Unlocking The Charms of Carcassonne France – A Weekend Itinerary

The flight to Carcassonne, France may as well be you in a DeLorean with Marty McFly, because the minute you clap eyes on those city walls it’s 500AD all over again! In under 2 hours you’ve drunk a beaker of merlot with a random stranger, clapped a plane landing, and travelled back in time 2,500 years. And all for £40!

But is Carcassonne worth visiting? Is there much to do? And how many days in Carcassonne are actually needed to explore this medieval city?

We’ve put together a Carcassonne weekend itinerary for you to get the most out of your trip. The best bits, where to stay and where to eat, plus some extra Carcassonne tips for a top weekend break.

Visiting The Cité de Carcassonne, France

Carcassonne city is located in the South of France, specifically the Occitanie region, only an hour’s drive to the beaches of the Mediterranean. It can be a gateway for exploring the Pyrenees and a whole host of other medieval cities and towns, but a Carcassonne visit is an absolute must whether you’re in the area for a long or short break. There are plenty of things to do in Carcassonne you will want to stay for at least one night.

Carcassonne Hotels

We recommend staying inside the Carcassone castle walls, after all – this medieval city is why you came, right? That said, unless you want to stay self-catering or in a guest-house, there are only two Carcassonne Hotels to choose from actually within the old city. We can personally recommend Hotel de la Cité.

With views from the rooms, pool, and breakfast table of the medieval fortress city, you can be completely absorbed in ancient history for the whole of your stay. You’ll be staying in an old Bishop’s Palace and you’re just a stone’s throw from the main Carcassonne attractions. There are some hotels, slightly cheaper, on the outside of Carcassonne Old Town, which do have some commanding views of the walled city from some communal areas, but we think Hotel de la Cité is worth every penny. And to be fair, for the quality of the hotel, the prices aren’t too shocking.

For the best deals at Hotel de la Cité click here.

Breakfast fit for a knight at Hotel de la Cité

Carcassonne Weather & When To Visit

Ultimately the best time to visit Carcassonne France depends on your personal preferences. Consider your tolerance for crowds and your ideal weather conditions to choose the season that suits you best.

When you visit Carcassonne in the summer expect high crowds, including a lot of day-trippers, and average temperatures up to 32 degrees. Alternatively, during the shoulder seasons, you will experience temperatures in the mid-20s and not as many tourists. Winters can be mild in Carcassonne and it can be a great time to visit if you prefer quieter travel, but be aware that some places may have limited hours during the off-season.

A Weekend Itinerary For Carcassonne, France

So, without further ado, let’s spend a weekend in Carcassonne, France…

Saturday in Carcassonne

Whilst you will be spending most of your weekend break in the Carcassonne medieval city, there is a part of town outside the walls that is worth exploring on a Saturday morning… the market. So start your weekend at Place Carnot in the centre of the modern city (albeit still old) for one of the best croissants you’ll ever experience! Wander the stalls of local and organic food until you can nibble-no-more, then finish off the morning with a glass of Corbières wine from this region at one of the cafes overlooking the Fountain of Neptune.

This area of Carcassonne city is known as The Bastide Saint-Louis, or sometimes the Ville Basse (or Lower Town) and is a quadrangular plan of Boulevards and squares perfect for a spot of shopping. Alternatively, you could visit the Museum of Fine Arts or the slightly peculiar Jardin du Calvaire – a green space filled with statues of Christ and biblical trees, but nonetheless a pretty place to wander and take some shade.

Head on back to Carcassonne Old Town, across the famous Pont Vieux, for one of the best views of the Castle of Carcassonne from the River Aude.

There are 4 access points into the Cité de Carcassonne; north, south, east and west, but the most impressive of these is the Narbonne Gate (Port Narbonnaise) on the east. You are greeted by Lady Carcas at the medieval drawbridge, the city’s namesake, and a woman with an ingenious plan.

Lady Carcas was a Saracen princess who succeeded her husband during a terrifying war, and she ruled the knights of the city for 5 years during a siege. When food and water started to run out she collected all the remaining wheat, fed it to the last pig to fatten it up, then threw it from the city walls. Charlemagne, in fear of these indestructible city dwellers, then lifted the siege and retreated, believing that if they could waste a fattened pig then there was still plenty of food left inside. And that’s how Princess Carcas, with her slightly wonky bosoms (see the photo), became the namesake of the Cite de Carcassonne.

