Carcassonne, France, is a commune in the southern portion of the country where we can find one of the most beautiful walled villages in the world. This commune, specifically its citadel called Cité de Carcassonne, is the epitome of splendor, a preserved monument showing the greatness of the French people.
In today’s modern world of steel and asphalt, a visit to Cité de Carcassonne would make you feel like you have time traveled. The crenellations, cobblestone pathways, and the witch’s hat roofs are just a few of the link-to-the-past spectacles you can see in Carcassonne.
But, beyond its magnificent medieval structures, is Carcassonne, France, worth a visit?
There are many quaint villages in France, and Cité de Carcassonne is one of them. Each has its unique way of satisfying our wanderlust or our curiosity for history.
In this post, I share with you the ways how Carcassonne can make your travel/vacation a fulfillment or an enjoyable one. Let this post give you an idea if Carcassonne is worth a visit or if it suits your travel bucket list.
You can verify all the information written on this blog post from UNESCO, Grand Carcassonne Tourism, and the official website of the Carcassonne Tourism Office. The suggestions and recommendations here came from testimonies of real visitors of Carcasonne you can find in Google Maps or Trip Advisor.
I created this post because I fantasize about life during medieval times in a TV series I watched. That series is Merlin, an Arthurian-Legend-based show you can watch it too on Netflix. I intend to make this post to be my guide when I visit Carcassonne in the future.
Regardless, this is also for you! Hope this helps you discover Carcassonne through your screens.
Introduction to Carcassonne, France
Before anything else, let us know first what and where Carcassonne is in France.
In the maps, we can find Carcassonne in the southern portion of France, where it lies almost in the middle of the Occitanie Region, within the department of Aude.
There, established at the neck of the Iberian Peninsula, Carcassonne became associated with a historical trade route that connects two sides of the continent. Goods flowed through the city, transported to the Atlantic Ocean from the Mediterranean Sea back and forth.
How old is Carcassonne in France?
Though the Carcassone was inhabited as early as the Neolithic age, it was only during the Roman Empire’s conquest around 100 BC Carcassonne became an established settlement. In the Roman Empire’s occupation, the first ramparts of Carcassonne were created.
However, Roman Empire collapsed, and Carcassonne was handed over to the Visigoths in the 5th-century. Since then, Carcassonne was submitted to different rulers and kingdoms.
Though it was conquered several times, the citadel’s fortification continued to improve.
Then, when the kingdom of France acquired Carcassone, a new part of the town (Bastide Saint Louis or lower town) was founded across the river. At the same time, the citadel’s fortification was enhanced further with the addition of the outer ramparts.
The 100-Years War came in the 1300s, and the English attacked Carcassonne. The outer part of the town was destroyed during the attack, but the English men failed to take Carcassonne from the French.
Since then, Carcassonne Citadel was considered an impregnable fortress, though it was only a contemporary opinion.
What is Carcassonne famous for?
Today, the citadel or Cité de Carcassonne still stands in might and with deep historical significance. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site visited by countless travelers and tourists every year. However, even though the citadel made Carcassonne famous, we should be aware that it is not the only one worth visiting in the commune.
By the way, I wrote a post about the 10 most beautiful villages in the south of France. There, I give you a summary of things to expect, to see, or to experience from each place. The article provides you an idea of which village to go to and what fits your personality as a traveler. Just click the link above to proceed. 🙂 Have safe travels!
How long do you need to visit Carcassonne?
Visitors can appreciate all that’s in Cité de Carcassonne within 2 hours. However, to do all the things and visit all the attractions in Carcassonne, you could spend 1 to 2 days overall. Later in this post, you will know the things to do in Carcassonne – the reason why visit this town.
What cities are near Carcassonne?
After Carcassone, you will perhaps visit another city or attraction. The town is never far from other beautiful cities and towns with historical spots like the citadel in Carcassonne. Here are the cities that you would like to visit after:
- Toulouse – 1 hour away from Carcassonne.
- Montpellier – 1 hour and 22 minutes from Carcassonne.
- Perpignan – 1 hour and 30 minutes from Carcassonne.
These cities are just one train ride from Carcassonne. Travel time could vary depending on several factors like train/route availability. Estimates are from Google Maps.
How far is Carcassonne from the beach?
The beach could be your next destination after Carcassone. But, you do not have to leave Carcassonne to see one. In a 5-minute drive, you can go to The Lac de la Cavayère and enjoy the sun and water with the sand beneath your feet.
However, if you want the sea, you can proceed to Gruissan, Narbonne. The total travel time from Carcassonne would not be longer than 2 hours by bus or by train. You can check this Rome2Rio route to Gruissan From Carcassonne for more information.
