Top Five Reasons to Visit Carcassonne

On October 6, 2013 by Oren and Cassie

We may not have the best original reason for visiting Carcassonne (more on that later), but we’re glad we did! This medieval city has a history that dates back about 2,500 years, which makes it 10 times older than the Liberty Bell. Oh, and the Liberty Bell isn’t in a castle.

carcassonne castle

The Castle of Carcassonne

1) YOU’VE ALWAYS WANTED TO LIVE IN A CASTLE

Located in southern France between Marseille and the border of Spain, Carcassonne is a fortified, medieval town that will immediately remind you of one fundamental truth: at some point in your childhood, you dreamed of living in a castle. The old town in Carcassonne is an unbelievable sight. It may even look a bit similar to the castle in a classic animated movie. Walt Disney stayed in the medieval city’s swank Hotel de la Cite once. Rumor has it his visit here inspired the castle in “Sleeping Beauty.”

We recommend staying at least two days, strolling around the old and new town. Budget travelers beware: the restaurants and shops inside the old town can be pricey. But, we found great 42nd class places to eat in the new town. The train station is quaint and so is the town. Simply pick up a map at the local tourist information center and start walking around.

2) A TOUR OF CARCASSONNE COSTS 10 EURO

carcassonne ramparats

The Walls of Carcassonne

Carcassonne is packed with history. It dates back to the 500 B.C. and once served as a border site between France and Spain. Kingdoms clashed here, armies laid siege, and battles were fought – some were won, some were lost. The first tribunal of the Inquisition in France was even housed within its walls. In a place packed with so much history, it’s worth taking a walking tour. The good news is the tour only costs 10 euro a person.

The guide begins in the upper town and finishes in the lower town. (The upper town is located within the fortified walls. The lower town is not.) Offered in English, French, or Spanish, the two-and-a-half hour tour is extremely informative and worth every penny. Tours can be booked at the tourist information centers. The tour is such a good price, you can even afford some of the local delicacy, cassoulet, afterwards.

Note: Entrance to the medieval town is free. So is walking along the ramparts for a fantastic view. But, the castle inside has an admission fee of $8.50. The walking tour goes by the castle, but not in. That is a separate charge and an attraction best done before or after the tour.

3) CARCASSONNE HAS NOT ONE, BUT TWO UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITES

Canal du Midi

Canal du Midi

The fact that Carcassonne is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site seems to attract a lot of visitors. Every year, more than two million people visit the small town. It is the third most visited site in France, behind Paris and Normandy. UNESCO describes Carcassonne as an “an excellent example of a medieval fortified town whose massive defences were constructed on walls dating from late antiquity.” But, what some people don’t know is that the canal that runs through the town also has a World Heritage distinction.

The Canal du Midi is seen as a great achievement of the late 17th century. Created using a series of locks, Canal du Midi helped connect the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. Before then, people had to travel all the way around Spain to get to the Mediterranean. If you have a couple extra bucks, you can take a boat ride down the canal.

4) CARCASSONNE IS SURROUNDED BY CASTLES AND VINEYARDS

Remember when I said that this town will remind you of your childhood? Well, if you’re an adult that enjoys wine, Carcassonne is a place where childhood dreams meet adult reality. The only industries left in this region are wine and tourism. So, if you’re able to devote a few days to this region, there are many other local castles and wineries to enjoy. Oren and I stayed with a Couchsurfing host that lived in a vineyard. We ate fresh grapes and figs every afternoon before dinner. While I can’t promise you’ll have our luck, here are some ideas of where you can sip some wine and enjoy the view.

5) THE PLACE IS BETTER THAN THE BOARD GAME

Did you know that Carcassonne is more than just a place? Some people learned about this town because of UNESCO. Oren and I learned about it because of a board game. If you haven’t played it yet, 42nd Class highly recommends it. And although this may not seem like a legitimate reason to add Carcassonne to your travel itinerary, we think this it is. We promise you won’t regret it.

Want to lay siege to Carcassonne with us? Click here.

Check out our Carcassonne photo gallery.

-C.K.

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