Set in the gorgeous countryside of south-west France, Toulouse is often referred to as the ‘pink city’, with its collection of sunset-blushed edifices, serene canals and brick-paved streets. Travelling by train to Toulouse is a great way to visit this self-confident city, and high-speed TGV as well as Intercity services serve Toulouse-Matabiau, the main train station. The train to Toulouse from Paris takes 5h30mins, Barcelona is just 3h18mins away, and Carcassonne to Toulouse takes 44 minutes by rail. A night train also comes from the French capital via Orléans, putting iconic sites like the Basilique Saint-Sernin and the Canal du Midi within easy reach.
Passengers arriving into Toulouse-Matabiau train station are greeted by Canal du Midi, the pioneering engineering works that provide kilometres of soothing plane-tree-lined paths through the city. Crossing the canal, the beating heart of Toulouse, Place du Capitole, is under a 20-minute walk away. Here, the town hall and the theatre (one of France’s most renowned opera houses) form part of the elegant edifices that shape the grand square. Surrounded by restaurants, gathering locals and tourists alike to participate in the convivial atmosphere, it’s the place to people-watch over coffee or to sample local specialties such as cassoulet. The Couvent des Jacobins is a 5-minute stroll from the square towards the Garonne river. Founded in 1415, it’s a striking Dominican building with Gothic vaults. Continuing south along the riverbank, visitors can explore the pretty quayside streets, before turning back towards the centre to get to Musée des Augustins. This renowned fine arts museum is set within an Augustinian monastery with 14th-century cloister gardens. From here, Cathédrale Saint-Étienne is a stone’s throw away and a happy marriage of various architectural styles.
The Jardin Royal is close by, and this 200-year-old botanical garden is home to the Muséum de Toulouse. Before jumping back on the train, visitors should explore Basilique Saint-Sernin, a 15-minute walk north-west of the station and the largest Romanesque church in Europe. Alternatively, for those staying the night, the ‘pink city’ knows how to enjoy itself, with a vibrant student population, lively music scene and fair dose of balmy evenings encouraging la joie de vivre. The streets between the station and main square are good for tapping into this evening pulse.