Toulouse City Guide: Where to Eat, Drink, Shop and Stay in France’s Underrated Pink City
Toulouse could be known as the pink City (the pink city) in honor of its buildings with coral hues, but it is built from the richness of “blue gold”: the dye of pastel which attracted merchants to the city in the 16th century. Today, an equally colorful atmosphere reigns around its opulent architecture, thanks to its reinvention as an aeronautical hub and bustling student city – the fourth in France, where a quarter of its 470,000 inhabitants are students.
This means that there is always something going on, whether it is on the banks of the Garonne which separates the main part of the city from the trendy district of St Cyprien, or in the charming old town, with its rickety wooden buildings that are somehow still standing.
What to do
Look behind the city gates
The old town of Toulouse was built on the fortune of its pastel merchants – now their grand mansions have now been converted into offices and apartments, but the grandeur and ivy-covered courtyards remain. The unofficial line is that if the doors to the street leading to the courtyards are open, you can take a peek around – this open house experience shows a quiet side of the city that you would never have seen. otherwise. Plus, it’s a great excuse to stroll through the pretty old town, with its beautifully restored wooden buildings.
Soak up the ambiance of Place du Capitole
The Place du Capitole is the central point of Toulouse. This is where you’ll find bars and restaurants that spill over from its perimeter, markets on weekends, tango dances on Sundays if you’re lucky and the pink-tinted neoclassical facade of the Capitol, the hotel city ââof Toulouse. Head to its first floor to marvel at the ornament Hall of Illustrious (Salle des Illustres), full of 19th century art.
Toulouse is a hub for the space and aeronautical industries – this is where the Concorde and the A380 were invented – the CitÃ© de l’Espace is therefore a veritable exhibition-slash-theater park. After the interactive exhibits, see an exact replica of the Mir space station or sit in the astronaut’s seats on the Soyuz module itself to get a feel for its cramped conditions – and the photoshoot. Open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends; entry from 16 â¬.
Become a crime fighter
It’s always fun to discover a city through a scavenger hunt – and on the interactive Capitol Flight adventure tour, it’s up to each team of super sleuths to venture through town to recover a stolen Cryptex containing the founding papers of the city. The experience takes place in English. 11-20 â¬ per person depending on the size of the team.
Where to stay
The HÃ´tel Des Beaux Arts is full of contemporary paintings, sculptures and works of art that guarantee you a bright and daring stay. There is no compromise on location – it’s on the banks of the Pont Neuf, with iconic river views from the upper floors. Doubles from â¬ 75, room only. hoteldesbeauarts.com
The Heliot hotel is a charming 3-star hotel with 12 rooms. It’s a traditional French style, and what it lacks in style it makes up for with friendliness. It is centrally located, but tucked away on a side street for a relaxed stay. The only downside is that there is no elevator so be prepared to haul your luggage upstairs. Double from â¬ 80.30, guest room. hotel-heliot.com
In the trendy district of St Cyprien, ParenthÃ¨se Concept Room is for those who want to spend money. Its two loft suites are Toulouse-chic, with decadent features like circular beds and private hot tubs, plus stunning views of the Pink City. Suites from â¬ 259.60, room only. parenthesis-concept-room.com
Where to eat
Everywhere in Toulouse, you will find many outdoor restaurants, rain or shine. In summer, pop-up restaurants are constantly evolving and offer inventive and often high-end dishes. Mosey along the banks of the Garonne to find clusters of them.
Cassoulet – a simmered stew made from beans and duck thigh or here Toulouse sausages – is Toulouse’s regional dish. You won’t find a more generous version than at Restaurant Emile, where a three-course meal costs around â¬ 42 per person, although the cozy La Mare aux Canards gets its money’s worth. Found in a downright seedy alley, worth it to be brave.
A wider range of French food can be found at PÃ¨re LÃ©on, a classic French brasserie with a few vegetarian options just off Place Esquirol. Save room for a gourmet coffee: coffee served with tasty bites from their sweet selection.
Need a quick pick-me-up? Meet at the PÃ¢tisserie ContÃ©, a lively and ever-changing tea room where delicate French pastries are the star of the show.
Toulouse is home to six Michelin-starred restaurants, of which Le CÃ©nacle is the big favorite. In a sumptuous 18th century dining room flanked by an enormous impression of the Caravaggio Dinner at Emmaus, it offers seasonal menus and signature menus, with the specialty of pigeon pithivier and foie gras.
Yet a slew of gourmet restaurants are bubbling under the starry layer. Du Plaisir Ã la Toque is a hidden gem, and Le Perche Pinte is a relaxed experience with an emphasis on sustainable, organic produce – a three-course dinner here costs just â¬ 30, as it were. A local favorite is Place Mage, whose fine dishes are accompanied by a carefully curated wine list.
Where to drink
You will be surrounded by great wines, which is hardly surprising, since Toulouse is close to the Languedoc vineyards and, finally, to France. Connoisseurs will love the N5 Wine Bar: voted best wine bar in the world in 2017, it’s a jostling card bar where you can taste small measures of rare bottles. For a more relaxed vibe, try Nebuchadnezzar and La Cave Se Rebiffe, or Barrique & Bourrique offers a lively atmosphere and a wider range of drinks. Don’t be surprised to find tapas a la carte bars, this is where Toulouse’s proximity to Spain comes into play.
For specialty coffee, head to CafÃ© Cerise, which roasts its coffee on-site (and also serves brunches and lunches). For tea, try L’estaminot in St Cyprien – find a table between their piles of second-hand books and make yourself comfortable.
Where to shop
The main shopping center is Galeries Lafayette, but Toulouse is also concept stores: boutiques that sell a hand-picked selection of household items, clothing, gifts, stationery and more. Just try to leave Atypical without a purchase. Honorable mentions go to Bobine Par Maison B and Retropolis (which also sells vintage and second-hand items).
Jewelry enthusiasts should take a look at Adepte, where the house’s designs complement the range of sophisticated accessories on sale. For those with the time, Fifi Jolipo sells fine jewelry, with tools available to make your own custom knickknacks on site.
For food, the stalls of the Victor Hugo market are unbeatable. It is home to high-end products, much of which is locally sourced. Or Le Comptoir de Mathilde focuses on fine products – think truffle oils, pÃ¢tÃ©s, cookies and chocolate. All the delicious things.
The unique St. Stephen’s Cathedral began as a 13th century Southern Gothic church. Things got interesting in the 16th century when it was enlarged in a Northern Gothic style, resulting in a wonderful hodgepodge of a monument (it remains unfinished, for more chaos).
Nuts and bolts
What currency do they use?
What language do they speak?
French, although the street names are also in the Occitan language.
Should I tip?
What is the time difference?
One hour ahead of the UK.
How do I get around?
The central area is accessible on foot (and largely pedestrianized), and the tram and city bikes (VÃ©lÃ´Toulouse) are good options for going further afield.
What is the best view?
Ma Biche sur Le Toit’s rooftop terrace offers a magnificent view of the city’s rooftops, especially at sunset.
Look up at the ceilings of the porticoes of Place Capitole. You will see drawings from the history of Toulouse, starting with the martyrdom of Saint Sermin – and ending with a mirror.
Trying to fly less?
You can get to Toulouse from London by train in about eight hours. Take the Eurostar to Paris Gare du Nord (2h15), then the Metro to Montparnasse-Bienvenue, change to Paris Montparnasse. From there, there is a TGV service to Toulouse Matabiau (4h20).
Okay to fly?
Ryanair, BA and easyJet all offer direct flights from the UK to Toulouse.