16 Top Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Toulouse
Author Lisa Alexander spent two years living in France and has traveled the country extensively.
Toulouse is at the heart of sultry southwestern France not far from the border with Spain. The balmy climate, cultural and historical attractions, and friendly locals give Toulouse an inviting ambience.
In the early morning and late afternoon, the rosy-toned brick buildings of Toulouse have a special glow, earning the city its title, La Ville Rose (the Pink City).
With a small-town feel and laid-back vibe, Toulouse is a relaxing place to visit despite being a major industrial city. In this part of the country, people speak slowly with drawn-out vowels, just as they linger over coffee at outdoor cafés and dawdle in the town squares. For tourists learning French, this is the perfect place to practice.
A great way to begin a sightseeing tour of Toulouse is by journeying back in time to the era of medieval pilgrimages at the UNESCO-listed Basilique Saint-Sernin. Next, visitors can explore a 13th-century convent exemplifying Southern Gothic style, or spend time walking around the Place du Capitole, lined with red-brick architectural landmarks.
Toulouse is renowned for its archaeology and fine arts museums, as well as its local culture. Enjoying the douceur de vivre (good life) at the sunny terraces of outdoor cafés and savoring the regional cuisine are popular things to do here.
Visitors should be sure to sample the hearty specialties, like cassoulet (meat and bean stew) and duck pâté, and also save room for dessert. Traditional sweets from Toulouse include Gâteau du Fénétra, a tart made with apricots, candied lemons, and almond meringue; and crystallized violet candies.
Discover the best places to visit with this list of the top attractions and things to do in Toulouse.
- 1. Basilique Saint-Sernin
- 2. Couvent des Jacobins
- 3. Place du Capitole
- 4. Fondation Bemberg: Museum of Fine Arts and Decorative Arts
- 5. Musée Saint-Raymond (Musée d'Archéologie de Toulouse)
- 6. Cathédrale Saint-Etienne
- 7. Les Abattoirs, Musée - Frac Occitanie Toulouse (Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art)
- 8. Musée Paul-Dupuy (Musée des Arts Précieux)
- 9. Chapelle des Carmélites
- 10. Canal du Midi
- 11. Carcassonne
- 12. Albi
- 13. Cordes-sur-Ciel
- 14. Moissac
- 15. Montauban
- 16. Musée des Augustins (Musée des Beaux-Arts de Toulouse)
1. Basilique Saint-Sernin
The UNESCO-listed Basilique Saint-Sernin is one of the most important churches on the "Chemin Saint Jacques" medieval pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Built in the 11th to 13th centuries, this impressive basilica ranks as the largest Romanesque church in Europe still in existence.
Constructed from the red bricks typical of Toulouse, the Basilica of Saint-Sernin has a façade adorned with a magnificent doorway and intricate sculptures such as King David and the Apostles.
Typical of Romanesque architecture, the interior features a five-aisled barrel-vaulted nave and three-aisled transept. The grandiose sanctuary reveals a somber and serene ambience. Highlights of the interior include hundreds of richly carved Romanesque capitals and the elegant central apse surrounded by chapels.
The crypt contains numerous precious relics. A treasure of this collection is a reliquary that houses a relic of the True Cross. The Basilica's six-story clock tower has an octagonal shape commonly found in churches of the Languedoc region.
The church is dedicated to Saint Saturninus, the first bishop of Toulouse who was martyred in the year 250. Every year on the 29th of November, the Fête de Saint Saturnin is celebrated with a Mass at the saint's tomb in the basilica and a procession of the saint's relics.
Address: Place Saint-Sernin, Toulouse
2. Couvent des Jacobins
Built in 1229, the Couvent des Jacobins was founded as a Dominican monastery. This stellar example of Southern Gothic architecture was constructed entirely from the red bricks of Toulouse and has a similar tower as the Basilique Saint-Sernin.
The massive and austere exterior contrasts with the delicate interior architecture. Inside the convent's church, the two-aisled nave features inspiring vaulting, with the famous palm-frond shaped ribs radiating from seven central piers in the choir.
