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Tourist information Carcassonne: what to see in Carcassonne
The city of Carcassonne in Southern France lies in between the Mediterranean coast to the east, the city of Toulouse to the west and the Pyrenees Mountains to the south. Carcassonne's wonderful castle is certainly what you come to Carcassonne to see, but there are also many other things to do and see in Carcassonne. You will also find some excellent restaurants, good shopping, interesting local markets, great transport links and plenty of interesting historical sites to visit nearby, including the Canal du Midi and the old Cathar castles Quéribus, Peyrepertuse and Montségur. Carcassonne also holds one of the largest music and arts festivals in Europe, attracting performers such as Sting, Black Eyed Peas and the Artic Monkeys. The countryside surrounding Carcassonne is particularly beautiful and you can visit some picturesque villages and towns, such as Mirepoix, the hilltop village of Fanjeaux, the former Cathar stronghold of Minerve, the medieval village of Lagrasse in the Corbieres hills and the popular arts & crafts village of Caunes-Minervois.
Carcassonne's castle is one of the top tourist attractions in France and the second most-visited historical monument outside of Paris. The castle was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997. 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 Carcassonne castles magnificent walls provides an insight into what medieval life was like, even if it has been somewhat spoilt by tacky souvenir 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.
More recently, Carcassonne has come to prominence as the setting for the books Labrynthe and Sepulchre by Kate Mosse and also the Carcassonne board game, which is named after the town. The development of the local airport in Carcassonne, has also helped bring thousands of visitors to the area on cheap Ryanair flights.
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 siege 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 immensely 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 massive. Carcassonne castle is the largest fortified town in Europe. It has 53 towers, an amphitheatre, a huge Basilica and a full medieval town inside its fortified walls - with shops, restaurants and a hotel. The citadel has two concentric defensive walls, which total 3 kms in length. It is contended that Carcassonne gets its name from a medieval siege at the Castle. The starving inhabitants of the town, who were trapped within the walls of the Castle, rang the church bells and threw over the carcase of the last remaining pig. Their aim was to signify to the invading forces that they were well-stocked with food. Unfortunately, it didn't fool anyone and they soon surrendered. But the story of the carcase and the French word for the sound of bells, sonne, gained local notoriety and Carcassonne got its name.
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 souvenir 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 protruding 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 Montfort's 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 in Carcassonne to visit. The museum is located close to a tower known as the "Inquisition Tower" (which archaeologists believe may in fact date back to Roman times and was a former watch tower). The Inquisition Tower housed a prison with torture rooms and was used during the purge of the local Cathars by the Catholic Church in the late 13th Century.
The Torture Museum features graphic reconstructions of genuine torture instruments from this period and also throughout the Middle Ages up to the French revolution. The spikes up through the seat of the chair was voted the favourite of our boys.
Torture Museum Carcassonne
Address: 7 Rue Saint-Jean, 11000 Carcassonne, France.
Phone: +33 6 03 84 13 86
Hours: 10.00 to 17.00 every day
Website: Museum of the Inquisition
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 a Medieval Fayre, Jousting events and a re-enactment of medieval battles. The firework display on Bastille day (14 July) is one of the best in Languedoc.
Things to see in Carcassonne France
The old medieval district below the Citadel, is one of the earliest forms of town planning in France and is built on a quadrangular plan, organised around a central square. This part of Carcassonne is rather confusingly referred to as either Ville Basse or the more eloquent, Bastide Saint-Louis. It is located on the left bank of the River Aude, with a bridge (Pont Vieux), connecting it to the Castle.
Most of the town dates from the 14th century onwards, when it was re-built after the Black Prince's arson attack of the town during Hundred Years' War. The centre of the town is Place Carnot, which still features a regular market. Ville Basse is a very pleasant place to walk around and there are many colourful buildings, Mansion houses and churches. The town also contains a Fine Arts museum, an exhibition about a famous local poet (Joe Bousquet) and the beautiful Cavalry Gardens, which dates back to the 16th Century.
Ville Basse/Bastide Saint-Louis, also contains Carcassonne's main shopping streets and it is also where you will find many restaurants and pavement cafes. This is also the centre of social life in Carcassonne and the townsfolk will usually head to one of the many bars during the evening.
Carcassonne restaurants South France
Carcassonne's restaurant scene is absolutely buzzing at the moment. In recent years there has been a flurry of interesting new restaurants opening in Carcassonne. There are now two Michelin star restaurants in Carcassonne (Le Table de Franck Putelat and La Barbacane), as well as 7 other restaurants that have entries in the Michelin guide. So if you are visiting Carcassonne now, you have a good choice of places to eat at. But you don't just have to head to Michelin restaurants to find a good meal in Carcassonne.
