In Toulouse, it all starts with the Capitol, the very heart of the city. Wandering through the surrounding areas, however, stretching north, east, south, and west to the city boundaries, reveals the life behind that pulse. Through this sort of exploration, the city gradually unveils its many faces, its treasures and contrasts: reminders of the past coexist with modern developments, small quiet streets with busy shopping thoroughfares, lively areas with dormitory suburbs, parks with buildings.
The Capitol An impressive building with an imposing façade, the
To the North
Arnaud-Bernard, Amidonniers, Saint-Pierre A picturesque and cosmopolitan area, Arnaud-Bernard owes its distinctive character to its lively nightlife, original boutiques, the nearby university (to the south), and the grand boulevards (to the north). Reaching as far as the
Saint-Sernin and Wilson Rue du Taur, a partly pedestrianized street, links the Capitol to the magnificent
Chalets A continuation of Saint-Sernin, this is a quiet, prosperous area. You're bound to see its charming old houses at some point as the main roads (Lascrosses, Arcole, and Lazare boulevards) come together here.
Matabiau Close to the station of the same name, this area, the continuation northwards of Wilson, is busy day and night due to the main railway station and surrounding shops.
Pont-Jumeaux and Sept-Deniers Continuing northwest from Arnaud-Bernard, these are residential areas nestling at the mouths of the various waterways (Garonne, Canal du Midi, and a side canal.)
Minimes, Salade, Raisin, Bonnefoy Nostalgically mentioned in a song by local singer Claude Nougaro, who sings of the "brique rouge des Minimes" (“red bricks of Minimes”), this area running along the Canal du Midi from the other side of Chalets is mainly an administrative and residential one, just like neighboring areas Salade and Bonnefoy. Close by, the Raisin quarter is constantly busy with traffic generated by its bus and railway stations.
Saint-Georges Built around the historic Place Saint-Georges, this pretty area charms visitors as a picturesque and colorful neighborhood. Many shops, restaurants, and bars have long been established here. Saint-Georges continues eastwards to the Saint-Aubin quarter.
Saint-Aubin With the beautiful
Saint-Etienne The greenest portion of the city is also the perfect location to go for a walk. First explore its historical offerings with the magnificent
Jolimont, Roseraie, Soupetard and Argoulets By climbing up through these areas towards Gramont, Balma, you realize that Toulouse is built in a “cuvette", or geological basin. These residential areas overlooking the city incorporate many interesting spots, like the
Guilhemery, Montplaisir, Pont des Demoiselles, Côte Pavée, Terrasse The areas of Guilhemery and Montplaisir link the Canal du Midi to Côte Pavée, which is a particularly wealthy area whose spacious, beautiful, and very finely built houses with huge shaded gardens sit on a hill overlooking the city. Moving further south-east, you come to the outlying areas of Montaudran, l'Ormeau, et la Terrasse, where the
To the South
Carmes and antique dealers A bohemian and somewhat old-fashioned atmosphere reigns in Les Carmes, an old part of Toulouse very close to the Capitol. The pretty, pedestrian streets are pleasant to wander through as you admire its small squares, towers, and fine buildings. It will lead you to an area filled with antique shops - always a favourite with visitors - or towards the banks of the Garonne with their beautiful buildings.
Saint-Michel and Busca, St Agne and Rangueil Close to the Saint-Michel area of the city, whose north side is marked by the
Ramier, Recollets, Empalot, Pech-David The Garonne divides as it flows under the Saint-Michel bridge, creating the two branches that surround Ramier island. Huge complexes have been built in the middle, taking advantage of the wide-open space available: the
Westwards and the areas on the left bank
Saint-Cyprien and Bourrasol In tune with the river, life in these areas is more carefree. Joined to the epicenter of Toulouse by the Saint-Pierre bridge and the
Purpan, Casselardit, Croix-de-Pierre, Arènes, Mirail These are the industrial areas of Casselardit and St-Martin-du-Touch. Saint-Cyprien leads you towards the hustle and bustle of the shops in Patte-d'Oie, and then towards the areas of Arènes and Croix-de-Pierre, where Rapas cemetery and the Ecole Normale (a teacher training center) are situated. To the south-west, after Fontaine-Lestang, the industrial and residential areas of La Faourette, Bagatelle, Bellefontaine, Reynerie, Papus and le Mirail open onto the greenery of the
The abundance of restaurants scattered along the pretty streets of Toulouse's town center is amazing. Diners are invited to discover the incredible variety of French cuisine, prepared according to tradition or stretching the creativity of master chefs who are not afraid of novelty. Some lead an exploration of flavors from every region of France, while others set out on a journey to the far corners of the earth. There is something to satisfy every taste and every fancy, whether you wish to devote yourself to the delights of gastronomy, eat a quick snack, or simply spend a moment enjoying the atmosphere of a small café in Toulouse.
