Carcassonne is divided into two main parts:
- The Cité de Carcassonne, a medieval fortress settlement with a history that exceeds two and a half thousand years. Picturesque fortifications (over 3 km of walls with 52 towers, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves was partly shot here) were reconstructed by Viollet-le-Duc in the 19th century but, as with most monuments reconstructed in those times, authenticity was not the main objective. It is listed in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
- The town centre, known as the ville basse (literally 'lower city'), where the other sights and hotels are located.
High speed TGV trains from Lille, Bruxelles, Dijon, Lyon, Marseille and Toulouse call at Carcassone. Slower Corail Téoz between Bordeaux, Marseille, Nice and Paris towards Cerbère and Port-Bou (and overnight Corail Lunéa couchette trains between Paris and Cerbère / Port-Bou) also stop.
An extensive network of frequent, modern and comfortable regional services are provided by SNCF's TER Languedoc-Roussillon , with services to Toulouse, Narbonne, Marseille, Cerbère, Perpignan, Limoux and Quillan.
The train journey from Toulouse is around 1hr to 1hr 15min depending on the train type.
Ryanair serves the airport to/from Billund, Bournemouth, Brussels (Charleroi), Cork, Dublin, Eindhoven, Glasgow (Prestwick), Liverpool, London (Stansted), Nottingham (East Midlands airport) and Porto.
A shuttle bus (navette aéroport in French; €5 per person) runs between the airport and Carcassonne town centre (SNCF railway station). Some shuttle buses (but not all) also stop at the Cité. The shuttle bus timetable is available at the airport website:
A taxi between the airport and Carcassonne town centre costs around €10 to €15, whilst a taxi between the airport and the Cité costs around €15 to €20.
The Cité is around 20 minutes by foot from the railway station. The main tourist sights in Carcassonne are situated within easy walking distance of each other.
Tourist maps of Carcassonne are available from one of the three tourist information offices. There is one tourist information centre situated once you leave the railway station and cross the bridge, on the right hand side of the road near the junction between Boulevard Omer Sarraut and Avenue Mal Joffre. There are also tourist information centres in the Cité and in the town centre at 28 rue de Verdun.
Taxis:There is a taxi stand outside the railway station. You can also book a taxi by phoning 04 68 71 50 50, which is the one single official hotline for booking all taxis in Carcassonne. For more information, visit the official website of the Association of Carcassonne Radio Taxis.
Left luggage: There are no left luggage facilities at the train station, though you can leave your luggage at the Hotel La Bastide Saint Louis (42 rue Barbes 11000 Carcassonne; €3 for 1/2 day and €5 for 1 day), which is useful if you wish to visit Carcassonne before catching a flight from Carcassonne airport.
- The Cité: historic fortress (built upon ruins predating Christianity) that was featured in the movie Robin Hood - Prince of Thieves. Around 20 minutes by foot from the railway station.
Much to see in this somewhat neglected region of France. Get into the hills and visit little villages like Minerve. Try using the Michelin maps but forsake the red roads and take to the little white roads. You will be rewarded by seeing lovely little places that tour buses etc. never visit.
Carcassonne can also be visited departing from Toulouse.
Medieval jousting displays are held twice a day between the two walls. Whilst this may sound like a typical tourist activity, this is actually a very impressive and entertaining display of horsemanship and combative competition. Entry is €10 for adults as of Summer 2008 - certainly one of best €10 that we spent on our Summer trip.
If you're up to it, the Torture Museum is also worth a visit. It's small but filled with torture instruments from the Middle Ages. Not for the squeamish!
There are regular barge trips along the historic Canal du Midi, and these are a very relaxing way of spending some time. The boats leave from the jetty just outside the main train station, and tickets can be bought from clearly signposted vendors at the canal-side (just beside the lock). Multilingual commentary is provided on the history of the canal and the various sights along the way.
Don't leave Carcassonne without trying cassoulet, a local dish made of beans, sausage and duck. Foie gras is also a speciality of the region, so expect it to be on many menus.
There are bars around the train station (la gare) that offer cheap eats. There are a few restaurants on rue Trivalle, the road that connects the town centre with the Cité. Le Trivalou (69 rue Trivalle) has very friendly service and delicious home-made dishes, including cassoulet (€16). There are also quite a few restaurants clustered around the main square inside the Cité, the majority of which have outside tables so you can people-watch and enjoy the buzz of the square on summer evenings!
Budget permitting, there are several excellent restaurants inside the Cité, serving really good regional food. Among them are La Barbacane, Chez Saskia, Restaurant Comte Roger and the Brasserie le Donjon. These all serve divine food and the service is, as you would expect, impeccable.
As Carcassonne can get quite touristy during the summer season, restaurants can become crowded and the prices charged can be a bit over the top. You may therefore wish to eat away from the Cité, perhaps in the town centre instead, or better in one of the enchanting villages away from Carcassonne.
- Eurl le Bar a Vins, 6 Rue du Plo, ☎ +33 4 68 47 38 38. Nice, sheltered, relatively quiet place to grab an ice cream or drink.
It is advisable to book earlier if visiting Carcassonne during the high season.
- Hotel de la Cité. Is the most historical, luxurious (and most expensive) hotel in Carcassonne. Operated by Orient Express Hotels.
- Notre Dame de l'Abbaye. Offers moderately priced accommodation in a converted abbey building and is conveniently situated just outside the Cité. Free wifi and friendly English-speaking reception staff.
- Camping de la Cité. Route de St Hilaire. By the river, overlooked by the castle, signposted from the town centre; well facilitated (tennis grounds and pool) with a path running into the city, does get fairly crowded in summer. Open April - October.
- Hosteling International Carcassonne, Rue du Vicomte Trencavel, Cite Médiévale, ☎ +33 468252316. - Hostel located in the medieval city open April to October. Good place to go on a budget; offer various activities to guests. Reminder that there will an extra fee for those who are not Hosteling International members.
- Limoux - Small town south of Carcassonne known for its sparkling wine and Le Carnaval de Limoux, which is a three month carnival held each winter.