10 Reasons Why Visit Carcassonne, France
Now that you know where exactly Carcassonne is, as well as the cities that surround it, let’s now determine if Carcassonne is worth visiting or not. Here are the 10 things about this town that you need to know – the reasons why you should visit Carcassone:
Reason #1: The Medieval Cité de Carcassonne
The first reason why Carcassonne is worth a visit is, of course, because of its citadel! It is an absolute throwback to the past, a time machine where you can turn your fantasy into reality.
The citadel has more than 2 millennia of history, so it’s older than Christianity! Is it not a thrill to set your foot on one of the most historical sites in France?
For centuries, Cité de Carcassonne was the forefront defense of the French against many invaders from the south. Many battles happened at the doorstep of the citadel, and you can imagine what happened there by watching medieval movies like Lord of The Ring, less the monsters, of course.
It was also the place where crusaders sojourned before they fulfill their mission. At the same time that Cité de Carcassonne is historic, it is sacred and holy as well.
Cité de Carcassonne may have lost its military significance because of treaties and the advancement of technology… but the tales made from the citadel are left within.
Because it is meticulously preserved, the glory that the citadel held for many centuries did not fade. Indeed, it helps visitors to imagine the past and travel back in time.
Each visitor’s journey to the past starts from the Cité de Carcassonne’s two main entrances: Porte Narbonnaise and Porte de l’Aude, located on the eastern and western side of the citadel, respectively.
Reason #2: 3-Kilometer Ramparts and 52 Towers
The second reason why Carcassonne is worth a visit is because of its 3-kilometer walls and 52 towers. From afar or up close, they gonna fill you with awe – hard to imagine how much work was done just to finish the entire construction.
These ramparts and towers are a monument of thousand of years of military architecture constructed by different groups of people who occupied Carcassonne. Embedded to them is the labor of the Romans who started it to the French, who “perfected” the fortification.
Cité de Carcassonne has two layers of ramparts that circle the village inside: The inner and outer walls.
Cité de Carcassonne Inner Wall
When you stroll in the inner wall of the citadel, you’ll travel for 1250 meters, meeting 30-plus horse-shoe-shaped bastions placed in roughly regular intervals.
If you are investigative, you will notice that around two-thirds of the inner walls manifest Late Roman style masonry. You’ll see that the inner wall is built on a concrete foundation, with courses of dressed ashlars intersected by bricks.
The inner wall is 3 meters thick and 6 to 8 meters high. It also has crenellations, but they were only added to the inner wall during the 13th century when the outer walls were built. Can you imagine how huge they are in person?
With the addition of the outer wall, it is no doubt why the Cité de Carcassonne is called an impregnable citadel.
Cité de Carcassonne Outer Wall
The external walls of Cité de Carcassonne are positioned lower than the inner walls. However, they are taller than the wall within, averaging from 7 to 10 meters.
Like the inner walls, the outer walls also have towers constructed along their perimeters. Back in the day, people enter these towers from the inside part of the citadel for protection.
Sights from the walls
Strolling in the spaces between the ramparts, you will pass several arches, gates, and gigantic towers jutting attached to the walls. They are an absolute Instagrammable sight, especially during sunny weather when the colors of the witch hat roofs and the brick walls are vibrant.
By the way, climbing the ramparts isn’t something not to be missed! There at the top, you can spot the scenic surroundings around Cité de Carcassonne.
In the west, you’ll see Aude River and the new town of Carcassonne. Then in the east, you’ll see the vast fields of vineyards with different shapes and shades of green.
Reason #3: The Magnificent Comtal Castle
Comtal Castle is perhaps the version of “Disney Castle” that fits us, adults, much better. Not because it has a roof design comparable to a Disney castle. But, instead, it holds many real-life accounts that could be as interesting as a Disney movie.
(There is an audio guide that speaks in English to tell all the tales and history of the things that await inside Comtal castle)
This, I think, is another reason why Carcassonne is worth visiting.
Aside from that, Comtal Castle has impressive architecture and planning of its construction. Each part always has something to tell. Mostly is about warfare strategy, but culture never leaves the story.
One that you may notice in some parts of the castle is the characteristics of northern and western France’s style of military architecture.
Comtal castle is located in the western portion, attached to the inner defensive walls of the citadel. At that point, the castle stands in might, easily seen from the new and more modern Carcassonne at the other side of River Aude.
It’s an absolutely picture-perfect scene, especially at night when the castle is illuminated with spotlights all around.
