Lovers of fortified towns should not miss out on Carcassonne. Here, you will find the best preserved and largest walled city from the Middle Ages in Europe. There is a good reason why Carcassonne, after Paris and Mont Saint-Michel, is the most visited place in France. Rightly so; we enjoyed all the sights there, not only in the old fortified town (the Cité), but also in the new part of Carcassonne. With our tips you will not miss out on any of the highlights in Carcassonne and its surroundings.
City of Carcassonne
The Cité of Carcassonne is best known as a medieval fortified city. But already in the 6th century before our era the Gauls lived here. It was the Romans who made a fortified city of it in the 3rd century. Everything in the city has been perfectly restored. It is therefore no wonder that the Cité is on UNESCO’s world heritage list. Take plenty of time for your visit. Although the surface area is not so big, you could entertain yourself here for hours.
The biggest highlight of the Cité is the beautiful Comtal Castle from the 12th century. It is built against the western city wall, at the highest point of the city. The castle and its ramparts consist of nine towers. The square tower Tour de Pinte is the highest in the city.
A visit to the castle is simply not to be missed, it is that beautiful. You enter the castle through the rectangular forecourt. You see many of the rooms inside, with beautiful statues. Of course, you also walk on the walls of the castle. The view of the city and the surrounding area is beautiful. It took us a couple of hours to visit the castle and we never got tired of it.
The castle is very popular. In the summer months, there are often long queues at the ticket offices. To avoid this, it is best to buy your tickets online in advance. That saves a lot of time. If you want to visit the castle, do this as early as possible. In peak season, you can do so from 10 a.m. onwards. From October until March already at 9:30 a.m.
Cathedral of Saint-Nazaire
The imposing basilica of Saint-Nazaire is another highlight. The church is not called “the jewel of the city” for nothing. The oldest parts date from the 11th century and are of Romanesque origin. What is special is that the Romanesque and Gothic architectural styles completely overlap in the church. This has created an extraordinary interior. Enjoy the beautiful stained-glass windows, the statues and the religious decorations in the church.
City walls and city gates
The fortified city of Carcassonne has two impressive fortress walls. The Romans built the inner wall. In the 13th century a second wall was built around the city. This turned Carcassonne into an impregnable fortress. The paths between the two city walls are the so-called “Lices”. They allow you to walk all the way around the city, between the two imposing walls. During this one-kilometre walk you can best see the more than 50 towers on the walls.
The main gateway to the fortified town is the Porte Narbonnaise. Close to it is the statue of Dame Carcas, to whom the city owes its name. According to legend, she was the one who brought the years-long siege of the city by Charlemagne to an end in a very special way. Another, but less impressive, entrance to the city is via the Porte de’l Aude.
Other sights in the fortified town of Carcassonne
Walking through the narrow streets, you will come across some nice shops. Fortunately, there are not only souvenir shops with knickknacks. Afterwards, it is great to relax on one of the cosy squares in the city. Around lunch time and after 7 o’clock in the evening they are packed.
Do you want to visit a museum? That’s too possible in the old town. There are three and the most interesting is the museum with the treasures of Notre Dame, though you can also go to the museum of the Inquisition or a simulated old schoolroom.
Bastide Saint-Louis, the “new” town
On the left bank of the river Aude lies the new city of Carcassonne but this part is also almost 1000 years old. Many day trippers skip this part. They only visit the fortified city. And that is a pity, because then they miss a lot! The city is nice and clear. From the central square, all streets run in an almost straight line. These were for us the highlights in Bastide Saint-Louis.
Saint Martial bastion
In the new city, you won’t find many city walls anymore. Most had to make way for the construction of roads. Near the Saint Martial bastion, however, you can still see some. Inside is a beautiful garden. A nice resting point in the city. In the garden, the way of the cross of Jesus is imitated. On top of a hill you can see the crucifixion.