There is a chapel dedicated to Saint Antonin, which is decorated with a series of 14th-century mural paintings. The church also possesses relics of Saint Thomas Aquinas.
The most tranquil area of the convent is the cloister, an inspiring space of arched colonnades created in 1307. Throughout the year, the convent presents exhibitions in the refectory.
Tourists may visit the convent Tuesday through Sunday (from 10am until 6pm) year-round. Entrance requires an admission fee. Guided tours are available in English, French, and Spanish. Game tours are available with an English-language digital tablet.
The Couvent des Jacobins also hosts cultural events and thematic expositions throughout the year.
Address: Rue Lakanal, Parvis des Jacobins, Toulouse
3. Place du Capitole
The hub of Toulouse life is the bustling Place du Capitole. This town square showcases the classic architecture of Toulouse. On the west side of the square, there are beautiful arcades. On the east side of the square is Le Capitole building.
Le Capitole was named after the old chapter of Magistrates (Capitouls) who met in this area as far back as the 12th century. Today, Le Capitole houses the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall) and the Théâtre du Capitole (Opera House).
Exemplifying Neoclassical architecture of the 18th century, Le Capitole is distinguished by its red-brick façade featuring numerous rows of limestone columns. Above the entrance doors are eight immense columns of pink marble.
The most spectacular room of Le Capitole is the Salle des Illustres, with its ceiling paintings and marble statues, inspired by the Farnese Gallery in Rome. The room's gilded moldings and enormous windows resemble those of the Galerie des Glaces at the Château de Versailles.
When to Go: Le Capitole is open to the public for visits Monday through Friday (from 8:30am until 7pm) and on Sundays (from 10am until 7pm). The monument is closed on Saturdays, during receptions, and on December 25th and January 1st. Admission is free; guided tours are available.
Just behind Le Capitole is the city's old Donjon, which is now the Tourist Information Center.
Two noteworthy restaurants nearby include the Brasserie de l'Opéra, a traditional brasserie that serves authentic regional cuisine; and Le Bibent, a gastronomic restaurant/tea salon in an elegant dining room that dates to 1843.
To further discover the historic center of Toulouse, continue south of the Place du Capitole to arrive at the Vieux Quartier (Old Town). This medieval quarter has many charming pedestrian streets lined with shops and cafés, especially the Rue Saint-Rome and Rue des Changes. The Musée du Vieux Toulouse presents historical exhibits in a Renaissance mansion.
4. Fondation Bemberg: Museum of Fine Arts and Decorative Arts
The outstanding Fondation Bemberg, a museum of fine arts and decorative arts, is housed in the Hôtel d'Assézat, an opulent Renaissance-era hôtel particulier (mansion) on the Rue de Metz. The Hôtel d'Assézat was built in the 16th century for the Capitoul Pierre d'Assézat, who made his fortune from producing plant dye (an important industry at the time).
A unique architectural feature of the building is the courtyard, with its ornate sculptural details and arcaded loggia. The Hôtel d'Assézat has been restored and beautifully displays the collections of the Fondation Bemberg, including 16th- and 18th-century Venetian paintings; 18th-century French paintings; Renaissance portraits, religious paintings, and bronze sculptures; and royal book bindings.
Highlights of the painting collection are the Mother and Child compositions by celebrated Renaissance artists Adriaen Isenbrant and Rogier van der Weyden, and the exquisite Rococo paintings by François Boucher. Also noteworthy are the Impressionist pieces by Claude Monet, Eugène Boudin, and Camille Pissarro; and Post-Impressionists works by Pierre Bonnard, Édouard Vuillard, André Derain, and Louis Valtat.
The building's loggia features a tearoom, which is open from April through October.
Address: Hôtel d'Assézat, Place d'Assézat, Toulouse
5. Musée Saint-Raymond (Musée d'Archéologie de Toulouse)
Opposite the Basilique Saint-Sernin, the Musée Saint-Raymond displays an extensive collection of Roman antiquities. The museum is housed in a medieval university building (dating to 1523), which is a listed Historical Monument.