Within the outer and inner wall of Cite de Carcassonne, Comtal Castle has another wall, forming its bailey. It has 10 round towers, a barbican, and a dry moat, completing the intensive, never ever penetrated fortification.
The bailey of Comtal Castle is a just simple courtyard with two trees in the middle. Under the trees, you can sit and take some time to rest. Imagine that you are back in the middle ages, and there in the courtyard, you are with the knights practicing their swordsmanship.
Other parts of the structure like the arrow slits and its three bastions will give you a glimpse of the past, how the castle function during wars and conflicts.
Reason #4: The Grand Churches
Your journey to the past in Carcassonne does not end with the ramparts and castle. It goes on to the majestic churches located inside and outside Cite de Carcassonne.
For Christians, the churches serve as a meaningful reason why visit Carcassonne.
But, for everyone, they are an architectural marvel and a masterpiece of art to see. Today, they describe the perception of beauty or elegance of the citizens of Carcassone at the time they were constructed.
To discover how the mind of Carcassonne’s ancestors’ artists and architects work – that’s quite interesting! Don’t you agree?
Anyhow, there are three impressive churches you can see when you visit Carcassonne:
- Basilique Saint Nazaire
- Carcassonne Cathedral
- Église Saint-Vincent de Carcassonne
Basilique Saint Nazaire
This is the church that you can find inside Cite de Carcassonne. Basilique Saint Nazaire is a 12th-century Gothic-style church adorned by its vibrant rose window seen in the elegant facade of the structure.
The basilica looks stunning inside. The colorful humongous stained glass windows paint the church’s interiors with vibrant colors, creating a heavenly aura.
The stained glass window of Saint Nazaire’s Basilica is one of the oldest in southern France. Today, it’s already more than 700 years old.
Like other churches, windows are not only made for aesthetics. They are mainly designed to depict the story of Jesus, the center of the Christian Faith.
The stained glass window in Saint Nazaire Basilica is an exalted artwork portraying the story of Annunciation, Childhood of Jesus, Passion of Christ, and many more.
On the other lower town of Carcassonne, you will find the Cathedral dedicated to Saint Michael and the seat of the Roman Catholic Bishop of Carcassonne and Narbonne.
Carcassonne Cathedral is also a (Languedoc) Gothic Church created in the 13th century with murals of saints inside. Similar to Saint Nazaire Basilica, it has a vibrant rose window in its facade and beautiful stained glass windows in the choir area.
What’s unique to this Carcassone Cathedral is its fortress-like structure with a single nave and a vaulted height of 20 meters. Outside, you can see a massive bell tower that can be easily noticed in the lower town.
Église Saint-Vincent de Carcassonne
The Church of Saint Vincent is another Languedoc Gothic-style church you can find in the lower town of Carcassonne. What’s unique about this church is that you can climb its bell tower and view Carcassonne from the top.
This church has an octagonal bell tower of 54 meters in height with a carillon housing 47 bells.
When you are on the top, you can see Cite de Carcassonne without obstruction.
Aside from the bell tower, most visitors notice the lovely gilded ornamented organ and the restored gargoyles embellishing the outside of the nave.
Reason #5: Theater De La Cite
At the site where the former Saint-Nazaire cloister was, you can find Theater De La Cite. It is the place in Cite de Carcassonne where the present mixes with the past.
It is a spectacular theater, a beautiful contrast to the middle ages vibe within the citadel walls. Here, different concerts are held, not traditional but contemporary ones.
The theater and the concert are a reason to visit Carcassonne, especially if you want to have a historical but living-in-the-present trip.
The theater has nearly 6000 seating capacity, looks phenomenal, and has eargasmic acoustics. Many visitors recommend everyone to visit the theater, especially if there is a show.
Reason #6: Pont Vieux of Carcassonne (Carcassonne Old Bridge)
Churches aren’t the only historical and quaint structures outside the citadel. Actually, even the pathway across the river from Cite de Carcassonne to the lower town where the churches are is worth a visit too!
Pont Vieux of Carcassonne is a typical medieval bridge that, for 5 centuries, starting from the 14th until the 19th, was the only path that links Carcassonne and Bastide Saint Louis directly above the River Aude.
Pont Vieux of Carcassonne or the Old Bridge of Carcassonne has semicircular arches with opening diameters that range from 10 to 14 meters.
From Bastide Saint Louis side of River Aude, Pont Vieux of Carcassonne could be very photogenic with Cite de Carcassonne in the background.
It just completes the image of what a medieval fortress should look like.
