We decided to book a long weekend in Toulouse in early January 2020, back when it was still assumed that Miss Rona would leave us mostly alone. By the time the first weekend of March came around, the European wave of the pandemic was picking up enough for us to be a bit panicked. Unluckily, though, it was not far enough along for airlines or hotels to be offering refunds or reschedules… So without much of a choice, we armed ourselves with plenty of hand sanitizer and left for our weekend in Toulouse!
A weekend in Toulouse with the best vibes.
Despite our COVID anxiety and some awful weather, the trip was a very lovely time. It was our first time in the south of France and I think we were both super surprised to find how Spanish the city felt, although in hindsight this isn’t surprising at all.
Toulouse, France’s Pink City, is a great place to spend a long weekend. We felt like two and a half days was plenty to see everything we wanted.
Overall a weekend in Toulouse is significantly cheaper and less overrun with tourists than it would be in Paris. (And apparently it boasts much friendlier residents. Though, as a city person myself, I love a rude Parisian.) The city is a wonderful blend of French and Spanish beauty. It has a river through the middle, food to die for, and enough shopping and museums to keep you busy.
The following could be used as an exact itinerary, or as a guide to be influenced with your own spin. Either way, let me tell you exactly how we spent our long weekend in Toulouse!
Day 1: Arrive in Toulouse late afternoon for check-in & dinner
My potentially unpopular opinion is that I actually love arriving somewhere in the late afternoon. First of all, I’m really an afternoon/evening person. Arriving later means I get to avoid morning flights, which I absolutely abhor. Then, there’s just enough time for a taste of the place (i.e. dinner) to tide you over for the next morning so you can hit the ground running. Plus, it’s usually hard to arrange a morning check-in to a hotel or Airbnb. Who wants to deal with the hassle of figuring out what to do with your bags?
Where we stayed
We checked in to our very cute place on Thursday evening and had just enough time to watch the sunset as we did a quick unpack of our bags. I would highly recommend an apartment in this building that we found on Booking.com.
We had one of the top floor rooms and it was perfect for our length of stay. The kitchen was well-equipped and we bought some Nespresso pods, milk and madeleine cookies from a Carrefour which meant we were set for the mornings. (Not that that stopped us from getting pastries too!) The building itself is also very old and charming. It’s so nice to be able to stay in a place that feels authentic to the area. Also it’s incredibly centrally located so you can walk nearly everywhere you’d want to. Though, if you need to take the metro, it’s quite close to a station as well.
Exploring the neighborhood
We set out just after dark to look for some dinner in the nearby Carmes neighborhood. It’s clearly a popular area, because on our way, we passed a number of packed bars that looked really cute. Then, we came across Le Marché aux Huiles which was quite the scene. From what we could gather, the market stays open late on Thursdays. We were intrigued so we took a little walkthrough.
There were all sorts of vendors selling wine, beer, and small paper plates of their meats and cheeses. In hindsight, this was a very dangerous environment for everyone involved what with COVID rapidly encroaching… but at that point ‘social distancing’ was not a concept anyone was familiar with yet. Anyway, when (if) it is safe to gather again, this would be a really cool spot to meet up with friends for drinks and snacks on a Thursday evening. Or even better, to meet some locals!
After the market, we took a short walk over to La Brasière. Now, this is not to be confused with the establishment literally right next door, L’annexe de la Brasière, which I can only assume is somehow affiliated. L’annexe is just a bar and tapas restaurant…
Now, did we literally wait for seats at L’annexe, get seats, try to move seats, ask for menus, realize what we wanted was not on said menus, panic, and still try to order drinks in a rush of social anxiety? Did the classically slow French service mean that even though we got the bartender’s attention he never actually took our order? And then did we gather our things rather awkwardly and in a rush, and try to vacate the premises? And in the process did we end up walking right past the waiter who sat us in the first place??