The collection covers archaeological discoveries from the ancient Roman city of Tolosa and the surrounding province of Narbonne. The antiquities date from the Roman era to the Early Middle Ages. A highlight of the museum is the gallery of ancient Roman sculptures, including busts of Roman emperors, mythological-themed pieces, and Roman portraits found at the Villa Chiragan; this remarkable 700-piece collection is on par with the antiquities of the Louvre in Paris.
After viewing the collections, visitors may take a stroll through the museum's Garden of Antiquities. Planted with laurels, cypresses, vines, and olive trees, the garden is designed to evoke a classical Roman landscape. The garden has a café with terrace seating, where visitors can enjoy refreshing cold drinks, coffee, or snacks.
When to Go: The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday year-round. Closed on Mondays, January 1st, May 1st, and December 25th. Admission is free of charge on the first Sunday of every month.
Address: Place Saint-Sernin, Toulouse
6. Cathédrale Saint-Etienne
A blend of architectural styles, the Cathédrale Saint-Etienne was constructed over five centuries, explaining the disunity of its design features. The original Romanesque church was progressively altered with various Gothic elements. The result is an eclectic monument that reveals a somewhat unbalanced look.
When it was built at the end of the 12th century, the cathedral's 19-meter-wide nave was the widest vaulted structure of its kind in Europe. The wide, Southern Gothic nave is called a "Raymondine." The cathedral was later transformed in the Northern Gothic style to rival the great cathedrals of Northern Europe.
Besides its massive tower, the cathedral has elaborate decorative elements. Splendid stained-glass windows, especially the large rose window, allow ethereal light to filter into the sanctuary. Also worth exploring are the cathedral's ornately adorned chapels and the beautiful tapestries from the 16th to 18th centuries.
For centuries, choir organ music has been an important tradition in Toulouse. The cathedral's grandiose 17th-century organ carries on this heritage. The organ delights audiences with ethereal sounds during the annual Toulouse les Orgues (Toulouse International Organ Festival) concerts in October. Festival concerts take place at the Cathédrale Saint-Etienne, the Basilique Saint-Sernin, and at several other venues in Toulouse.
Address: Place Saint Etienne, Toulouse
7. Les Abattoirs, Musée - Frac Occitanie Toulouse (Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art)
With a collection of nearly 4,000 works, Les Abattoirs museum brings together paintings, photographs, drawings, and graphic works along with a small group of sculptures. The collection focuses on art created since the 1950s, including Art Brut and other avant-garde contemporary pieces.
The permanent collection represents the works of more than 700 artists. Some of the renowned works include paintings by Jean Dubuffet, Marcel Duchamp, and Victor Vasarely, as well as photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe.
One of the most impressive pieces at the museum is Picasso's painting titled La Dépouille du Minotaure en Costume d'Arlequin (The Remains of Minotaur in a Harlequin Costume) created in 1936. This enormous floor-to-ceiling painting measures 13 meters wide by eight meters high.
For a relaxing outdoor experience, visitors can take a stroll through the museum's open-air sculpture exhibit in the courtyard and then enjoy refreshments or a light meal at the restaurant/tea room, which has pleasant terrace seating at shaded tables.
Les Abattoirs has a library and a gift shop that sells books, postcards, posters, and souvenirs. The museum also hosts temporary exhibits and conferences throughout the year.
When to Go: The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday year-round and is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, January 1st, May 1st, and December 25th. Guided tours are available (for an additional fee) on Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2pm.
Address: 76 Allées Charles de Fitte, Toulouse
8. Musée Paul-Dupuy (Musée des Arts Précieux)
The unique Musée Paul-Dupuy (Musée des Arts Précieux) occupies the Hôtel Besson, a beautifully restored historic mansion. The museum's collection displays decorative arts and graphic arts dating from the Middle Ages to the early 20th century, including antique enamels, textiles, regional ceramic faïences, and wooden sculptures. The exhibit of watches and automation is especially interesting.
One room of the museum displays an actual 17th-century Jesuit chemists' apothecary shop, complete with wooden cabinets and antique medicine jars. The museum also hosts temporary exhibitions throughout the year.
