Located in the south of France, not far from Spain, Carcassonne seduces visitors with its medieval soul and its appearance that seems frozen in time.
Carcassonne is one of the five most touristic cities in France and owes its global fame to the extraordinary nature of its historical heritage. With two UNESCO-listed sites, the medieval city and the Canal du Midi, Carcassonne captivates and enchants with its perfectly preserved medieval ramparts, city walls and towers.
Carcassonne is perched on a hill in Languedoc, in the south of France, right in the middle of the Aude plain. Renowned for its famous medieval citadel and ramparts, with innumerable watchtowers and a double enclosure, it was built in Gallo-Roman times but architectural improvements were made throughout the Middle Ages, until its complete restoration by Viollet-le -Duc in the 19th century.
Included in the UNESCO list of monuments, it offers visitors many cultural and natural attractions, both in the heart of the city and in its surroundings: the region is magnificent and enchants with its finest jewels at any season of the year.
The medieval city of Carcassonne is a unique medieval complex in Europe, both in terms of its incredible size and, above all, its perfect state of preservation. Its history is marked by 2000 years of political and military conquests and the imprint of Catharism and the Crusades.
Accessible day and night via the Porte Narbonnaise and the Porte d’Aude, much of the city can be visited freely but we recommend you take a guided tour to discover the anecdotes and curiosities that only a history expert will be able to provide.
The 2 million visitors who come to Carcassonne each year are left speechless in front of the fortified citadel, characterised by two mighty city walls and the 52 towers that have defended its inhabitants from enemy attacks for centuries. Don’t miss the tour of the walls, from where you can take exceptional photographs of the city, walking along the narrow patrol paths.
Inside the citadel hides a village full of cafés, shops and medieval-style taverns: despite its distinctly touristic vocation, the ancient atmosphere has not been distorted and it is a real pleasure to discover the alleys and small squares hidden within Carcassonne.
Built in the 12th century by the Viscounts of Carcassonne, the Trencavels, the castle has undergone numerous modifications over the centuries, such as the addition of an enclosure, several towers, a moat and a barbican. The aim was to fortify it as much as possible to make it impregnable. It was in fact the central device for defending the city in case of attack.
The castle has nine towers, including the Pinte tower, a square watchtower. The ramparts consist of a double enclosure, part of which dates back to Gallo-Roman times. The interior is also interesting: you can admire the finely frescoed ceilings and a large collection of Gothic and Romanesque artefacts. Young and old alike will be amazed by the tallest tower in the entire fortification, the mighty Cour du Midi, by the huge stone balls that were thrown by the soldiers to repel enemies and by the incredible force that the castle unleashes.
Located near the fortified ramparts, the basilica of Saint-Nazaire is a church of Romanesque origin, the construction of which began in the 11th century. Blessed by Pope Urban II in 1096, the Romanesque cathedral was destroyed in the 13th century and rebuilt in the Gothic style, retaining some elements from the previous era.
The coexistence of the Romanesque and Gothic styles is the special feature of this basilica: on one side you can see the large Romanesque nave, on the other the ogival transept and the Gothic chapels. Also not to be missed are the marvellous stained-glass windows, considered the most fascinating in the south of France.
Carcassonne has no fewer than four gates, the openings in the city walls. In the Middle Ages, the inhabitants of the countryside and the city’s armies passed through here to take refuge inside the town in case of attack. Porte Narbonnaise in particular, dating back to 1280, is a small jewel of elegance and military genius, built between twin towers, with a small stone bridge, overlooking the moat below.
The name of the gate guards a curiosity: from here, on a clear day, it is possible to see the city of Narbonne in the distance. The walk between Porte Narbonnaise and Porte D’Aude is not to be missed: between the two walls, which are 17 metres high in places, the horse tournaments that animated the life of the village took place, and even today, costumed re-enactments take place here, allowing you to experience a real step back in time.
There are a number of small museums in the village, which tell the story of the town’s life. The School Museum5 has several reconstructions of old classrooms with pen holders, old school books, blackboard dictations and you can try your hand at writing with quill pen, inkwell and blotting paper.