No, I’m not saying any of that happened. But I am saying it could happen to anyone and so I’m trying to make sure it doesn’t happen to you. You’re welcome.
Dinner at La Brasière
Once finally at La Brasière, we found a seat on the terrace and a nice old man who spoke no English brought us blankets. We settled in and ordered a carafe of wine that we were told was similar to a Beaujolais, one of my favorite French wines.
We started with the mussels, and frankly they were the best mussels I’ve ever eaten. No photo available sadly because we were starving and sometimes life comes before content. These weren’t your typical mussels served in a delicious brothy bowl. Instead, they were served with just a garlicky green sauce on them, sort of escargot-style. Absolutely delicious.
As always, we shared two mains. First, we got cassoulet, the dish to try during a weekend in Toulouse, which is basically a bean and meat stew. It was great and a perfect cold weather meal. I would definitely recommend getting it to share as well, because otherwise it may be a bit heavy as your one dish of the evening. That’s just French food a lot of the time though. So rich and delicious, almost to its detriment. But also so good.
We also had duck (magret de canard) with a cheese sauce, potatoes and salad on the side. The duck was incredible. Honestly, the French just know what they’re doing with duck. The waiter suggested it be done rare, and we’re usually inclined to take any food recommendation we get. However, I will say that parts of it were definitely too rare for my tastes. Like, the middle was basically raw, so definitely something to note if you’re not a fan of that kind of thing.
For dessert: crème brûlée, because of course, and profiteroles which were….stupidly good. My biggest tip in France would be to always save room for dessert. I promise you’ll regret missing out otherwise.
The meal was truly amazing, maybe our favorite of the weekend, as evidenced by my inability to capture it on camera. I cannot recommend this restaurant highly enough!
Day 2: Get your bearings
Did I mention already that it rained through our entire weekend in Toulouse? Like, a lot? Well it did. We have a weather curse so this wasn’t surprising, but still a slight bummer. To really twist the knife, literally every museum in town was closed for some unspecified reason. But fear not! We were able to get creative with our activities and still have a nice time.
We did take a long umbrella-ed stroll through most of the center, including Place du Capitole, the Saint-Sernin Basilica, and the university. Mostly, though, we just popped in and out of shops and cafes as rain came and went. Our travel itineraries usually have a fair number of thrift/vintage shops – if you’re hoping to be more savvy with thrifting while travelling, check out my ultimate thrifting guide! These were our favorite stops of the day:
- The Bookshop – a quaint English-language bookshop in the center that had lots of great titles. Perfect if you forgot a book or finish the one your brought!
- Kilostock – A tiny but well stocked thrift shop, and the only place we bought anything. Definitely pretty curated but not pretentious.
- Vintage Paradise – Your typical vintage warehouse store with seemingly endless racks of clothing. They seemed to have cool stuff but I think we were just sort of tired by the time we got here and were out of patience for browsing.
- Le Grenier d’Anaïs – There were definitely some deals to be had in here! More in the charity shop/Goodwill category than “vintage,” but still some cute things. You’ll probably just have to do a bit more digging.
- Jet Rag – This was a very cool shop. We both found stuff we wanted here and sadly none of it fit quite right.
- La Fiancée – I love cafes like this. Trendy and cute, but full of a mix of people—from millennials to grandmas. They also served full brunch, which we got. Even though we’d already eaten breakfast.
- Le Café Cerise – Great coffee and yummy cakes. Not much more to say, but we were happy.
To be honest, we had finished all of the above by about 3pm. With the rain showing no signs of letting up, I’d be lying if I said we didn’t start to feel a little dejected. Rain has a way of making you feel like you’ve personally failed your trip. So, full disclosure, we ran into a Carrefour, got some bread and cheese (because, France), and went back to our cosy apartment, where we finished watching that terrible Netflix show Love is Blind. But I promise, we would have thrown some museums in the mix if they’d been open.
