The Perfect Carcassonne Day Trip from Toulouse

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by Emily Marty


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Toulouse is one of southern France’s most popular tourist destinations, and for good reason. Not only is the city itself charming, beautiful, and cosmopolitan, but it also makes for a fantastic hub for exploring the surrounding countryside. One fairly popular option among visitors to the city is to head out on a Carcassonne day trip from Toulouse during their stay. 

If you’re planning on visiting Toulouse, we’ll be covering your options for transport to Carcassonne, as well as providing you with a sample itinerary to help you get the most out of your day trip there. 

How to Get from Toulouse to Carcassonne 

By Organised Tour 

If you’d prefer not to worry about arranging your own transportation to and from Carcassonne, then taking a guided tour is definitely worth considering.

This full-day tour offers guests entry to Comtal Castle, the Cité de Carcassonne, and the Saint Nazaire Basilica. This is a great option if you’d like a day trip to Carcassonne that gives you some freedom and flexibility in terms of what you see and when.

Alternatively, this full-day tour is great for those who’d prefer a day with some structure. Naturally, having your own guide for the day is also your best bet if you want to learn as much about the history and culture of Carcassonne during your visit.

You can book a private tour that includes wine tasting if you prefer not to visit in an organised group.

Carcassonne
Carcassonne

By Train

For perhaps the majority of travellers, getting to Carcassonne via train from Toulouse will be their most straightforward, convenient option.

A direct service operates from Toulouse Matabiau station to Carcassonne station; with departures every few hours or so, the journey usually takes just over 40 minutes and is considerably faster than driving. You can view train schedules here.

Not that it is about a 30-minute walk from the train station into the centre of the old town citadel. However, this walk will also take you across the Canal du Midi and through the Carcassonne town centre before giving you an excellent view of the citadel from below.

By Bus 

A more affordable way to make the trip from Toulouse to Carcassonne is by bus. Several direct departures leave from Toulouse’s Pierre Sémard Central Bus Station each day, with the journey taking around an hour and a half one way. 

By Car

It takes just over an hour and a half to make the drive from Toulouse to Carcassonne. Expect some tolls on the way (you’ll end up paying around €5 or so), with the route itself being fairly straightforward. You’ll pass by some incredibly picturesque villages on your way; making a detour or two is recommended!

While Carcassonne tends not to be overly busy, parking and traffic around the citadel can both be problematic during the high season, in particular. You may need to park in the city of Carcassonne and walk up to the Medieval citadel – heading off early in the morning is also a good way to beat the crowds. 

If you need to rent a car for your trip, you can browse Rentalcars.com which compares prices across major companies.

Walking up to Carcassone
Walking up to the citadel

Carcassonne Day Trip Itinerary 

This Carcassonne itinerary will take you to the highlights of the medieval city and citadel of Carcassonne, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as well as a lesser-known local gem in the form of the Inquisition Museum.

All of these sites are fairly close together and easily accessed, which makes for a fairly relaxed itinerary, even if you’re only spending one day in Carcassonne. You can book entry tickets here or organise a guided tour if you have travelled here independently.

Cité de Carcassonne 

The first stop on your trip to Carcassonne will be its citadel, the Cité de Carcassonne. Known around the world for its disarmingly pretty and charming silhouette, the citadel has, in fact, seen plenty of action since it was first constructed in the 13th century. 

Indeed, the citadel features several striking towers, as well as other typical medieval defensive features, including barbicans and watchtowers. The towers’ crenellated rooves also allowed them to be used as firing posts when the citadel was under siege. 

While you explore the citadel, make sure to check out the mighty gate known as the Porte Narbonnaise. This beautiful example of medieval architecture was originally constructed to defend the main entrance to Carcassonne, and, at first, was also intended to be its own, freestanding structure.

Adjoining the gate is a series of rooms that were used for storage, including a cellar and cistern. The placement of the Porte Narbonnaise, facing the Pyrenees mountains, can also be interpreted as a political gesture; when the gate was built, France and Spain were at war, and, naturally, the French-Spanish border lies just beyond the Pyrenees mountain range.

So, by situating the mighty fortress of Carcassonne such that it directly faces Spain, the French monarch was likely intending to send a clear message to his rivals on the other side of the mountain range. 

Not only is the citadel incredibly historic and beautiful, but entry is completely free! There’s plenty to do and see here, so take your time and make sure you’ve seen everything you want to check out before heading for the imposing Comtal Castle, which is the next stop on our tour. 

Cite de Carcassonne
Cité de Carcassonne

Château Comtal 

At the heart of the Cité de Carcassonne is Château Comtal (known in English as the Count’s Castle or Comtal Castle), and it’s a veritable treasure trove for history enthusiasts, especially those who are passionate about the medieval era in particular. Note that, unlike the citadel, you will need to purchase a ticket to gain entry to the castle. 

This remarkably well-preserved castle is perhaps one of the most significant structures still standing from the Middle Ages, and it serves as a testament to the architectural genius of the people who first built it. 

Amazingly, Comtal Castle’s history goes back to the 1130s, when the Trencavel family, who ruled over Carcassonne at the time, ordered that a stately residence be built in the city.

This building would become the core of what is now Comtal Castle; in the 12th century, the Trencavels arranged for their residence to be expanded upon, adding multiple wings in the process. 

This was motivated in large part by a desire to project an image of authority and power to the townsfolk who resided in Carcassonne at the time.

Later, in the early 1200s, the castle would have several defensive features added, and further expansion works which took place shortly after added a second rampart to the structure, transforming Comtal Castle into the fortified castle that we see it as today. 

In fact, not long after this, the citadel of Carcassonne transferred ownership, becoming more or less the property of the French sovereign.