The cuisine in Carcassonne and the Aude region leans heavily on authentic local produce. Carcassonne is reputed to be the best place to eat the famous Languedoc dish of Cassoulet. Cassoulet is a hearty stew made from white beans, duck and sausage is a proud feature of many restaurants. But you will also find a wide range of fish dishes (river trout especially) and a good use of seasonal organic vegetables.
I would certainly suggest that hunt out the funky Agape restaurant in the centre of Carcassonne, the fashionable La Table du Vatican and the L'Escargot restaurant in the centre of the medieval cité, inside the castle walls. See our reviews of the 10 best restaurants in Carcassonne for more information on these restaurants
Carcassonne music & arts festival 2024
Carcassonne festival is by all accounts the 10th largest festival in France, both in terms of number of spectators (over 200,000 over the month long programme) and by the number of events (over 120 concerts, theatre productions, dance events, plus the medieval jousting and the medieval faire). Carcassonne Festival was first created back in 1957. The brain-child of the French Actor and Director, Jean Deschamps, the festival originally was more of a theatre, Opera and film event, held in the amphitheatre. It later expanded to include popular musical acts, Comedy and Choral Music and Classical Music, as well as a large Medieval faire featuring jousting events and battle re-enactments.
The festival takes place throughout July, with nightly performances in the castle's amphitheatre and venues throughout the town. The 67th edition of the Carcassonne Festival in South France will be held in 2024 between 28 June to 31 July 2024. The 2024 line up for the Carcassonne festival is still being finalised, but the confirmed acts so far include Sting, Mika, Christophe Maé, Toto, Scorpions and Status Quo with The Stranglers.
The Cathar sites near Carcassonne
Catharism was a Christian religious sect that appeared in the Languedoc region of Southern France in the 11th century and flourished in the 12th and 13th centuries. It is claimed that its influence spread as far as Italy and Germany.
The Cathars did not believe in the idea of priesthood and disapproved of the Catholic Church's corruption and opulence. Many of their beliefs – equality for men and women, no objection to contraception or suicide, refusal to eat meat or other animal products, rejection of Capital punishment, denial that Jesus could become incarnate and still be the son of God – became both strongly popular and at odds with the Catholic Church. It is estimated that almost 500,000 people in the Languedoc region had converted to Catharism by the turn of the Twelfth century.
Concerned by the rapid growth of the Cathar movement, Pope Innocent III, declared the Cathars to be heretics and non-believers. He convinced King Philip II of France to launch a Crusade against the Cathars in the South of France, under the leadership of Simon de Montfort and the Pope's representative, Arnaud Amalric, the Abbot of Citeaux. The Crusade first arrived in Beziers in July 1209 and virtually massacred the whole town of 20,000 people over a 2 day period. In August 1209, the Crusade carried on to Carcassonne, where after a short 2 week siege, the town surrendered without bloodshed (although large numbers of the town's inhabitants were imprisoned).
A number of Cathars had managed to escape the massacre in Beziers and Carcassonne and sought refuge in the small village of Minerve, to the east of Carcassonne. The following year, Simon de Montfort's troops arrived and commenced a 6 week siege of Minerve and 140 Cathars were burnt at the stake. In total, it is estimated that almost 200,000 people died during the Cathar Crusade.
The local area around Carcassonne is often referred to as 'Cathar Country' and features many ruined castles and former Cathar villages. Strictly speaking, a lot of the castles were not built by the Cathars themselves, but either dated from before their time or were constructed by the troops who came to kill them - but that is just a footnote of history. Perhaps the most impressive Cathar sites are:
- Château de Peyrepertuse - a castle built on a rocky hill in the Pyrenees. The castle was held by Guillaume de Peyrepertuse, who was in fact a Cathar follower, but who chose to be excommunicated rather than be put to the sword.
- Château de Montségur - although the current fortress on this rocky precipice is actually from a later period, Montségur was the home of Guilhabert de Castres, a Cathar theologian and it became an important Cathar centre of about 500 people. There was a Cathar castle on this site, but it was largely destroyed during a siege in 1242. The castle is perched 1,200 metres above sea level near the Pyrenees, 80 km southwest of Carcassonne.
- Château de Quéribus - another mountain top castle which is regarded as the last Cathar stronghold. After the fall of Château de Montségur in 1244, the surviving Cathars gathered together in Quéribus.
- Minerve - stunning medieval village perched on the edge of a lovely gorge, located in between Beziers and Carcassonne. Minerve, is classified as one of the Most beautiful villages in France and dates back to the 10th Century. This former Cathar stronghold, was the site of a long siege in 1210.
- Lagrasse - a beautiful village in the Corbieres hills, containing a famous Abbey and surrounded by vineyards. Lagrasse is officially classified as one of the 160 Most beautiful villages in France.
