Carcassonne's wonderful castle is certainly what you come to Carcassonne to see, but there are many other things to do and see in Carcassonne, France. Carcassonne's castle is one of the top tourist attractions in France. It is only when you arrive that you can get a true feel for the enormous scale of Carcassonne castle. The preserved and rebuilt town inside Carcassone castles magnificent walls provides an insight into what medieval life was like, even if it has been somewhat spoilt by tacky souvenier shops. But if you can look beyond the plastic suits of armour and tea towels you will be in for a real treat. Carcassonne is a magical place. There can not be a more impressive castle in Europe and it is worthy of a trip from all visitors to Languedoc.
Here is some tourist information about Carcassonne and what to see in Carcassonne whilst you are visiting.
Tourist information Carcassonne
Whilst Carcassonne can trace its routes back to the Romans and the Visigoths, its golden age was really in the middle ages. Here under the Languedoc noble family of the Trencavels, the castle was first established. The town was taken by Simon de Montfort in 1209 during his crusade against the cathars. He made Carcassonne his capital. In 1299 it came under control of the Royal Court and King Louis IX laid out the plans for the building of the town underneath the Citadel.
The Black prince laid seige to Carcassonne in 1355 during the Hundred Years' War, but he was frustrated in his attempts to take the Castle, so he burnt the town down instead. The town ambled through the next few hundred years in relative prosperity and its markets were famous throughout France. The castle itself fell into some disrepair and the stones became quarried for buildings. It was not until Viollet-le-Duc in the mid-nineteenth century began his 50-year restoration project, that Carcassonne's ancient castle was rebuilt. I was about to say that it was returned to its original magical glory, but this would be something of a lie. Indeed it turns out that Viollet-le-Duc, the famed restorer of monuments, was something of a magician himself. He has been criticised for inventing a "medieval fabrication of the grandest scale". But don't let that put you off. The Cite is one of the most striking images in France and the French are immensly proud of it (even if it only just squeaked through in its application for UNESCO World Heritage site status).
What to see in Carcassonne: The Cite
It is the huge scale of Carcassonne's citadel that first takes your breath away. It is absolutely huge, it has 31 towers, an amphitheatre, hotel and a full medieval town inside its fortified walls. You enter the citadel through the main Port Narbonnaise (the entrance nearest the car park) and cross over the now grassy moat. As you follow the road ahead up past all the souvenier shops just shut your eyes. It really doesn't do Carcassonne any favours to allow the shops to sell plastic suits of armour and baseball caps with jousting rods protuding out of them - but hey-ho. At the end of the road you will come to the Chateau Comtal, where Count Trencavel made his last stand against Simon de Montforts forces in 1209.
Things to do in Carcassonne: Picnic at the Castle
To be honest the best view of Carcassonne is from the outside. When we have visitors we take them up to Carcassonne and have a picnic on the grassy "Lices" outside (where they used to do archery practice) and look up at the castle walls. We then let our friends wander around inside whilst we relax in the sun. The narrow windy streets are interesting enough, but there is not a lot else to do.
Carcassonne Tourist attractions: Torture museum
The torture museum inside the Cite is probably the best of the museums to go to. It features graphic reconstructions of genuine torture instruments from the Middle Ages through to the French revolution. The spikes up through the seat of the chair was voted the favourite of our boys.
Carcassonne tourist information: Medieval pageant festivals
Carcassonne is now a centre for medieval re-enactment festivals, attracting groups of enthusiasts from all over Europe. Throughout July, the Festival de Carcassonne features theatre and dance performances in the amphitheatre and re-enactment events. The firework display on Bastille day (14 July) is one of the best in Languedoc. For more information on Carcassonne's festivals please see our article on Best Languedoc Festivals.
Things to see in Carcassonne France
The old medieval town below the Citadel (Ville Basse) is worth a quick visit. The centre of the town is Place Carnot, which still features a regular market (Tuesday, Thursdays and Saturdays - see Best Languedoc Markets for more information). Most of the town dates from the 14th century onwards, when it was re-built after the Black Prince's arson.
And that is Carcassonne. A definite must see visitor attraction in the South of France. Certainly no trip to Languedoc can be complete without a quick visit. If you're travelling without kids the best time to go and see Carcassonne is early evening. Even some of the bistros inside the castle walls do good food for a reasonable price. If you are feeling up to it try the traditional Languedoc dish of Cassoulet (see Cassoulet for full description), but don't expect to do much afterwards other than sit and pat your stomach. It is also worth tying in a visit to the Canal du Midi with your visit to Carcassonne. The stretch of the Canal in between Carcassonne and Capestang is particularly beautiful and picturesque (see Canal du Midi).
Carcassonne tourist information office
For more information about Carcassonne and its magnificent castle please visit the local Carcassonne tourist office website. If you would like to stay near to Carcassonne, please check out our Carcassonne Properties to rent.