Carcassonne On a Budget
SightsThe main sight here is the city itself. Built on a steep spur of rock, Carcassonne's rampart-ringed fortress dates back over two millennia. The town is encircled by two sets of battlements and 52 stone towers, topped by distinctive witch's hat' roofs, which were added by architect Viollet-le-Duc during 19th-century restorations. A drawbridge can still be seen in the main gate of Porte Narbonnaise, which leads into the citadel's interior, a maze of cobbled lanes and courtyards, now mostly lined by shops and restaurants.
You could also check out the Pont-Vieux, a bridge in Carcassonne. Though it's only one of several bridges spanning the Aude River, the Pont-Vieux is by far the oldest and prettiest. It's one of the few surviving medieval bridges in France, prized for its graceful arches and compact dimensions, and is only open to pedestrians.
Carcassonne's basilica, the Basilique St-Nazaire, is worth a peek for its soaring Gothic transept and vivid rose windows. Often, traditional plain chant can be heard inside.
NeighborhoodsCarcassonne's main neighborhood is La Cite, a doubly walled neighborhood declared a World Heritage site of Humanity by UNESCO. Located on the right side of the Aude river, the neighborhood includes all the features of a Medieval town as it has been described by kids tales: turrets, narrow cobbled streets, towers, massive walls. Enjoy strolling along the winding streets and find those hidden spots and restaurants and cute stores. La Cite is small and packed with one tourist shop after another.
Carcassonne has a new neighborhood called La Bastide Saint Louis, also called the Lower Town (La Cite is on a hill). La Bastide owns a more daily local life ambience so it is a good alternative to more tourist-oriented Cite (although there are generations who have lived inside the walls). It is a good idea to stroll across the Place Carnot and sit at one of the cafes to enjoy the tranquil dynamics of a French country town. Don't miss the Saturday market where you can buy local produces.
ActivitiesTo actually walk on La Cite's ramparts, you have to pay to enter the Chateau Comtal, a keep built for the viscounts of Carcassonne during the 12th century. Admission includes access to the keep's rooms and a section of the battlements, with fabulous views over the surrounding countryside and the distant Pyrenees. Tours in several languages are available in summer; check with the tourist office for schedules. It sometimes has free days, so check ahead before visiting to save on admission.
Carcassonne also has almost a month long festival every summer. It is the most lively time to visit with almost one hundred concerts and shows, including French and international variety shows, theatre, circus, dance, jazz, opera and classical, 80 of which are free, in prestigious venues around the city.
Food and DiningThe most famous native dish to Carcassonne is the Cassoulet. It is a rich, slow-cooked casserole originating in the south of France, containing meat (typically pork sausages, goose, duck and sometimes mutton), pork skin and white beans. The dish is named after its traditional cooking vessel, the cassole, a deep, round, earthenware pot with slanting sides.
There are many restaurants to choose from but a few ideas include: Brasserie Le DonJon, a restaurant serving regional fare, Lr Jardin de l'Eveque, serving traditional French cuisine, and Brasserie Le Dome, which serves a variety of food options from seafood to Australian burgers.
TransportationThe best prices for buses and trains in France can be found on Omio (formerly GoEuro). They let you search across all train, bus, and plane routes throughout Europe.
Carcassonne has a small airport that receives regional flights from places like London or Dublin, but the closest major airport is in Lyon. You can catch a train in Lyon that can get you to Carcassonne, and there are also some bus options. Carcassonne is connected to other cities as well through train and bus, so it is possible to get there from most places in France on public transit. Within the city, public transit is not the greatest, but most of the tourist areas are better accessed by foot.