Near the museum (just a few steps away) is a locals' favorite café, Hayuco Coffee Roasters, which creates superb artisanal espresso, brewed coffee, and frothy cups of cappuccino. Hayuco sources, imports, and roasts their own coffee beans. This casual café started a new trend in Toulouse: specialty coffee.
Address: 13 Rue de la Pleau, Toulouse
9. Chapelle des Carmélites
Considered a masterpiece of Baroque art, this 17th-century chapel was originally founded by Louis XIII and Anne of Austria in 1622 for the Carmelite convent. Although the convent was destroyed during the French Revolution, the chapel and its exquisite religious painting were spared.
The chapel's wall paintings and murals by Jean-Pierre Rivals and Jean-Baptiste Despax have been well preserved. Visitors can admire Jean-Pierre Rival's breathtaking ceiling paintings, filled with angels and cherubs, inspired by the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican. The chapel's artwork was begun by Rivals and completed by Despax.
The Chapelle des Carmélites is open to the public for visits Wednesday through Sunday (from 10am until 7pm) year-round. The monument is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. Entry is free, except when classical music performances are held here.
Address: 1 Rue de Périgord, Toulouse
10. Canal du Midi
The Canal du Midi was originally built as a shortcut between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. This 240-kilometer-long canal was designed in 1667. This was a huge undertaking that took ten years and 12,000 workers to complete.
The canal runs from the city of Toulouse down to the Mediterranean port of Sète near Marseille. The paths along the banks of the Canal du Midi in Toulouse are used by cyclists and pedestrians.
For tourists, one of the most enjoyable things to do in Toulouse is strolling along the shaded canal-side path. It's a great way to take in the scenery and enjoy the city's relaxing ambience.
One of the most popular places to visit in southern France, Carcassonne (91 kilometers from Toulon) is a perfectly preserved medieval fortified city. Viewed from a distance, the grandiose crenellated ramparts and turreted watch towers give Carcassonne a fairy-tale look.
Visitors feel transported to the Middle Ages upon entering the town gates into the Cité de Carcassonne (La Cité). Narrow cobblestone streets and winding alleyways lead to another world, where almost every building, monument, and shopfront reveal the character of centuries past.
Tourists will enjoy wandering through this open-air museum, soaking up the old-world ambience and admiring the marvelous Gothic architecture.
Noteworthy sights include the Château Comtal de Carcassonne (Count's Castle) and the Basilique Saint-Nazaire et Saint-Celse, renowned for its outstanding stained-glass windows.
An exceptional UNESCO World Heritage Site, Carcassonne is a worthwhile day trip destination from Toulouse, about a one-hour drive, and only 45 minutes away from Toulouse by train.
This remarkable UNESCO World Heritage Site lies on the Tarn River about 80 kilometers north of Toulouse. An important medieval episcopal city, Albi is graced by an impressive fortress-like cathedral.
Constructed between 1282 and 1480, the Cathédrale Sainte-Cécile is the largest cathedral built of brick in the world and is one of the most magnificent Gothic cathedrals in southern France. With its enormous size of 113 meters in length by 35 meters in width, the cathedral dominates the town. The vaulted nave reaches a height of 30 meters, while the bell tower soars to 78 meters.
Awe-inspiring in its spaciousness, the cathedral's interior has a stunning azure-painted ceiling and multiple Renaissance-era chapels. The cathedral's most important work of art is the 15th-century Last Judgment fresco that covers an entire wall. Also not to be missed is the Rood Screen, decorated with hundreds of statues carved by "Bourguignons de Cluny" stone masons.
The cathedral also boasts a beautiful organ, designed by Christophe Moucherel, which is used for organ concerts (free of charge) held on Wednesday and Sunday afternoons in July and August.
Another top attraction in Albi is the Palais de la Berbie, which stands above the Tarn River to the north of the cathedral. "Berbie" derives from the word bisbia, meaning "bishop." This former Archbishop's Palace (Episcopal Palace) is surrounded by exquisite formal French gardens. From the outdoor terraces, there are splendid views of the Tarn Valley and the graceful old bridge spanning the river.
