Me, my crew and Toulouse, France

Me, my crew and Toulouse, France

by Carrie Farrell
Stripes Europe

It seems like only yesterday my husband and I were conquering Europe city by city – taking trips on a whim and utilizing last-minute fares to go explore. Once we had kids, plenty of people commented that our travelling days were over. We decided to prove them wrong.

I’m not going to sugar-coat it – travelling with young children doesn’t offer the same free-style rush of a last-minute getaway. But with the right planning and attitude, it can be even more rewarding.

So, why Toulouse? The answer “why not?” is the more important question. Nestled in the south of France, this amazing city is an hour from the Mediterranean sea and the Atlantic ocean. The city is a mix of rosy brick buildings, stunning Gothic architecture and a myriad of lovely cafe-lined cobbled streets. Known to the locals as La Ville Rose (the Pink City), Toulouse sounded interesting enough to explore. Here’s our trip in a nutshell.

STAY SOMEWHERE CENTRAL

Our goal on all of our family trips is to choose a home base that offers plenty of sites and conveniences within walking distance. We knew we'd have the most success staying in the middle of it. Undoubtedly, The Capitole (city hall) is the heart of Toulouse. Our hotel was four city blocks from the central square making for a great starting point. The bus station was across from the hotel and the metro station one block. My family is notoriously slow in the mornings. Rather than rushing from attraction to attraction, we spent the first morning scouting our vicinity for a cozy cafe for breakfast and then meandering down the main boulevard toward the Capitole. Our kids quickly spotted a carousel at Place du President Thomas Wilson.  A little further down, behind the grounds of the Capitole is the Tourist Information Center. There we loaded up on flyers showing us the multitude of things to see and do.


The Capitole or City Hall. 

At the main square of the Capitole, numerous food stalls, cafes restaurants and shops can be found. By then, the kids were ready for a rest and a snack.  To keep our sanity as well as being able to hold our kids’ interest, we seduced them with a sugary waffle and a ride on the tourist train.

THREE WAYS TO SEE THE CITY

By Train

Toulouse offers a whole variety of ways to see the city. You can catch a guided tour on Les Trains Touristiques de Toulouse (The Little Tourist Trains) right in front of the Capitole courtyard. There were two routes, the Canal du Midi and the Toulouse Garrone. Both are about 40 minutes and depart and return to the Place du Capitole. We took the Garrone circuit to take in views of the river. This particular circuit took us past the outer edge of Canal de Brienne, the Saint-Sernin Basilica and more. The train is a fantastic way tour with kids and get a basic view of the city before setting out to explore. Once we returned to the Capitole it was time for lunch. Note: lunch is available in France between noon and 2 p.m. After that, many restaurants close until evening, usually around 6:30 p.m. However, we found plenty of food options that were open throughout the day.

By Bus

On day two, we opted for the hop-on hop-off bus. The starting point was at Place d’Arménie right in front of our hotel. We decided to explore the Jardin des Plantes and surrounding parks which border the Museum of Natural History. 

The Museum of Natural History is one of the sites we reluctantly decided to tour with our kids. At ages three and six, we weren’t sure it would hold their interest. It was a surprising hit. The museum had a very impressive collection of life-sized skeletons and animal displays that fascinated my children. There were plenty of interactive, activity screens for kids to touch and play. Note, the exhibits are not labeled in English, however the museum’s web app was easy to access and helped to decipher some displays. The onsite cafeteria served great food and they offered kids meals too. There is also a McDonald's nearby and the museum ticket allows re-entry throughout the day if you choose to eat offsite.

Next, we explored the garden (Jardin des Plantes). Created in 1794, it’s the oldest garden in Toulouse and popular for walking, jogging and picnicking. It’s also a perfect spot for kids to burn off some energy. There is a modern playground, a merry-go-round and a little model train that circles the area. This garden serves as a center point and is connected by foot bridges to reach Square Boulingin, the Royal Garden and the Grand Rond. And if you have any energy left, the Canal du Midi is only a 10-minute walk away.

By Boat

By day 3 we were ready for a cruise on the river. Les Bateaux Toulousains offered another wonderful tour to take with kids and perfect way to see Toulouse from a different vantage point. The Garonne River runs through Toulouse and accesses the Atlantic Ocean. The river branches through the city through two waterways, the Canal du Midi and the Canal de Brienne. The highlights of this tour were the Pont Neuf Bridge and the Canal de Brienne. To access the canal, we passed through the St. Pierre lock – a very cool experience for the kids.

OTHER ADVENTURES TO CHECK OUT

Although we saw a lot, here are some things we will have to cross off our list next time:

  • Kid approved - Cité de l’Espace, Musee Saint Raymond, Aeroscopia, Animaparc
  • Adult-approved - Canal du Midi, Saint Sernin Basilica, Jacobins Museum, Musee Des Augustins


Saint-Sernin basilica.

If you have the luxury to stay longer, Toulouse is also within striking distance of the Pyrenées mountain range for those who like world-class hiking and skiing. The locals take full advantage of the proximity to other options such as Biarritz, Languedoc, the Dordogne, Carcassone and not to mention places like San Sebastian in Spain just across the border.

Toulouse is one of the most attractive cities we’ve ever been to and has so much to offer families. It’s easy to navigate and a great, go-with-the-flow, family destination. And to our delight, we always found a waffle stand when we needed one.

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