Water Parks Carcassonne France
If you are spending time in Carcassonne with your kids or your grandchildren, then a visit to either the Park Aquaviva water park or the Teleski centre near Carcassonne, makes a great family day out. Both of these water activity parks are situated on Lac de la Cavayère, a man-made lake close to Carcassonne. You can pack the kids off to the lake for the day and you can go off and enjoy some shopping and a good lunch in Carcassonne (see 10 best restaurants in Carcassonne). Then when the kids are finished, you can all visit the amazing Carcassonne Castle and grab an evening pizza at one of the restaurants inside the castle walls.
Teleski offers 6 different types of activities: water ski lift, paddle boarding, wakeboarding, mono-ski, wake-skating and kneeboard. Wake-skating is apparently the hardest activity at Teleski. This is where you ride on a wakeboard which has a non-slip surface (wearing water shoes to give you grip) and you hold a water ski type handle. The handle is attached to the overhead zip line, which then pulls you around the course. At a professional level, wake-skaters have their own set of tricks which are derived from wakeboarding and skateboarding and involve both jumps and turns on the water.
The Water skiing is ideal for beginners (from age 7) and involves the zip line with a system of two pylons controlled by an instructor. The instructor is able to control the speed of the zip line and give you advice on how to get to a standing position to start the skiing.
The Teleski centre is open from the Easter holidays to the last weekend of September from 11.00 to 20.00 every day. There is also a very good restaurant at the Teleski, with a large outdoor terrace where you can watch everyone on the lake.
The Parc Aquaviva water park is also based at Lac de la Cavayère, a man-made lake close to the city of Carcassonne in the Languedoc region of South France. Lac de la Cavayère was created in the 1980's following a series of damaging forest fires in the area and the need to create a water supply readily accessible by the regions Fire Planes. The lake covers 18 hectares and was created by damming 3 small creeks. In recent years, the lake has become known as Carcassonne Plage, on account of the large sandy beach and the shallow supervised swimming area.
Parc Aquaviva is like a giant inflatable obstacle course featuring 300m2 of floating platforms, giant water slides, climbing walls, giant inflatables and bouncy castle areas. The water park is open from June to August, 7 days a week from 11.00 to 19.00. The entry price is €12.00 euros for 1 hour, €16.00 euros for 2 hours and €22.00 euros for a day pass. You can add on access to the Water Jump for +€5.00 euros. Children under 10 need to be accompanied by an adult (or be present in the water), but children over 10 can be unaccompanied.
Address: Base de loisirs Raymond Chésa, route de Baja, 11000 Carcassonne, France.
Phone: +33 06 38 56 72 62
Website: Teleski Carcassonne
Parc Aquaviva water park
Address: Lac de la Cavayère - Base de loisirs Raymond Chésa, 11000 Carcassonne
Phone: +33 07 81 91 49 12
Website: Parc Aquaviva Carcassonne
Shopping in Carcassonne
You will find a good range of shops in Carcassonne, from high street stores to little boutiques. There are a couple of small shopping malls on the outskirts of Carcassonne - La Galerie next to the Geant Hypermarket out towards the airport and Centre commercial Rocadest, which is out past the castle. In the centre of Carcassonne, the best shopping areas are located in Bastide Saint-Louis (the 'new town' of Carcassonne below the castle). In particular, head for Rue de Verdun and Rue Georges Clémenceau, where you will everything from small boutiques, cosmetic and perfume stores, shoe shops, trendy clothes shops, second-hand bookshops, etc.
In terms of markets, on Boulevard Barbès, there is a market selling new and second hand clothes and on Place Carnot there is a popular food and general goods market. The market is held at Place Carnot every Tuesday, Thursday & Saturday morning. The Saturday morning market attracts a lot of Organic food producers.
Every Saturday there is a large market held at Boulevard Commandant Roumens, which has a range of colourful stalls offering you everything from organic produce, to fruit and vegetables, cheese, local sausages and also a range of clothes of all kinds.
Finally, there is also a beautiful covered market in Carcassonne called Les Halles Prosper Montagné. Parts of the market date back to the 17th century. The market was named in honour of a local Chef, Propser Montagné, who rose to prominence in France, by writing the first Larousse Gastronomic Dictionary in 1938, the most famous encyclopaedia of French dishes and cooking techniques. The market is open every morning, 5 days a week from Tuesday to Saturday. The market sells a range of fresh and features a number of butchers, fishmongers, greengrocers and cheesemongers, etc.
Cheap flights to Carcassonne airport 2024
Carcassonne airport has recently undergone a major facelift, with a brand new frontage to the airport entrance and upgrades to the passenger facilities. The renovations cost €11 million euros and took 3 years to complete. It is still a very small airport, with just four departure lounges (previously there were just 2 lounges) and a team of staff who still seem to get taken by surprise when a plane lands.