The monumental palace now houses the Musée Toulouse-Lautrec, dedicated to the famous Albi-born artist. This museum displays Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec's pictures, drawings, and lithographs, and most notably, 31 of his famous posters. This assortment is the most important public collection of Toulouse-Lautrec's work in the world. The collection also features works by Toulouse-Lautrec's contemporaries, including Degas, Rodin, Matisse, Maillol, and Rouault.
Perched on a hilltop 25 kilometers northwest of Albi is the picturesque village of Cordes-sur-Ciel (which translates to "Cordes in the Sky" because of its elevated position). This tiny walled medieval town boasts a gorgeous setting and many architectural treasures. Thanks to its charms, the village was chosen as a Village Préféré des Français (France's Favorite Village) in 2014.
Founded by the Count of Toulouse in 1222, the village has characteristic towers; cobblestone streets; a medieval market hall; and numerous 13th- and 14th-century buildings, including Gothic mansions built by wealthy 13th-century merchants.
Wandering through the narrow lanes of Cordes-sur-Ciel is a delightful experience. Tourists can visit artisan shops and small boutiques, as well as several museums, including the Musée d'Art Moderne et Contemporain and the dazzling Musée des Arts du Sucre et du Chocolat (Museum of Sugar and Chocolate Arts) created in 1989 by acclaimed chocolatier Yves Thuriès, who is distinguished as a Meilleur Ouvrier de France.
The town is also famous for its specialty of croquants aux amandes (crunchy cookies made with toasted almonds). These crispy and enticing treats are also known as Croquants de Cordes, taking their name directly from Cordes-sur-Ciel.
During the Middle Ages, devout pilgrims stopped in Moissac on the Way of Saint James pilgrimage trail to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. In Moissac, pilgrims visited the Abbaye Saint-Pierre to venerate the relics of Saint Peter and Saint Paul.
The Eglise Abbatiale (Abbey Church) features a richly decorated Romanesque façade that is considered the finest in southern France. Equally exquisite inside, the Abbey Church has an awe-inspiring high-vaulted sanctuary, with architectural vestiges dating back to the Carolingian era. The Abbey Church is open to the public for visits, free of charge, every day year-round. Religious services are held at the church twice daily.
The crown jewel of the Abbaye Saint-Pierre is the Cloître de Moissac, an amazingly well-preserved 11th-century cloister. This UNESCO-listed monument is renowned for its intricate artistic details. Concealed within the cloister's ornately sculpted capitals are images of foliage, palmettes, birds, fish, angels, biblical figures, saints, crusaders, and evangelists. Admission to the cloister requires a fee.
From the cloister, visitors can access the Chapelle Saint-Michael. This chapel features astounding architecture. Its spherical vaulting supported by 12 columns represents heavenly Jerusalem.
The Abbaye Saint-Pierre is also home to the Centre of Romanesque Art Marcel Durliat, a library which contains illuminated manuscripts of the 11th and 12th centuries. The center is open by appointment only.
Next to the Abbaye Saint-Pierre, the Maison des Pèlerins (Pilgrims' House) provides a gathering place and lockers for pilgrims. The Maison des Pèlerins is open from May through September, although it does not offer overnight accommodations.
The Palais Abbatial (4 Rue de l'Abbaye), the former residence of the Abbot, now houses the Musée Marguerite Vidal (Musée des Arts et Traditions Populaires), which presents a collection of ethnography that focuses on local arts and traditions.
After visiting the sites, visitors can soak up the town's pleasant ambience by taking a stroll along the Deux Mers, a meandering tree-lined path that follows the banks of the canal.
The town of Moissac is located about 71 kilometers from Toulouse, on a canal of the Garonne and Tarn rivers, in a beautiful landscape of orchards and vine-covered hills.
