Toulouse is one of the most vibrant cities in France, and in recent years it has become a popular destination among many city lovers. If you’re enthusiastic about architecture, colorful markets, French food, and chic boutiques, a weekend in Toulouse is a must for you!
The “pink city” is the capital of the Occitanie region and the biggest city in the Southwest of France. It’s perfectly located between Mediterranean beaches, the magical villages of Dordogne, and the Pyrenees mountains. The direct two-hour-long train from Bordeaux also makes Toulouse a perfect destination for people visiting or living near the Atlantic coast.
Before you go make sure you check out my guide to the best districts in Toulouse, which should help you to find the best hotel/apartment for the weekend. Also check out my article about the best festivals taking place in Toulouse, to see if anything’s up during your visit.
In this article, you’ll find a detailed guide to a weekend in Toulouse, which includes some of its “must-see” places and many hidden gems I particularly love in the city. I believe you need three days to properly discover Toulouse beyond its center and famous monuments (not including day trips around Toulouse). But as most people come here for a short weekend, I wrote this guide as a dense two days trip to Toulouse. Following this article will help you embrace the Toulousian atmosphere and enjoy every aspect of the city.
Toulouse tourism pass – should you buy it?
Before we start, I want to address a question I’m frequently asked. Should you buy the city pass that includes free entrances to the museums and discounts to many other venues? The answer to that depends on how you usually tend to travel. If you mostly enjoy visiting markets, strolling the city, and going to restaurants, then you probably don’t need the pass. If, on the other hand, you see yourself visiting at least two museums and places like the Cité de l’Espace, purchasing the pass is probably worth it.
With the Tourism pass, you get free entry to the natural museum, the contemporary art museum, the science museum, and more. I talk about many of these in this article so you can see if any of them can interest you.
It also gives you a considerable discount on space and aviation museums. And more importantly, you can use public transport for free to get to all these places. The price of the pass is 18€/28€/35€ for 24/48/72 hours respectively. You can see the list of all the discounts you can benefit from here. If you want to purchase the city pass – click here.
A short introduction to Toulouse
Toulouse owes its nickname the Pink city (La Ville Rose) to its unique architecture; buildings made of light red terracotta bricks. Historically known as Tolosa, the town was established by the Roman empire around the 2nd century BC.
In the 12th century, Toulouse was governed by a body of consuls called the Caputouls, created by the notables of the city. The most famous square, Place du Capitole, is named after their parliament building, the Capitole.
The production and trade of pastels (woad), greatly contributed to the wealth the city enjoyed during the 14th to the 16th centuries. The stores in the city center dedicated to the blue flower are a pleasant testament to that past.
Today, Toulouse is the fourth largest city in France, home to almost half a million people and almost 1.5 million in the metropole area. The city is known for its huge aerospace industry and is home to one of the oldest and best universities in France. These two factors, among others, make Toulouse a very attractive city for many French and foreigners alike.
So now that you know a few details about Toulouse, let’s start discovering the beautiful pink city.
How to spend a weekend in Toulouse – day one
Toulouse is considered a big city by French standards, but its center is actually rather small. That means that you can cover most of its beautiful squares and monuments in one day. We have a bit of a walk to do today, but let’s start with some food first!
Visit Toulouse’s best market – Marché Victor Hugo
Anytime I travel to a new city in France, I start my day with the main market. In many cases, the market is the beating heart of the city; the gastronomic epicenter where you can discover all the local specialties and where local chefs come to get inspiration and ingredients for their daily menu. That’s exactly the case in Toulouse.
Marché Victor Hugo is the biggest and most important market in Toulouse. Here you can find everything from cheese to charcuterie, bread, seafood, poultry, and more. It’s the best place to try some local tapas and delicacies that Toulouse is famous for, like the Saucisse de Toulouse and the Pavé Toulousain cheese.
Find other amazing markets in my article about the best markets in Toulouse.
The ground floor of the market is always bustling with people doing their weekly shopping, while the second floor is where the restaurants are. On weekends, this floor, and especially the terrace is packed with families coming for lunch. Make sure to be there early to book a table if you want a chance to dine in one of the restaurants. One of the places I really enjoyed was Au Bon Graillou, where I ate amazing mussels and several local dishes.
