Visiting Carcassonne in 3 Days

We have entered the new-to-us part of our France itinerary. I’ve been brimming with nervous anticipation for all the new towns in France that we’re visiting this year. We’ve been talking about visiting for Carcassonne for a long time. And, when we finally got there, it didn’t disappoint. It’s actually unbelievable how incredible it is to just see Carcassonne, let alone experience it for a few nights. We stayed just outside of the medieval city walls. The first night, we climbed up the hill and wandered around the ramparts. It was incredible to experience that magical time when the daytrippers had left for the day. For me, it makes it much easier to imagine what it must have been like back in the day.

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Journey of Doing - If you're thinking about visiting Carcassonne, here's where to stay, where to eat, what to do and more on your visit to this medieval village!
Bonjour Carcassonne! I’m literally obsessed with you at night. You are pure magic.

Is Carcassonne Worth Visiting?

I feel like this question comes up with every destination that has somehow become a day trip. (See also debates about visiting popular towns in the Alsace and Mont St Michel.) The fortified city of Carcassonne is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which means its protected. A lot of travel guides gloss over Carcassonne, possibly as a place to spend a few hours. I LOVE UNSECO World Heritage Sites, so to me, they will always be worth visiting.

I had a moment on our first night when we were walking across the footbridge that connects the new city and the old city. The castle of Carcassonne was lit up, it was blue hour, and the entire experience felt surreal. I felt a wave of sadness for everyone who stumbles through the city as part of a whirlwind tour of the south of France. I was standing somewhere that has been in existence for more than 2000 years. It pre-dates the Romans, though it was recently remodeled in the 13th century, lol!

If you’re visiting Carcassonne, I wouldn’t do it on a day trip. I’d spend a couple nights in the cité de Carcassonne. What I loved most about visiting Carcassonne is that it was both historic and felt lived in. It felt alive. It had an essence about it that I didn’t find everywhere on our trip through France.

Journey of Doing - Carcassonne walking tour
Apparently the rings on the castle of Carcassonne are from an art installation. It makes it an interesting target for your southwest France itinerary!

Getting to Carcassonne

Carcassonne was the third stop on our France road trip itinerary. It was about a 3.5 hour drive from Bordeaux, made slightly longer due to Friday traffic. The longest part of the drive, for us, was getting out of Bordeaux. That took about 40 minutes without traffic. The rest of the drive was relatively smooth sailing.

When we first started thinking about visiting Carcassonne, we thought we might couple it with a trip to Barcelona. It’s only 3 hours by car from Barcelona. By comparison, it’s more than 7 hours from Paris by car and 5.5 hours from Paris by train. There really is not a fast way to get to Carcassonne in France, as it’s off the beaten path of the TGV.

While you could visit Carcassonne as a day trip from Toulouse, as with most small towns, the magic happens when you stay overnight. It’s yet another time when I’m going to tell you to skip the day trip and spend a night or two here.

Journey of Doing - Carcassonne at night
This is the closest you’ll probably get to Carcassonne by car, so you might as well just spend a couple of nights here!

Best Place to Stay in Carcassonne

Originally, I told Tom that I wouldn’t stay anywhere in Carcassonne except Hotel de la Cite. However, since we were traveling in France for an extended trip, I decided to book an apartment in Carcassonne. It ended up being perfect for us, especially since one of our days was interrupted by thunderstorms, but I’m happy to share where I would stay in Carcassonne on future trips!

Hotel de la Cite is an MGallery hotel, similar to one of my favorite hotels in the Alsace, and it’s inside the medieval city walls. The rooms offer outstanding views of the medieval city or the ramparts. It also offers a spa, Bar Bibliotheque (one of the highest rated cocktail bars in Carcassonne, as well as a Michelin starred restaurant with a terrace overlooking the old city. It is absolutely one of the places I would stay in Carcassonne. (I can book Hotel de la Cite in Carcassonne with additional benefits for you! If you are interested in a quote, please get in touch!)

