed in their expression. By continuing to the west, visitors may stroll along the busy Rue d'Alger that leads into the Rue Hoche and then to the Place Puget with the Fontaine des Trois Dauphins (Fountain of Three Dolphins), which is overgrown and covered with deposits of lime like many fountains in Provence.
By the waterfront is the atmospheric old fishing village, the Le Mourillon quarter. This historic area is characterized by its narrow lanes and charming small fishermen's houses painted in an array of vibrant colors. On the Rue Lamalgue are many boutiques and gourmet restaurants. The Mourillon quarter also has lovely sandy beaches, ideal for families; the beaches feature sporting activities and restaurants at the water's edge. A charming tourist train begins a route in Le Mourillon and passes by the Mourillon beaches and the 16th-century Tour Royale (Royal Tower), an impressive fortified building from the time of Louis XII. The tower offers an exceptional panoramic view of the coastline and the sparkling blue sea.
2 Toulon Port
In a picturesque Mediterranean setting, Toulon has a busy harbor where many fishing boats and yachts are docked. Along the harbor, pleasant waterfront sidewalks are lined with boutiques and restaurants featuring outdoor terraces. Visitors will enjoy a leisurely quayside stroll to soak up the beautiful scenery. Toulon is an important military port and a main hub of the French navy fleet in the Mediterranean. At the historic Porte de l'Arsenal, which dates back to 1738, are workshops and docks of the Arsenal Maritime. Besides its military and commercial purposes, the Toulon harbor is the launching point of ferry routes. From the Port of Toulon, tourists can take boat rides to many of the attractions in the area, including La Seyne-sur-Mer and Les Sablettes beaches. From May through October, a ferry service is available to the idyllic Porquerolles Island, one of the beautiful Îles d'Or (Golden Islands).
3 Mont Faron
The most dominating landmark of Toulon, the impressive Mont Faron can be reached by foot, car, or the téléphérique (cable car). It is possible to take a slow-paced walk or a more vigorous hike along the footpaths to the summit. The cable car offers the most spectacular transfer to Mont Faron. The 1,437-meter ride features breathtaking panoramic vistas of the Bay of Toulon and the landscape of the Le Var region. To arrive at Mont-Faron by car, drive along the Corniche du Mont Faron, a panoramic road halfway up Mont Faron that offers magnificent sea views. In the early morning and at sunset, the azure Mediterranean waters and verdant coastline look especially stunning. Along this road bordering the district of Sainte-Anne are many lovely villas on the slope of the hillside. At the 548-meter-high summit of Mont Faron, visitors are awed by the sweeping views overlooking the five Mounts of Toulon, the sea, and the coastline. Other attractions include the picnic areas, two restaurants, footpaths for walking and hiking, and the Mémorial du Débarquement (Landing Museum).
Address: Téléphérique (cable car) starting point is at Boulevard Amiral Vence (bus #40 téléphérique stop).
4 Musée Mémorial du Débarquement (Landing Museum)
The Musée Mémorial du Débarquement (Landing Museum) is at the summit of Mont Faron in the Tour Beaumont. To arrive here, the steep and winding one-way road (Route du Faron) offers rewarding scenery and passes the Fort du Saint-Antoine along the way. Housed in a martial building, the Musée Mémorial du Débarquement displays a collection of artifacts and documentation, weapons, and articles of equipment related to the landing of the Allied Forces from August 15, 1944. A telescope on the roof of the fort provides a superb panorama of the city, the port, and the mountains rising all around. On the plateau of Mont Faron's summit is a charming garden with a great variety of flowers.
Address: Summit of Mont Faron, Toulon
5 Opéra de Toulon
On the Place Victor Hugo, the Opéra de Toulon was designed by the architect Charles Garnier who also designed the Palais Garnier (Opera House) in Paris. The Toulon Opera House was constructed in 1862 with the help of many local artists to create the decorations. The splendid Neoclassical building is one of the largest opera houses in France outside of Paris. The southern facade is adorned with allegorical statues of Tragedy and Comedy that were sculpted by Joseph Daumas, while the northern facade depicts the Muses created by Montagne. The lavish red and gold interior exemplifies Napoleon III style and features many paintings, beautiful chandeliers, and bronzed loge seating. With its gorgeous design details and exceptional acoustics, the Opera House provides an exquisite venue for music concerts, theater, ballet, and other dance performances. Tourists can admire the interior by attending a performance.