The Narbonne Gate is the perfect place to view many of the 52 turrets that make up the Carcassonne city walls.

As you step through the Narbonne Gate it’s hard to believe you’re not in a fairy tale and that somewhere so magical has actual residents. People who get up, drink their coffee and go about their business as if living in a castle is just the norm. It feels more likely you could bump into a dragon than a postman!

So spend the afternoon soaking it all up, embracing Medieval life, and perusing the biscuit shops and art galleries. Or if window shopping isn’t your thing you could always spend an hour or so at the Torture Museum for a macabre insight into medieval punishment. It’s not for the faint-hearted mind you.

Finish your day in Place Marcou, a lively central square full of bars and restaurants with an inviting character, for a bowl of Cassoulet – the dish of Carcassonne. Cassoulet is traditionally a rich slow-cooked stew of Haricot beans topped with a sausage and some other roasted meat, often duck. You shan’t be needing your belts after this hearty dish, but that’s all the more reason to eat it slow and soak up the vibe in Place Marcou. We ate at La Cachotier and were very pleased with our food and hospitable waiter who didn’t laugh at our French.

The city of Carcassonne looks particularly beautiful at night from outside the walls, so before you retire to your room, walk off your stew to one of the gates for a sneak peek of a lit-up Carcassonne.

Sunday in Carcassonne

All my regular readers will know how much I love a French Chateau and Carcassonne Castle is up there with the best. It’s a must-see Carcassonne attraction and we think Sunday morning is the perfect time to visit. Many make a Carcassonne day trip from out of town on a Sunday so the streets of La Cité can get a little busy but you can beat the rush by booking tickets to the castle in the morning.

Chateau Comtal is arguably the most important building in this medieval citadel as it was the heart of the defense system from the 12th century onwards. Visiting the castle is definitely one of the best things to do in Carcassonne if you’re interested in learning about its history. But, it’s also an absolute treat to walk part of the city walls, visit the dungeons and see some of the most exquisitely decorated rooms.

Book your tickets to Carcassonne Castle here in advance to skip any queues.

One last place you must see in Carcassonne is the Gothic 12th-century church, Basilique Saint-Nazaire. It has a couple of interesting features seen from the outside, but the impressive picture-windows can be appreciated more from the inside. Sometimes known as The Jewel Of The City, the St Nazaire Basilica has one of the oldest stained glass windows in all of France and is a thing of beauty when the sun shines.

Before you conclude your weekend in Carcassonne we think it is only appropriate that you get to experience some of the fine food on offer. This region of France is a foodie’s dream – a city situated in a vegetable box of countryside but also influenced by its neighbours across the borders in Spain. And, on every Carcassonne travel guide should be an introduction to the humble tapas bar. There are a handful of great places in this city where you can sample the most mouthwatering morsels of small plates, washed down with local wine, and here are a few of our favourites and some top recommendations from the locals…

  • Agapé – just across the River Aude from the medieval Cité de Carcassonne, Agape is a little hidden gem on an unassuming side street. A husband and wife duo have crafted an 8-course tapas dinner menu for only €25 in a relaxed and informal setting. Highly recommend.
  • L’Escargot – in the centre of Carcassonne Old Town, L’Escargot is probably the best tapas bar for choice, price and ambience.
  • La Table Du Vatican – for the best Italian sharing platters of meats and cheeses in a trendy botanical setting. Great for your last meal if you’re catching the bus back to the airport from next to the train station.
  • Le Pas Sage – a simple tapas bar on a vibrant street at the base of the medieval city. Order the ribs or the coconut curried langoustines.

Alternatively, Carcassonne has a couple of resident Michelin-starred restaurants, La Barbacane, La Table de Franck Putelat and Le Puits du Tresor, so you really are spoiled for choice. And if they are out of your price range, book a table at Brasserie à 4 Temps for a €35 3-course lunch in a restaurant owned by Michelin chef Franck Putelat and ran by one of his understudies.

We know you are going to love Carcassonne in France as much as we do – it’s the fairytale place made of foodie dreams! Do let us know what you think and thanks again for booking through our links… every booking makes us a small commission, which helps fund our blog and is no extra cost to you.

And, if you want to take another look at Hotel de la Cite, here’s the link.

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