Violet, Rugby, and Airbus are three of the most popular things about Toulouse, France. Let’s explore these and all the other things Toulouse is known for.
Located in southwest France, Toulouse is the capital and biggest city of the Occitanie region. It is located about 150 km from the Mediterranean, 230 km from the Atlantic Ocean, 680 km from Paris, but only 50 km from Spain.
With almost 500 000 inhabitants and a metro area of 1.38 million people, Toulouse is a surprisingly big city. It is the 4th largest city in France, only trailing Paris, Marseille, and Lyon. Toulouse isn’t the first destination most people think of when planning a trip to France, but it is a fascinating destination. One that offers some of the best food in France (which in itself says a lot) but also several captivating French landmarks, a lively vibe, and an attractive young crowd.
So, without any delays, let’s examine what is Toulouse famous for.
Ten things Toulouse is famous for
What is Toulouse known for? Violets are a proud symbol of Toulouse and one of the first things that come to mind. They have been introducing in the mid-19th century, and since then, they have become increasingly popular in the city and elsewhere. Toulouse even became nicknamed the “city of violets”.
According to the legend, it was an army officer of Napoléon III who brought home a violet to his fiancée in Toulouse from Parma, Italy. Initially, it was produced in the northern area of Toulouse, but as it became popular, many byproducts were created, like perfumes, liqueurs, soaps, crystalized petals, several forms of delicacies, and so on.
The Toulouse violet is a delicate, double violet with 30 to 50 petals. It is a winter flower that’s harvested from October to March. Although it only blossoms for a few months, it is popular year-round in Toulouse.
When visiting Toulouse, you will find violets and violet references everywhere. It is in the foods (as ice cream flavor, for example), in decoration, fragrances, fabrics, cosmetic products… anything you can imagine, really. Even Toulouse Football Club wears a violet jersey.
For centuries blue was the color Toulouse was most famous for. Not because the city is anywhere near blue, but because of a plant called pastel, or Isatis Tinctoria. Again, the plant isn’t blue, in fact, it has beautiful yellow flowers, it’s known to have medicinal properties, and under the right circumstances, it creates a beautiful, long-lasting blue hue.
During the renaissance, the area between Toulouse, Carcassone, and Albi became known as the blue triangle. It was here that pastel was cultivated and traded to the whole of Europe. The blue dye of pastel became an important and valuable commodity that made the Toulousian merchants rich. During this time, pastel was known as “golden blue”.
The process of producing the blue dye from pastel wasn’t easy. In fact, it was a lengthy transformation that included the harvesting of the yellow pastel leaves, drying, and then crushing them. They were then fermented and shaped into balls. Finally, the balls were powdered to create agranate. When the fabric is immersed in water with the pigment, it turns green, and only after oxidation does it become blue.
Today the process of creating and dying something blue has nothing to do with pastel, as much easier ways were invented. However, the city’s wealth and history are forever linked with this plant. Though you can still find a few artisanal shops selling products made this way, and it is possible to visit the museum, spa, and shop “Terre de pastel” to learn more about this and to buy an unforgettable souvenir.
Toulouse is also known for being one of the world capitals of aeronautics, home to the head office of Airbus and several assembly lines of Airbus planes.
Airbus is a multinational European corporation that designs, manufactures, and sells civil and military aerospace products worldwide. It has three main divisions: Commercial Aircraft (Airbus S.A.S.), Defence and Space, and Helicopters. Naturally, Airbus is a huge company employing 120 000 people and generating a revenue of 51 Billion USD in 2021. In 2019 it surpassed Boeing, and it is now clearly the largest airliner producer in the world.
Obviously, Airbus and everything that comes with it is very important for Toulouse as it employs, directly and indirectly, a large portion of its population, generating revenue and wealth for Toulouse metro area.
While in Toulouse, it is possible to visit the Airbus factory (the assembly line of the A350) and the Aeroscopia, a museum dedicated to the history of aviation. Both are fascinating tours for anyone who loves to travel, airplanes and engineering. Aeroscopia even allows you to enter the legendary Concorde, which was produced in Toulouse, France.
Space industry and exploration
Besides being home to the world’s largest airline producer, Toulouse is also the European capital of space industry and exploration, with more than 12 000 jobs, 400 companies, and about 25% of the European space industry.
As the main center of European space exploration, Toulouse is home to the SPOT satellite system, the NATA space center for excellence, the French Space Command, and many other companies and institutions.
If you love everything space-related, Toulouse has a Space theme park, the Cité de l’espace, or Space city. There you will find the Mir Space station, see a moon rock, learn about the weather forecast, see a replica of the Perseverance, etc. It is a really fun thing to do in Toulouse, particularly for children and space enthusiasts.