Address: Place Victor Hugo (Place du Théâtre), Toulon
6 Musée de la Marine (Naval Museum)
The Musée de la Marine is near the waterfront to the north of the Préfecture Maritime. An excellent way to discover Toulon's maritime history, the Naval Museum houses a collection charts, etchings, paintings, and drawings as well as an exhibition about the development of artillery. There are also several antique model ships. Visitors may use one of the museum's audio guides to learn more in-depth information about the exhibits.
Address: Place Monsenergue, Quai de Norfolk, Toulon
7 Traditional Markets
The city of Toulon is well known for its traditional Provençal markets. The most famous is the market held on the Cours Lafayette. Every morning from 7:30am until 12:30pm except Mondays, the Cours Lafayette is filled with colorful stalls of fruits, vegetables, flowers, and Provençal textiles. Locals shop for fresh ingredients to prepare home-cooked meals. A visit to the market gives tourists a taste of the typical daily life in Toulon. There is also a local farmer's market held at the Rue Paul Lendrin ("Petit Cours") on Fridays and Saturdays in the morning until 1pm. This market exclusively features locally sourced products. Other markets also sell fruits, vegetables, fresh fish, and local cheeses, such as the Mourillon Market (in the area of the old fishermen's village) on the Place Monseigneur Deydier near the port.
8 Cathédrale Sainte-Marie-de-la-Seds
Built in the 11th century as a simple Romanesque church, this historic landmark features a blend of architectural styles. The building was enhanced in the 17th century by adding a Neoclassical facade with Baroque details. The cathedral's beautiful Provençal bell tower features a unique bell and ringing contraption crafted from wrought iron. Even though the cathedral incorporates a mix of different styles, there is still a sense of harmony in its single-vault Gothic interior. When touring the cathedral, visitors should be sure to see the Baroque altar, the work of Christophe Veyrier, who was the nephew and a student of Pierre Puget.
Address: 55 Place de la Cathédrale, Toulon
9 Festival de Musique (Classical Music Festival)
The Festival de Musique de Toulon is a summertime music festival held at different venues in Toulon and nearby. The festival offers a range of classical music performances from Beethoven operas to Mozart orchestra concerts. Since its inception in 1951, the festival has attracted renowned performers for concerts of choral and chamber music, as well as piano and vocal recitals. Many of the venues are in historic buildings, such as the Théâtre de Verdure du Faron in Toulon, the Collégiale Saint-Pierre in the seaside village of Six Fours Les Plages, and the Amphithéâtre Châteauvallon in the charming village of Ollioules.
Address: Ticket Office - Place Louis Blanc, Toulon
10 Jazz à Toulon
From mid-July through August, this lively summer festival animates Toulon with a series of more than twenty free jazz concerts held in public squares throughout the city. The festival provides a stage for renowned jazz performers, including local as well as international musicians.
Where to Stay in Toulon for Sightseeing
Most of Toulon's hotels lie between the port and the old town, and this is the best place to stay for sightseeing. From here, visitors have easy access to attractions like l'Opéra de Toulon and Musée de la Marine. For travelers who prefer a seaside location near the beach, the Le Mourillon quarter, about three kilometers away, makes a great base. Here are some highly-rated hotels in these convenient locations:
- Luxury Hotels: Toulon has only one hotel in the luxury category, the BEST WESTERN PLUS La Corniche, on the waterfront in Le Mourillon, a short walk to the beach and near many restaurants. Upgraded rooms in this eco-friendly hotel come with sea-view balconies.
- Mid-Range Hotels: A short stroll from l'Opéra de Toulon, the newly renovated Hotel Amiraute, in a 19th-century building, is fresh, clean, and comfortable with a minimalistic approach to decor. Some rooms accommodate families. Near the main train station, Inter-hotel Grand Hotel de la Gare has bright, simple rooms with soundproofing, while the pet-friendly Grand Hotel Dauphine, in the heart of the old town, offers clean, modern rooms at a great-value price. Also near the train station and across the road from the Toulon Naval Base, the pet-friendly Holiday Inn Toulon City Centre has a restaurant, outdoor pool, and mini-gym.