About 54 kilometers from Toulouse, Montauban enjoys a picturesque setting on the Tarn River and has a rich cultural heritage. The 18th-century Cathédrale Notre-Dame contains an exceptional painting by Jean-Auguste-Dominique titled Le Voeu de Louis XIII (The Vow of Louis XIII).
The town has an entire museum dedicated to Ingres, the Musée Ingres Bourdelle (19 Rue de l'Hôtel de Ville), in the former Bishop's Palace that was built in the 17th century. This collection includes more than 4,000 drawings by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, as well as sculptures by Antoine Bourdelle; paintings by Old Masters, such as Nicolas Poussin and Jean-Honoré Fragonard; and masterpieces by 19th-century artists like Eugène Delacroix and Théodore Géricault.
The Musée Ingres Bourdelle also has a salon de thé (tea salon), Chez Madeleine, that serves artisanal pastries created by local pâtissiers (pastry chefs). The tea salon includes a boutique that sells books and souvenirs.
Visitors should also take time to admire the town's arcaded 18th-century square, the Place Nationale, and the 14th-15th-century Eglise Saint-Jacques. For a good photo-op of Montauban's cityscape and surrounding views, head to the 14th-century fortified bridge.
16. Musée des Augustins (Musée des Beaux-Arts de Toulouse)
Note: The Musée des Augustins (Musée des Beaux-Arts de Toulouse) is currently undergoing renovations and is scheduled to reopen in 2025.
The Musée des Augustins (Musée des Beaux-Arts de Toulouse) is a must-see cultural attraction for art lovers. The museum presents an overview of Western art, spanning the centuries from the medieval period until the early 20th century. With more than 4,000 items in its collections, the museum boasts a diverse and comprehensive catalog of fine arts. The French Ministry of Culture has classified this museum with the prestigious Musée de France label.
The museum's galleries occupy a former Augustins Convent that was built between the 14th and 16th centuries. This Historical Monument is considered a gem of Southern Gothic architecture. Not to be missed is the cloister with its rows of marble columns featuring delicately carved capitals.
The monastery's church now displays a collection of 17th-century religious paintings; among the highlights are paintings by Peter Paul Rubens, Nicolas Tournier, and Bartolomé Esteban Murillo. The 18th-century and 19th-century collections are also noteworthy, especially for the paintings by Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, Eugène Delacroix, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Gustave Courbet, Édouard Manet, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.
Among the museum's most prized treasures is the assortment of Romanesque sculptures. This one-of-a-kind collection contains architectural remnants from three Romanesque buildings in Toulouse: the Basilique Saint-Sernin, the 12th-century Monastère de la Daurade, and the 11th-century Cathédrale Saint-Etienne. On display are intricately sculpted capitals and precious sculptures such as a 13th-century Archangel statue.
Visitors should take their time admiring the extensive art collections while discovering the historic building, with its graceful architecture featuring a monumental stairway and spacious, sunlit rooms.
Address: 21 Rue de Metz, Toulouse
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Exploring Southwest France: At the heart of Southwest France, Toulouse is surrounded by a bucolic landscape of the Pyrenees Mountains to the south and the rural province of Gascony to the west. In this tranquil countryside, dotted with ancient castles, a favorite tourist destination is the medieval walled city of Carcassonne (about a one-hour drive from Toulouse), considered one of the best places to visit in France.
Highlights of the Languedoc Region: The nearest urban centers, still relatively small towns, are within a two-hour drive away from Toulouse: Narbonne (151 kilometers away) and Perpignan (200 kilometers away) to the east in the Languedoc-Roussillon region, and Pau (200 kilometers away) to the west in the rolling hills of the Béarn region. The lively and cultured city of Montpellier is about a two-hour train ride or three-hour drive from Toulouse.
Bordeaux and the Basque Country: Slightly further afield, but close enough to include on a vacation itinerary, are the UNESCO World Heritage City of Bordeaux (about a 2.5-hour drive), which boasts more than 350 classified historic monuments, and the fashionable seaside resort town of Biarritz (about a 2.5-hour drive) in the Basque County, a region famed for its traditional culture. For those traveling to Toulouse from Paris, the train ride takes about 5.5 hours.