Regional Cuisine Toulouse owes much of its culinary heritage to local produce that comes from the surrounding areas, in particular the neighboring département of Gers, where fattened ducks and geese are raised. These specialties (foie gras, cassoulet - meat and bean stew, Toulouse sausage, duck cutlets and conserve of duck) are certainly not renowned for being light or healthful, but they deliver on taste (the essential consideration of many travelers!) In addition, some of the finest wine-producing regions of the world surround Toulouse, Tarn and especially Bordeaux (only 250 kilometers/150 miles away), providing a selection of astounding accompaniments to restaurant dishes. The Toulouse oenologists and vintners need only to follow the example of their ancestors who, in ancient times, traded their wines from Italy up to Bordeaux.
Today, the master chefs of Toulouse know how to use these quality products to combine traditional influences and innovative cuisine. There are brilliant demonstrations of this alliance in the restaurants in the town center, ideally situated in the liveliest quarters. The prestigious Jardins de l'Opéra, bordering the very central Place du Capitole, often serves celebrities of the entertainment world when they visit Toulouse, and hungry travelers may choose a neighboring table or a neighborhood brasserie. The picturesque Place Saint-Georges also has some good places to sample regional cooking such as the celebrated Emile, which enjoys an exceptional setting and a fetching façade. On the Place Wilson and the nearby boulevards, surrounded by cinemas and shops, the Capoul and the Eau de Folles are well-known and well-loved. Still in the center of town, Jardins d'Alice in the pretty little Rue Croix-Baragnon, the 7 Place Saint-Sernin beside the Basilica bearing the same name, and the Bon Bec near the concert venue at the Halle aux Grains will all tickle your taste buds. Some of the restaurants specializing in regional treats present gourmet delights in novel settings: try the Cave au Cassoulet, situated on the pleasant Quai Saint-Pierre near the banks of the Garonne. Even more uniquely delightful are the restaurants on the barges; the Belle Chaurienne and the Occitania offer the opportunity to dine on the peaceful waters of the Canal du Midi.
Speciality and theme restaurants For those who love seafood, start out at the waterfront - the famous Brasserie des Beaux-Arts, decorated in the style of the Edwardian Age Belle Epoque, perches on the banks of the Garonne. Those who prefer meat will enjoy the dishes offered at Grillée, Os à Moëlle, or a simpler but no less satisfying meal at the Hippopotamus, a restaurant franchise.
Some restaurants devote their entire menu to a mouth-watering specialty. The Mille et une Pâtes serves pasta dishes, the Bar des Glaces serves mostly (drum roll) kebabs, as its name fails to indicate. Equally original concepts govern the Picotin, where the young-at-heart enjoy eating with their fingers, Madeleine de Proust, decorated in fanciful colors, and the Syndicat that changes its theme roughly once every two years. Finally, restaurants such as Bioasis offer healthy and natural products.
Cooking from further afield
For those wishing to explore far-off cultures or for homesick visitors, Toulouse offers an unlimited choice of foreign specialty restaurants. Proximity to Spain and Italy means that bodegas featuring tapas and sangria and Italian restaurants (Pizzeria Vecchio, Carpaccio) are plentiful and affordable. Still in Europe, you can treat yourself to authentic sauerkraut at the Taverne Bavaroise, sample the salmon, Scandinavian style, at the Pink Fish, or cross the Channel for the flavors of Ireland at Dubliner's. Latino restaurants such as the Barrio Latino and the Texxas Café are plentiful and very fashionable, and some even feature a dance floor (check out Puerto Habana for Cuban rhythms). A very different cuisine which is widely available in Toulouse and often inexpensive, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Japanese restaurants offer the flavorful specialties enjoyed all over the world. Try the Diamant or the Japan for a warm reception and delicious dishes. Finally, some restaurants emphasize exotic ingredients to draw dinnertime crowds: Café Rex offers Australian specialties including kangaroo meat, also available at Zoodrome along with shark and bison. The adventure at each of these restaurants is set to music and the excitement moves from table to dance floor and finally out into the night!