If I was returning to Carcassonne, I would also consider staying at Le Domaine d’Auriac, a Relais & Chateaux property near Carcassone. This is a resort property similar to Chateau d’Audrieu in Normandy and offers beautiful rooms, fine dining, and wellness activities. Personally, I like being within walking distance of a town on my first visit, so I would be booking this on a repeat trip. (I can also book this property for you with additional benefits!)

Journey of Doing - Hotel de la Cite Carcassonne
Hotel de la Cite is the premier hotel in Carcassonne and it’s absolutely where I’d stay in the medieval city for a luxury stay.

Apartment Rental in Carcassonne

We booked an apartment in Carcassonne that was just outside of the medieval city. We could not have gotten any closer if we had tried. And, it was exactly what we wanted it to be, and it was perfect.

This is a two bedroom apartment on a quiet street. We had enough space to unload our car before taking it to the parking lot that is less than a 5 minute walk from the apartment. In addition to two bedrooms, there is also a loft that offers 3 additional beds. In short, it’s HUGE.

We had a small living area with a TV and a couch, a dining table for 6, a bar that had seating for 4, and a second sitting area that overlooked the Carcassonne castle. THe open kitchen offered plenty of space for prep, cooking, a dishwasher, and full-size fridge. This apartment is HUGE and extremely comfortable. While we love our rental cottage in Mont St Michel, I think Tom is going to be obsessed with this apartment. The only thing it didn’t have was a washer and dryer, but it’s literally above a laundromat. You’ll be fine.

The wi-fi is accessible via QR code and works great. Parking is included with the rental rate. (I feel like I have to mention this after inadvertently booking an apartment in Annecy that didn’t have wifi, lol.) There is a soaking tub, plenty of hot water, and a shower that will change your life. Seriously, it might be the best shower we’ve had anywhere in the world. I would book this apartment in Carcassonne for the shower alone. AND, we arrived in Carcassonne in the middle of a heat wave, and I was very worried about the heat when we arrived. (We were so worried that we bought our own fans.) This apartment offers AC and it is FANTASTIC.

If you are looking for a vacation rental in Carcassonne, look no further. If you need a luxury hotel in Carcassonne, see the hotels above and let me know how I can help!

Journey of Doing - where to stay in Carcassonne
Journey of Doing - where to stay in Carcassonne
Journey of Doing - where to stay in Carcassonne
Journey of Doing - where to stay in Carcassonne
Journey of Doing - where to stay in Carcassonne
Journey of Doing - where to stay in Carcassonne

Where to Eat in Carcassonne

A lot of the restaurants in the Carcassonne old tour are pretty touristy. I feel like we hit a good balance of finding places to eat in the lower town of Carcassonne, as well as the medieval city. As in most everywhere in the world, you need to do your research and figure out what makes the most sense for you. Don’t just stop at the first restaurant you reach because it’s there.

If you are looking for a sweet treat, I strongly recommend checking out Boulangerie de la Cité in the medieval city. It is adjacent to Hotel de la Cite. They offered several of the same pastries I learned to make when I went to pastry school at the Ritz Paris Escoffier. (I didn’t see any specific regional pastries in Carcassonne that I can recommend so choose what looks best to you during the time of your visit!) They also had the best baguettes in town.

La Marquiere in the Medieval City of Carcassonne

There are some restaurants in France that remind you that you’re in France and you don’t need a Michelin star to prove how good you are. La Marquiere is one of those restaurants. We really wanted to try cassoulet in Carcassonne, and this definitely felt like the best version of it. (You should make a reservation; it does require a credit card for dinner reservations.) Since it was forecasted to be a rainy day, I requested an interior table when they opened.

We started with an aperitif. Tom had a beer, and I opted for a kir. We ordered the cassoulet and the filet de boeuf. We also asked our sommelier to make a regional wine recommendation. He recommended a fantastic red wine from the Languedoc and recommended that we give it enough time to open. (Challenge accepted.) I wish I could explain the complexity of flavors that exist in the cassoulet. It was rich and flavorful. The filet was good, but the cassoulet stole the show. Cassoulet is white beans, pork, duck, and slow roasted meats – and it’s amazing. I think it’s the thing I missed most when we left Carcassonne and the Languedoc. While I was full after the meal, I ordered a tarte au citron for dessert, and it was delightful.

