Sarlat-la-Canéda is one of France’s most stunning medieval towns with incredible sights, food, and history. It’s one of the liveliest destinations in the Dordogne region with plenty of attractions and important landmarks. That’s why I decided to write a detailed list of all the best things to do, eat and see in Sarlat, including day trips and hotel recommendations.
*If you’re traveling to Dorogne with kids, you should first read my article about the best things to do with kids in Dordogne.
Sarlat is located in the Southwest of France, between the region’s big two cities Bordeaux and Toulouse (about 200K from each of them). It’s the fourth largest town in the Dordogne region and the central town of Black Perigord, the eastern part of the Dordogne. The town is famous for its culinary delights, ancient architecture, and quaint, cobbled streets, attracting more than 1.5 million visitors each year.
A bit of history first – important facts about Sarlat
Sarlat is thought to have originated around the 9th century although the first mention of the town dates to the 11th century. During the 14th and 15th centuries, Sarlat enjoyed great economic prosperity mostly thanks to its strategic location. It became an important trading center, specializing in goods such as saffron, walnuts, and truffles.
This contributed to Sarlat’s immense architectural development, with stunning houses from the 14th century which we can still witness today. Unfortunately, it faced periods of turmoil following the Hundred Years’ War and the Wars of Religion. Luckily, the Marlaux law that was passed in 1992, created strong preservation in Sarlat and prevented many of its historic buildings to be demolished.
In recent decades it has become an important tourist hub in the Southwest of France. Its preserved historic center and mostly car-free streets make it one of the more pleasant places to visit in Dordogne. Now let’s discover what are the best things to do in Sarlat!
The Best Things to Do in Sarlat
Taste local delicacies at the Sarlat Market
If you’re a foodie, Sarlat is your place! Head to the Sarlat market, the biggest, best food market in Dordogne, and quite frankly all of Southwest France! The market takes place all over the city center on Wednesday and Saturday mornings.
From the early morning hours, the market is brimming with locals and tourists from all parts of Dordogne. They come to enjoy the cheerful atmosphere and colorful stalls adorning the beautiful streets of this medieval town. If there’s one market you can’t miss in Dordogne, it’s definitely the Sarlat market.
Here you can find the best selection of Dordogne gastronomic specialties like foie gras, duck confit, nuts, and more. But that’s not all! The Sarlat market is rich with products from all over the region such as wine from Bordeaux, oysters from Arcachon, and sheep milk cheese from the Basque country.
A great way to enjoy the market is on a guided walking market tour in English with plenty of snapshots and food sampling opportunities.
Marvel at Sarlat’s history
The architecture in this remarkable medieval town transports you back in time. When you arrive, grab a map from the tourist office in Rue Tourny – it’ll come in handy when you’re winding through the narrow streets of the old city.
Almost every street here is a hidden gem, with yellow limestone houses and fancy Renaissance mansions. You really have to just let yourself get lost in Sarlat to experience it properly. But if you need a few anchors, I gathered a list of some of the main architectural gems in the city center.
Here are Sarlat’s unmissable historical spots:
Maison de La Boétie
The house where famous writer Etienne de La Boétie was born. The house built in Italian Renaissance–style dates back to the early 1500s. It’s located in front of the Cathedral of Saint-Sacerdos.
Rue des Consuls
In the picturesque street bursting with history, you’ll find Hôtel Plamon, an old noble family’s manor house, now a historical museum. Next door is the Fontaine Sainte-Marie, carved out of a natural cave in the 12th century.
Place du Marché des Trois Oies
This charming square boasts a famous statue of three geese by François-Xavier Lalanne. The statue represents the region’s rich gastronomical heritage.
Le Badaud de Sarlat
This bronze statue by Gérard Auliac represents a casual, happy onlooker people-watching at Place de la Liberté.
The perfect place to see Gothic and Renaissance architecture, this mansion was built in the 15th century by the noble Magnanat family.
The Western District
Explore West of Rue de la République (also called La Traverse) and you’ll be rewarded with ornate doors and quieter cobbled lanes. Visit the Tour du Bourreau, built in 1580, which is now an art gallery with a beautiful, panoramic view of Sarlat from its rooftop. Finally, stop by the Chapel of the Pénitents Blancs and check out the ornate doorway.
But the town isn’t only a thrill for history lovers – there’s something for everyone.
Shop inside a church-turned-market
L’église Sainte-Marie, built in the 1300s and 1400s, was damaged during the French Revolution and what remains today has been converted into a permanent, indoor food market. Here you can buy local delicacies and even find an array of cultural activities.
This incredible former church has another surprise for visitors – a bird’s eye view of the town! Hop on the panoramic lift and take in the sights.
Do “apéro” like a local
Apéro, or pre-dinner drinks, is a cultural fixture across France. In the early evening, you’ll see everyone sipping cocktails and sparkling wine on the sidewalk cafés. Head to one of the cafés on Place de la Liberté, the buzzing square in the heart of the Old Town, for a drink and some people-watching.
Discover an ancient cathedral
No trip to Sarlat is complete without a visit to the Saint Sacerdos Cathedral on Place du Peyrou. The oldest part of the building’s foundations dates back to the 12th century, and the town was built around this site. Take in the Gothic architecture, the ancient bell tower, and the organ. The cathedral is free to visit outside of service hours.