For a quick bite or just a drink
For a light meal or a quick snack during the day, tea-rooms like Tarte Julie or the Autre Salon de Thé) will provide a little something to satisfy your hunger at any time of day. A plethora of bars and pubs are grouped together in different parts of the town center, perfect spots for having a drink and a chat with friends. Favorite pubs include Dubliner's and Mulligan's, while students prefer the Saint-Pierre and Arnaud-Bernard neighborhoods for places like Breughel or Q'sec/Ragtime, close to the universities. Of course, the Place du Capitole, Wilson Square, and the boulevards remain the dynamic center of Toulouse even at night, where the exorbitance of bars are always busy.
In Toulouse the hotels are mainly grouped around the town center, in three lively neighborhoods. Right in the center, bordering the vast Place du Capitole, are the capacious luxury hotels. In the area surrounding Place Wilson, all along the Allées Jean-Jaurès and the large neighboring boulevards, the residential apartment buildings and luxury hotels are packed together almost like townhouses. Near Matabiau station, amongst the big hotels and the lesser-known names, you have every chance of finding lodgings to suit your price range. You can also find small private family accommodation almost anywhere, in the town's picturesque streets or beside the waterways. Finally, further away from the center, and practical for people who are just passing through, are the chains of hotels that offer you accommodation at low prices.
Capitole On the beautiful Place du Capitole, with a view overlooking the splendid façade of the Town Hall and right in the heart of Toulouse town life, the Grand Hôtel de l'Opéra and the Crowne Plaza Hotel offer some of the most luxurious stays imaginable. These are dream hotels for visitors seeking direct access to the town's pretty pedestrian streets, to the historical monuments and, in the morning, to the market right on their doorstep! Not far away, in the Rue Romiguères, the Hotel du Grand Balcon is a virtual museum of history reputed to have housed members of the French airmail service at the beginning of the century. A few of the pilots particularly worth mentioning are the notable Jean Mermoz and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
Place Wilson and the Allées Jean Jaurès Continuing with the luxury hotels, the Holiday Inn Toulouse Centre and the Grand Hôtel de Paris are located conveniently near the center of town, with the added advantage of being near the Canal du Midi and the subway, thus offering numerous possibilities for walks, outings and shopping trips. The Victor-Hugo and the Ours Blanc, are somewhat cheaper and still more centrally situated, in that they are close to the shops on the Place Wilson and the Victor Hugo Market.
Near the Station A large number of hotels are grouped around the Matabiau train station, on the neighboring boulevards or in the Rue Bayard, a street full of shops linking the station to the large boulevards in town. Full of life at all times of day, this street is full of travellers and merrymakers who will always manage to unearth the all-night restaurants, cabarets and grocery shops. There is a wide range of hotels here, from luxury hotels such as the Terminus to more practical selections (the Tivoli, the Saint-Séverin, the Toulouse, or the Ambassadeurs). In this same area, the hotels Ibis Gare Matabiau and Orsay take advantage of the lush green banks of the Canal du Midi nearby.
Residential Hotels The residential accommodation is mainly concentrated around the same major thoroughfares: the Citadines Wilson Résidence on the wide boulevards near the Place Wilson, the Concorde Résidence near the train station and the Parthénon Résidence on the Allées Jean Jaurès provide every modern comfort and offer a very pleasant compromise between renting an apartment and staying in a hotel.
In the picturesque streets In the vast Rue Raymond IV, in the pretty neighborhood of Matabiau, are some beautiful hotels that are well sheltered from the urban animation of the town. The Caravelle and the Raymond IV are ideal for a quiet and peaceful stay, without being too removed from the attractions of the town. On the banks of the Brienne Canal in the shade of the huge plane trees, a delightful picturesque setting is the charming Hôtel de Brienne. The Hôtel des Beaux Arts perches on the embankment of the River Daurade near the magnificent Pont Neuf, paradoxically the oldest bridge in Toulouse, provides an exceptional view over the River Garonne and on its ground floor offers an excellent bar specializing in seafood. Close by, the Père Léon on the Place Esquirol is an old Toulouse establishment particularly well situated on the medieval Grande Rue, at the junction of the pretty pedestrian streets of Toulouse, the Rue des Changes and the Rue des Filatiers. The Musée des Augustins and the Bemberg Foundation are just a stone's throw away; fine-art enthusiasts, take note! Over by the Place Saint-Georges with its pretty, colourful alleyways, stands the Mecure Toulouse Saint Georges, providing the security of an internationally renowned hotel name.