La Marquiere is an AMAZING value, and on a good day, you can dine on their terrace and enjoy an amazing view of the countryside. While many places are overly touristy, I personally found La Marquiere to be the BEST restaurant in Carcassonne and one of my most memorable meals from this trip to France. I definitely missed it when we were in other regions of France, which is always the mark of a good food choice.

Journey of Doing - where to eat in Carcassonne
Journey of Doing - where to eat in Carcassonne
Journey of Doing - where to eat in Carcassonne
Journey of Doing - where to eat in Carcassonne

The Tasting Room in the Lower Town of Caracssonne

We were not necessarily prepared for our first night in Carcassonne. After driving from Bordeaux, we arrived around 4:00pm. We both wanted to explore the streets of the old city. And, we wanted to find a local experience. After a really rough work day, I was not content to stay home. We headed across the Carcassonne footbridge to The Tasting Room on one of the warmest days that we experienced in France. At first, we were both overwhelmed and didn’t think we’d stay. However, after a glass of white wine and a seat change to the bar, we changed our tune.

Tom decided to do a wine tasting (5 wines for 10 euros), and I ordered another glass of white wine. The wines were from France, the Veneto, Tuscany, and Spain. The wines were delightful, and I decided we should order a pizza. (Diavola, always. Diavola includes a spicy Italian sausage, similar to pepperoni.)

We enjoyed it so much that we ordered a second pizza. When we ordered the second pizza, one of the owners came out to apologize for how long it took. (It didn’t take long.) He explained that it’s always better to have pizza later in the night because the fire gets hotter. No problem. We had a great conversation with him about his life and how he ended up in Carcassonne.

We enjoyed the entire experience so much that we thought we’d be back. Unfortunately, there are only so many days and so many meals. We didn’t make it back, but when we go back to Carcassonne, we’ll be at The Tasting Room for sure.

Journey of Doing - where to eat in Carcassonne

Things To Do in Carcassonne

Carcassonne is somewhere that does a great job of bridging the gap between the medieval, touristy city and the new city. The newer part of the city is called La Bastide Saint-Louis, and I loved spending evenings strolling its squares and small streets as much I enjoyed wandering around the castle town. Both places are wonderful to find a place to sit, order a drink, and watch the world go by for a bit.

If it had been a little cooler, we would have packed a picnic and enjoyed a view of Aude river. We saw a lot of people doing this from the park along the canal. It offers a great view of the old town.

If you want a more formal experience, we had booked this Languedoc wine tasting for our trip. Unfortunately Alex had to cancel due to unforeseen circumstances. He handled notification and the cancellation professionally that I recommend booking a tasting with him whole heartedly.

Journey of Doing - things to do in Carcassonne

Take a Walking Tour of Carcassonne

If you do one thing in Carcassonne, make sure you take a tour. They are impossible to find. Most tours available online are DIY virtual tours or they are expensive private tours. This is where the TI comes in handy!

I booked a classic guided tour of the medieval city through the tourism office while we were visiting Carcassonne. Jacqueline was the most energetic, expressive, and fun guide (rivaled by Pierre at Honfleur tours). She led us through the ramparts and around the old city for a little over an hour. She pointed out the architectural elements of the castle that had evolved over time and gave us an overview of the various populations that settled in Carcassonne over time. And, she took us to the Basilique Saint Nazaire in the heart of the old city and showed us many of its treasures. The church was built starting in the 12th century and acted as the seat of the bishop before being “downgraded” to a basilica in the 18th century. The rose windows in St. Nazaire are stunning. Definitely don’t miss them.

If you book a tour of Carcassonne through the tourism office, they will give you a Carca’pass, good for discounts at restaurants, shops, and other attractions. You can also get a discount to visit the Château Comtal with the Carca’pass.

When we return, I will book this World War II in Carcassonne tour. Sadly, it wasn’t available while we were visiting Carcassonne. Jacqueline briefly alluded to some of the area’s history during the classic tour of the city, and I was intrigued.

