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 Capitole , marks the very heart of the “Ville rose” (pink city). Today it houses the town hall and the Theâtre du Capitole . Its vast square is brought to life by the markets that take place there in the mornings (the main market and the Marche Biologique du Capitole , a market specializing in organic produce), as well as the crowds that meet on the terraces of Toulouse's best-known cafes throughout the day, such as the Florida . All around, the colorful streets in the old part of the city provide an insight into its rich and vivid past, with their town houses and fountains or pretty squares, museums and churches.
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 Canal du Midi through the vast Jardin Compans-Caffarelli (a park), it's an area that benefits from the activities that take place in the sports stadium and the surrounding businesses. Towards the west, the pleasant areas of Saint-Pierre and Amidonniers stretch out to meet the Garonne , while it borders on the historic area of Saint-Sernin to the east.
Saint-Sernin and Wilson Rue du Taur, a partly pedestrianized street, links the Capitol to the magnificent Basilique Saint-Sernin (Saint-Sernin Basilica). Surrounded by old buildings such as the Eglise Notre-Dame-du-Taur (Notre-Dame-du-Taur Church), the Marche aux Puces Saint-Sernin (Saint-Sernin flea market) is a pleasant historic area. Close to big secondary schools, the university, and libraries, it has a large student population and is dotted with specialized bookshops, student cafes like Le 7 place Saint-Sernin , and cultural spots (such as the Musee Archeologique Saint-Raymond - Saint-Raymond archaeological museum -, the Cinemathèque de Toulouse - Toulouse film library - and Cave Poesie ). Just beside this neighborhood, the Place Wilson area and its grand boulevards lend a feeling of modernity to the city.
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-Aubin Church surrounded each Sunday by a bustling market, this picturesque area safeguards a less urban lifestyle, much appreciated by its inhabitants. The people who live on Rue de la Colombette have even declared their street as "commune dans la ville", or “the village in the city”, and throw a joyful party to celebrate this community every autumn.
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 Saint-Etienne Cathedral , which retains its original architecture, the Monument à la Gloire de la Resistance (Memorial to the French Resistance), and the Halle aux Grains (Corn Exchange), which stands on the Place Dupuy . Next, a relaxed stroll through the lovely side-streets and large adjoining parks (Grand-Rond Boulingrin, Jardin des plantes , and the Jardin Royal), which provide the best views of the fine architecture overlooking them ( Palais Niel , the former Faculty of Medicine, is here). To the south, the area meets the Saint-Michel neighborhood.
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 Observatoire de Jolimont Observatory (Jolimont Observatory) or the Science and Environment Center.
Guilhemery, Montplaisir, Pont des Demoiselles, Côte Pavee, Terrasse The areas of Guilhemery and Montplaisir link the Canal du Midi to Côte Pavee, 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 Cite de l'Espace (Space Village) and Montaudran airfield are situated.
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 Place du Salin , the Busca area is joined on the south side by the Saouze-Loung and St Agne areas to Rangueil, which adapts to the comings and goings of its mainly student population. The university and schools here make it a city within a city. The splendor of the nearby Château Bellevue offers a striking contrast between the city's classical and modern influences.
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 Parc des Expositions (Exhibition Centre), the Stadium , and Ramier Park . The two branches of the river come together again to the south, near the Empalot area, which is close to the Science faculties and Pech-David hill.
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 Pont Neuf , they offer magnificent views over the Garonne, which you can also enjoy from the Jardin Raymond-IV , from Hôtel-Dieu Saint-Jacques or even from the pleasant Prairie des Filtres . Wonderfully transformed, places such as these are today much sought-after areas in Toulouse, where unusually, private clinics old and new exist alongside arts centers and museums ( Espace Saint-Cyprien , Espace d'Art Moderne et Contemporain - Modern and Contemporary Arts Center -, Centre Municipal de l'Affiche, de la Carte Postale et de l'Art Graphique - a city arts center devoted to posters, postcards, and graphic arts.)
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 Ramee sports and recreation park.
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 cafe in Toulouse.
Regional Cuisine Toulouse owes much of its culinary heritage to local produce that comes from the surrounding areas, in particular the neighboring departement 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'Opera , 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 Grillee , 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 Cafe 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: Cafe 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 The ) 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 just a few hours, these two tours will help you discover the main tourist attractions and many charming features unique to the Pink City. The walk round the shopping area will lead you through the pretty historic alleyways woven around the center and down some of the shopping streets of Toulouse. Opt for the leisurely walk to wander across the town center from south to north, taking you through the gardens, the old districts, and along the banks of the Garonne River.
Tour the Shopping Area
The walk starts in Place Saint-Sernin where the splendid Basilique Saint-Sernin and the Musee Archeologique Saint-Raymond should be admired. Do not miss the Marche aux Puces de St-Sernin , or flea market, on Sunday mornings.
