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Should You Take The Time To Visit Carcassonne?

Carcassonne, France
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Carcassonne: UNESCO World Heritage Site

In last week’s post, I wrote about my search for flamingos and wild Camargue horses near Aigues-Mortes. I really only found the wonderful medieval fortress with ramparts that surround the town. This week I’ll take you on a journey to Carcassonne, which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. It is also an enormous fortress located in the Occitanie region of France, 95 kilometres south-east of Toulouse. There is some debate over whether one should even visit. Why? The crowds. The massive crowds. At times it makes visiting….unpleasant. Here’s my take.

Carcassonne, France

Carcassonne, France

La Cité

The fortified city, La Cité, is surrounded by two massive walls and 53 towers which protected it during medieval times. Throughout its history there have been campaigns to demolish it and renovate it and in the mid-1800s, renovations began to preserve it as a historical monument. What appears today is a medieval castle children (and adults) would imagine: with a drawbridge, a moat (grassy), and towers.

Carcassonne, France

Carcassonne, France

Carcassonne, France

Carcassonne, France

Inside the walls of Carcassonne

Inside the walls of Carcassonne

Today, Carcasssonne is one of the most popular sites in France and in the summer it is packed. Really packed. If you can visit in the shoulder or off season, like I did, it will be worth it. Take a look at my pictures in this post. Not very many people, right?  You’ll have a much better time wandering the cobblestone alleyways and along the ramparts off-season. While the inside of La Cité is pedestrian-only and interesting, I much prefer photos taken OUTSIDE the entire fortress rather than of the inside town. The outside walls of the fortress are absolutely stunning.

Carcassonne, France

Carcassonne, France

So, should you visit Carcassonne? Yes, but just be aware it could be crowded during high season. And, consider spending more time OUTSIDE of the fortress. The views are spectacular. If you decide to visit in the summer, consider visiting when it has Le Festival de Carcassonne, often held in July. It is one of the largest festivals in France and in the past there have been over 120 shows (with many being free) featuring dance, music, opera and theatre and some acts have taken place in the ancient theatre.

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24 Comments

  • Reply
    Paula Markus
    March 25, 2017 at 5:00 pm

    Hi Jan, I enjoy reading your blog!
    We went to Carcassone on Bastille Day years ago for the fireworks. It was indeed very crowded, and we had to stake out our patch of grass outside the walls hours before the show. But we will always remember the amazing fireworks bursting over the towers and ramparts of the old city, oohing and ah-ing with thousands of people from all over France. Definitely worth it.

    • Reply
      Jan
      March 25, 2017 at 5:43 pm

      Lucky you to be there on Bastille Day. I totally forgot that the fireworks are great there. It would have been amazing!!!

  • Reply
    William Richardson
    March 26, 2017 at 3:24 am

    Really packed? We live here in Carcassonne and have toured La Cité with family during July. It can be crowded during lunchtime when it seems everyone tries to find a table at the same instant. The streets are very narrow which is very much part of the charm. Walking the streets in the evening is magical. You feel you have the world to yourself. Don’t forget that there is another formerly walled city just outside the walls where you can find the Canal du Midi, another UNESCO site, markets, many more restaurants, a free art museum, galleries, wine shops, cheese shops, boulangeries and patisseries. Don’t pass the chance to see La Cité and expand your trip down the hill to the centreville and just down the road a bit you can taste sparkling wine where it all began in the area around Limoux.

    • Reply
      Jan
      March 26, 2017 at 9:26 am

      Thanks for sharing this. That’s true about the evening. Things are much more magical. I’ve found this in a lot of usually “touristy” places.

  • Reply
    michele peterson
    March 27, 2017 at 10:00 am

    Handy tips! I haven’t yet been to Carcassonne but will add it to my list for my next trip to France. I’d love to go exploring those atmospheric streets

    • Reply
      Jan
      March 27, 2017 at 10:36 am

      You’ll love it.

  • Reply
    Donna Janke
    March 27, 2017 at 12:13 pm

    The Carcassonne fortress looks impressive. I would certainly visit it.

    • Reply
      Jan
      March 27, 2017 at 1:00 pm

      I’m glad I went back. I’m so happy the sun came out to take photos of the entire La Cité.

  • Reply
    Lyn aka The Travelling Lindfields
    March 28, 2017 at 6:34 am

    David and I visited Carcassonne decades ago when there were no crowds and it was absolutely wonderful.

    • Reply
      Jan
      March 28, 2017 at 8:57 am

      You were lucky!

  • Reply
    Sue Reddel
    March 28, 2017 at 8:33 am

    Another spot in France we haven’t been to yet. I think we’ll heed your warning and visit during the shoulder season. As much as I love travel I really struggle with big crowds. They just suck the joy out of my experience. Plus we have a friend who now lives close to Carcassonne so we’ll definitely make the trip. Thanks Jan!

    • Reply
      Jan
      March 28, 2017 at 8:58 am

      Definitely go then! When I was there in July many years ago I stayed IN the town and it was crazy busy then. Off-season would be much better.

  • Reply
    Carole Terwilliger Meyers
    March 28, 2017 at 8:26 pm

    You had me at UNESCO World Heritage Site. I love walled cities and know I will love Carcassonne. And I’ll heed your advice and go in off season.

    • Reply
      Jan
      March 29, 2017 at 9:07 am

      Yes, and I’m now keen to find more UNESCO sites in France!

  • Reply
    Jenny Freedman
    March 30, 2017 at 1:56 am

    We also visited a while ago and missed the crowds thankfully. It’s an interesting town to wander through but I agree with you that the exterior view is lovely as are the views of the nearby Canal du Midi. We actually loved wandering around the main town just down the hill.

    • Reply
      Jan
      March 30, 2017 at 7:10 am

      Sadly we just didn’t have time to go through the town. I’d like to visit the area again, however.

  • Reply
    Doreen Pendgracs
    March 30, 2017 at 3:58 pm

    Great post, Jan. I would love to visit Le Festival de Carcassonne, but I imagine the crowds must be SUPER big during that time. I love local festivals, though, and sometimes, it is worth it to battle those crowds.

    • Reply
      Jan
      March 30, 2017 at 6:41 pm

      True. Festivals can be so much fun and if you really want to be there…so be it!

  • Reply
    noel
    March 30, 2017 at 4:02 pm

    I have been to Carcassonne twice and loved every visit – although I always travel off season to really avoid all the crowds and this yes a very busy tourist site but nicer in the off season.

    • Reply
      Jan
      March 30, 2017 at 6:42 pm

      Another one who’s been twice! Pretty neat place….especially off season.

  • Reply
    Rachel Heller
    April 1, 2017 at 5:48 am

    I visited Carcassonne many years ago … let’s just say it was before it was a designated UNESCO world heritage site. I loved it: there’s something romantic about a medieval structure like that! I would think that, if the only time you can travel is the summer, you could still get those photos of a crowd-free Carcassonne if you got up early and went out before things started opening up. With the added bonus that the light would be best for photography!

    • Reply
      Jan
      April 1, 2017 at 8:38 am

      Definitely a bonus when you get up early or go at dusk. Great light then.

  • Reply
    Marilyn
    July 14, 2018 at 3:23 pm

    I read that a stain glass window in the Basilica there was disassembled & hidden in the mountains to protect it from the Nazis but can’t find anything else about it. Do you know this story?

    • Reply
      Jan
      July 17, 2018 at 10:17 am

      No I had no idea. I wish I had visited the Basilica. The stained glass looks amazing.

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