Dinner at Bistrot de l’étoile
Sufficiently revived, we realized we had no dinner plans. We always say we’re going to make reservations before traveling and somehow we always forget to do it. Note to self in case it’s ever possible to travel again…
Bistrot de l’étoile is kitschy in all the right ways. The walls are covered in old ads, fun signs and other memorabilia. Despite there not being another tourist in sight, the staff were extremely welcoming. There was luckily one waiter working that evening that spoke English, and he was very nice and had good recommendations.
Of course, like many French restaurants, the server brings you a giant menu board to prop up next to the table. All in all, it felt like a an evening a local would have and that was nice to experience. (Plus, there was a birthday party for a very old man happening in the other room, and it was very sweet so maybe I’m biased about this place now.)
Food-wise, we were just nearly as impressed as the night before. We had baked camembert with caramelized onions to start, followed by (shared) duck confit and steak frites. We finished with chocolate fondants and a giant profiterole-like thing for dessert. Everything was good – especially the dessert. We would happily go back for the food alone, but the experience was really what sold us.
Day 3: End the weekend right… with more food!
Since so much around the city was closed, we weren’t really sure what else to do with the final day of our weekend in Toulouse. Browsing Airbnb Experiences the night before, we came across Jessica’s Taste of Toulouse food tour. We’ve done similar types of market/food tours in the past, and have pretty much always felt they were money well spent. Even though it was a bit more last minute that we usually operate we said why not, and booked it.
Let me tell you that if you are going to spend a weekend in Toulouse this is the can’t miss thing to do. Actually, even if you only have one day in Toulouse, I’d say Jessica’s tour is worth your time and money.
We met Jessica in the morning near the Marché Victor Hugo. The group was small—just eight of us. We spent about four hours making our way through the market guided by Jessica’s extensive expertise in wine, cheese, bread, and charcuterie. From how to find the perfect baguette to the best progression of cheeses on a cheese board, we genuinely felt far more informed at the end of the day than we ever expected to be.
Let me sell you on this tour.
Jessica actually knows several of the market vendors personally, and was able to help us chat with them. I like to imagine that there was a time maybe twenty years ago, before tourism was as commercialized as it is today, when travelers used to be able to come into this market (or really any in Europe) and have a comparable experience. You know, sampling things, picking the brain of the master baker, asking for recommendations. Sure, there are definitely those of us with the language and people skills who can still do this. But I think by and large over-tourism has caused a whole lot of destinations to become impatient and annoyed with entitled travelers.
We felt like the Taste of Toulouse tour was a huge opportunity to experience Toulouse life in a way we just would not realistically have been able to on our own. Especially if you’re only able to spend a weekend in Toulouse.
And let’s not forget the food! A few of the shops in and around the market that we visited with Jessica included Maison Beauhaire, Xavier Fromagerie, Criollo Chocolatier, and Papaix et Fils. Trust me though—just going and seeing for yourself will pale in comparison to the insight Jessica will provide. Plus, we ended the tour with a literal feast, completely curated by Jessica.
Wrapping up our weekend in Toulouse
In the end, though we had planned on checking out one or two other shops recommended by Jessica, we ended up going for drinks with the group. At this point, we were already having a great time and why cut a good thing short? Who knew it would be our last true social interaction for a good several months!
Around 7pm, drunk and realizing we needed to wake up for our flight the next morning around 4am, we stumbled into Santosha, seemingly a regional Asian street food chain (think Thai and Malaysian fusion). To be honest, as great as our French meals had been the previous two nights, the market tour was enough to give us our fill. We just wanted something different! And let me tell you… Santosha was good! Definitely recommend if you too are tired of French cuisine.
And with that, we brought our final restaurant meal of maybe ever to a close, as well as our wonderful weekend in Toulouse. Hours later we were headed back to a long four months of quarantine in London…
I hope you’ve had the chance to get some inspo for your own weekend in Toulouse from this itinerary! Looking forward to the next adventure I can share with you.