Church of Saint Vincent and the bell tower
The church is beautiful and nice to visit. But the biggest attraction is the bell tower. You climb 232 stairs to the top. It takes some perseverance, but then you will be rewarded with a panoramic view of Carcassonne, the walled city and the surrounding vineyards. The tower is open between 14.30 and 18 hours. A ticket costs €2.50.
Place Carnot, the central square, is the beating heart of the new city. At any time of the day, the many terraces are crowded. On the square stands the fountain of Neptune. A beautiful monument in white marble from 1771. On Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday morning there is a market at the square.
Every morning from 7.00 to 13.00 you can find all kinds of fresh products from the region. The inhabitants of Carcassonne get their meat, fish and other delicacies here. It is certainly worthwhile visiting the Halls in the morning.
Museum of Fine Arts
On the route to the fortified town, you pass this museum, beautifully situated on a large square. Walk in and enjoy the many paintings and other works of art from the 17th century to the present. And the entrance is free.
From the new part, the old bridge over the Aude brings you to the walled fortified town. The bridge was built at the beginning of the 14th century. It is a nice place to enjoy the beautiful view on the fortified town. Especially on 14 July, the bank holidays in France. Then, more than 100,000 people gather on the bridge to admire the fireworks in the old city.
Surroundings of Carcassonne
Carcassonne is situated in a beautiful area. Therefore, you can stay here for a few days. Here are some suggestions to do and see:
The vineyards around Carcassonne
In the area, you will find the most beautiful wine domains. Of course, it is possible to visit some of them on a wine tour. You will meet the winegrowers and visit the vineyards. At the end you will experience a wine tasting.
Canal du Midi
Carcassonne is situated along this canal. It is a canal with many special features. Thanks to the artificial staircases, aqueducts and tunnels, the canal is even on the UNESCO World Heritage list. A river cruise with a rental boat is a real experience. As you approach Carcassonne from the water, the view of the fortified town is unsurpassed.
Lake of Cavayere
Not far from the city, in the middle of a beautiful environment, you will find the lake of Cavayere. The inhabitants also call it “Carcassonne Plage”. In the large artificial lake, you can relax in and on the water. There are several beaches. In addition, there are hiking trails. So, you can do a big loop around the whole lake.
Experience Carcassonne in other ways
Would you like to enjoy all the beauty that the city has to offer after your visit to Carcassonne? Then there are several possibilities. There are several films shot in Carcassonne. The most famous one is Robin Hood, prince of thieves. And nowadays, you can spend hours playing the fascinating board game Carcassonne with your friends. In this way, the centuries-old fortified town continues to be prominently present everywhere.
Answers to practical questions for your visit to Carcassonne
Public transport in Carcassonne is limited, but in high season there are buses between the new and old part of the city. Because the city is quite compact, you can also do a lot of walking. There is paid parking everywhere in the city. There are a few exceptions. But those free parking spaces are not that big and quickly become fully occupied.
- It is unique to spend the night in the fortified town. Often, the day-trippers have left. It is then wonderful to wander through the city at the end of the evening or early in the morning. This is an excellent hotel: Best Western Plus Le Donjon - Cœur de La Cité Médiévale.
- In the new city itself, B&B Les chambres d'Aimé is a fantastic place to stay.
A little outside the city is a romantic B&B: Domaine Saint-Louis. This used to be a wine estate. Now you can stay here in one of the three stylishly furnished rooms. The breakfast is excellent.
- This is the overview of all accommodation in Carcassonne.
In July and August it is very hot in Carcassonne. Moreover, this is the busiest period of the year. The months April, May, June and September are therefore much better. A visit is also possible in the winter months. Take into account that there will be some rain. We were there at the beginning of September. The crowds were not too bad then.
On 17 July 2022, Carcassonne will be the finish location during the Tour de France. After the rest day, the riders leave the city on July 19 for the next stage. It can be extremely busy in and around the city. Do you want to experience this spectacle, book your accommodation in Carcassonne well in advance.