As in all medieval towns, Carcassonne has its own Museum of the Inquisition6. It traces the history of this dark period and presents various instruments of torture, used from the 12th century to the French Revolution on heretics, Cathars or alleged witches. You can discover the dungeons and the different displays, observing the trials reserved for heretics, from their trial through torture, burning at the stake or other methods of killing.
The Pont Vieux connects the bastide Saint-Louis, the lower part of Carcassone to the medieval city. At 210 metres long, it was built in the Middle Ages and is one of the city’s most iconic landmarks. From here, there is an unparalleled view of the entire city.
The best time to photograph the panorama from the bridge is certainly at sunset, when the rocks are cloaked in beauty, and in the evening, when Carcassonne is expertly lit.
The lower town of Carcassonne, built in 1260 when King Louis IX, after whom it was named, granted the population permission to reside in the area, lies on the left bank of the Aude River and is worth a visit for its lively and pretty centre.
Cobbled streets wind around Place Carnot, a must-see during your visit to Carcassonne. Adorned by its sculptural marble Neptune fountain, the square is worth a diversion for both its architecture and its dynamism. Indeed, it is home to a large number of shops and small businesses, the weekly market and a pleasant, lively atmosphere.
Don’t miss a trip to Les Halles, the city’s covered market, where you can shop for regional products and sample local delicacies such as cassoulet, a traditional dish of white beans, sausages and duck confit.
Like the city of Carcassonne, the Canal du Midi is also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built in the 17th century, this artificial canal stretches from Toulouse to Sète and can be travelled along its entire length or in small sections.
To discover it, the best way is to choose to take a cruise or rent a boat. One of the possible starting points is the port located north of Bastide-Saint-Louis, near the SNCF station in Carcassonne.
15 minutes from the medieval city of Carcassonne, the Knights’ Museum tells all the secrets of chivalry through riddles and games. Thanks to the passion for medieval history of Gilles Alessandri, who decided to turn his private collection into a museum, you can listen to anecdotes and curiosities and admire tapestries, weapons, archery tools, numismatics, retracing life in the time of the knights.
In the following map you can see the location of the main places of interest mentioned in this article
The fortified citadel of Carcassonne can be visited freely all year round but during the summer period it is literally taken by storm. We advise you to arrive by 09.30 a.m. to get around the semi-deserted centre and to find parking without too much difficulty.
We recommend a guided tour that will allow you to discover the history of the city in depth: the expert guides will give you a wonderful experience, telling you anecdotes and showing you details that are difficult to find on your own.
There are different types of tours, differing in duration, language, theme, costume or treasure hunt. Guided tours are perfect especially for those travelling with children, who will be transported into the fabulous world of history through curiosities and mysterious stories.
For those who wish to experience all the medieval magic that emanates in the evening, when the tourist buses depart again, the best solution is to find a hotel in the centre of the walled city. At night, Carcassonne unleashes a timeless magic. There are many establishments, with excellent value for money during the less crowded seasons, but of course in the summer, prices rise considerably. In fact, during this period the city is taken by storm, becoming noisy and crowded and it is necessary to book well in advance.
To save considerably and stay in a quiet and peaceful environment, you can look for accommodation in Montredon, a pretty hamlet full of green spaces and gardens, in a privileged location close to the city: it is very close to the banks of the Aude, with a more limited but certainly cheaper hotel offer.
If you plan to explore the surroundings of Carcassonne as well, you might consider staying in the island district, located at the southern end of the city, on the waters of the Aude, an area known for its hiking trails that wind through the fields and lead to the delightful De Camin del Garric park and its sheep. There is a lot of cheap accommodation here, suitable for hikers passing through and for families wishing to visit the area.
Carcassonne is located almost at the western end of southern France, not far from the Spanish border.
The fastest way to get to Carcassonne is by plane, landing at Toulouse Blagnac Airport, which is only 1 hour from the town. Alternatively, you could decide to arrive at Marseille Airport and then drive to Carcassonne, a journey of about 3 hours.
What's the weather at Carcassonne? Below are the temperatures and the weather forecast at Carcassonne for the next few days.
Carcassonne is located in the Occitane region, formerly Languedoc, in the south of France.