Reason #7: The Bastide Saint-Louis
Carcassonne is worth visiting because the citadel isn’t the only one that awaits you in town. There are several other attractions that you can visit soon after you cross the River Aude from the Cite de Carcassonne.
Things to do within Bastide Saint-Louis
In the lower town of Carcassonne, you can try the following:
- Come inside musée des Beaux-Arts de Carcassonne
- See La Fontaine de Neptune.
- Relax in André Chénier Garden
- Admire the Carcassonne Cathedral
- Climb the tower of Saint Vincent Church
Musée des Beaux-Arts de Carcassonne
It is a small fine-arts museum that exhibits paintings and ceramics created during the 17th century until now.
Here in Musée des Beaux-Arts de Carcassonne, you will see faces of several Europeans frozen in time in portrait paintings, sketches of the daily lives of the people back then.
There are also antiques, like ultra-detailed cabinets with mini-sculptures of people and angels. At the same time, new and contemporary artworks are exhibited too.
If you are lucky, you can see antique items from the other side of the world. Previously, the Samurais armors and other related items were on temporary exhibit.
Visitors typically spend an hour or two in the museum. There are lots of information about the exhibited items in the museum. If you can’t understand French, don’t worry! There are English printouts prepared for you.
Reason #8: The Canal Du Midi
Another reason why Carcassonne is worth a visit is: there is another UNESCO Heritage Site you can see here.
In Carcassonne, you can access the Canal Du Midi, a beautiful waterway constructed between 1667 and 1694 and was declared as a heritage site in 1996.
Canal Du Midi is a very long navigable waterway extending 360 kilometers between Meditteranean and the Atlantic Ocean.
It is said to be one of the extraordinary achievements in the civil engineering of the modern era. At the same time, it was also recognized as one of the keys that launched the industrial revolution in Europe.
Canal du Midi, within its network, includes 328 structures that are both a marvelous work of art and a major technical feat. The structures that you can find along the waterway are:
From Port de Carcassonne, you can hop on a cruise that goes along Canal du Mini. The tour lasts for an hour to two hours. Aside from the structures built along Canal du Midi, you would also spot Cite de Carcassonne and the vast agricultural fields while cruising.
Reason #9: Carcassonne Wine Tourism
One that you may notice along your cruise in Canal du Midi, or even when you sightsee in the towers of Cite de Carcassonne, is the vast vineyards everywhere.
… and it just means one thing:
There are a lot of good-tasting wines in Carcassonne!
Yes, there are! In fact, winemaking is one of Carcassonne’s key industries.
If you love wines, definitely, Carcassonne is worth a visit for you.
The experiences regarding the wines start from discovering, learning, and tasting the wine. There’s a countryside tour of the vineyards too. You can call tour operators in Carcassonne to give you a trip to the local vineyards.
During each tour, you will discover the history of the vineyard estates with the help of passionate vine growers. There are experiences where you will learn how to taste a good wine and appreciate its flavor.
According to Grand Carcassonne Tourism, you taste different flavors like:
- The fruity Minervois
- The full-bodied Corbièdes
- The delicate Cabardès or Malepère
Before or after wine tasting, you can rent a bicycle or even ride on a horse to explore the vineyards where the wines originated.
Reason #10: Carcassonne’s Nearby Natural Wonders
Finally, Carcassonne is worth a visit because there are nearby natural attractions you can see after all the activities above. You do not have to transfer to another city just to experience a natural wonder.
In less than 30 minutes, you can reach the following natural attractions from Carcassonne by car:
- Gouffre Geant of Cabrespine. It is a cave that is also called “Crystal Cathedral,” and is recognized as one of the ten most beautiful caves in Europe. Inside you’ll stroll over a glass footbridge, see an underground river, and encounter columns of crystallisations.
- Grotte de Limousis. Like the first mentioned, this is also a cave where you can see spectacular rock formations under the earth. Aside from that, there are also barrels of wine inside the cave. Grotte de Limousis serves as a cellar for winemakers.
- Lac De La Cavayere. It is a scenic lake with a beach and lots of fun recreational activities. The lake also has zip lines, water slides, and restaurants – perfect for a holiday with the family.
Is Carcassonne Worth Visiting?
Quaint and historical, Carcassonne is a worth a visit destination for travelers who seek to discover the past and admire medieval structures. A trip to Carcassonne will mostly be sightseeing unless you want to do the out-of-town activities beyond Carcassonne’s two UNESCO heritage sites. Nevertheless, prepare to be transported to the past once you arrive in Carcassonne!
Photos of Beautiful Spots in Carcassonne, France
If you need travel inspiration for Carcassonne, here they are:
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