As you leave the cathedral, you’ll come across the Jardin des Enfeus. The abbey’s cemetery houses tombstones as old as the town itself and gets its name from the arches in the walls.
Revel in truffle and foie gras
If you happen to visit Sarlat in winter, count yourself lucky. The famous truffle and foie gras (rich goose or duck liver spread) market takes place between December and February, and it’s a decadent affair. Local farmers bring award-winning truffles to be valued at the festival. You can watch a truffle dog at work, sample the region’s best foie gras, and taste Bergerac Duras wines.
You can see the full list of Dordogne truffle markets taking place from December to the end of January here.
Take a day trip to one of France’s most beautiful villages
Sarlat is a perfect place to base yourself if you wish to discover the stunning villages in the region. There are at least four villages just a few kilometers from Sarlat that appear on the list of the most beautiful villages in France. A visit to at least one of them is an absolute must!
All these villages are easily reachable by car, but a guided tour turns it into a deeper and much more meaningful experience. The tour includes a visit to two “plus beaux villages”, Beynac and Domme as well as a boat ride on the Dordogne River. You can read more about all these places in my article the most beautiful villages in Dordogne.
If you have to choose only one, I’d go for Beynac-et-Cazenac (11km from Sarlat). Beynac is a picturesque village that borders the Dordogne River and is home to one of the most impressive medieval castles in the region.
Other stunning villages include:
La Roque Gageac – 9km from Sarlat
Situated beneath a sharp cliff on the banks of the Dordogne, this village boasts a panoramic view of the whole valley.
Domme – 11km from Sarlat
Undisturbed by industrialization with magnificent views out over the river, this village boasts unparalleled sights for nature lovers and history fans.
Castelnaud-la-Chapelle – 13km from Sarlat
Across the river from neighboring Beynac-et-Cazenac and La Roque-Gageac, the views from this town are not to be missed. The village is home to the Chateau de Castelnaud where you can find an impressive museum of medieval wars.
If you have more time and want to explore beautiful villages in other parts of the Dordogne region, you should check out the most beautiful villages around Bergerac.
Amble in exquisite gardens – Les Jardins de Marqueyssac
The Dordogne region is known for its many exquisite gardens, but the Marqueyssac gardens are in a league of their own. Les Jardins de Marqueyssac are located in Vesac, about 10km from Sarlat, and very easy to reach. It’s one of the best day trips to do from Sarlat.
The gardens are built on a rocky spur with 150,000 boxwood shrubs pruned by hand and surrounded by waterfalls and panoramic views. The first sight of this magical green labyrinth will blow your mind. You can then take a long walk between the boxwoods until you reach the stunning viewpoint over the river and the villages nearby. Take a moment to take in the view and snap a photo.
If you’re traveling with kids, this place is a must! There are two playgrounds, picnic tables, and even a few hammocks for a nap. If you’re hungry there’s a tea room with a nice menu and a stunning view just next to the chateau.
Throughout the year, the Marqueyssac Gardens host plenty of fun events like artistic workshops for kids and candlelight evenings. You can visit every day of the year, but consider buying tickets online ahead of time to avoid lines.
Where to eat in Sarlat
Food is a vital part of France’s culture, and Sarlat has no shortage of fantastic places to eat. If you’re visiting Sarlat in a busy season, remember to book a table because tables fill up quickly! Here are some of our favorite restaurants in Sarlat.
Aux 3 sens
With romantic outdoor seating in a narrow lane, this restaurant is rated highly for its duck and foie gras dishes, as well as meat and wine selection.
Tucked away in a quiet, romantic courtyard, you can enjoy chic dishes made from local ingredients.
The perfect outdoor dining spot for a summer evening, L’entrepote is known for its regional duck dishes and its buzzing atmosphere.
The reasonably-priced menu and vegetarian options mean there’s something for everyone.
Where to stay in Sarlat
Sarlat is one of the most popular destinations in Dordogne, offering a big selection of apartments, hotels, and B&B in the center as well as the city’s outskirts. If you’re here for just a few days, finding accommodation in the center of Sarlat is highly recommended. Here are two options I particularly love!
This charismatic hotel is great for visiting Sarlat with its central location, spacious rooms, and generous breakfast offerings. Book your stay here.
Guests rave about this B&B’s location in the heart of town, its friendly staff, and charming, comfortable lodgings. Book a stay.
How to get to Sarlat
Sarlat is easily reachable by car, airplane, and train from Paris, Bordeaux, and Toulouse.
From Bordeaux, you can either take the A89, which has tollgates and takes around 2.5 hours, or the D936, which doesn’t have tollgates but is a bit longer. If you want to rent a car, here’s where I usually find the best deals.
The nearest airports to Sarlat-la-Canéda are the Bordeaux-Mérignac international airport (136 miles from Sarlat) and the Bergerac Dordogne-Périgord international airport (45 miles from Sarlat).
By train:5 trains a day go between Bordeaux and Sarlat, making it very easy to travel to and fro. The train trip takes about 2.5 hours. Tickets are available on the SNCF website.
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:
*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 🙂