One of the best ways to enjoy the market is by taking a food tour. The best one in English is offered by Jessica from Taste in Toulouse. Jessica organizes small group tours where you get to discover and taste some of the specialties of Toulouse and hear the stories behind them. The tour is very popular, so be sure to book in advance. Here’s a link to book her tour.
If you’re a foodie, this place is an absolute must!
If, however, local gastronomy is not an important item on your list, you can skip the market or just come there for lunch. The market is located within a few minutes’ walk from Place du Capitole, the next item on my weekend list.
Practical info: The market is open from Tuesday to Sunday, from 7:00 to 13:30. Where: Pl. Victor Hugo, 31000 Toulouse
Place du Capitole
The Capitole building, one of Toulouse’s symbols, is home to the Townhall of Toulouse and the Capitole Theater.
The spectacular building was originally a row of smaller administrative buildings, purchased by the consuls of Toulouse (the Capitouls) in the 12th century. Its now famous facade was designed in the 18th century by the French painter and architect Guillaume Cammas. The idea was to hide the varied houses built in different time periods with one unified facade.
The square was built only a decade later in the 19th century and was named Place du Capitole as a reference to the Capitouls that used to govern the city. The eight columns in the center of the building represent the eight counselors in charge since the 15th century. It’s widely considered one of the most beautiful squares in France!
As the main square of Toulouse, Place du Capitole frequently hosts interesting events like wine salons, gardening fairs, and the city’s main Christmas market. You can also find plenty of coffee places for a quick coffee break with a nice view. Most of them are a bit overly touristy in my personal taste, so I wouldn’t necessarily eat there.
Take some time to discover Place du Capitole with its many architectural elements. Don’t miss the beautiful ceiling paintings of the Galerue des Arcades, commissioned in 1997 by the Maire of Toulouse who wanted to modernize the square.
The renowned painter Raymond Moretti was called for the job, creating 29 paintings dedicated to Toulouse’s rich history. The crusades, the space industry, and famous people born in Toulouse are only some of the elements to which the artist paid homage in his work.
The ceremonial chambers and their murals
If you were impressed by the architecture of the Capitole building, wait till you see it from the inside. A wide staircase will lead you to the Salle des Illustres, a beautiful room representing the Toulouse school of art of the 19th century. Henri Martin, Jean-Paul Laurens, and Paul Gervais are only a few of the famous painters that have contributed to the works of art you’ll find there. Floor-to-ceiling murals, sculptures, and paintings come perfectly together to manifest the greatness of Toulouse.
It’s probably the best art museum in town! The Capitole is open for visits every day (unless they’re hosting a ceremony) – you can see their opening hours here. Entry is free.
Stroll the streets of Old Toulouse
It’s time to discover some of Toulouse’s most magical streets.
The Capitole de Toulouse is the historic part of Toulouse, and where most of its important monuments are located. The area abounds with charming streets and beautiful houses, restaurants, bookstores, and more. Take time to discover the Renaissance and Neoclassical architecture and the livelihood of this endearing district. You don’t really need to follow any route here, just get lost in the red/pink streets and let the city charm you.
Having said that, if you’re short on time, these are the streets you shouldn’t miss in the center of Toulouse: Place Saint George is probably my favorite square in Toulouse for an afternoon drink. On most days of the week, but especially on weekends, it’s brimming with locals gathering for a drink, brunch, or dinner. The square is surrounded by a few beautiful streets with designer shops, notably rue de la pomme and rue des arts. A few other charming streets are Rue Peyrolières, rue Saint Rome and the streets leading to Place de la Bourse.
The main shopping street, Rue d’Alsace Lorraine, will astonish you with its Haussmann architecture. This street is home to a few beautiful buildings, such as Musée des Augustins and Grand hôtel Tivollier (number 14). If you’re really interested in architecture, don’t hesitate to go through the list of the most interesting buildings on that street.