During 2023, Carcassonne airport handled 340,000 passengers, which was an increase of 20% on 2022. The passenger numbers are expected to increase further during 2024. Carcassonne airport actually runs flights to 5 different countries, including UK, Ireland, Belgium, Portugal and Morocco. The main operator remains Ryanair, although there are rumours that additional routes from different airlines may begin to appear in 2025.
I have no idea who runs Carcassonne airport, but they are not exactly going to make a great career in Airport Marketing. The amount of times we have been asked by customers "Which is the nearest airport to Carcassonne?". Maybe the CIA should employ these people to ensure that the location of Interrogation Black sites is also kept a secret.
2024 flights to Carcassonne airport France
There is a busy schedule of flights to Carcassonne airport in South France during 2024. Some routes only operate during the high season, others are all year around:
- Bournemouth airport, UK (Ryanair) - Wednesday & Saturday flights (1 May to 31 October 2024)
- Porto airport, Portugal (Ryanair) - Tuesday & Sunday flights (1 April to 31 October 2024)
- Tangier airport, Morocco (Ryanair) - Wednesday and Sunday flights (1 May to 31 October 2024)
- London Stansted, UK (Ryanair) - Friday & Sunday flights (All year); Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday flights (1 April to 31 October 2024)
- Charleroi airport, Belgium (Ryanair) - Monday & Friday flights (All year); Wednesday & Thursday flights (1 April to 31 October 2024)
- Dublin airport, Ireland (Ryanair) - Monday, Wednesday, Thursday & Friday flights (1 April to 31 October 2024)
- East Midlands airport, UK (Ryanair) - Wednesday & Saturday flights (1 May to 31 October 2024)
- Cork airport, Ireland (Ryanair) - Monday & Friday flights (1 May to 31 October 2024)
- Manchester airport, UK (Ryanair) - Monday flights (All year); Tuesday, Wednesday & Friday flights (1 April to 31 October 2024); Saturday flights (Winter only)
|Carcassonne airport flights 2024
|London Stansted, UK
|East Midlands airport, UK
|Brussels (Charleroi), Belgium
There is a regular bus service from Carcassonne airport into the city. The bus times are coordinated with the flight arrivals and departures. In the centre of Carcassonne. There is also a mainline train station in the centre of Carcassonne, where you can pick up train services to both Narbonne and Toulouse. There are connecting TGV trains to Paris, Bordeaux, Marseille and Barcelona. The A61 motorway runs right past the town and connects Narbonne in the east with Toulouse and Bordeaux in the west.
Carcassonne tourist information
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 to Carcassonne Castle, but hopefully we have shown you that Carcassonne has much more to offer than just its castle. 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, 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 tourism information).
For more information about Carcassonne and its magnificent castle please visit the local Carcassonne tourist office website (which is really excellent by the way). If you would like to stay near to Carcassonne, please check out our Carcassonne Properties to rent.
Where to next . . .?
If you are planning a trip to the South of France in 2024, then Carcassonne is an excellent location. Carcassonne has some excellent restaurants, including 2 Michelin star restaurants. You also shouldn't miss out on one of the biggest music festivals in the South of France (Carcassonne festival), some fantastic local vineyards and the beautiful countryside nearby. You can also visit the local Cathar monuments, including the old Cathar village of Minerve and the Cathar castles at such as the castles at Quéribus, Château de Peyrepertuse, Châteaux de Lastours and Château de Montségur. The Canal du Midi also snakes its way through Carcassonne on its route across the South of France from Toulouse to Beziers and the Mediterranean coast. From a tourism perspective, Carcassonne has plenty to see and do.
If you are planning a trip to Carcassonne or the Languedoc in 2024, then the following articles are a good source of local information:
The restaurant scene in Carcassonne is buzzing at the moment, with 2 Michelin star restaurants and many interesting new restaurants opening. Discover the 10 best restaurants in Carcassonne to eat at in 2024.
The Canal du Midi is one of the Engineering marvels of the modern age. The tree-lined canal which flows across the South of France, perfectly reflects the slow pace of life in the Languedoc and Occitanie.
Carcassonne's music festival takes place during July and is one of the largest music and arts festivals in France, with over 200,000 spectators. Find out all the acts playing in 2024
Check out the latest schedule of cheap flights to Carcassonne airport in South France. We have compiled a handy guide of the 9 airports across Europe that fly to Carcassonne and which days they fly in 2024
Go Languedoc provides high quality holiday accommodation across the South of France. Check out these 9 stunning holiday villas & gites to rent near Carcassonne in 2024 .
Read all about the fascinating history of the Cathars and all the local monuments that have inspired writers such as Kate Mosse, Dan Brown and Lynna Banning.
Contact Iain by Email if you have any particular questions you would like to ask about visiting Carcassonne and the South of France. If you liked the article then please share it with others using the Twitter and Facebook buttons below. I wish you a wonderful stay in the South of France.