Capitole To appreciate a perfect view of the Capitole , which houses the town hall at the heart of the Pink City, stroll along the pretty cobblestones of the Rue du Taur. Before starting the walk, enjoy a hearty breakfast at one of the great cafes under the arches (try the Florida ), and lean back to discover Toulouse's history painted on the ceilings by a local artist, Raymond Moretti. From the various prestigious brasseries around the Place du Capitole like the Grand Cafe l'Opera , take in the local perspective: either the bustling organic market or Toulouse's emblem, the cross of Languedoc, will be clearly visible.
Admire the Capitole building and its splendid façade and enter through the main passage leading to the Salle des Illustres . With luck, your visit will coincide with one of the many art exhibitions held here. Exit onto the Square Charles-de-Gaulle and find the Office de Tourisme in the castle keep of the Capitole. Take the time to gather information on the many attractions of the city and plan an excursion for the following day by reserving a seat on the boat bateau-mouche Le Capitole or on the petit train touristique . Back outside, enjoy the cheerful little park with its statues created by Toutain, a local sculptor, and rest awhile under the tall shady trees before resuming your walk.
Moving West Take the Rue Lafayette on the other side of the Rue Alsace-Lorraine to access the lively Wilson Square with its many cafes and brasseries (the Cardinal , the Capoul , the Bistro Romain ). Through the Rue St Antoine-du-T, not far from the Hôtel Resseguier and the Eglise Saint-Jerôme discover the quaint charm of the Place Saint-Georges with its restaurants such as the Van Gogh or the Emile ), and its cafes boasting large terraces. Then follow the pretty cobblestoned Rue Boulbonne, lined with little shops. Take the Rue d'Astorg on your left to access the impressive Cathedrale Saint-Etienne and its beautiful square.
Place Esquirol Walk westwards up the main street, Rue de Metz. This route will lead you past the magnificent Musee des Augustins . This is the neighborhood to find gourmet delicacies - regional wines, meats, candies, and cheeses - at renowned vendors like the Comtesse du Barry , Pillon , and the Domaine de Lastours . On the Place Esquirol or in the adjoining streets, you are bound to find a restaurant which suits your tastes: start reading menus at L'Autre Salon de The or La Grillee ...
Pedestrian area From the Place Esquirol, take the Rue des Changes going north. This was, in medieval times, the Grande Rue, today a pedestrian area adored by serious shoppers for its many boutiques selling the latest fashions and gadgets. This area is also greatly appreciated by those keen on architecture with the Hôtel d'Astorg, Hôtel de Comère, and the Hôtel Dumay close by. Continue until the Rue Saint Rome and turn right onto the tiny Baour-Lormian street, which leads to the small Place Salengro . In the Rue Pantaleon, stop by the Violettes et Pastel , a shop selling local produce, then walk along the Rue du Poids-de-l'Huile to reach the Place du Capitole.
Your visit starts at the Jardin des Plantes , the oldest green area of the town. If you have time, wander through the three gardens (Grand-Rond, Jardin Royal and Jardin des Plantes), climb the foot-bridges over the road, and admire the handsome structure of the Palais Niel on the corner of the pretty Place Montoulieu.
Towards the old districts Once you have got your breath back, walk along the wide Jules Guesde alleyways, which host the antiques fair Brocante du Grand-Rond one weekend a month and the big Saint-Michel festival early each fall, until you reach the Place du Salin and the adjacent Place du Parlement, where fairs and executions were once held. They also mark the southern limits of the medieval walls and the entrance to the antique dealers district. Take the Rue de la Fonderie, a well-known destination for bargain hunters and for those who appreciate fine architecture: passing by the Institut Catholique, take the Rue de la Dalbade where beautiful private mansions such as the Hôtel de Molinier, the Hôtel de Clary , or the Hôtel Messac surround the Eglise Notre-Dame-de-la Dalbade . Through the Rue des Paradoux and the Rue du Coq-d'Inde, you will reach Place de la Trinite .
Main street Leave the peaceful district of Carmes to join the hustle and bustle of the city. Take the Rue de la Bourse on the other side of the Rue de Metz. As you arrive at the Place de la Bourse, don't miss the Hôtel d'Assezat , which houses the Bemberg Foundation , devoted to fine arts.
Towards the river banks Take the Rue Clemence Isaure and discover the Academy of Fine Arts and the Jardin de la Daurade . The Basilique de la Daurade overlooks the river here. Take the time to rest on the banks of the Garonne River and admire the Pont Neuf to your left. Next, stroll up the quays towards Pont Saint-Pierre on your right. It's a truly pleasant place for a walk under the plane trees, to revel in the charms of this shady and picturesque area. To conclude your walk, follow the Rue Pargaminières (next to the Couvent des Jacobins ), then the Rue Romiguières, which will lead you back to the Place du Capitole , the heart of Toulouse .
An Intimate Tour If you're visiting France from abroad, take one of Ophorus' small group tours. The intimate tours can immerse you in beautiful areas of France and show you authentic French traditions, and walking or multi-day tours of Toulouse are very popular. Look over http://www.ophorus.com/ or contact Ophorus at +33 (0)5 61 575 139 for further details.