Discover Toulouse’s Hotel Particuliers and their courtyards
Its favorable position as an important trade city has greatly contributed to the wealth influx Toulouse has enjoyed for several centuries. From the end of the 15th to the mid-16th century, an impressive number of splendid city mansions (Hôtels Particuliers) were built by the wealthy merchants and nobility of the city. Many of these also possess extraordinary courtyards that are considered part of Toulouse’s rich architectural heritage. While most of these mansions are private, some of them became public property and you can visit the building or the courtyard.
The most beautiful of them all is located next to Pont Neuf in the city center. Hôtel d’Assézat, a property of the rich wine merchant, Pierre D’Assezat, was built in the 16th century by the famous architect Nicolas Bachelier.
The hotel is a noticeable example of Renaissance palaces that were common in Southern France at the time. Its facade beautifully combines Toulouse’s typical red bricks with stone decoration inspired by Italian Classism. It was entirely restored in the 80s, making it one of the most preserved Renaissance mansions in France. Today it houses the Bemberg Foundation. The entry is free and you can visit it daily without reservation. See the opening hours here.
*note – the museum is closed for renovation until spring 2023.
The address is: Place d’Assezat, 31000 Toulouse
Try one of the best pastry shops in Toulouse
You’ve been walking quite a lot by now, so how about taking a little break to enjoy French pastry?
There’s no shortage of amazing patisseries in Toulouse, especially when it comes to cakes. Nevertheless, as many of you have only 2-3 days to enjoy the city, I want to recommend a few I really enjoyed.
One of my favorite ones is Perlette, a cute romantic patisserie with a small selection of cakes and French traditional desserts. You can stop here for coffee on their terrace or in the secret room (let’s see if you can find it 🙂 ). Their Salon de The is open daily from 9:30 to 19:30.
Perlette’s Address is 2 Pl. de la Bourse, 31000 Toulouse.
Au Poussin Bleu – a local patissier and chocolatier that has two shops in the center of Toulouse. Everything looks delicious but imperfect, which is unusual for a French patisserie. However, when you taste it you understand that it’s one of the best dessert shops in Toulouse. Don’t miss their amazing macarons.
Maison Pillon – a local institution where you can find a huge variety of creamy desserts and chocolates. They have two shops, one just next to the Victor Hugo market and a prettier one located at 2 rue Ozenne.
Stroll along the waterfront
Now let’s discover one of the most popular places in Toulouse: the banks of the Garonne river. The riverfront in the center of Toulouse offers a pleasant promenade with the most stunning view of the two main bridges and the western side of the river.
Start your walk on Pont Neuf, the oldest bridge in Toulouse, and turn right on Quai de la Daurade. You can continue walking on the Quai until you reach the second Bridge Pont Saint Pierre or take right on the La Daurade promenade, leading you to the upper part of the riverfront. That is the best spot to enjoy the view of the dome of la Chapelle Saint Joseph de La Grave, one of the most famous pictures of Toulouse.
On sunny days, the locals of Toulouse take their picnics and drinks to the riverfront and the stairs of Place Saint Pierre. The Toulousians sure know how to appreciate the assets of their beloved city.
Have a drink at Place Saint Pierre
Place Saint Pierre and Place de La Daurade are the favorite spots of many students and Toulouse’s youngsters. In this area, you’ll find a variety of pubs and tapas bars, which will usually be packed on weekends. If you love watching games, Chez Tonton is your place.
Another cool place is Pêcheurs de Sable, a guinguette on Place de la Daurade. This outdoor bar is open the whole year and is a perfect spot for sunny days.
Address: It’s located in the Basilique Notre Dame la Daurade on Quai de la Daurade.
Tip – if you have more time
I would also recommend spending some time on the other side of the river in the Saint Cyprian neighborhood. There are a number of interesting places to discover there, however, if you’re time-limited, then there’s one place I want to recommend.
Les Abattoirs – contemporary art museum
Les Abattoirs, as its name suggests, was previously a slaughterhouse. Today, it houses FRAC, the contemporary art museum of Toulouse. Throughout the year, the museum hosts great temporary exhibitions of renowned French and international artists.
The last time I was there, I saw an impressive exhibition of Niki de Saint Phalle, one of the most famous French sculptures of the 20th century. Having said that, art is in the eye of the beholder, especially when it comes to contemporary art. So I highly recommend going to the website of the museum before your visit there to get all the info about the current exhibitions.