Chain Brand Hotels Hotels belonging to large chains are usually both comfortable and modern, and offer good services along with parking facilities at very reasonable prices. Many of these hotels are situated along the Canal du Midi, to the north of the town (Etap Hôtel Toulouse Centre, Nuit d'Hôtel), within easy reach of the high speed roads. Others are right outside of the town beside the main roadways (Campanile Purpan) and near Blagnac airport. These hotels provide the ideal solution for travelers hurrying through Toulouse.
Situated at the foot of the Pyrenees mountains in the Garonne valley, Toulouse enjoys a pleasant climate and has managed to preserve sites of incredible natural beauty surrounding the city while incorporating leisure facilities and pathways, making the area particularly delightful to visit. Known as the “Ville Rose” (Pink City) because of the delicate red-pink hues of its buildings, the city also has an important historical and artistic heritage which continually grows and develops. New additions like the creation of cultural and artistic centers and the organization of international exchanges, festivals, and exhibitions keep the city alive. Close to the border with Spain, Toulouse has the lilting accent and festive atmosphere common to towns in this southern region of France and gladly welcomes visitors to enjoy the tranquil days and frenetic nightlife of the city.
Parks, sport and relaxation
A large number of parks and gardens, situated in the city center or easily accessible by métro or bus, will delight children and their parents. They feature outdoor games for children, refreshment stalls, and lovely walkways. The Jardin Compans-Caffarelli delights the eyes with an attractive Japanese garden and a large lake, while the Jardin des Plantes is most appreciated for its little train, farm animals, and waterfall. The Prairie des Filtres is the perfect spot to watch competitors cross the finishing line of the Garona river race. Competitors in this unusual race, which takes place at the end of summer, have to complete the 20 km course under their own steam, using non-motorized (generally pedal-powered!) machines. The shady banks of the Canal du Midi are always pleasant to walk along, or climb aboard the Vedette Cap d'Ambre for a peaceful cruise as it drifts along the canal's winding course. With a car, visitors can also explore the African Safari, or focus on more local fauna at the Ferme des Cabanes. The Cap al Campestre Museum also has a local focus with a collection of historical machinery and cultural artifacts from the region. For a different experience of the local area, parks for sports and recreation including the Ramée and Sesquières feature excellent facilities for outdoor sports enthusiasts.
Museums and galleries
The big museums in Toulouse are all concentrated around the Place du Capitole in the heart of the city, so they are easily accessible on your own two feet.
Enthusiasts of fine art will adore the Musée des Augustins, an impressively large cloister whose interior garden is a true paradise amidst all the hustle and bustle of the city. Paintings and sculptures exhibited here range from ancient works to modern creations. Equally lush, the Couvent des Jacobins has a remarkable exhibition space and is historically and culturally fascinating in itself. A number of prestigious buildings house wonderful works of art in Toulouse; the exhibitions in the Fondation Bemberg, devoted to Renaissance and Modern School painting, and the Salle des Illustres, share the beautiful Capitole building with the town hall.
A space for modern and contemporary art, the Abattoirs on the left bank of the Garonne is a cultural treasure and is definitively dedicated to modern works. The same can be said for the Centre Municipal de l'Affiche, de la Carte Postale et de l'Art Graphique (Urban Center of Posters, Post Cards, and Graphic Arts) and the Galerie Municipale du Château-d'Eau (a gallery of contemporary photography), two must-see attractions for photography enthusiasts.
Small art galleries like the Galerie Sollertis and the Galerie Jacques Girard also allow you to admire (and sometimes buy) works by lesser-known artists. Given their location in the streets of old Toulouse, these galleries are also the ideal excuse for wandering through the city to discover some of the most picturesque spots.
Certainly not usual but just as stimulating, the Musée Paul Dupuy of decorative arts, with an extensive display of antiques, and the Musée Georges-Labit, devoted to Asian and Ancient Egyptian art, are definitely worth a visit.