Canal du Midi
Another thing Toulouse is famous for is the Canal du Midi, a 150 miles (240-km) water canal that connects the Garonne river in Toulouse to the Mediterranean Sea in Sète. Together with the Garonne Canal and the Garonne River, it forms the Canal des Deux Mers – a waterway between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean sea.
Constructed between 1667 and 1681, it is considered one of the most impressive constructions of the 17th century and one of the oldest canals still in use. Since 1996, the Canal du Midi has been a UNESCO Heritage site due to its “outstanding engineering and artistic design”.
The Canal du Midi has 65 locks, and it is navigable. You can do boat tours in Toulouse or even spend a few days on a cruise. There are also docked boats where it is possible to spend the night. Although created to transport goods and avoid trips around the Iberian Peninsula, today, the Canal du Midi is mostly a tourist attraction.
Toulouse is known as the pink city or la Ville Rose. It’s the city’s most popular nickname, and it comes from the color of its buildings. Most buildings in Toulouse are built with pale-colored bricks. They look amazing in the pictures and give the city an appealing aesthetic.
The pink brinks were introduced by the Romans in the 1st century, and since then, it has been used as the main construction material. They are used in private homes, religious structures, and public buildings. In fact, most of the landmarks in Toulouse have this beautiful color.
Although we have to be honest, don’t expect to find actually pink buildings. It’s more of a reddish/orange pink, particularly during daylight. At dawn is when the hue most resembles pink. Anyway, Toulouse is a lovely city with distinctive architecture and a lively atmosphere.
What is Toulouse known for? Rugby fans will immediately say Stade Toulousain. Sometimes they are nicknamed “Les Rouges et Noirs“, the reds and blacks as they typically play in red, black, and white.
With five European Rugby Champions Cups, Stade Toulousain is considered the most successful club in Europe. They are also the club with the most French championships – 21. Toulouse is traditionally one of the main player providers to France’s national team and has one of the best youth academies in the world.
Stade Toulousain usually plays in Stade Ernest-Wallon in bigger games, it uses Stadium Municipal de Toulouse. With such a large tradition in the city, rugby is a religion in Toulouse. Match days are usually a party, and the atmosphere in the stadium is amazing.
If you like rugby or sports in general, going to a Stade Toulousain game is an amazing experience. Oh, and apparently, their stadium has a nice brasserie… which would be surprising if we weren’t in France! This takes us to the next topic.
More than being known for the food, Toulouse (and its region) is a foodie’s paradise. The most traditional dishes are usually hearty, farmers’ meals with lots of beans and duck, but the region also has beautiful fresh vegetables and fruits that make delicious modern and healthy food.
The most famous dish from the Toulouse region is the cassoulet – a hearty white beans stew with charcuterie and duck in the Toulouse version. It is filling for sure, but it is also delicious, particularly with the duck fat flavor.
If you want to try the original cassoulet, you should go to Castelnaudary, only a few Km from Toulouse. That’s where the cassoulet dish was created.
Other well-known and popular dishes in Toulouse include:
- Saucisse de Toulouse – a 18th century recipe sausage. It is many times included in the Cassoulet.
- Confit de Canard – Duck preserved and cooked in its fat
- Foie gras d’oie- a regional delicacy made with specially-fattened goose
- Poullet à la toulousaine – a rotisserie chicken stuffed with sausage
- Fenetra Cake – made with pastry, apricot, almonds, and candied lemon
- Garbure – a thick soup or stew made with duck, white beans, and vegetables;
Toulouse is a typical southern France town with a strong influence from Spain. It has a warm climate, friendly locals, a laid-back attitude, and an inviting aura. In general, it is one of the most pleasant cities to visit in France.
Yet, besides this lovely ambient, Toulouse is also well-known for its beautiful monuments, particularly with the use of the above-mentioned red/pink bricks. As a rich, large, and historical city, Toulouse has several churches, basilicas, bridges, and squares that attract people to the city. Moreover, some of the famous landmarks in Toulouse include:
- Canal du Midi – already mentioned and explained above;
- Basilique Saint-Sernin – largest Romanesque church in Europe;
- Couvent des Jacobins – Southern Gothic Convent made with reddish bricks; It’s also where the relics of St. Thomas Aquinas rest;
- Place du Capitole – the main square of the city with beautiful cafes and restaurants and the impressive Capitole building;
- Cathedral of Saint-Etienne – Huge Cathedral, built over five centuries in several architectural styles.
- Pont Neuf – 16th-century bridge of 220 meters and built with the typical Toulouse bricks. It’s still in use.