The ticket price for an exhibition at the Abattoirs is usually 10€ but is free if you have the City Pass. Click here to purchase the pass if you’re planning to go to a few museums in Toulouse.
That’s also a fun place to go to if you’re traveling with kids. The museum itself has a little corner for kids where they can draw and play. However, the best part is the carousel, located just outside the gates of the museum. Le Beau Manège allows kids to enter the fantasy world of Jules Verne and ride imaginary creatures like the Steam Rhinoceros and the Giant Ant.
* If you’re traveling with kids don’t miss my article about the best things to do in Toulouse with kids.
Visit Couvent des Jacobins
Back to the center: We’re now heading to one of the prominent monuments of Toulouse. Le Couvent des Jacobins is a Dominican monastery of the Order of Preachers that was built in the 13th century.
The Dominicans played an important role in creating the first university of Toulouse and were considered great educators. The church was heavily damaged during the French revolution and was entirely renovated years later.
The exterior of the Jacobins looks a bit austere and doesn’t reveal the beauty you’ll find inside. The remarkable building with its high columns and colorful stained glass windows will leave you in awe. Its most famous feature is the stone “palm trees” on the ceiling. It is a French Gothic masterpiece that should not be missed.
The visit to the church itself is free. However, I highly recommend visiting the cloister as well, the ticket to which is free with the city pass.
You can see the ticket prices and the opening hours here. During the summer the le Couvent des Jacobins hosts many fun events like music festivals, night visits, outdoor cafes, treasure hunts, and more. See their program here. The place is closed on Mondays.
Basilique Saint Sernin
I’ll be honest here, visiting places of worship is not a “must” on my list, unless it has an interesting architectural value to it. So if that’s not something you are interested in, feel free to skip this item.
However, if you want to visit one of Toulouse’s most beautiful churches, Basilique Saint Sernin is the place.
Its construction started during the 11th century to replace an old church that became too small to welcome the pilgrims passing through Toulouse. The exterior of the basilica combines white stone with the famous red brick of Toulouse. Listed as a UNESCO world heritage site, Saint Sernin is the biggest Romanesque basilica in Europe.
It’s dinner time and the best opportunity for you to try one of the most typical dishes of Toulouse!
The Cassoulet is a slow-cooked stew, most frequently made with duck and pork sausages. Originating in a neighboring town of Castelnaudary, the Cassoulet enjoys great popularity in Toulouse. If you’re interested in local cuisine, tasting Cassoulet is an absolute must.
Cassoulet is served in many restaurants in Toulouse. Here are a few recommended places to eat it:
I really enjoyed the Au Gascon, a simple restaurant where you’ll see many locals having family dinners. Their menu includes many specialties of the cuisine of Gascony (once a province of SW France), many of which contain internal parts of duck and/or pork. It’s not to everyone’s taste, so read the menu carefully. Nevertheless, their Cassoulet is amazing and it’s a safe bet.
If you prefer your dinner in a fancier setting, go to Le Bibent, on Place du Capitole. It’s one of the prettiest restaurants in Toulouse with a great menu of local dishes. It is a bit pricey because you have to pay for its prime location 🙂
That’s it for today, see you tomorrow for the more hipster Toulouse!
Day two – the hidden gems of Toulouse
Your first day in Toulouse was mostly dedicated to its most important squares and monuments. The second day, however, is going to be very different. Today, you’re about to discover the more hipster, artistic and chic Toulouse. I’m going to walk you through a few of the local’s favorite spots in Toulouse that are often overlooked by tourists. Let’s discover the hidden gems of Toulouse.
Run/ walk/ bike along Canal de Brienne
Ok, so this first suggestion is not for everyone. However, if you feel heavy after yesterday’s Cassoulet, you might want to continue reading. I have a perfect spot for those of you looking for a morning run/walk! Canal de Brienne is a scenic and peaceful canal, located just a few minutes’ walk from the city center. In the morning hours, you’ll see many locals running and walking their dogs along the canal.
