Toulouse makes a strategic basecamp for exploring southwest France, with medieval towns, hilltop villages, and the Pyrenees mountains all within day-trip distance. If you’re visiting Toulouse for the France Rugby World Cup 2023, why not make the most of the time between matches and take in some of the regional highlights?
Ready to explore a medieval citadel, visit France’s most important Catholic pilgrimage site, and tour Europe’s highest capital city? Here’s our pick of the seven best day trips from Toulouse.
A UNESCO World Heritage City since 2010, Albi’s riverside setting on the banks of the Tarn River and striking red-brick architecture afford plenty of photo opportunities. Historic landmarks are easy to come by as you stroll around the Old Town, from the Palais de la Berbie with its idyllic landscaped gardens to the 11th-century Pont Vieux (Old Bridge) and the Collégiale Saint-Salvi.
The pièce de résistance is the magnificent Sainte-Cecile Cathedral, a fortress-like hulk of a cathedral that snags the title of the world’s largest brick cathedral.
Distance from Toulouse: 45 miles (75 km)
How to get there: Drive (1 hour) or take the train (1 hour 13 minutes)
Don’t miss: The UNESCO-listed Cathedrale Sainte-Cecile.
Postcard views await in the Midi-Pyrenees town of Castres. Head down to the Agout riverside to admire the rows of cantilevered houses with their pastel-painted facades, timbered balconies, and wooden shutters, then stroll around Place Jean Jaures, where shops, hotels, and cafés populate the 17th-century Renaissance buildings.
A boat cruise along the Agout affords the most memorable views, after which you can marvel over Spanish masterpieces at the Goya Museum, housed in the grand Bishop’s Palace, and visit the birthplace of French socialist icon Jean Jaurès. An added bonus for rugby fans: home team Castres Olympique compete in France’s Top 14, and locals are passionate about the game.
Distance from Toulouse: 45 miles (75 km)
How to get there: Drive (1 hour 20 minutes) or take the train (1 hour 13 minutes0
Don’t miss: The colourful merchant houses along the Agout River.
3. Moissac and Montauban
These two market cities along the River Tarn are easily combined into a day trip. Toulouse’s pink-hued architecture is echoed at riverside Montauban, where highlights include the 13th-century St Jean Cathedral, Musée Ingres (devoted to 19th-century painter Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres), and the elegant Place National, a scenic spot for lunch at one of the terrace restaurants.
Nearby Moissac is famed for its Abbey Church of Saint-Pierre, a celebrated example of Romanesque architecture, and its romantic setting will leave you reaching for your camera—the riverside town is flanked by vineyards and orchards.
Distance from Toulouse: 45 miles (72 km) to Moissac
How to get there: Drive to Moissac (1 hour) or take the train (48 minutes), then return via Montauban by car (30 minutes) or train (18 minutes).
Don’t miss: Abbey Church of Saint-Pierre in Moissac
There are few medieval citadels as impressive as the Cité de Carcassonne, with its mighty fortifications, 52 watchtowers, and 12th-century castle crowning the hilltop above the modern-day town of Carcassonne. Enter through the grand Aude Gate and climb up to walk almost 3km of ramparts, affording dramatic views across the sprawling citadel and the Aude River below.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site has plenty to keep you occupied for a morning or afternoon. Join a tour to learn about the strategic importance of the citadel, inhabited since Roman times; follow in the footsteps of the Counts of Carcassonne at the Château Comtal and Saint-Nazaire Basilica, or explore the citadel by traditional horse-drawn carriage (calèche). For shock value, don’t miss a visit to the Museum of Medieval Torture Instruments.
Distance from Toulouse: 60 miles (95 km)
How to get there: Drive (1-hour 10 minutes) or take the train (43 minutes).
Don’t miss: Carcassonne Citadel (Cité de Carcassonne)
It’s easy to see why Cordes-sur-Ciel was awarded the title of one of “Les Plus Beaux Villages de France” (The Most Beautiful Villages in France). Perched high on a hilltop, the fortified town appears to rise up out of the clouds (hence its name ‘Cordes in the sky’), its stone buildings tumbling down the forested slopes.
Comfy shoes (and stamina) are a must to explore the steep cobbled lanes and twisted alleyways, which lead the way through the old citadel. Come on a Saturday morning to browse the local market, and give yourself plenty of time to browse the many workshops, galleries, and boutiques—the town is renowned for its artisans, and the tiny shops are brimming with one-of-a-kind art, jewellery, and handicrafts.
Distance from Toulouse: 50 miles (80 km)
How to get there: Drive (1 hour 15 minutes) or take the train to Cordes Vindrac (55 minutes), followed by a bus to Cordes-sur-Ciel (10 minutes, not including wait time).
Don’t miss: Browsing the artisan shops and galleries.
With the majestic spires of its Gothic cathedral rising up amid the forested mountains of the Pyrenees, the views of Lourdes as you descend into the city are nothing short of heavenly. A fitting place then, for one of Europe’s most important Catholic pilgrimage sites.
Pilgrims flock to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes and the Grotto of Massabielle, where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to a local woman back in 1858. Once you’ve washed your hands in holy water (hailed for its healing properties), ride the Pic du Jer funicular and visit the Château Fort to take in the views, then stick around after dark to join the torchlit procession through the streets of Lourdes.
Distance from Toulouse: 109 miles (175 km)
How to get there: Join a guided tour from Toulouse, take the train (2 hours 15 minutes), or drive (2 hours).
Don’t miss: The Sanctuary Our Lady of Lourdes.
The journey to Andorra, the pint-sized Principality snuggled in the mountains between France and Spain, is all part of the experience. It’s a thrilling drive, climbing through the winding mountain roads of the Pyrenees against an endless panorama of lush green hills, rocky peaks, and wildflower meadows.
Andorra la Vella is the capital city—and the highest capital city in Europe at 1,023 metres—where you can stroll around the atmospheric Old Town, peek inside the 12th-century Sant Esteve Church, and browse the luxury shops (bonus: Andorra’s tax-free status means you can shop duty-free here). Combine it with a stop at the ski resort of Encamp and a short hike through the hills for the full Andorra experience.
Distance from Toulouse: 112 miles (180 km)
How to get there: Drive (3.5 hours) or take the bus (4 hours).
Don’t miss: Andorra la Vella
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