Match-day atmosphere is guaranteed in France’s rugby capital, but there’s much more to explore in Toulouse, from its historic architecture to the famous Space City. If you’re staying in Toulouse for the France Rugby World Cup 2023, why not plan a few days before or after match day to take in the highlights of La Ville Rose (The Pink City)? To get you started, here’s our pick of the top 10 things to do in Toulouse.
1. Admire the Architecture of the Historic Center
Toulouse’s nickname, The Pink City, comes from the city’s unique architecture, all built out of characteristic salmon-pink brick. The grand centrepiece is the Place du Capitole, with its pink-and-white striped Capitole building (home to Toulouse Town Hall and the Théâtre du Capitole). From here, continue your walking tour to the neighbouring Square Charles-de-Gaulle, and the nearby Convent of the Jacobins, with its unique palm-tree column.
Other architectural gems include the 16th-century Hôtel Assezat, which houses the Georges Bemberg Foundation; Notre-Dame de la Daurade cathedral, which has a history dating back to Roman times; and the magnificent Basilica of Saint Sernin, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
2. Reach for the Stars at the Cité de l’Espace
Toulouse is an important European centre of aviation and aeronautics, and the headline act is the Cité de l’Espace (Space City). Once you’ve marvelled at the moon rocks and spacesuits on display, you can live out your own space-exploring fantasies through the virtual reality simulators and I-Max movies, gaze up into the stars at the planetarium, and see full-scale replicas of the Ariane 5 rocket and MIR space station.
While in Toulouse, aerophiles can also learn the secrets of aviation with a tour of the original Airbus factory, step on-board a Concorde and fly a simulator at the Aeroscopia Museum, and admire restored Vampire, Alouette and Mirage aircraft on display at Les Ailes Anciennes (The Old Wings Museum).
3. Explore the Left Bank of the Garonne
Cross the 16th-century Pont Neuf (New Bridge) to the Left Bank of the Garonne River, where the Saint-Cyprien Quarter is the cultural hub of Toulouse. First stop is the Château d’Eau (Water Castle), a 19th-century water tower now repurposed as a photography museum. To the north, Les Abattoirs (The Slaughterhouse) is a modern and contemporary art museum housed in—you guessed it—a former slaughterhouse, while the nearby Matou is Europe’s largest poster museum.
Once you’ve had your fill of art, head down to the riverside Prairie des Filtres, where the grassy banks host open-air festivals and urban beaches through summer. Bring a picnic or order a beer at the waterfront bar.
4. Cruise the Garonne River
The Garonne River flows through Toulouse, and some of the city’s best views can be enjoyed from the water. Bateaux Toulousains offers boat cruises along the Garonne from July through October, affording views of the Dôme de Lagrave, the Pont Neuf, and the tree-lined Canal de Brienne.
For something more adventurous, canoe and kayak tours set out from the Îles du Ramier, the island at the heart of the city. Prefer to stay on dry land? The banks of the Garonne are also an idyllic spot for a stroll, morning jog, or leisurely bike ride, starting out along the Promenade Henri-Martin.
5. Sample Local Delicacies at the Market
Toulouse’s covered markets serve up a smorgasbord of regional produce from foie gras d’oie (goose foie gras) and confit de canard (duck confit) to black truffles and pink garlic. The first stop for foodies should be Les Halles Victor Hugo, where you can pick up local specialities like confiture de violettes (violet jam), saucisse de Toulouse (Toulouse sausages), and tarte aux noix (walnut pie).
The market runs daily (except Mondays) from 7am until 2pm, but we suggest arriving in the late morning and sticking around for lunch—the upper floor restaurants serve some of the best cassoulet in Toulouse. Alternatively, the Carmes and Saint-Cyprien covered markets are both worth a visit, while the Escarpette market on Square Charles-de-Gaulle is devoted to organic (bio) produce.
6. Sample Toulouse’s legendary nightlife
With its international workforce and large student population, it’s little surprise that Toulouse has a diverse nightlife, and the city springs to life once the sun goes down. Head to one of the terrace cafés and wine bars in Les Carmes quarter for an aperitif at sundown, or snag a table at one of the tapas restaurants in Saint-Cyprien.
For late-night drinking and dining, the Bourse-Daurade quarter is the soul of Toulouse’s nightlife, and bars, bistros, and nightclubs line the streets between the Place du Capitole and the quayside.
7. Walk the Trail of the Giants
One of the most recent additions to Toulouse’s collection of museums and expositions, La Piste des Géants or the Trail of the Giants, is a cultural complex inspired by Toulouse’s aeronautical history. Built around a former airstrip, the complex includes the L’Envol des Pionniers museum, devoted to the history of France’s first airmail carriers, and Les Jardins de la Ligne, a series of gardens inspired by the far-flung destinations flown to by the airmail service (including Argentina, Brazil, Morocco, and Senegal).
The piece de resistance, however, is the unique Halle de la Machine, where aeronautical engineering has been rechannelled into the creation of gigantic mechanical mythical creatures. Ever fancied taking a ride on a 14-meter-high steel-and-wood Minotaur or watching a 38-ton mechanical spider dance? Now you can!
8. Picnic By the Canal du Midi
Running for 150 miles from Toulouse all the way to the Mediterranean Sea, the 17th-century Canal du Midi is acclaimed among France’s most impressive feats of engineering—it’s even protected on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
History aside, its tree-lined banks also provide a welcome change of scenery from the urban centre. Rent a bike to cycle the canalside, take a cruise on a traditional barge, or bring a picnic to enjoy by the waterfront. On the south bank of the canal, the Japanese Garden is a serene spot, with its landscaped ponds, bridges, and tea pavilion.
9. Experience the Capital of French Rugby
You’ve come to France for the rugby, and there’s no better city to celebrate the sport than Toulouse, long revered as the capital of French rugby. While matches for the Rugby World Cup 2023 will be held at the larger Stadium de Toulouse, also known as “Little Wembley”, the stadium is traditionally used for the city’s football fixtures, not rugby.
The home of Toulouse’s legendary rugby team, Stade Toulousain, is the smaller Ernest-Wallon Stadium. Stadium tours offer the chance to dive into French rugby history, learn the legacy of the iconic ‘Les rouge et noir’ (‘The red and blacks’), and take a peek at the locker rooms and training pitches.
10. Take a Day Trip
Historic cities, medieval citadels, and pilgrimage sites dot the landscapes of the Occitanie region, affording Toulousians myriad options for day trips. The hilltop village of Cordes-sur-Ciel is a stone-sculpted dream awarded the title of one of “Les Plus Beaux Villages de France” (The Most Beautiful Villages in France), while Carcassonne is one of France’s most visited medieval sites, complete with soaring ramparts and fairy-tale towers.
For the ultimate adventure, head south into the Pyrenees Mountains for a spectacular road trip to pint-sized Andorra, one of Europe’s tiniest states.