Sip amazing coffee
I’m a coffee addict! You can imagine how pleasantly surprised I was to discover that there’s a booming coffee scene in Toulouse. It’s not common to see so many quality coffee places with proper coffee machines and real baristas in a French city. And many of them have a really cute and cozy design, which makes the whole experience even better.
Marché de Saint Aubin
Marché de Saint Aubin takes place every Sunday around Eglise Saint Aubin, which is about a ten-minute walk from the city center. It’s a huge market with all the best local specialties this region has to offer. Apart from food, the market also has a great variety of craftsmen, florists, and antique sellers. Many musicians and music bands come to play here every Sunday, which makes the market even more festive and fun.
Saint Aubin is where many Toulousians meet their friends for a Sunday brunch after they finish their shopping. There are many restaurants in the area but you can also buy ready-to-eat dishes from many stalls in the market. Around lunchtime, the market gets very busy and the lines to buy food get long so be sure to come early (before 11 am).
If you’re lucky enough to be in Toulouse on Sunday, I highly recommend going to this market, even if you already visited another market in the city.
Discover the Carmes neighborhood – the hipster part of Toulouse
This is my favorite part of Toulouse!
The Carmes neighborhood is located in the Southern part of the center of Toulouse. It is bounded by rue Metz from the north, Allee Jules Guesde from the south, Alles Francois Verdier from the east, and the Garonne river from the west.
This is a very hip young neighborhood with an incredible amount of bars, coffee shops, boutiques, and galleries. Plenty of tiny squares are spread all over the Carmes district with at least one or two restaurants on them. The neighborhood is characterized by many narrow beautiful streets with colorful houses.
There are two parts to the Carmes district, both abundant with beautiful streets you should visit. Now let me list my favorite streets in the neighborhood. Mark them on your maps.
The west part of the neighborhood is where most of the great restaurants are located. Don’t miss Place de Carmes, the Carmes market (one of the best markets in Toulouse), and the many coffee shops on the square.
Stop by Eglise de la Dalbade, a little church with a ceramic tympanum above the main door. The beautiful painting of Coronation of the Virgin by Fra Angelico was made by Gaston Virebent in 1878. Then you can have a beer in one of the many bars of the lively Place de la Trinité.
Here are a few charming streets to stroll on in this part of town: rue des Paradoux, Rue Joutx Aigues, rue des Polinaires, Rue de la Dalbade, and rue Pharaon.
The east side of Carmes is actually called the Saint Etienne neighborhood. It’s home to the Saint Etienne Cathedral, which was built between the 13th the 17th centuries. It’s composed of two different parts, which make its architecture quite unique and complex.
In this part of the neighborhood, you will find a lot of art galleries and home design shops. It’s also the more luxurious part of the Carmes, with fancy fashion boutiques like Louis Vuitton. Here are some of the streets you shouldn’t miss here: Rue Ozenne, Place Mage, rue Croix Baragnon and rue Perchepinte.
Visit the beautiful gardens of Toulouse
One of the most popular parks in Toulouse is Jardin des Plantes, which is located just in the southeast part of the Carmes neighborhood. The park has a pond with ducks, a playground, and many cute spots for a break. If you’re planning to start your day at the market, buy some local delicacies and stop here for a picnic. You’ll see many locals doing that on a sunny weekend.
You can also enjoy a coffee or a glass of wine at the terrace cafe of the Museum of Toulouse. It’s one of the biggest natural history museums in France with more than 2 million items in its collection. If you’re traveling with kids, this is one of the most kid-friendly places in Toulouse. Entry to the museum is free with the city pass and on the first Sunday of the month.
The museum is located at 35 All. Jules Guesde, 31000 Toulouse.
Shop for French Antiques
La Brocante des Allées is the main antique market of Toulouse that takes place every first weekend of the month (Friday to Sunday), on allées François-Verdier, in the south of Les Carmes neighborhood. The brocante hosts more than 90 vendors, selling everything from art to fancy dishes and furniture. See more details here.
La Halle de la Machine – a special kind of theater
If you still have some time left, I want you to discover one of the most special places in Toulouse.
