Visiting Carcassonne - What to See and Do

(Carcassonne Airport CCS, France)

Upon arrival at the French town of Carcassonne, tourists will be forgiven for thinking they have stumbled into a fairy tale. The medieval fortification that sprawls across the town looks and feels like something out of Cinderella, and is usually the first place that tourists explore when visiting.

This town is one of the most underrated holiday destinations in France, although several million visitors still flock to Carcassonne every year. The main site in the township is undoubtedly the historic fortified city district, which has been standing for more than two and a half thousand years. Earmarked for demolition in the 1800s, the fortification survived and was provided with a makeover soon after. Today, the sights and sounds of the citadel make it one of Europe's most talked about medieval attractions.

Often overshadowed by the fortified district, Carcassonne's Lower Town is also home to a stunning array of sites and landmarks. Created throughout the 13th century, the Ville Basse (Lower Town) boasts an interesting medieval layout of winding lanes and traditional structures, just perfect for sightseeing. Again, a fairytale landscape certainly springs to mind here.

Ten things you must do in Carcassonne

  • The fortified city district is enormous, with plenty of attractions to see and activities to enjoy. The Chateau Comtal is the sole castle resting within the citadel. Tourists can enjoy guided walks around the castle, or simply purchase an audible self-guide set and privately stroll through the hallowed walls of this phenomenal keep.
  • La Cite (Citadel) can be explored through a number of ways. However, horse-drawn carriages and light-rail transport are the preferred means to see this magnificent district. Don't be surprised or disheartened by the plethora of souvenir shops once through the gate. There is plenty of history to take in beyond the rather 'touristy' entrance.
  • The Basilica of St. Navarius and St. Celsus is one of France's most important historical sites. Built using Gothic architecture during the 11th century, the basilica was once the cathedral of Carcassonne. However, this all changed in 1801. The structure was renovated during Viollet-le-Duc's citadel refurbishment project of the 1800s.
  • Between the first and second walls of the citadel are regular live jousting events that anyone can experience. The action occurs twice daily during summer, although less frequently as winter approaches. Even though tourists will have to pay for tickets, witnessing an authentic jousting event is simply priceless.
  • Those tourists who have weak stomachs, suffer from high blood pressure or are under the age of 13 should think twice before exploring the Torture Museum. This memorable attraction is home to a former torture chamber that contains a plethora of spine-tingling (for lack of a better word) artefacts and tools once used by the Christian inquisitors.
  • Outside the walled city resides the Pont Morengo (Morengo Bridge), which was first constructed in 1800 or thereabouts. The Canal du Midi passes underneath this bridge, and hundreds of tourists gather at this attraction each day to witness the happenings at the canal lock. This beautiful bridge adds a pleasant touch of variety to Carcassonne's historic landmarks.
  • If time is short and you only have a selection of sites to see, then the Carcassonne Cathedral should certainly be one of them. Originally built in the 1400s and dedicated to the patron saint of St. Michael, this structure has not always been the city's main cathedral. Nevertheless, in 1803 a changing of the guard took place in which St. Michael's Church took over the role of the city's cathedral.
  • The Lac de la Cavayère is a popular artificial lake and park located just outside the city of Carcassonne. During summer, thousands of locals flock to the lake for boating activities, swimming, relaxation and leisure. There are beaches along the lake's shore and plenty of wild birds to feed, including local duck species. Of note, the Cavayère Lake was created as recently as 1988.
  • Only a few minutes on foot from the walls of the citadel is Carcassonne's most precious attraction for nature lovers - La Cite des Oiseaux. Over 300 species of birds reside within this bird park, including beauties like various species of raptors, swans and parrots.
  • Take some time to get off those tired feet and enjoy a cruise along the Canal du Midi. Boats depart near the central train station and provide information about the passing sites in several languages. After a long day of sightseeing, there is no better way to polish off a memorable visit to Carcassonne than by cruising the canal.

Carcassonne Airport CCF

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