12 Hours in Carcassonne
Carcassonne, a stunning medieval city in the Languedoc region; with its historic ramparts and beautiful countryside, the town can easily be considered a hidden gem in the South of France.
With two UNESCO World Heritage Site listings and its fairy-tale esque walled ‘cité’, this beautiful town is a great place to spend a break away in France.
Carcassonne is also a popular day trip from Montpellier and Toulouse. But how best does the savvy traveler spend a short stay in this beautiful region?
Firstly… when to go?
There isn't really a bad time to visit since the weather here is temperate year-round, so select a season based on your own tastes. In winter, whilst there are various festive activities at Christmas, many of the city's attractions are closed or run on limited hours.
Spring and Autumn can be ideal. Most events take place in the summer months, including the July festival, but Carcassonne will also be packed with tourists at that time of year.
It couldn’t be easier to get to Carcassonne, with frequent direct flights from London Stansted, and at very reasonable prices too - there’s no excuse. And whilst you’re there, getting around couldn’t be easier. Most places are within walking distance, and for short journeys in Carcassonne city centre - the bus company Agglo runs many services – some of which are free.
But before any travel abroad, it’s important to check out your chosen destination on the FCO foreign travel advice site, which will provide you with essential advice on local customs, restrictions and much more. The France travel advice page has an extensive list of resources such as safety and security and health advice. Moreover, the travel aware essentials checklist will also help you plan your visit comprehensively.
Best Things to See & Do in Carcassonne
So, par où commencer? This is the perfect way to spend a day exploring Carcassonne.
Beginning the day
It wouldn’t be right to start the day in France without a croissant and a large cup of coffee! There are numerous bakeries around the town, mainly just off the Place Carnot which is the main town square with the historic fountain of Neptune in the centre, dating back to 1770. Enjoy a large cup of café in the sunshine in the glorious square.
Top tip: On a Saturday morning, from 8am onwards, head to the farmer’s market where locals show off their delicious produce all at reasonable prices.
After that, go for a wander around the town. Keeping the central avenue, Rue du Verdun, as a reference point, you can easily spend hours uncovering hidden boutiques, stamp museums and dusty toy car shops whilst wandering from one medieval site to another.
Key places to visit as you wander: The Chapelle des Dominicaines (19, Rue du Verdun) that has a time line of the city’s history running round its walls. Take a look at the Eglise Saint-Vincent (Rue Albert Tomey) for 17th-century paintings. Another rather unique but very ‘francaise’ attraction is La Ferme fromagerie with its enormous cheese wheels (55 Rue de Verdun). Definitely worth a visit for that authentic French taste!
Late morning, head to the banks of the Canal du Midi. Walking along the riverbanks of this little canal, you will enjoy some of the most exquisite countryside views. If walking isn’t for you, these views can also be enjoyed by boat or even by bike as you can hire bikes easily from the main bridge at the start of canal.
As lunchtime approaches, there is plenty of choice in the town. Top restaurants include: L’Artichaut, O Trois Cinque Sept et Crêperie le Blé Noir.
After a lovely long relaxing lunch ‘a la francaise’, take a stroll up to Carcassonne’s finest UNESCO-listed medieval ‘citadel’.
The famous ‘cité de Carcassonne’ will keep you occupied for hours. First founded 2,500 years ago, in the Gallo-Roman period, Carcassonne’s historical quarter takes its name from the two concentric walls of defense that surround it, forming a perimeter of about 3km strategically studded with 52 towers.
Explore the labyrinth of streets within the citadel and winding alleyways. Hidden within the stone buildings, you’ll find lots of unique boutiques and gift shops where you can find souvenirs for your loved ones. There are also lots of little hidden squares, with cafes and restaurants so you can sit back and watch the world go by. But take caution, this is definitely a tourist hotspot so be wary of key tourist traps such as pickpockets and being hustled .
You can also enter the Château Comtal for a tour, and with an audio-guide you can expect to spend at least two insightful hours finding out about how the walls were built in the 15th century and how Viollet-le-Duc restored them in the 1800s. There is also a cathedral to explore.
Finally, as evening draws in, choose one of the famous restaurants overlooking the main town of Carcassonne (from within the Citadel itself).
Top restaurants include: La Barbacane, Restaurant La Marquiere, L’Escargot and Hotel de la Cité Carcassonne, offering panoramic views of the South of France as the castle lights up at night.
And if you have time and want a change of perspective, head to the wine bar La Métairie which overlooks the Cité, so you can see it lit up in all its glory.
On such adventures, it’s always important to have the right savoir faire. Therefore, with extensive information available for over 225 countries from the Foreign and Commonwealth office, as a British Citizen abroad, it’s important we use these resources on local customs and laws to save us from those ‘faux pas’ when abroad. Travel, but do so safely!
By Charlotte Daniels