La Halle de la machine belongs to a theater group called la Compagnie La Machine which incorporates machines in its shows. The machines, built by the members of the group, are usually quite funny and ridiculous which makes the visit very interesting. The place itself is the storage of the company, where they keep all the machines that aren’t currently used in shows around the world. At the first glance, the whole place looks overwhelming, full of what seems like useless machinery. That’s why you must follow one of the guides, hear the stories behind the machines, and see how they operate.
The most surprising part of the visit is actually happening outside the hangar. That’s where you will discover the Minotaure, an animal measuring 14 meters high, created especially for a show in Toulouse. This humongous machine is operated by the staff and takes the visitors on its back for a ride.
La Halle is one of the best attractions in Toulouse when traveling with kids.
Some practical information
La Halle de la Machine is open daily from Tuesday to Sunday and closed in January. See the schedule here.
You can pay for a visit and the ride separately if you’re not interested in both activities. Like in many other activities on this list, here too you can enjoy a discount with the city pass. If you don’t use the city pass here’s a link to purchase the tickets (for the exhibition only).
Note – La Halle de la machine is located outside the city center but is reachable by public transport (you can use public transport for free with the city pass).
Visit la Cité de l’Espace
You might be wondering why I put one of the most famous attractions in Toulouse at the end of the list. That’s because, in my opinion, if you have only two days in Toulouse, you shouldn’t necessarily go there. You should go there only if: 1) You’re a space geek, 2) You have kids who like space stuff 3) You have more than 2 days 4) It’s raining outside. Otherwise, I think that there are better things to do in such an amazing city like Toulouse.
Having said that, if you decide to go to the space museum anyway, I want to give you a bit of info about what to expect there.
La Cite de l’Espace opened its doors in 1997 and has attracted millions of visitors ever since. It has a variety of different exhibitions focusing on the International space station, the solar system, weather predictions, and more. Most of the museum is very interactive which makes it very popular with kids of all ages.
Apart from the main building, there are a few interesting exhibitions and demonstrations in the outdoor area of the museum. One of these is the Russian MIR space station, which you can visit and learn about astronauts’ daily life at the station. There are also daily demonstrations and activities offered by the museum for different age groups – you can prepare your visit in advance and see all the information for that day in their app.
The tickets are a bit pricy but if you’re going with kids, it can be a full-day experience so it’s quite worth it. Here’s a link to purchase the tickets. If you have a city pass, you have a 15% discount on the tickets.
Where to stay in Toulouse
Whether you’re looking for an apartment or a hotel, the best areas to stay on a short visit are the Capitole de Toulouse (the old center) or the Carmes. There are many hotels and rentals you can find in both areas, but let me give you a few recommendations.
If you have a higher budget, you’d like Le Grand Balcon Hotel, located just next to Place du Capitol – book it here.
That’s it for my long and very detailed guide to visiting Toulouse.
If you happen to also come to Bordeaux, here’s my article about the best things to do in Bordeaux.
How to get to Toulouse
Toulouse has a train station and is well-connected to other parts of France. If you’re coming here from Bordeaux or Paris, the best way to get to Toulouse would be by train. The train station is located within a 15 minutes walk from the city center. Purchase your train tickets here.
If you come by car, finding parking in the center of Toulouse isn’t very easy. The best way would be to park at daily parking. The most reasonable price I was able to find was at Q-park on Place Jeanne d’Arc. You’ll pay around 15-20 a day, depending on the number of hours you. This is a link to reserve your spot.
If you’re visiting Toulouse for the first time there are a few articles you should check:
Where to stay in Toulouse – the best districts
The best events taking place in Toulouse
The best markets in Toulouse
The best things to do in Toulouse with kids
If you’re visiting during Christmas you might want to check my article about the best Christmas markets around Toulouse.
You can also get plenty of tips on things to do in the Southwest of France via lost in Bordeaux’s social media accounts and email list, check them out here:
Like the article? Want to read it again when you’re in Toulouse? Save it on your Pinterest board.
*Note – Some of the links in this article include affiliate links for which I earn a small commission. It adds absolutely nothing to your cost and helps me continue writing about this amazing region. Don’t worry, I’m not getting rich here, I’ll never recommend anything I don’t believe in 🙂