For those seeking a historical understanding of Toulouse, the Saint-Raymond archaeological museum traces the city's past, exploring the daily lives of its inhabitants and examining even the darkest moments of history.
Toulouse provides ample encouragement to visit these cultural treasures: entry to museums is free on the first Sunday of every month. Another practical choice is to buy a museum passport, available in each of the city's museums, which allows visitors access to three museums for EUR 5 or, for compulsive tourists, six museums for EUR 8.
Science and technology
About 10km from the city center the Cité de l'Espace, with its full-scale replica of the Ariane space rocket and its special Terr@dome show, is the only one of its kind in France and should definitely not be missed. The Aquarium de la Garonne et des Pyrénées will delight younger children, who'll can get close and personal with different species of fresh water fish. Of more local interest, but with the advantage of being situated in town, a tour round the Bazacle hydroelectric power station, lets you personally witness the importance of the river in Toulouse.
Home to France's second biggest university, Toulouse is a dynamic city which prides itself on a lively and varied nightlife. Numerous cinemas, including the Gaumont Wilson and the UGC Toulouse, are situated right in the heart of the city close to the main boulevards and parking. Major multiplex cinemas (Méga CGR, Gaumont Labège) fitted with the very latest technology are established in the suburbs and show big-budget movies. Meanwhile, artistic and experimental cinemas in the city center enjoy a devoted following at locations like Utopia, the ABC, Cratère and the Cinémathèque de Toulouse. Every year, all the movie theaters in Toulouse join forces to put on a number of film festivals, each with a different theme (e.g. Festival Séquence Court-Métrage and the Rencontre des Cinémas d'Amérique Latine)
Toulouse's many theaters, from the small, cozy spots to the massive auditorium and theater complexes, offer a very rich and diverse repertoire to the public. You won't have time to see everything! It's a good idea to sort through city events listings to pinpoint the most interesting shows ahead of time; check out the schedule at the Théâtre Garonne, the Théâtre du Pavé, and the Théâtre Jules-Julien. Some venues, including the Théâtre de la Cité, the Théâtre de la Digue, the Théâtre Sorano, the Théâtre du Jour, and the Grenier Théâtre alternate between modern theater productions and traditional classics.
For café-théâtre productions, the most popular venues are the Théâtre des Trois T, Cave Poésie, Le 57 arts center, Théâtre Le Fil à Plomb, Altigone, the Espace Croix-Baragnon, and the Salle Nougaro, some of which incorporate concerts and dance performances into their program.
Music and Nightlife
Large classical music events take place mainly at the Halle aux Grains and in the Théâtre du Capitole, but the city's churches and auditoriums (Basilique Saint-Sernin, Auditorium Saint-Pierre-des-Cuisines, Eglise Saint-Pierre-des-Chartreux) have their own significant role in the classical music scene: at the beginning of autumn they also host the international “Toulouse Les Orgues” festival (Toulouse Organ Festival), as well as much smaller groups of musicians, all of whom enjoy the marvelous acoustics provided by these magnificent stone buildings. The Couvent des Jacobins guards the honor of hosting, each September, the eponymously named piano festival Piano aux Jacobins. Concerts of rock, pop and jazz music take place in average sized auditoriums like Bikini, Bijou, Salle Nougaro, Altigone, Mazades), or in auditoria with a large seating capacity such as Odyssud, the Palais des Sports, and the Zénith. The Jazz sur Son 31 festival in October generally welcomes over thirty international artists who perform in the city's different concert halls.
Much more modest (but no less attractive) are Toulouse's many bars, which offer live music all year round and welcome performances by regional artists in all styles of music - jazz and blues in particular being long-standing favorites in spots like Mandala.
Pubs like Dubliner's and Mulligan's are popular nightlife destinations in Toulouse. Student crowds tend to frequent bars and venues close to the university in the Saint-Pierre or Arnaud-Bernard neighborhoods, like Breughel and Q'sec/Ragtime. Naturally, the Place du Capitole, Wilson Square, and the grand boulevards are Toulouse's nocturnal hot spots, with numerous and well-frequented bars. On Saturday nights, the party goes until dawn, but most bars have to close at 2 a.m. on weeknights: night owls move on into the city nightclubs like Saint-Georges Club or Purgatoire. There's always somewhere to go!