Read more about my Self Care Sabbatical and the other places I’ve visited!
I almost didn’t come to Toulouse. I had a flight to Madrid booked out of Toulouse, but was planning to just show up a few hours before my flight and maybe do some sightseeing. I hadn’t really heard much about Toulouse so I wasn’t all that interested in visiting (my original plan was to go to Arles for a few days). However, after my epic travel day to Colmar, I was really over all the moving around and was aiming to make my upcoming travel a bit smoother. Also, after being in an apartment for a few days, I wanted to find another apartment before arriving in Madrid so I could make my own meals. And so I found a place in Toulouse, figured out the travel, and made the switch.
Toulouse is the 4th largest city in France and feels very, very relaxed. Immediately I realized how different the South is from the cities further North! I was there just before the end of the August vacation so that could have been some of the reason for the chill vibe, but there just seemed to be something about the city that felt calm. It’s known as the La Ville Rose (Pink City) because the buildings are all built using terracotta which lends the entire city a pink hue. It’s quite gorgeous! I had zero expectations for Toulouse and, at every step, it really impressed me (in a totally subtle way).
Toulouse also feels different than other parts of France and I could feel the Spanish influence here (I actually caught myself lapsing into Spanish a few times forgetting where I was). It is the capital of the Occitane Region and the street signs are all in both French and Occitan.
Getting There: Toulouse is well connected via train to other destinations in France as well as Spain. It was about 4 hours by train from Lyon (the train sweeps through Provence and the southern coast of France); the train station is connected to public transit so you can easily get into the city center. However, when I was there one of the main metro lines was shut down. I was impressed with all of the staff available to help travelers figure out alternative travel options – they were so helpful and it turned out to be pretty easy to get to where I needed to go.
The Toulouse airport is just outside the city and easily accessible by public transit which made it super easy. My hotel was close to the tram line for the airport which was even better. It’s a smallish airport, very easy experience there (and my flight to Madrid was not very expensive).
Where to Stay: I stayed just outside of the city center near Carmes (a fun area full of restaurants and bars). I chose an aparthotel in this area which was pretty affordable for a nice sized 1 bedroom/studio apartment. The location was perfect – near the River Garonne (perfect for morning runs), close to the airport tram and other transit, and near a bunch of restaurants and bars. It was also very quiet. There are a number of hotels around the center, but I was glad to be a bit removed from this area.
What to do: There’s not much to do in terms of sightseeing in Toulouse so I took it pretty easy. The city seems made for just hanging out and relaxing.
- Stroll around the river, especially at sunset, near Pont Neuf. There are cafes along the river, as well as some parks – these will be full of people hanging out in the evening. You can also just park yourself at the river edge and chill out with a beer (at any hour).
- Jardin Des Plantes & Parque Royale – These are two lovely parks (just across the street from each other). Perfect for a lunch in the park, reading a book, or just relaxing
- Musee des Augustins – Beautiful cloisters, nice space to enjoy the afternoon and just hang out. I sat in the courtyard here for about an hour. It was so peaceful.
- Capitole – Right in the center plaza. You can go inside for free and marvel at the artwork in the open public spaces.
- Basilica St Sernin – The famous church in Toulouse, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Very beautiful. The pink bricks really make a difference in the Toulouse cathedrals as it seems so light in here versus cathedrals in other cities
- Jacobins Convent – Maybe the prettiest of the places I visited in Toulouse. Definitely recommend walking through
- During the summer, the Cinematheque Toulouse offers outdoor films for 7 euro – I luckily found out about this on my last day and went to the movies my last night in Toulouse (seeing Jean-Luc Godard’s Bande a Part!
Eating & Drinking: Because I had an apartment, I opted to eat most of my meals at home. But I did go out for a few lunches (and one dinner). The area near where I stayed was full of little cafes and restaurants, often offering takeaway and mostly featuring non-French cuisine (lots of Asian food). It was a nice change of pace in Toulouse to eat some different meals.
- Cassoulet is a traditional dish of the region, though I didn’t have any in Toulouse. Culture Trip offers some recommendations for the must-try local dishes. Honestly, I never saw any of these! Maybe I wasn’t looking in the right places!
- This was the first place I saw quiche offered in many places. Makes for a nice, inexpensive lunch.
- La Faim des Haricots – Awesome little vegetarian restaurant in the center. It’s an All You Can Eat salad bar/buffet, reasonably priced, with great salads and even better quiche.
- I also saw a lot of tapas offered in Toulouse (I skipped it since I was about to spend 2 weeks in Spain)
- Pitaya – cheap Thai food with a fun vibe (also check out Santosha)
- Kiosque in the park for Vietnamese food (good for takeaway/park picnic)