Top 5 free things to do in Toulouse
If you’re planning a holiday to France but have a tight budget to stick to, consider travelling to Toulouse. This beautiful city has a lot to offer all kinds of visitors and, best of all for those who are strapped for cash, there are plenty of free attractions.
Should you wish to explore further afield than just Toulouse, it’s relatively easy to hire a car for a few days – You can also cycle or walk if you’re keen to get out and about in the surrounding countryside.
Here are five of Toulouse’s top free attractions for you to discover on your holiday.
As one of the most striking and important buildings in the city, Capitole shouldn’t be missed – whether you’re on a budget or not! This remarkable structure is the city hall, as well as the Theatre National du Capitole orchestra and opera house. The exterior of the building is striking, with its grand columns around the entrance, but you really need to step indoors to appreciate its opulence.
Many of the ceilings in the hallways are adorned with vast murals, while gold mouldings surround the windows and frame the paintings. Three of the chambers in here are open to the public on the first Sunday of every month, where you can view more stunning artwork and period decor.
- Toulouse Cathedral
Another of Toulouse’s historic monuments that you shouldn’t miss is the cathedral – or Cathedrale Saint-Etienne de Toulouse, to give it its full name. It’s a truly remarkable building, because it’s comprised of two very different architectural styles. Construction first began in the 13th century, but the cathedral wasn’t finished until the 17th century, so you have an odd mixture of Gothic and Roman sections within the place of worship.
For instance, the beautiful rose window on the west front was added in 1230, while behind it is a Gothic tower and belfry that was completed in the 16th century. Inside, you’ll discover a similar mishmash of designs – keep an eye out for the pagan carvings on the wooden choir stalls and the stunning Baroque retable of the high altar.
- Jardin des Plantes
From Toulouse’s buildings, we’ll move on to one of its outdoor attractions – the Jardin des Plantes. This charming park is free to enter and was created during the time of the French Revolution. It’s the oldest park in Toulouse and boasts a fantastic collection of flora, including nearly 100 species of trees.
- Wander the streets of the Les Carmes district
Les Carmes is one of Toulouse’s oldest districts, with much of it dating back to the Middle Ages. Its network of narrow alleys and pedestrianised streets is a delight to explore on foot – and a great place for window shopping thanks to the wide selection of high-end boutiques located in this part of the city. There are also some spectacular mansions here, most notably on rue de la Dalbade, where the stone facade of the Hotel de Clary really stands out.
- Explore the Canal du Midi
The Canal du Midi is one of France’s most impressive feats of engineering, with the manmade waterway beginning in Toulouse (at the Garonne River) and running all the way to the Etang de Thau on the Mediterranean. It covers some 360 km and provides a link between the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts of the country.
You can content yourself with walking or cycling along the stretches of the canal closest to Toulouse, but it’s worth hopping in the hire car you picked up at Toulouse airport to visit some of its most interesting sections. One that’s worth the drive is the Saint Ferreol dam, which is 64 km from Toulouse.
This vast structure was the biggest single project on the waterway, with the dam some 780 m long and 32 m high. It’s still impressive to see today, although when you consider it was constructed in the 17th century, the achievement seems even greater.