- Budget Hotels: True to its name, the pet-friendly Ibis Budget Toulon Centre, with free parking and simple modern decor, is within walking distance of many of the main attractions downtown and only a ten-minute walk to the harbor. Some rooms accommodate families. Dressed in warm Provencal colors, Bonaparte Hotel is in the heart of the city, only a three-minute walk from the Musée National de la Marine Toulon, while the pet-friendly Hotel Jaures, with simple, clean rooms, is also in the center of town, only seven minutes on foot from Opéra de Toulon.
Day Trips from Toulon
Île de Porquerolles
A perfect day trip from Toulon, the Île de Porquerolles is the largest of the Îles d'Or (Golden Islands) in the serene Mediterranean Sea, about an hour ferry ride from the Port of Toulon. This idyllic island offers a relaxing change of pace from the glitzy Côte d'Azur. In a magnificent unspoiled setting, the island has pristine protected coves and tiny beaches. It's the ideal resort destination with pleasant weather and sunshine year-round. The island is an interesting place to try out snorkeling and other outdoor activities. Well-groomed trails shaded by pine and eucalyptus trees are wonderful for nature walks, hiking, and mountain biking. Despite its remote feel, the island offers upscale restaurants and a lively jazz festival in July.
In a beautiful location at the foot of the Massif des Maures on a broad bay, Le Lavandou enjoys a gorgeous seaside setting. Lavender fields bloom here in season. Le Lavandou is an easy day trip from Toulon, about 40 kilometers to the east. This former fishing village is now popular as a summertime holiday resort. Its harbor is filled with yachts and ferries depart from here for the Îles de Hyères. Along the palm-tree lined Boulevard de Lattre de Tassigny are wide sandy beaches with sweeping views of the sea and the Hyères Islands. In the south of Le Lavandou, the wooded Cap Bénat peninsula extends out into the sea with a lighthouse at its tip. The Road N559 running east from Le Lavandou leads to more sandy beaches interspersed with rocky stretches.
The charming medieval village of Bormes-les-Mimosas lies 38 kilometers from Toulon and just two kilometers from Le Lavandou. In a picturesque rural setting, the village hugs the slopes of a hill and boasts exceptional views (especially from the terrace near the castle ruins). The village has a beautiful 16th-century church, the Chapelle Saint-François-de-Paule at the Place de la Liberté. A statue commemorates the beneficent deeds of Saint Francis of Paula during the plague of 1481. Also of interest is the Tour de l'Horloge clock tower and the Church of Saint-Trophime, which both date to the 18th century. Below the church is the oldest part of the village, with steep streets known as "rompi-cuou" ("breakneck"), a common characteristic of Provençal hilltop towns. Bormes-les-Mimosas is also famous for its flowers, especially the fragrant mimosa blossoms that flourish throughout the village.
Named after the tamarisks which grow here, Tamaris (about eight kilometers from Toulon) is a popular resort with a yachting harbor. Above the seaside resort of Tamaris in La Seyne sur Mer stands the Fort Napoléon, which was built for the Emperor Napoleon but was never used in battle. Today, the fort houses a gallery of contemporary art expositions, and during summertime, also serves as a venue for the Jazz Festival and the "Bayomo" Cuban Dance and Music Festival. Behind the fort, along the Rade du Lazaret, is the district of Les Sablettes in La Seyne-sur-Mer, a beautiful coastal strip that boasts miles of sandy beaches between the Cap Sicié and Cap Cépet. From here, there are spectacular views of Toulon and the Mediterranean Sea.
About ten kilometers away from Toulon on the southern slope of the Gorges d'Ollioules, this quaint village is well known for its flower auctions. Ollioules is a typical "village perché" built on sheer volcanic rock. The village has a special medieval ambience, with its old houses made of basalt and the ruins of an ancient castle. There are beautiful views and shady squares that make for an enchanting tourist experience. Ollioules has a rich heritage and authentic Provençal culture, with a wonderful local tradition of artisan crafts.
Surrounded by verdant countryside known for its fruit growing, the quiet village of Signes lies about 30 kilometers north of Toulon. The village is a wonderful place to spend an afternoon wandering about its charming old streets. The village has a beautiful historic chapel at the Place Saint-Jean. Inside the chapel are pictures, votive tablets, and penitents' garments. The Place Saint-Jean also features an 18th-century fountain. Another interesting sight is the Church of Saint-Pierre with its 16th-century belfry and an exquisite wooden altar.