Castle Comtal was given to the king’s seneschal as a place of residence; however, the king and his seneschal had not yet won the loyalty of the local townsfolk, so having a fortified wall between the latter’s residence and the people he had been made to rule over was, in fact, rather necessary. 

Thanks to Carcassonne’s relative proximity to Spain, it would continue to be a place of real military and strategic importance for hundreds of years thereafter. In fact, it would continue to carry out this function until 1659, when the Treaty of the Pyrenees ended the war between Spain and France.

Following on from this, both Castle Comtal and the citadel were more or less completely deserted until they were restored in the 19th century by the architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. 

Admission to the castle gives visitors not only the opportunity to explore the structure but also access the western ramparts, as well as displays housing several stunning artefacts recovered from the chateau over the years.

Buying tickets to the castle in advance of your arrival is strongly recommended, as long queues tend to form at the ticket booth during peak season. 

Chateau Comtal
Chateau Comtal

Saint Nazaire Basilica 

The Gothic-Romanesque basilica of Saints Nazarius and Celsus is an absolutely stunning structure; in just as good condition as the citadel and castle of Carcassonne, the basilica, which is found within the citadel walls, is well worth checking out if you’re interested in architecture or history, or if you simply want to soak up the deeply tranquil atmosphere that’s present within. 

It’s thought that the first church to be built in this location was constructed all the way back in the 6th century, making this perhaps one of the most historic spiritual sites in the history of France.

The Gothic basilica as we know it today was finished sometime in the 13th century and has certainly stood the test of time since then. 

In fact, the stained glass in the choir of the basilica is said to be some of the oldest in all of France! Given that religious artefacts and iconography were widely destroyed during the French Revolution, this is no mean feat.

The basilica is also, in many ways, a fantastic example of church-building techniques typical to the Languedoc region, with the building’s wall taking on the appearance of a fortress being just one manifestation of this. 

The basilica isn’t huge, so, unless you’re especially interested in architecture or history, you likely won’t need to expect to spend much time here. As mentioned previously, it’s also located within the Cité de Carcassonne, making visiting it once you’ve seen the castle and the battlements pretty straightforward. 

Saint-Nazaire Basilica
Saint-Nazaire Basilica

Inquisition Museum

If you find yourself with some time to kill in Carcassonne before heading back to Toulouse and want to immerse yourself in the darker side of the city’s history, then you may want to check out its Inquisition Museum. 

While small and somewhat obscure, the Inquisition Museum is definitely worth a visit unless you’re squeamish (or don’t enjoy hearing or reading about different methods of torture, which, frankly, is fair enough!). You’ll find it housed within a 17th-century building located to the northern side of the citadel. 

The bulk of the museum’s collection is made up of medieval torture devices, but you’ll even see examples of instruments used as recently as during the French Revolution.

Additionally, part of the exhibit is dedicated to the history of the castles of the Cathars; regarded by the Catholic Church as heretics, the Cathars were a sect of gnostic Christians who were subject to persecution, torture, and genocide during the 12th and 13th centuries. 

Catharism, in fact, has its origins in the Languedoc area of France, where Carcassonne is found. By modern standards, the Cathars could probably be considered fairly progressive, at least in some respects; they abhorred killing and violence in all forms, thereby abstaining from consuming any animal products, apart from fish.

Under Catharism, women were also seen as fairly equal in a number of areas, and were allowed to serve as spiritual leaders. 

By the mid-1100s, wholesale persecution of the Cathars had been endorsed by the Catholic Church, and, sadly, over time, they were repeatedly attacked, driven from their homes, and killed. Naturally, their numbers eventually dwindled until Catharism was all but extinct. 

This strategic, coordinated elimination of Catharism is just one example of the Inquisition, which was a group of institutions established by the Catholic Church with the ultimate aim of eliminating heresy from the world altogether.

And, as you’ll discover by exploring the Inquisition Museum, torture was often used during the medieval Inquisition, generally with the aim of drawing confessions out of people suspected of heresy. 

Inside the Inquisition Museum, you’ll be able to get up close and personal with a range of different instruments used for torture and to carry out executions.

It’s worth noting here that, while the subject matter it covers is undoubtedly very dark, the Inquisition Museum is presented in a way that prevents the exhibition from coming across as upsetting or overly confronting. 

The Inquisition Museum is generally not all that busy, so you should be able to get a ticket on the day with relative ease if you decide to visit. It may sound a bit niche, but I found the museum to be pretty fascinating and would definitely recommend visiting if you’ve got time and are interested. 

Inquisition Museum in Carcassonne
Inquisition Museum in Carcassonne

Where to Stay in Toulouse

Hôtel Héliot – This mid-range hotel is located close to transport links making it the ideal base. Their rooms are suitable for couples or families and breakfast is available each morning.

Boutique Hotel SOCLO – A luxury hotel in the heart of Toulouse, they offer a range of boutique rooms with guests having access to a pool, garden and restaurant on site.

Appartements Design Hypercentre – These modern studio and one-bedroom apartments are ideal if you prefer to cook some of your own meals or have a large space while in Toulouse.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Toulouse hotels!

Visiting Carcassonne as a day trip from Toulouse is an incredible way to see this beautiful fortified city. Carcassonne has so much to offer visitors and taking a trip here is never a bad idea.

Are you planning to visit Carcassonne? Have any questions about this itinerary? Let us know in the comments!

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Emily Marty

Emily is a writer for The World Was Here First. Originally from Melbourne, Australia, she is currently based in the UK. She enjoys exploring Northern & Western Europe and Southeast Asia and has a bit of a thing for islands in particular.

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