Walk along charming cobblestone streets and admire views from medieval castle ramparts in one of Languedoc’s most visited cities.
Carcassonne’s classic medieval castle stands grandly on a hilltop against the stunning backdrop of the Montagne Noire (Black Mountain). The town is divided into the Bastide St-Louis (or the Ville Basse or Lower City) and the medieval Cité, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Join millions of visitors admiring the landmark castle annually and explore the lesser-known Ville Basse.
Start your trip with a visit to the Cité. An important stronghold for more than 2,000 years, this fort is protected by inner and outer walls and 52 stone towers. The fortress was renovated by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc in the second half of the 19th century. He transformed it into today’s artistic masterpiece. Enter through the main gateway of Porte Narbonnaise into the citadel’s interior, where you’ll find souvenir shops, boutiques and restaurants.
Head to Château Comtal for views from the castle ramparts. Look around the rooms of this 12th-century keep and read interesting descriptive panels. Join a guided tour of the ramparts to view the surrounding countryside and the Pyrenees.
Inspect the wonderful rose windows and detailed carvings of the Basilica of Saint-Nazaire. It was built between the 11th and 14th centuries and is home to a historic organ, one of the oldest in southwestern France. Climb the tower for gorgeous views over the Cité. Check for any scheduled performances of the all-male quintet that frequently sings traditional chants here.
Spend a few hours exploring the city’s quieter Ville Basse, located on the left bank of the River Aude. The highlight of this more modern area of the city is the Musee des Beaux-Arts (Fine Arts Museum). Examine the superb collection of 17th- and 18th-century Flemish paintings and works by local artists.
Take a free shuttle from Carcassonne’s airport 2 miles (3 kilometers) east to the city. Most trains traveling south or east from Toulouse stop in Carcassonne. A drive from Toulouse to Carcassonne will take just over an hour.