Journey of Doing - Walking tour in Carcassonne
Journey of Doing - Guided tour in Carcassonne

Languedoc Wine Tasting at Le Comptoir de la Cité

Probably half of the evenings we were in France, we tried to figure out an aperitif experience in lieu of a full dinner. Sometimes this meant picking up a baguette, charcuterie, and a local bottle of wine (or cider when in Normandy!). Other nights that meant finding a wine bar. We tried to find a regional wine bar on the first evening or two so that we could familiarize ourselves with the local wine. Le Comptoir de la Cite is at the foot of the medieval town. It features a lovely terrace, as well as tasting areas inside.

We opted for a wine tasting with 6 Languedoc wines: 2 white wines, 2 rose wines, and 2 red wines. The white wines were the best surprise for me. I didn’t expect to like them as much as I did. The red wines were also very nice – complex and interesting. Ultimately, if it had been a bit cooler, we would have ordered charcuterie and a bottle of one of the red wines. The sommelier was very excited to share his favorite wines with us, and they could not have been more kind. We had hoped to go back again, but there is only so much time in a trip!

Journey of Doing - wine tasting in Carcassonne

Travel Tips for a Trip to Carcassonne

Our trip to Carcassonne was part of a much longer trip through France, so we had the flexibility of time. The drive from Bordeaux to Carcassonne was a long one. It was an easy drive, but it was one of the longest drives of our summer trip to France. We left Carcassonne to go to Avignon, which was a completely different experience.

If you are wanting to visit Carcassonne, the best thing you can do is think about a regional trip that makes sense to you. Fly in Toulouse and create an itinerary for southwest France that makes sense for you. If you wanted to experience the coast before heading to Carcassonne, you could fly into Montpellier and visit Narbonne on your way to Carcassonne. You could also couple Carcassonne with Andorra and Barcelona for a 3-country itinerary that would allow you see how each area influences the other.

Whichever trip you choose, give yourself enough time to enjoy each place you go.

Journey of Doing - Visiting Carcassonne at night
It’s hard to image making the trip to Carcassonne and now allowing enough time to experience these amazing views!

Get Out Early & Stay Out Late

First and foremost, I think it’s important to understand that Carcassonne is “far” from most of the bigger places that you would visit in this area. If you just make a day trip to Carcassonne (from Toulouse or Albi), you’ll miss a lot of the magic of this city. During our visit, I had several of the same feelings I had in Mont St Michel when I saw people trudging through the city in the middle of the day as part of a bus tour. We loved being able to get out in the morning, take a break during the heat of the day, and go out in the evening.

Make Reservations in Advance

As with most small towns in France, you need restaurant reservations if you don’t want to be disappointed. Good restaurants are small. They fill up. And, they close more frequently than US restaurants do. If you’re spending a weekend in Carcassonne, you need to have a plan for Sunday, for sure. It is not uncommon to walk through a town and see signs declaring restaurants COMPLET / FULL. If you’re excited about a restaurant or really want to try something, make a reservation. (And, if you’re coming to Carcassonne, make sure you try cassoulet!!) We spend a lot of time researching restaurants before our trips now. And, as a result, we have had some truly outstanding meals. I can’t remember the last time we had a “miss.” But, to have good meals, you have to plan and in France, you should make reservations.

Journey of Doing - 3 nights in Carcassonne
When visiting Carcassonne, make sure you spend time in La Bastide Saint Louis, which feels more modern, local, and offers great restaurants and nightlife.

Slow Down and Enjoy It

As with most of my travel tips, I’m going to tell you to slow down and enjoy a trip to Carcassonne. I’m not saying you need to spend a week here. It would be hard to do that and stay entertained unless you’re willing to rent bikes or hike – and even then, I’m not sure this is the best place for that. (We’ve spent a week in Mont St Michel and its surrounding towns, and that makes more sense to me!) That said, I don’t think Carcassonne gets enough credit for its ambiance and you can’t experience that unless you spend a little more time here. The best time to visit Carcassonne is when you can feel like you have it to yourself.

Treat Carcassonne like a destination, not a stopover. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Follow along with Sara!

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